November 29, 2010

NaNoReMo: week 4

I'd be ashamed to admit that I only read one book in the second-last week of NaNoReMo, except that the book in question was Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley. From Goodreads:

"Let me make it in time. Let me meet Shadow. The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers."

It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

This book wasn't in my original stack of NaNoReMo books, but after hearing Cath speak about it at the Melbourne Writers' Festival, and reading so many fantastic reviews, and having it recommended by friends with great taste in books, I couldn't resist buying a copy and then couldn't resist reading it IMMEDIATELY. I devoured the first half on a flight to Sydney last Tuesday (the only time I've ever wished that it took longer to fly from Melbourne to Sydney), and the remainder over the following few days, whenever I had time to dip into it. And when I finished it I wanted to start re-reading it straight away.

I loved everything about Graffiti Moon, both as a reader and as a writer. Lucy and Ed were fantastic narrators, their stories were compelling, their voices were true. The city and its locations were so perfectly drawn; the artworks - in galleries, on walls and in characters' heads - so brilliantly described.

Graffiti Moon reminded me of strange, wild, perfect nights spent with friends a long time ago, when anything seemed possible. It's a book I know I'll read again and again, and enjoy every time as much as the first. Perfect.

November 22, 2010

NaNoReMo: week 3

I'm behind on my NaNoReMo goal of reading three books a week :( After week 2's huge effort I only managed two books last week, but I enjoyed them both.

The first was Cassie by Barry Jonsberg. From Goodreads:
Holly hates her name, her looks and her life. She isn't in with the right crowd and she has little hope of dating the gorgeous Raph McDonald. With Cassie staying, she has to move out of her bedroom into the tiny, smelly spare room, and she feels her life couldn't be more unfair. So when Demi, the coolest girl in school, invites Holly on a make-over shopping spree, she jumps at the chance. Even Cass can see that Holly is stretching her wings. But will she fly or fall?

This was a really interesting book, both in its narrative and stylistically. There's a lot of talk about how there's not enough diversity in YA, and I think that includes characters with disabilities.* As a reader, I thought Jonsberg did an amazing job of communicating what it is like to be trapped in a body that won't obey your mind, and also in creating Cassie and Holly as well-rounded, believable characters. I also loved Holly's dry wit. As a writer, I was intrigued by Jonsberg's mix of first and third person narration, which I haven't come across before.
The second was Little Bird by Penni Russon. From Goodreads:
Ruby-lee is cynical about love; after all, she's watched her sister Shandra call off her wedding three times a week. But when Shandra volunteers her to babysit her friend's seven month old baby, Ruby-lee discovers just what love means. First she's overcome by powerful feelings for tiny Maisy, then she starts spending time with Maisy's dad, Spence. She even begins to imagine a future together, as a family. But where will Ruby-lee's fantasies lead? And what sort of trouble could they get her into? When it looks like Ruby-lee might lose everything, she has to discover what love truly is to find her own heart.
Little Bird came highly recommended, and for good reason. As both a reader and a writer I loved Russon's exploration of love in all its forms. Her writing is beautiful and she managed to pack so much into a relatively short book, without making the pacing too rushed. It also appealed to me that the book is set in Tasmania - a state I don't know nearly enough about!
* Cassie has cerebral palsy.

November 15, 2010

NaNoReMo: week 2

Thanks to a few extra bus trips last week I managed to catch up on my NaNoReMo reading schedule, finishing four novels.

The first was Same difference by Siobhan Vivian, which I'd wanted to read since Persnickety Snark's review. It didn't disappoint.

From Goodreads:
Emily is ready for a change. She's been in the same town with the same friends for a long time...and none of them really understand her art. But when she goes to Philadelphia for a summer art institute, she suddenly finds like-minded people. One in particular, Fiona, intrigues and challenges her. But there are some things Emily is going to have to find out for herself...

As a reader, I could really relate to Emily's conflict between the comfort of the people and places she'd grown up with and the urge to step into the breech in the big city with her new artist friends. It also made me want to visit Philadelphia, if only to see The Waterfall for myself.

As a writer, I thought Vivian really captured the feeling of being forced to choose which direction you want your life to go in, and the fear and exhilaration that accompany that. I also loved the way artworks, art theory and art processes were woven throughout the book. I can't wait to read Vivian's other books!

I must admit that Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan is not a book I would have picked up in a bookstore and paid full price for.* But after I'd read it, I wondered how it ever ended up in the remaindered pile in the first place.**

From Goodreads:
Gusty Peterson, the hottest bimboy in school, is always thinking I’m sick, as in totally gross to look at. Not that it matters, since I don’t have a crush on him or anything. And Mallory, my first real friend since forever, has disturbing romantic ideas about me and my ginormous gazungas. Ask me if I’d rather not know these things...

I’d probably be a lot better off if I weren’t psychic after all...

As a reader, I loved that this book has quirkiness by the bucketload, particularly 'Journeys', the alternative school that the protagonist, Kristi, attends, and Jacob Flax, who I couldn't help picturing as The Geek from Sixteen Candles. It took me a while to warm to Kristi, but as the book progressed I was more and more drawn to her.

As a writer, Vibes was a lesson in effectively taking a character from being pretty unlikeable to someone who readers connect with, because they have such a deep understanding of everything that's happened to make her the way she is. When I started reading, I was worried that Kristi's psychic abilities were a bit of a paranormal cop-out for her 'seeing' everything, in a telling-not-showing way, but my concerns were misplaced.***

The Vietnam War was one of the only high school history topics that really interested me,**** so I was keen to read Pamela Rushby's When the Hipchicks went to war.

From GoodReads:
The sixties are in full swing and going to a war is the last thing on Kathy's mind. For sixteen-year-old Kathy, it's all about miniskirts, the Beatles, discos and her fab new boots! The world is rapidly changing, her brother is fighting in the Vietnam War and her best friend is protesting against it. Kathy simply wants to live life and experience a world beyond her suburban existence. So when the chance comes for her to dance with an entertainment troop in Vietnam, she slips on her boots, walks away from her convent school and heads off to war.  

As a reader, I was really interested in Kathy's perspective of the war as an 'opportunity' to escape her day job as a hairdresser in the suburbs. Whenever I think about Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War the first thing that comes to mind is the conscientious objecters, so it was fascinating to read something told from another viewpoint.

As a writer, I was tremendously impressed by Rushby's meticulous research, and her ability to translate the 'facts' of that research into a very readable book. It was a real eye opener into the experience of women at war.

My last book for the week was She's with the band by Georgia Clark, finished at 11.47pm last night.

From Goodreads:
Life never starts when you think it will. When I turned 15, I figured I'd be tossed the keys to the city, make out with a hottie, and have a modest parade thrown in my honour. But all that happened was that I got out of doing the washing up. The day we moved to Sydney was supposed to be the start of the new Mia Mannix - confident, charming, taller. But so far, it sucked.

As a reader, I liked that Mia was a pretty cool and confident character, who seemed to know what she wanted, even if she wasn't certain how to get it. Her fast moving world of muso and artist friends kept the action moving at a cracking pace.

As a writer, I thought Clark brought her experience as a musician and music journalist to the fore, both in the narrative and in the book's hip playlist. It made me wish I'd had a cooler career before writing!

All in all, it was a great week of reading, even though - as with NaNoWriMo - there were times when I wished I could slow down and enjoy the ride rather than race to the end for the sake of meeting my NaNoReMo goal.*****

This week I'm neck-deep in revisions for Little Sister and only have one bus trip planned, so I may have to try to schedule some reading time...what a great excuse!

*I think mainly because of the title. Vibes is up there with 'moist' and 'gusset' in my list of words that aren't dirty but sound like they should be...
** unless others were also put off by the name?
*** to say any more would be a spoiler, but trust me, it's none of that and very, very clever.
**** I know, it's some kind of writerly sacrilege to not be a history buff, but all the rote learing of dates and facts really put me off at an early age.
***** which is to read 12 books in November.

November 12, 2010

Sex, drugs and vampires... the catchy title of a panel discussion about YA that I'm chuffed to be participating in. Details from the City of Sydney website:

Everything you secretly wanted to know about young adult fiction but were too afraid to ask!

Once upon a time young adult fiction involved babysitting clubs and ponies. Now it is a brave new world that reflects our modern anxieties. Join four young adult authors when they discuss the new landscape of young adult fiction.

Georgia Blain has published four novels including Closed for Winter. She has been named one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Novelists and shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

Laura Buzo has worked as a social worker in various community-based mental health settings. In 2005 she wrote her first novel, Good Oil.

William Kostakis is the 21 year old author of Loathing Lola and winner of the Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year.

Aimee Said is author of Finding Freia Lockhart: How not to be a successful teen. She is also a web content manager, writer, editor and proofreader.

Friday 26 November
6.30pm – 7.30pm
Surry Hills Library
Telephone: 02 8374 6230
Bookings essential

November 7, 2010

NaNoReMo: week 1

I was hoping to keep up a reading schedule of three books per week during NaNoReMo, but this week revisions for 'Little Sister', another writing project and the Day job have conspired to rob me of reading time, and I only finished two books: Shug by Jenny Han and My Candlelight Novel by Joanne Horniman.

I haven't read that many books about younger teens, but I thought Shug really captured the uncertainty of starting high school (or junior high, in Shug's case), and all the new social challenges that come with being 12-13.

As a reader, I loved Shug's candour, especially about her family. Having spent the past year writing about some of the baggage that comes with being a little sister, her relationship with her sister Celia struck a chord.

As a writer, I was impressed by Han's ability to draw me so completely into Shug's world, and make me feel 12 again. (A true talent considering how long ago that was!) I just read a review on Goodreads that compared Shug with Are You There God, it's Me, Margaret, which, on reflection, I think is pretty spot on (and a huge compliment).

I picked up Joanne Horniman's My Candlelight Novel in the teen fiction section of my local library, but I wouldn't classify it as YA.* Aside from the fact that the protagonist, Sophie, is 21 and has a baby, the main reason I think it's adult fiction that teens will equally enjoy, rather than YA, is that her experiences and concerns are very adult. I haven't read Secret Scribbled Notebooks, the precursor to MCN, written from the point of view of Sophie's younger sister, Kate, but I have a sneaking suspicion that that novel deals much more with being a young adult, and that MCN was automatically classified (or possibly marketed) as YA to appeal to fans of the first book.

Semantics aside, I really enjoyed it.

As a reader, I was swept up in the book's exploration of mothers and motherhood, fathers and fatherhood, and birth and death. It's beautifully written and wonderfully evocative of being in one's early 20s.**

As a writer, I really admire Horniman's lyrical writing style: there are some beautiful passages in this book. Sophie is a complex character, who I didn't expect to be drawn to, but who quickly gained (and kept) my interest through her view of her world.

So, even though I'm only halfway through book 3 of my NaNoRe adventure, I'd say it's off to a good start. If the other books in my pile are of the same standard as the first two, it's going to be a very good month indeed!

* Yes, classifying books is an arbitrary exercise; no, it's not relevant to whether young adults will enjoy a book. It's too big a can of worms to open here, but I think Alien Onion summed up the difference between YA and fiction in which the protagonist is a young person very well.
** she said, wistfully ;)

November 5, 2010

Both a lender and a borrower be

There's been talk this week about the pleasure* and perils of book lending. Maybe it's something to do with realising that stuff is just stuff and that I've got too much stuff in my life anyway, but I've definitely become more of a lender as I get older.

Of course, I hope that the borrower will treat my books kindly and return them, but part of lending is to accept that that may not be the case. I write my name in jacketflap in the hope that it will be a reminder to return it to me, but I know there's a chance it won't be returned.** And, to be honest, I'm not too hung up on the condition they come back in. I'm a dogear-er, squishy-handbag toter and spine-breaker (the trinity of Book Sins), so my books are rarely in pristine condition when they go out and usually don't return looking much worse for the extra wear and tear.

Partly, lending books is an alternative to getting rid of the ones that I have no room for. Our house is so tiny that Mr Fantapants and I only have one bookshelf each, and they are packed in double rows topped with teetering piles. Having 5-10 books temporarily residing on other people's shelves gives the illusion that there is room for me to acquire a few more...which is all the encouragement I need.

Partly, it's a way to pay it forward. If I send friends home with a lovely pile of books hopefully they won't mind when I pillage their shelves during times of reading drought.***

But mainly I just lovelovelove playing librarian and picking out books for friends that I think they'll enjoy. Recent successes include King Dork for my muso mate and the Mortal Instruments series for someone who was disillusioned by weak female characters in paranormal books. And, since 90% of my collection is YA, for most of my friends the books I'm introducing them to are ones that they would never have picked up (or even seen) in a bookshop or library (yay for YA-enabling!).

For me, lending books is one of life's pleasures. Followed closely by borrowing them.

* And there's a lovely poem in Kate's post, for all us book kissers.
** When a book goes MIA, I choose to believe that it's because the borrower loved it so much they can't bear to part with it. That said, friends who have form for NEVER returning books are on a blacklist - two strikes and nomorebooksforyou.
*** I, of course, am a model borrower! Aside from the unavoidable handbag squish, I treat other people's stuff better than I treat my own and borrowed books sit in a seperate stack on my bedhead so that I remember to give them back.

We'll always have Barbados