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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

'Everything Beautiful' by Simmone Howell

From the BLURB:

Riley Rose, atheist and bad girl, has been tricked into attending Spirit Ranch, a Christian camp. There she meets Dylan Kier, alumni camper and recent paraplegic, who arrives with a chip on his shoulder and a determination to perfect all of his bad habits. United in their personal suffering and in their irritation at their fellow campers, they turn the camp inside out as they question the meaning of belief systems, test their faith in each other, and ultimately settle a debate of the heart.

Sixteen-year-old Riley Rose doesn’t believe in much. Since her mother’s death Riley has been on a ‘downward spiral’, she has become ‘rebellious’ and her behaviour warrants ‘concern’ from her father and his new ‘girlfriend’, Norma. So they’re sending Riley to Spirit Ranch, a Christian camp. Riley will have to leave behind her best friend, Chloe, and any designs she has on cute boy crush, Ben. She has to sleep in a cabin with a prissy Christian bitch called Fleur and a quiet God-fearing doormat called Sarita.

But Spirit Ranch has its up-side, like zealot camp leader Craig of the Adonis good looks. Then there are camp regulars, siblings Olive and Bird, who blossom under Riley’s protective wing.

But best of all is Dylan, the only other person who doesn’t want to be here as bad as Riley. Because Dylan used to be a regular Christ-loving, bible-thumping Spirit Rancher . . . until he lost the use of his legs. Now he lives in a wheelchair, and hates the world. Riley can relate.

‘Everything Beautiful’ was the 2008 young adult novel from award-winning Australian writer, Simmone Howell.

This novel is sublime. It’s a camp/pilgrimage/road-trip novel about a girl who starts out with no questions, but winds up with infinite curiosity.

When we meet her, Riley Rose has a self-diagnosed ‘Mum-shaped hole’ in her life. Ever since her mother’s death Riley has become a little bit wild. She befriended her school’s resident slut, Chloe, and started flouting authority and rules. Riley’s demise into rebelliousness is in direct contrast to her father’s re-discovery of God. Once a lapsed Catholic, her father now attends church on a regular basis and is dating a fellow devout. Their solution to Riley’s hurt and acting out is Spirit Ranch, their church’s yearly camp for all good Christian children . . . Riley goes, begrudgingly, and with a list of unchanging truths in her life;

I believe in Chloe and chocolate.
I believe the best part is always before.
I believe that most girls are shifty and most guys are dumb.
I believe the more you pill, the less you are.
I don’t believe in life after death or diuretics or happy endings.
I don’t believe anything good can come from this.

But Spirit Ranch isn’t exactly accepting. Riley is an instant target, a walking blasphemy whose weight issues (she’s fat, deal with it) make her easy prey and her atheism turns her into a plague amongst the campers. The only people who actually like Riley are Olive and Bird, bullied siblings who find solace in Riley’s easy acceptance and defence. Craig, the hunky camp leader who just wants to get into Riley’s double-D’s . . . and Dylan, the paraplegic boy whose sadness calls to Riley’s own.

I loved this book. Riley is a fast and frenetic teen whose deep sadness is masked by false bravado. She’s a fantastic leading lady, not least because Howell has written a taboo in making her F-A-T. Today Tonight obesity-watch reports remind us every day that Australia is climbing up the tubby ladder, yet so few teens in contemporary YA reflect this physicality.

The Christian camp setting was hilariously sublime. Reminiscent of one of my all-time favourite movies, ‘Saved!’ (2004). Howell reveals that not all Christians are good, but not all atheists are without hope either. Howell isn’t bashing religion in this book; she’s just showing its myriad sides. Sure, the Christian teens in this book aren’t exactly keeping up their ‘love thy neighbour’ teachings, but this is more reflective of a William Golding exploration into pack behaviour than commentary on the decay of worship.

But the real Hail Mary of ‘Everything Beautiful’ is Dylan. Dylan is trapped in a wheelchair after an undisclosed accident that everyone at Spirit Ranch is speculating about. Rumour has it he jumped 16 storeys. Another tale tells of a surfing accident. But only Dylan knows the truth, and he’s not telling. Riley is intrigued . . . both by Dylan’s silence about the accident, and his clear affinity for her and their Spirit Ranch plight. Dylan is one of my new favourite characters – I loved his contrasts and inherent enigma. I loved that he was full of snark and spirit, that he felt cheated in life but still wore a cross around his neck;

I’m glad it was Dylan who laughed first. Once he did I felt myself unravel. I giggled and he giggled. We were the experiment. And then there came a time when we weren’t laughing. When we locked eyes and breathed each other’s breath. Ohmystars! The firmament shakes and then everything settles. In the end everything settles.


‘Everything Beautiful’ is more proof that there’s something in the water for Australian YA. A quirky contemporary that introduces us to a feisty and furious girl called Riley, who is unbelieving and full of hurt. I loved this book, and from now on I will be worshipping at the word altar of Simmone Howell – anything she writes, I do so solemnly swear to devour.

5/5

Monday, November 28, 2011

'Animal People' by Charlotte Wood

From the BLURB:

'He could not find one single more word to say. I just want to be free. He could not say those words. They had already withered in his mind, turned to dust. He did not even know, he marveled now, what the hell those words had meant.'

Acclaimed novelist Charlotte Wood takes a character from her bestselling book The Children and turns her unflinching gaze on him and his world in her extraordinary novel, Animal People. Set in Sydney over a single day, Animal People traces a watershed day in the life of Stephen, aimless, unhappy, unfulfilled - and without a clue as to how to make his life better.

His dead-end job, his demanding family, his oppressive feelings for Fiona and the pitiless city itself ... the great weight of it all threatens to come crashing down on him. The day will bring untold surprises and disasters, but will also show him - perhaps too late - that only love can set him free.

Sharply observed, hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a portrait of urban life, a meditation on the conflicted nature of human-animal relationships, and a masterpiece of storytelling. Filled with shocks of recognition and revelation, it shows a writer of great depth and compassion at work.

Stephen is not an ‘animal person’. He’s not a dog-lover or a cat-lover; he is baffled by doggie sweaters and hates the itch of animal fur. At the zoo kiosk where he works Stephen observes the inanity of people cooing and ahhing at caged animals who could care less.

Stephen especially hates his perceived soullessness for not connecting with all creatures’ great and small. He hates that every day in the city he observes the cruelty between human beings – those who ignore The Big Issue sellers, or who sneer at junkies and side-step the homeless. Yet people worship their pets, they give medals to bomb-sniffing dogs and offer triple-digit rewards for lost animals.

Stephen muses on these thoughts throughout one day in a crowded, soulless big city. His head is clogged with disillusionment with the city and his life, because on this day he intends to dump his girlfriend. As Stephen goes through the motions of his crappy job and choking life, receiving phone-calls from his nagging widowed mother and controlling sister, he counts down to the moment when he’ll be free of Fiona.

‘Animal People’ is the new literary fiction release from Australian author Charlotte Wood.

Stephen is a character from Wood’s successful 2007 novel, ‘The Children’ – about a family’s pilgrimage to see their dying father. I haven’t read ‘The Children’, but that didn’t hamper my decadent enjoyment of ‘Animal People’ – a book that is equal parts raw, funny, voyeuristic, unsettling and all together wonderful.

Stephen has an albatross around his neck as he goes about his day. He intends to dump Fiona, his girlfriend who also happens to be the ex-sister-in-law of his sister. In leaving Fiona, Stephen will also be losing her two children, girls Ella and Larry, whom he has affectionately come to think of as his own. As his day drags on Stephen’s increasing paranoia and dread at the impending dumping turns his outlook on life rather bleak. He starts to notice things, like a suspicious plastic-wrapped package lying on the floor of the bus. When he accidentally hits a pedestrian (a junkie that everyone tells him he should drive off on) he remembers again and again her head bouncing on bitumen.

Stephen’s wry observations of life in the big city are disturbingly astute. Throughout the book I was nodding along like a bobblehead, muttering ‘yes!’ under my breath at his hit-the-nail-on-the-head accuracies. Everything he muses on is so affirming and precise. Like the collective pity/relief we feel while sitting on buses and trains when the crazy person (because there’s always a crazy person) picks someone else to latch onto and make uncomfortable with their insane chit-chat.

But the worst thing you never got used to was this: the man beside him now leaned suddenly close, making Stephen shut his eyes. You never got used to being trapped into intimacy with the mad.


Stephen’s circling observations about ‘animal people’ and various dog/cat/ferret lovers are also hotly astute. Through Stephen, Wood points out the ludicrousness of certain pet-centric activities. The most accurate animal observation of Stephen’s though, is his musings on the accused awfulness of those who don’t like animals and don’t actively seek out their company;

Stephen knew he demonstrated some lack of humanity by not being a Dog Person. This seemed unfair. He was not a cat person either. He was not an animal person in the same way he was not a musical person, or an intellectual person. One was born to these things, like the colour of one’s eyes, or the length of one’s legs. Not to be musical or intellectual was unremarkable and provoked no suspicion. But not to be an animal person somehow meant he wasn’t fully human.


Charlotte Wood’s writing is lulling and affirming. She has a keen eye for society’s inanities and flaws, and her characterizations are luscious and accurate – from our day-long journey with Stephen as we read his unravelling, to the ‘Facebook’ girls he overhears on the bus. Wood writes all of these characters with envious precision, so we piece together Stephen’s puzzle over the day, but in one line of dialogue we have Fiona’s ex-husband all figured out. ‘Animal People’ was a beautiful and poignant novel, and I’m going to make sure it’s not my last Charlotte Wood read.

5/5

'Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever' Diary of a Wimpy Kid #6 by Jeff Kinney

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


Greg Heffley is in big trouble. School property has been damaged, and Greg is the prime suspect. But the crazy thing is, he's innocent. Or at least sort of.

The authorities are closing in, but when a surprise blizzard hits, the Heffley family is trapped indoors. Greg knows that when the snow melts he's going to have to face the music, but could any punishment be worse than being stuck inside with your family for the holidays?

Zoo-we-mama! The sixth installment in ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series from genius children’s author, Jeff Kinney.

Confession . . . I am a wee bit obsessed with the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series. It all started when I watched the movie last year, and spent the whole film painfully belly-laughing. After that I devoured the first five books, and then bought them for my little cousins to enjoy too.

So when the sixth book arrived in my hot little hand I got gleefully stuck into it (and partially because my cousins are harassing me to read it and pass onto them).

In ‘Cabin Fever’, forever nerd Greg Heffley is accused of a horrible crime regarding damage to school property. A truly heinous, awful crime that he maybe-sorta-definitely did commit.

But Greg receives a Hail Mary when a terrible blizzard traps the Heffley family indoors and away from the school inquisition . . . except being stuck inside for infinite family time gives the Heffley’s a dose of cabin fever.

This was a fantastic instalment in an infectious kid’s series! All our favourites are back, from Rowley to Rodrick. Greg is as lovably goofy and hopeless as ever. In ‘Cabin Fever’ he turns into a criminal mastermind (sort of), but receives his punishment in the form of room-sharing with big brother Rodrick. Hilarity ensues.

In this novel Greg observes the unfairness of boy push-ups versus girl push-ups, he finds his old doll Alfrendo and kidnaps a grandmother.

Jeff Kinney’s series is fantastic and not just for kids (as evidenced by my belly-laughs while reading). ‘Cabin Fever’ is another wonderful instalment in an already classic series, and I can’t wait for the seventh book.

5/5

Saturday, November 26, 2011

'Death Magic' World of the Lupi #8 by Eileen Wilks

From the BLURB:

DEATH MAGIC opens with Special Agent Lily Yu in Washington, D.C. with her fiancé--lupi prince Rule Turner—to testify before a Senate subcommittee about her role in the magical collapse of a mountain last month. She is not there to tell them about the strange legacy she carries from that event—or about the arcane bond between her and Rule--or what her boss in Unit Twleve of the FBI’s Magical Crimes Division is really up to. She sure won’t tell them that the lupi are at war with an Old One who wants to remake humanity in her own image.

Lily is managing the conflict between her duty as an officer of the law and the need for secrecy pretty well . . . until the rabidly anti-magic senator who chairs that committee is murdered. The line between right and wrong, always so clear to her, becomes hopelessly blurred as events catapult them all towards disaster, and prophecies of a cataclysmic end to the country she loves and serves--and to the entire race of lupi--seem well on their way to being fulfilled.

It’s a bad time to be Supernatural. The ‘Humans First’ campaign is gaining momentum and questionable support. Lily’s boss, Ruben Brooks has already come under attack and now his failing health has shook up the Supernatural underground . . . there’s a unit being formed – The Shadow Unit. Many of Lily’s nearest and dearest are already members, joined in order to protect their families and loved ones. And now they want Lily to join – even though it goes against everything she stands for as a police officer.

But when the Great unnamed Bitch’s campaign gains momentum with Death Magic, Lily may have little choice in the matter of joining.

‘Death Magic’ is the eighth book in Eileen Wilks’s incredible ‘World of the Lupi’ series.

Eileen Wilks has already cemented her place on my soon-to-be-released 2011 Favourites list with her seventh novel ‘Blood Challenge’. I absolutely adored that book earlier this year, and was beside myself with excitement when I realized that in 2011 we’d be treated to a double-whammy of Lupi with ‘Death Magic’. Unfortunately, for me at least, there’s no competition and very little comparison between ‘Blood Challenge’ and ‘Death Magic’. One had my heart-pumping; the other left me a little cold . . .

The main reason I absolutely adored ‘Blood Challenge’ was the shifted character focus – when Rule’s previously secondary-character brother, Benedict, moved into the spotlight with his own love interest. A good portion of ‘Blood Challenge’ (while continuing the drama with the Great Bitch) was also focused on Benedict’s second mating with the beautiful Arjenie Fox. These two were fantastic – Arjenie’s adorable mile-a-minute thought processes, wild curls and sweet disposition coupled with Benedict’s icy demeanour, past heartbreak and burning passion. Arjenie and Benedict rocked my socks off – and I knew that it would be hard for Eileen Wilks to follow their story . . .

Arjenie and Benedict got the full love-story treatment and their very own sweeping saga. It was pretty hard not to fall in lust with Benedict, and holler-out for his sparking love story with the adorable Arjenie! Now in ‘Death Magic’ Eileen Wilks is switching gears and getting readers re-attuned to Lily and Rule. And, by comparison to Arjenie and Benedict, Lily and Rule are pretty ho-hum (even a little chilly?).

Fans know that when ‘World of the Lupi’ started out, Rule was very comfortable in his role as Lupi Prince; reaping the female benefits of his stardom and living life as all good Lupi do – lustfully. Lily, by contrast, comes from a strict Chinese upbringing and coupled with her stoic cop-demeanour she was much more reclusive and up-tight than Lothario Rule Turner. When she and Rule were fatefully ‘mated’ and chosen for one another by the Lady, it rocked both of their worlds. It has taken a long time for Lily to believe that Rule considers their mating a gift, and not an albatross around his neck. Likewise, Rule has taken a while to appreciate what Lily had to give up in order to be with him. Lily and Rule really are one of the best paranormal romance couples – bought together by fate, remaining for love.

Things reached a fever-pitch in their relationship when Rule broke taboos and proposed to Lily back in book five, ‘Mortals Sins’. But that was book five . . . we’re now into book eight and Lily is only just now becoming comfortable with even discussing plans for the wedding. Her cold-feet are now more chilled than icicled and both she and Rule still tend to walk on egg-shells with one another, and keep a lot of what they want to say bitten on their tongues.

It’s frustrating, to say the least. Especially when fans had Arjenie and Benedict to help highlight exactly just how much Rule and Lily have gone from burn to simmer by contrast.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still a HUGE Rule & Lily fan (Rule’s proposal at the end of ‘Mortals Sins’ gets me every time!). But we’re eight books in now, and I want a little more open loving between them. I’m not afraid to say it – yes, I want more sex scenes. I want more proof that their love burns just as strong and fierce as it did back in ‘Tempting Danger’. But to believe that I need to read more skin, more intimate scenes that reveal that even if Lily is anti-PDA in public, she and Rule can still burn up the sheets behind closed doors.

Unfortunately in ‘Death Magic’, we don’t really get much sense of Lily and Rule’s fated love. There is a LOT of drama going on with the Great Bitch and new Shadow Unit. Big and exciting things are happening with Ruben (seriously, jaw-dropping, fist-pumping stuff!) and lots of curve-balls are thrown Lily’s way. So much is going on – explosions and battles, magic and ghosts that Lily and Rule really do get lost amongst the hubbub. It seems like, in this book at least, Wilks sacrificed a lot of character-development and intimacy for plot-momentum. When, really and ideally, I would have preferred a focus on Lily and Rule. I mean, the guy proposed back in book #5 and the wedding is still not even on the distant horizon for readers! C’mon!

There are a very few tender Lily and Rule scenes in ‘Death Magic’. And, not surprisingly, those are the moments that stood out and connected for me:

“You don’t know who you are if you aren’t first a cop. I knew that, but I didn’t..." He sifted her hair with his fingers as if he might find words there. “I didn’t understand in my gut. Now I do. I learned that I’m not . . . I’m no longer the Lady’s first. I still serve her, but she’s not first. If I must choose between you and her –”
“Don’t. Don’t try to choose.”
He placed his hand over hers. “Too late. I already have.”


I maintain that ‘World of the Lupi’ is one of the best urban fantasies out there. Eileen Wilks is unparalleled in her paranormal world-building and twisting characters. When she wants to, she writes romance that leaves readers pink in the cheeks and breathless for more (hello Benedict & Arjenie!). But I really missed her character connectedness in ‘Death Magic’. At this point in the series, eight books deep, I need to read more mushy stuff between one of my all-time favourite book couples, Lily and Rule. I've had my fingers crossed for their wedding since ‘Mortal Sins’, and I am building high-hopes that all their pent-up lust and walking-on-eggshells frustrations will be unleashed when they say “I do”.

To be fair, I did enjoy ‘Death Magic’ towards the end when Eileen Wilks takes the plot on a helter-skelter rollercoaster ride to an explosive finish. But it doesn’t change the fact that no matter how much I enjoyed the plot, I need more intimate character moments to balance it out.

3.5/5

Friday, November 25, 2011

'Sing me to Sleep' by Angela Morrison

From the BLURB:

THE TRANSFORMATION

Beth has always been "The Beast" - that's what everyone at school calls her because of her awkward height, facial scars, and thick glasses. Beth's only friend is geeky, golden-haired Scott. That is, until she's selected to be her choir's soprano soloist, and receives the makeover that will change her life forever.

THE LOVE AFFAIR

When Beth's choir travels to Switzerland, she meets Derek: pale, brooding, totally dreamy. Derek's untethered passion - for music, and for Beth - leaves her breathless. Because in Derek's eyes? She's not The Beast, she's The Beauty.

THE IMPOSSIBLE CHOICE

When Beth comes home, Scott, her best friend in the world, makes a confession that leaves her completely torn. Should she stand by sweet, steady Scott or follow the dangerous, intense new feelings she has for Derek?

THE HEARTBREAK

The closer Beth gets to Derek, the further away he seems. Then Beth discovers that Derek's been hiding a dark secret from her ...one that could shatter everything.

Beth is the Beast. Too tall, too gangly, too much acne and four-eyes for as long as she can remember. Freshmen are chained to her locker as a ‘sacrifice’ and school is a daily battlefield. Beth only has two points of solace – her best friend, Scott, and her singing.

Scott has been by her side since the playground, but now he’s starting to pretend like he wants more. But singing, that’s Beth’s constant. It’s what lifts her up, makes her feel whole and helps her forget what she looks like.

So when Beth’s singing troupe win their place in an overseas singing competition, with Beth in solo, she is truly happy for the first time in her life. But that’s nothing compared to how she feels when she meets Derek. The beautiful solo singer of a Canadian group of all-male singers.

Derek is beautiful and talented. He’s also crazy in love with Beth, and she with him. But Derek has a secret. Just as Beth doesn’t want Derek to find out about ‘The Beast’, Derek wants to segregate Beth from his world . . . the other parts of himself that are too horrible to even think about.

‘Sing me to Sleep’ is the new contemporary YA from Angela Morrison.

I loved this book. It’s definitely one to tug at the heartstrings and wet the eyes . . . but Morrison’s novel is also beautiful and light, full of hope and love even if she does explore some darker sides of life.

Beth is a gorgeous and sad character. Every day she’s just trying to get by and survive high school – which isn’t easy to do when she’s a gangly giant with face-hiding hair, acne and thick geeky glasses. She is a smorgasbord for bullies. Thank God for her best friend, Scott. He has always been her back-up and a diversion for the bullies. But, lately, Scott has been undergoing some serious changes. He’s bulking up and stirring feelings within Beth. She’s finding it hard to think of him as just her friend anymore, especially when he hints that he wants more;

“I know your soul. It’s there in every note”. He brushes my lips with his. “You can’t fake that. You can’t hide it”


Enter Derek. Beautiful Derek who sings like an angel and falls in love with Beth when he hears her singing in Switzerland . . . She and Derek form an instant and deep connection. And they continue their romance even after they fly home – seeing one another between America and Canada, experiencing true love for the first time.

But Derek is keeping secrets. He wants Beth separated from his life back home . . . a life full of secrets and a world he doesn’t want to be in anymore.

‘Sing me to Sleep’ is gut-wrenching, but beautiful. Morrison is exploring a lot of big issues – from bullying to abandonment, and a plot-twist of such heartbreak you’ll never see coming. But in between Morrison has also written two love stories for Beth ‘The Beast’ – as she’s caught between two boys who prove that true love is more than skin-deep. Stunning.

5/5

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

'Five Flavors of Dumb' by Antony John

From the BLURB:

The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig.

The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits.

The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf?

Piper can't hear Dumb's music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb.


Dumb is the hottest band to ever grace the front steps of Piper’s public Seattle high school. They’re frantic and hyped, with hot-boy Josh in lead vocals, his stoner brother Will on bass guitar and green-haired violent femme, Tash, on lead guitar. They have just won the Battle of the Bands, and scored a recording session with a tax-evading ex-rocker. Dumb are so hot, they blow up the speakers, literally, and have their classmates enthralled. Even Piper Vaughan is intrigued by their energy . . . which is odd, because Piper can’t hear them.

Piper started losing her hearing at six-years-old, which wasn’t all that surprising since her grandparents were both deaf. Now Piper is eighteen-years-old and classified as moderately-severe deaf; she can sign, has an out-dated hearing aid and lip-reads. She doesn’t think of herself as ‘disabled’ or lacking. But her parents clearly do, which is why they dipped into Piper’s college fund to give her baby sister Grace, a cochlear implant. Piper would tell her mum and dad how much that hurt – to have her baby sister cured of the life that Piper is living. . . but her dad never learned to sign and her mum is too busy being amazed at the miracle of Grace’s hearing. Piper can’t even share her commiserations with her younger brother, Finn, because he gets embarrassed signing to Piper in public.

So when Dumb explode on the school steps, Piper is uncharacteristically fascinated. She has been a non-entity at her high school, ever since their hearing-impaired program was budget-cut. Nobody knows how to treat the deaf girl, so they just ignore her. Until Dumb. Until Piper tells Dumb everything they’re doing wrong . . . and offers to be their new manager.

Now Piper has a purpose, and even if she doesn’t understand Dumb’s musical motivations . . . she’s going to take them into Seattle music history.

‘Five Flavors of Dumb’ is the award-winning YA novel from Antony John.

I first became interested in this novel because of ABC show ‘Switched at Birth’. That show is all about two girls who were, as the title suggests, switched at birth. They are reunited with their biological parents when the hospital’s mistake is discovered, but by that time the girls are sixteen and firmly entrenched in their respective lives. One of the girls is deaf, and finds it hard to adjust to her hearing biological family. This was the most interesting aspect of the show for me, as we see how this deaf girl tries to assimilate to life with a hearing family who have no clue how to cope with deaf culture. Ever since discovering this TV show; I have been thinking that I'd love to read a book with a deaf protagonist . . . lo and behold, ‘Five Flavors of Dumb’.

Antony John studied music at Oxford, and his biography mentions a lagging rocker career. He got the idea for ‘Five Flavors’ from his wife, who suggested he write a book about music, from the perspective of a deaf girl. Music does play a crucial part in the book, even down to the iconic Seattle setting – a city that has created two of music’s most beloved artists, Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix. For Piper, music is a language she can never grasp; it’s an impossible mathematical equation and another hearing divide. She doesn’t know any past or current musical bands, and for her music is just vibrations and white-noise. Music is just another chasm between Piper and the rest of the world . . . until Dumb come along.

Now, Piper is learning the intricacies of music – more importantly, she’s realizing that it’s less about sound, and more about soul. She doesn’t need to hear Jimi Hendrix’s Star-Spangled Banner to know it’s a scream on his guitar. Piper doesn’t need to listen to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to understand that Kurt Cobain was singing for a disenfranchised generation. She learns these things from visiting Hendrix’s shack of a childhood home, or seeing the house where Cobain took his own life. Throughout the book Piper is learning that there’s more to music than just notes, rhythm and timing . . .

I loved this book. But as much as music is a central focus and metaphor, there are bigger plots concerning Piper’s loneliness at school and her strangled family life. And these explorations are what makes the book truly brilliant.

There’s tension in the Vaughan household when baby Grace is ‘cured’ of her deafness, leaving Piper to feel like the rejected daughter. At school nobody knows how to treat the deaf girl, and even when Piper joins Dumb she feels ostracized and on display;

. . . I noticed Josh standing in front of me, stamping the ground as if he were trying to put a hole in it. I peered over the top of the computer and realized all eyes were on me.
“Ed said that stamping my foot is a socially acceptable way of getting a deaf person’s attention,” explained Josh, confused that it took me so long to notice.
At the back of the room, Ed rolled his eyes. “But not during a band rehearsal, remember? I told you, there are too many other vibrations. Just wave your hand somewhere that Piper can see.”
Okay, I admit it – it kind of sucked to have all this explained in front of me, like it was part of a lesson on the care and feeding of the deaf girl. It especially sucked to have it play out in front of Kallie Sims, like we were a study in opposites, textbook definitions of “cool” and “uncool” with real live representations of each (for illustrative purposes only!).


As I suspected, it was very interesting to read from the point of view of a deaf protagonist. There’s a myriad of ways that Piper is made to feel different thanks to other people, even when she doesn’t necessarily feel ‘odd’ herself. The one person who doesn’t make Piper feel ashamed or embarrassed by her deafness is Ed Chen, her chess mate and classical music prodigy. Ed and Piper are very, very sweet – illustrating that in some things Piper is more blind than deaf.

‘Five Flavors of Dumb’ was a fantastic and heartfelt young adult novel. Piper was a wonderful and strong leading lady, despite those around her (even her family) convincing themselves that she was somehow lacking because of her deafness. As Piper discovers the true intricacies of music, those around her are also learning who the real Piper Vaughan is – and she’s a heck of a lot braver and cooler than they could have ever suspected.

5/5

Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be.
As a friend, as a friend, as an old Enemy.
Take your time, hurry up, choice is yours, don't be late.
Take a rest, as a friend, as an old memory.

- ‘Come as you are’ Nirvana, Nevermind (1992)

Monday, November 21, 2011

INTERVIEW with the characters of 'Katherine "Kitty" Katt' series



Hello Darling Readers,

I have an itty-bitty obsession. It all started last year, when I sunk my teeth in 'Touched by an Alien' by Gini Koch. It was my first taste of the intergalactic space-opera with Armani-wearing aliens and a kick-butt, heavy-metal adoring heroine. I was hooked. And since then I have become a devout and dedicated member of the Alien Collective.

So when the book's creator, Gini Koch herself, told me that the stars of her space-book series were willing to sit down with me for a chat ... well, I reached embarrassingly high levels of fan-girl squealing.


I was very lucky to sit down with Jeff Martini and his wife Katherine 'Kitty' Katt. As well as Martini's right-hand-man and cousin, Christopher, and head-honcho of the C.I.A.'s Extra-Terrestrial Division, Charles 'Chuckie' Reynolds.

I was especially lucky to nab them for an interview now, before the whirlwind tour of their latest book 'Alien Proliferation', out on December 6th. So, with sweaty palms and racing heart (hey, the guys look really good in Armani) I present to you - the characters of the 'Katherine "Kitty" Katt' series! Woooooooo!!!


Q: Welcome everyone! Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here! Although, Kitty, I notice is a little less busy and more bed-bound than the three men. How are you coping with bed rest, Mrs Katt-Martini?

Kitty
: I hate it.

Martini:
She’s doing great.

Kitty: I really, really hate it.

Martini:
But it’s important for your health and the health of our baby.

Kitty:
I didn’t say it wasn’t. But the question was ‘how am I handling it’ and my answer is that I hate it.

Chuckie:
She’s not handling it with a lot of grace.

Martini:
You don’t get to say what my wife does or doesn’t handle.

Christopher:
Jeff, he’s right.

Martini:
Why are you taking his side?

Christopher:
Because he’s right. Kitty’s a pain to be around right now.

Kitty:
Next question…please!


Q: Jeff and Kitty, congratulations are in order (double the congrats, in fact!). First the wedding extravaganza (seriously, is Reader thinking of switching professions and entering into the wedding planner gig?) not to mention the bundle of joy is well and truly on the way! First things first - what was your favourite moment from your big day?

Kitty: That we weren’t invaded and that a superbeing didn’t form. And James says he’s not changing careers, but he’s pretty amazing, so you never can tell.

Martini:
I was going to say when you said ‘I do’. And I’m ignoring you, once again, giving my gay friend more props than you give me.

Kitty: That part was great. But I was also very happy that we weren’t invaded. And I give you props all the time, Jeff, especially in the bedroom.

Martini: Well, that’s alright then.

Christopher: I’m with Kitty. I really expected at least one superbeing formation.

Chuckie:
I think my favorite part was you two running around the room.

Kitty: Thanks for bringing that up.

Martini:
You looked great, baby.

Kitty:
I’ll stick with your answers, then, Jeff.

Q: And are you nervous about the baby? How's the morning sickness? Do you know the gender? What brand stroller have you chosen (you know Posh and Becks went for the iCandy multi-mode system stroller, in lilac. Just a suggestion).

Kitty: No, not too much. It sucks. We’re not allowed to find out the baby’s sex by A-C law. *whispers* But I have a good guess.

Martini:
What was that?

Kitty: I said I wanted a Guess stroller!

Martini:
Huh. That’s not what it sounded like.

Kitty:
It’s what I said. So, answer the questions, Jeff.

Martini:
Okay. I’m excited about the baby, not nervous. Kitty’s a real champ in dealing with her morning sickness. As she said, we don’t find out the sex until birth. And I think the overdone strollers are too much for a baby.

Kitty:
I don’t feel like hearing your ‘simple things are good things’ lecture, Jeff.

Martini:
She asked.

Kitty:
Next!

Q: So, Jeff, no longer a bachelor. You are off the shelf. Officially. You've got the old ball and chain. You're spoken for. Taken. *subtly wipes a tear away*. So! That's great, and everything. That you're married! To Kitty! No longer single! How is married life treating you so far? All good? No problems?

Martini: Well, you know, married life is great. But here’s a signed picture, for you especially.

Kitty:
Let me see that. Chuckie, grab it from him.

Chuckie:
Interesting choice, Martini. You’re against wearing shirts when being photographed?

Martini:
Ah…

Kitty:
To Danielle, with all my love, your Jeff’. Really, Jeff? Again? You do this for every interview where the interviewer likes you.

Martini:
I’m just being nice. She’s a nice girl, pretty, too. It’s only polite.

Kitty:
Wow, and yet you’re the one with the jealousy problem.

Martini:
Ah, next question, please.


Q: Chuckie and Christopher - I hear congratulations are in order for you too! Larissa over at 'Larissa's Bookish Life' recently ranked you two in her 'Best Rejected Love Interests' poll. How does that feel? And I know quite a few lovely readers are eager to pass their phone numbers onto you two lovelorn underdogs .

Christopher: Yeah, that’s a poll I was dying to win.

Chuckie:
I’m with White, here. We’re tops in the ‘can’t land your girl’ category? My ego hasn’t felt this good since high school.

Kitty:
Geez, you two. It’s a compliment! I saw some other blogs, like Bibliognome, had listed you two as well. It means people think you’re hot and cool and sexy.

Chuckie:
Fine, I’ll take it.

Christopher
: Me too. I suppose. Did you give her our numbers?

Chuckie:
I sent them over before the interview even started.

Christopher:
I see why Kitty thinks you’re the smartest guy around.


Q: But, seriously. Chuckie and Christopher - are either of you thinking about settling down? Getting serious with someone special? What with wedding-fever and now the baby-bonanza? Are you two feeling clucky?

Chuckie: Clucky?

Kitty:
Clucky Chuckie. It’s got a cute ring.

Chuckie: Say that again and I’ll conveniently forget you’re a pregnant woman and strangle you. No, I’m not feeling ‘clucky’ or anything else like that.

Christopher:
For the record, I’ve never felt ‘clucky’ in my life, and I’m not looking to settle down any time soon.

Chuckie:
Me either. We’d both like some time to at least consider playing the field.

Martini:
My wife isn’t available.

Chuckie:
We know, Martini. Believe me, we know. We’re clear. We were both at your wedding, remember?

Kitty:
Boys, don’t start. You don’t want me flashing the rack during the interview, do you?

Chuckie:
Well --

Martini:
Next question!
Q; This next question is a bit of a sensitive one . I have sources that say tensions are rife between the C.I.A. and Centaurion Division. That there's some *ahem* frictions between the two authorities. Care to comment on these vicious rumors? Should the people of earth be concerned that there's a rift between alien-human security relations?

Chuckie: We’re not at liberty to say. However, I can assure you that all measures are in place to protect the people of this world.

Martini:
What he said.

Christopher:
And if anything happens, it won’t be the fault of Centaurion Division.

Chuckie: White, what part of ‘not at liberty to say’ escapes you?

Martini:
Reynolds is right, Christopher. We’re good here, folks, nothing more to say.

Kitty: You know you’re not getting anything else if they’re in agreement. But keep your eyes on Paraguay. And Paris. And all the other places that begin with ‘P’, too, just in case.

Q: So the new book 'Alien Proliferation' is out on December 6th. Can you all tell us a little bit about this new installment to your intergalactic adventures?

Kitty: Per The Creator, we’re not at liberty to say much.

Martini:
I’d like to mention that, again, I’m put into situations that, in the hands of a kinder Creator, would be less horrible. But in the hands of OUR Creator, they’re beyond life-threatening.

Christopher
: I’m in those situations, too.

Chuckie:
As am I.

Kitty: The Creator loves all of you.

Martini:
I question her love, for me, especially.

Chuckie:
You got the girl. The Creator loves you best.

Martini:
Yeah? You’re not the one who has to have a huge needle slammed into your hearts pretty much every book, are you?

Christopher:
Well, I know what’s going to happen to me, and it’s not any prettier.

Kitty:
Boys, The Creator does NOT want us talking about this. Danielle, I can say that there’s lots of action, exotic locales, and some surprising folks get in on the action. My new partner, in particular.

Martini:
I thought you said no spoilers.

Kitty:
That wasn’t a spoiler, that was a teaser. The Creator’s all over teasers.

Martini
: And adrenaline harpoons.

Kitty: Aww, poor baby.


Q; And then after that it's 'Alien Diplomacy' coming out April next year. But your creator, Ms Koch, has had some really good news regarding her DAW book deal. Can you tell us how many more installments readers will get of the amazing 'Katherine "Kitty" Katt' series? And are you happy about the extended book deal?

Kitty: Well, right now, we’re contracted through Book 8 and I’m totally jazzed about it. However, I can promise you that we won’t run out of excitement, so I’m hoping we keep on going forever!

Martini:
I was good with us stopping at Book 1.

Christopher:
Really?

Martini:
Yeah. I almost died, more than once, but I got the girl and was on a beautiful beach. I was happy.

Kitty: But the other adventures were so fun and exciting.

Martini:
Yeah? I’d like to mention the adrenaline harpoon, and the fact that it seems like I almost died in every book so far. Several times per book.

Chuckie: You got the girl. It evens out.

Martini: Yeah, but with this Creator, who knows how long that’ll last?

Christopher:
I’m with Reynolds, I think The Creator likes you best, Jeff.

Martini:
Hah. I happen to know she loves Reynolds more than me.

Chuckie:
And yet, you got the girl.

Christopher: I get tortured, too, and I didn’t get the girl.

Kitty: Boys, really, bitter much? The point isn’t who got whom --

Chuckie: Yes it is.

Kitty: Okay, but that’s not the whole point. The point is that we save the world from the fugly monsters and insane politicos trying to destroy it. If some adrenaline needs to be slammed into someone’s heart, or some others don’t get their first, or even second, dream girl, really, it’s all for the greater good of entertaining the readers, so we should be happy with a job continuously well done.

Chuckie: That short marketing career of yours continues to pay off, again and again, doesn’t it?

Kitty:
I’m not gracing that with a response.


Q; Well, that's all we have time for. Thank you all for stopping by and taking the time out to do this interview. Do you each have some final parting words you'd like to say?

Chuckie: Per my position, I’m required to say that we were never here, this interview never happened, and aliens do not, point in fact, exist.

Christopher: Great being here, thanks for having us, even though, per Mister Spy here, we weren’t here and you’ve never seen us.

Martini:
I have those pictures in wallets as well as bigger blowups, and a calendar, too, if you’re interested.

Kitty:
They’re all so cute, aren’t they? In that ‘just wanna pinch your cheeks and really thump you one on the head’ way. Thanks for having us, Danielle, we had a blast, and next time, maybe you want to have Reader along to keep everyone else in line. Love you and see you all in the pages of our next book!



Big thanks to Martini (I sleep with your picture under my pillow), Kitty, Christopher and Chuckie. But especially Gini Koch!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

'Scandalous Desires' Maiden Lane #3 by Elizabeth Hoyt

From the BLURB:

Can a pirate learn that the only true treasure lies within a woman’s heart?

“Charming” Mickey O’Connor is the most ruthless river pirate in London. Devastatingly handsome and fearsomely intelligent, he clawed his way up through London’s criminal underworld. Mickey has no use for tender emotions like compassion and love, and he sees people as pawns to be manipulated. Yet he’s never been able to forget the naive captain’s wife who came to him a year ago for help—and spent one memorable night in his bed...talking.

Widowed Silence Hollingbrook is impoverished, lovely, and kind--and a year ago she made a horrible mistake. She went to a river pirate for help in saving her husband and in the process made a bargain that cost her her marriage. That night wounded her so terribly that she hides in the foundling home she helps run with her brother. Except now that same river pirate is back...and he’s asking for her help.

Silence Hollingbrook once paid a pirate’s ransom to save her husband. She stayed the night with St Giles’s most notorious pirate king, Mickey O’Connor . . . one purely innocent night that ruined Silence’s reputation forever, and destroyed her marriage.

When Silence’s husband perished at sea she was heartbroken and drowning in grief, despite the fact that their marriage had been over ever since she’d agreed to Mickey’s offer.

The small ray of hope that dragged Silence out of her misery was Mary Darling, an abandoned baby left on her doorstep. Little Mary, with her head of black curls and pansy-coloured eyes filled the void left by her husband’s death.

But now Mary’s father has come to take her away . . . the pirate king, Mickey O’Connor.

Mickey is in the middle of a St. Giles turf war against the scarred and terrible Vicar of Whitechapel. Mickey has been battling the Vicar throughout his childhood, spent on the dangerous streets of St. Giles.

The Vicar has somehow got wind of Mary Darling and her adopted mother, Silence. Mickey will do anything to protect them – not out of the kindness of his own heart, but because nobody touches what’s his.

But when Silence agrees to stay at Mickey’s ‘palace’ and live amongst his looted treasures with Mary Darling, she starts to unravel Mickey’s history with the Vicar. She sees beyond his affluent criminality to a dark, wounded heart . . .

‘Scandalous Desires’ is the third book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s sublime historical romance series, ‘Maiden Lane’.

Silence and Mickey’s romance has been brewing since first book ‘Wicked Intentions’. For two books now we have been reading their heated dance – between Mickey’s impossibly cruel deals that tarnished Silence’s reputation, to Mary Darling’s appearance on her doorstep. Now ‘Scandalous Desires’ delivers fans the romance we have all been waiting for – between a notorious Pirate King and his virtuous woman.

Hoyt’s ‘Maiden Lane’ is one of the best historical romance series I have ever read. So to say that ‘Scandalous Desires’ is my favourite book thus far is big talk. . . and it’s all thanks to Mickey O’Connor.

Forget Jack Sparrow – Mickey is pirate du-jour, the hottest swash-buckler you’ll ever come across and a delicious fantasy. As is Hoyt’s trademark, Mickey begins the book as a total scoundrel and womaniser. He’s despicable and deplorable, greedy and unfeeling, utterly selfish in every way. The only reason he wants to protect Silence and Mary Darling from the Vicar is because they’re his, and nobody touches what’s his. Of course, Silence and all her virtue fascinated Mickey . . . she is his antithesis, pure and good, a sweet counterpoint to his black heart. But Mickey expects Silence to bend to his will and succumb to his charms.

Except Silence is nothing like the doxies Mickey usually beds. She is strong and self-possessed, viciously protective of those she loves and never afraid to speak her mind. Mickey is charmed, instantly and unfathomably.

Slowly, Mickey’s heart thaws to Silence and his own daughter, Mary Darling. He becomes desperate to protect them both from the Vicar, not because they’re his property but because if anything were to happen to them – he would never forgive himself.

If the babe died, Silence’s heart would be torn from her chest as surely as if a wild animal had savaged her. He had no heart himself, but he’d heard they were delicate things and easily broken. Mick growled low under his breath as he made his way to the front of the house. He knew how to protect Silence from knives and fists, from poverty and want, but he had no idea how – or even if – he could protect her from her own soft heart.


Mickey and Silence have the most explosive romance of any Hollingbrook sibling thus far explored. It’s partly thanks to Hoyt’s masterful building of their romance over the last two books . . . but also simply down to opposites attracting and Mickey’s climb to grace from such great depths.

A few new characters are introduced in this book, including Makepeace black sheep, brother Asa. And beloved secondary characters, like the prudish Winter Makepeace, are fleshed out and given glimpses into their upcoming books. I, for one, really hope that Asa Makepeace gets his own novel . . . because even the small, tantalizing little mention we get in ‘Scandalous Desires’ had me crossing my fingers for unlimited instalments in the incredible ‘Maiden Lane’ series!

‘Scandalous Desires’ is also the book that takes readers through the grimy streets of St. Giles, and reiterates the dangers of Maiden Lane. Because Mickey has lived in St. Giles all his life, and is its veritable King, Hoyt does some really masterful things with the descriptions of this sad little London town. Some of her scene-setting is truly magnificent for being mired in scum;

He crossed a street and looked up. The spire of the new St. Giles-in-the-fields loomed ahead. Mildew had destroyed the old church. Rumour had it that the mildew had fed upon the damp from the rotting plague corpses buried beneath the church flagstones. Certainly the air in the old church had held an evil stink.

‘Scandalous Desires’ is my favourite instalment in an incredible historical romance series. Mickey O’Connor is a sublime pirate rake, and an instant fictional favourite. ‘Desires’ ends on a delicious cliff-hanger concerning the Ghost of St. Giles . . . leaving me all aquiver for ‘Thief of Shadows’ in 2012.

5/5

Thursday, November 17, 2011

'Gracie Faltrain' series by Cath Crowley


World, meet Gracie Faltrain. She’s in year 10, is her school’s soccer superstar and the renegade girl who plays on the boy’s team. Gracie is a phenomenal player, because when she’s on the field she grows wings and never misses a goal. But she plays for herself. She doesn’t pass or share the glory – when Gracie Faltrain plays, she plays to win, and nobody better get in her way.


But Gracie is slowly starting to learn that winning by yourself isn’t nearly as satisfying as sharing the triumph with a team. The same way her family isn’t whole when her dad is away and her mum misses him. Or how Gracie is lost when her best friend, Jane, moves to England for her dad’s work, and Gracie becomes a social outcast at school. Soccer is about teamwork, sharing the glory and commiserating the loss . . . the same can be said of friendships and relationships.

We stay with Gracie through to year eleven. She’s still a soccer superstar, but one year on and she has gained a friend – the geeky, shy and sweet Alyce Fuller is firmly under Gracie’s wing. Then there’s Andrew Flemming, Gracie’s soccer teammate who has finally become a friend, and the object of Alyce’s affections. Then there’s Martin Knight – soccer captain and Gracie’s new boyfriend. Martin’s mum left eight years ago, and her absence still stings. But Gracie Faltrain is here to save the day and fix everyone’s problems, even if she doesn’t understand them. Gracie’s about to learn though, that sometimes you’ve got to let yourself lose when there’s just no way to win.

And, finally, we’re with Grace in her final year of high school. Dan Woodbury is a player from the opposition, but that doesn’t mean Gracie can’t be intrigued by his lip-ring and flying skills. Jane is back from England and dreaming of Gracie’s teammate, Corelli, in his Superman suit. Alyce Fuller is completey and totally over Andew Flemming . . . right when he realizes how much he wants her back. Annabelle Orion is going from annoying mean-girl to Gracie’s arch-nemesis in record time, and Martin doesn’t want anything to do with Gracie anymore. But the championships are around the corner, and Gracie has to make some big decisions about where soccer fits into the great scheme of her future.

Cath Crowley’s ‘Gracie Faltrain’ series debuted in 2004 with ‘The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain’. In 2006 Crowley wrote ‘Gracie Faltrain Takes Control’, and she concluded the series in 2008 with ‘Gracie Faltrain Gets It Right (Finally)’.

Ever since falling in love with Crowley’s ‘Graffiti Moon’ I have had a voracious appetite for her written word. So it was with utter glee that I delved into the ‘Gracie Faltrain’ series . . . and, as has become her MO, Cath Crowley does not disappoint in the least.

The ‘Gracie Faltrain’ series spans three years in the high school soccer career of one Gracie Faltrain – only girl on the boy’s soccer team and catastrophic klutz. Gracie is a superb character, and even though she’s nothing like Crowley’s other beloved female leads, Charlie Duskin or Lucy, Gracie still has the feel of a Crowley creation. She’s a tomboy with a temper, often time oblivious to the thoughts and feelings of others around her (until it’s too late), loyal to a fault and fiercely competitive. She’s brilliant. Throughout the three books we read how Gracie gets it so, so wrong . . . and sometimes she learns how to save the game, but other times her lesson comes from accepting defeat and knowing when she’s beat.

Helping Gracie along the way is a cast of unforgettable secondary characters aplenty. Gracie is our main narrator, but over the course of three books each major and minor character gets their turn at narrating. Gracie’s parents take the lead a lot in the first book, explaining their side of separation and how hard it is to watch Gracie muck up from the sidelines of her life. But in the final two books the narrative voice is taken over by Gracie’s nearest and dearest friends. There’s her best friend, Alyce, the school nerd who gets her heart broken by a popular soccer jock. Andrew Flemming, said popular jock who learns his own self-worth only when the girl he hurt proves it to him. Jane, Gracie’s other best friend, relegated to England for the first two books but back in Australia for the finale and with a broken internal GPS. Martin Knight, in turns Gracie’s biggest fan and harshest commentator.

Multiple narrations are definitely Cath Crowley’s style – it’s her groove and signature move, and it works pitch-perfectly in ‘Gracie Faltrain’. When I first read the plethora of POVs in ‘The Life and Times’ I was a little overwhelmed – particularly when we get Gracie’s parents narrating too. But it works. Once Crowley gets readers into her rhythm, it becomes the most natural thing to be given a window into these people’s heads, to read the ways they bounce off each other and fall in misunderstandings and tangled webs. And Gracie’s parents offer some of the most poignant insights of the entire series;


HELEN FALTRAIN

I read somewhere that spiders can spin silk strong enough to hold the weight of a thousand trucks. I tried to imagine those lines of silver, thinner than air, stronger than steel. Sometimes I think that a hundred webs, invisible gossamers, connect Gracie and me. They coat our bodies, tie our limbs together, link our hearts. They can stretch across cities, countries – even anger. Unbreakable. I felt them that first time I watched her play soccer.
She needed to win so badly. I watched a new Gracie crack out of her cocoon that day. Grey, moth-like, she seemed covered in a dust that let her take to the air. Fly. They’re beautiful things, moths, with their dark patterned wings hooking on wind to push them forward. You have to be careful with them, though. Brush them just lightly, and they can’t fly anymore.

- ‘The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain’


Also, in the multiple narrations, certain character’s voices come to echo Crowley’s other works. Martin Knight is still living in the aftermath of his mother’s abandonment, and there’s a little of the heartsick Charlie Duskin and Ed in him. Likewise, when Gracie’s enemy, Annabelle Orion, takes the narrative reigns, her insights hint at some of the same struggles that Charlie Duskin goes through. It’s the same with Alyce Fuller, the no-hope nerd who is ignored by everyone (including Gracie) in the first book – she too has echoes of Charlie. All of these characters touch on what Cath Crowley is most curious about in her writing – people on the fringe, looking in. She loves the misfits and no-hopers, the ones who kick themselves down . . . and then she writes beautifully about how they get back up. They’re all here in the ‘Gracie Faltrain’ books, and they are lovely to read. But be warned, this is a series that will cause tears. But hey, no pain no gain, and there’s a lot to gain from the ‘Gracie Faltrain’ series.

I love, love, loved all three of these books. This is a wonderful series about fighting for what you want and not being afraid to stuff up, just so long as you admit when you’re wrong and do your damndest to make amends. And this series is funny. Gracie is infectious; her klutzy catastrophes will leave you belly-aching, and the social shenanigans Gracie finds herself in will leave you vicariously red-faced.

Hands up if anyone else fells like they’re in a strange life-looping door that keeps swinging back to hit them on the butt?
- 'Gracie Faltrain Gets It Right (Finally)'


Cath Crowley is truly one of Australia’s finest YA authors. ‘Gracie Faltrain’ is a series with a lot of heart; exploring the pitfalls and soars of high school through the wonderfully fumbling Gracie Faltrain. If you loved ‘Graffiti Moon’ and ‘Chasing Charlie Duskin’, then be assured that Cath Crowley has been writing on a role since way back in 2004. . .

5/5

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

'Please Ignore Vera Dietz' by A.S. King

From the BLURB:

Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

Charlie Kahn is dead, and Vera Dietz can’t decide if she still loves him or hates him irrevocably.

In the aftermath of death, Charlie has become a villainous cautionary tale for Vera’s classmates. The events surrounding his death are shady, horrendous and psychopathic.

But Vera knows the truth that could clear Chalie’s name. And Charlie wants to be proven innocent – he haunts Vera with his paper-cut-out ghosts who fold like an accordion around Vera in the small confines of her car or at the Pagoda Pizza Delivery shop where she works.

But Vera has her own problems. Like convincing her Zen-like dad that she isn’t succumbing to his lousy alcoholic genes. Or convincing herself that she’s nothing like her stripper mother who abandoned the family when Vera was twelve. Vera also has to convince herself that her friendship with Charlie meant something, and wasn’t tossed away because of some Detentionhead losers who stole him away from her in the months leading up to his death.

Vera Dietz may just want to be ignored – by her dad, classmates, arch-nemesis Jenny Flick and the thousand-and-one Charlie’s who haunt her daily. But some things you can’t ignore . . . like the truth.

‘Please Ignore Vera Dietz’ is the acclaimed Printz Honor novel from literary young adult author, A.S. King.

Urgh.
Wow.
Sigh.

Words cannot express (but I’ll try).

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you one of my new all-time favourite novels – ‘Please Ignore Vera Dietz’. This, *this* right here is why young adult novels are more than the sum of their parts. When somebody gives me a perplexed look after I tell them that I write and most enjoy YA books – I wish I could shove ‘Please Ignore Vera Dietz’ down their throats and make them eat it the same way Vera and Charlie eat their napkins. A.S. King is exquisite proof that some of the most exciting and refreshing writing are being explored in the genre intended for younger readers. The young adult genre is the cable television network of writing (HBO, baby!). Everyone may think that movies and adult literary fiction are where it’s at – but cynics and critics need only look to ‘Vera Dietz’ to know the truly astounding work that lies within this genre.


When the novel begins Vera is eviscerated by her emotions. Her childhood best friend (turned enemy in recent months) has just passed away under a cloud of suspicion. Vera misses Charlie every day . . . while also hating him for the way he treated her before his death. But Vera’s emotions are even more complex than that. Because Vera loved Charlie, even when she hated him she loved him. And now that he’s dead she loves to hate him even more in a never-ending spiral of mixed messages and hopeless emotions for a dead kid.


Is it okay to hate a dead kid? Even if you loved him once? Even if he was my best friend? Is it okay to hate him for being dead?

Vera’s grudge extends to her reluctance in helping ‘ghost’ Charlie clear his name. Vera holds the key to Charlie’s innocence . . . but before she can find it in her to forgive him enough to free him, she has to go back to where it all began . . .

The story back-tracks through Charlie and Vera’s history. Sometimes figments of memory feel empty and pointless – like tossing paper airplanes off the rocks overlooking the Pagoda shopping mall. Other times previously forgotten memories take on bigger-than-life meaning . . . like a white Chrysler cruising by. Or the wall-shaking fights that come from the Kahn house next door.

Interjecting Vera’s recounts is the dead kid himself, putting his two cents in from beyond the grave. Also piping up is the inanimate object, Pagoda – a monument to failed dreams and questionable symbolism. Vera’s dad also has a thing or two to say – about how Vera is coping with Charlie’s death (not well, and with copious amounts of alcohol).


And as Vera remembers, she misses and mourns. She mourns the tree-climbing friendship she and Charlie had in their youth, and she misses the future she and Charlie don’t have to mend.


Because with Charlie, nothing was ever easy. Everything was windswept and octagonal and finger-combed. Everything was difficult and odd, and the theme songs all had minor chords.

‘Please Ignore Vera Dietz’ is a novel of magnificence. It’s about bullying and grief, abandonment and ignoring a problem until it festers and explodes. But above all else, it’s a novel of forgiveness. Forgiving people their mistakes and bad choices, the hurts inflicted and sorry’s never given.

5/5