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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

'Lover at Last' Black Dagger Brotherhood #11 by J.R. Ward

 Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

Qhuinn, son of no one, is used to being on his own. Disavowed from his bloodline, shunned by the aristocracy, he has finally found an identity as one of the most brutal fighters in the war against the Lessening Society. But his life is not complete. Even as the prospect of having a family of his own seems to be within reach, he is empty on the inside, his heart given to another....

Blay, after years of unrequited love, has moved on from his feelings for Qhuinn. And it’s about time: The male has found his perfect match in a Chosen female, and they are going to have a young—just as Qhuinn has always wanted for himself. It’s hard to see the new couple together, but building your life around a pipe dream is just a heartbreak waiting to happen. As he’s learned firsthand.

Fate seems to have taken these vampire soldiers in different directions... but as the battle over the race’s throne intensifies, and new players on the scene in Caldwell create mortal danger for the Brotherhood, Qhuinn finally learns the true definition of courage, and two hearts who are meant to be together... finally become one.

There has been a romance brewing in the Brotherhood mansion for many years now . . .  it started as friendship, progressed to unrequited love, fitful lust and finally, brutal rejection. Now the bonds that tie these two are all but irrevocably broken.

Qhuinn is the young star of the Black Dagger Brotherhood – a dedicated bodyguard to his best friend, John Matthew, and one fighter who isn’t afraid to risk his life for the cause. He’s rapidly on his way to becoming an indispensable warrior, even if he isn’t officially part of the Brotherhood, and could never be, because of the heterochromia that marks him as inferior. Qhuinn has been shunned his entire life for his physical defect, and has never known a family’s love – so he’s making one of his own. The Chosen Layla is pregnant with Qhuinn’s child, a daughter he saw in a near-death vision. And while this child was not conceived in love, or even lust, both Qhuinn and Layla are excited to meet their young. 

The warrior Blaylock, meanwhile, is still coming to terms with the knowledge that the man he professed to love is moving on and starting a family, with a woman . . . It wasn’t that long ago that Blay was admitting his true feelings to his best friend and fighting partner, and having Qhuinn twist a dagger in his heart when he replied that he could only envision life with a female. Now Blay has moved on with Saxton, Qhuinn’s savvy and sophisticated cousin, and he’s trying to love the man who is his first true lover . . .  but Qhuinn still comes between them, even if Blay struggles to admit that the feelings he so wishes were buried are anything but.

While Qhuinn and Blay dance around one another, both desperately trying to come to terms with their true feelings and loving limitations, a coup is brewing. . .  Xcor, leader of the Band of Bastards is working to overthrow King Wrath. And while one revolution brews, a royal wedding is being postponed by the Shadow Brothers, Trez & iAm, who are both going on the run so that Trez doesn’t have to enter into an arranged marriage that would make him King’s consort. 

‘Lover At Last’ is the much-anticipated 11th book of J.R. Ward’s tremendously popular ‘Black Dagger Brotherhood’ series.

This is the one we’ve all been waiting (and hoping) for – ever since Blay & Qhuinn’s true feelings were made manifest, fans have been eagerly crossing their fingers for the Warden to dismiss mainstream paranormal romance conventions and write the M/M (male/male) romance we’ve all known has to brew between these two . . .  and now she’s done it! Qhuinn and Blay’s romance is glorious – a heartwrenching, arcing story that takes them both to their lowest lows and triumphant highs – and leaves fans utterly replete. Less successful in this 11th instalment is the many overcrowded secondary character stories; but I’ll get to that.

First – the good . . .  and Qhuinn & Blay are *so* good! These two have been on a romantic rollercoaster for many books now. Between Qhuinn’s rakish thirst for sexual connection with anyone and everyone (except his best friend, Blay) and Blay’s painful love from afar, and consequent rejection – these two have had a monumental love story brewing that’s had fans gushing and fuming in equal measure. There’s a lot riding on ‘Lover At Last’, because while the majority of fans have known for a while now that only a full-fledged book would appease the Qhuay romantics, some small-minded fans have been adamantly put-off by the thought of a homosexual Brotherhood coupling. To them I say – nothing – because I won’t waste my time. But to those who have been eagerly anticipating Qhuay I will say that the Warden holds nothing back – this is an M/M worthy of Josh Lanyon, and it’s among the most romantic of all the Brotherhood mating stories.

“I have loved you for years. I have been in love with you for years and years and years ... throughout school and training ... before transitions and afterward ... when you approached me and yes, even now that you're with Saxton and you hate me. And that ... shit ... in my fucking head locked me down, locked everything down ... and it cost me you.”

But, fair warning, the Warden drags these two through the emotional pits before she can even begin to start building them up – she has to examine why Qhuinn has never admitted his true feelings for Blay, and why Blay could never let Qhuinn go even while he’s been in a loving relationship with Saxton. And, to that end, I hope we haven’t seen the last M/M Brotherhood pairing with Qhuinn and Blay – because Saxton proves himself to be a rather enigmatic and worthy male in this book, and I'd love to see him get a happily ever after. 

Now on to the not-so-good . . . and, actually, these are complaints that have been brewing for the last three books or so. Number one is that the Warden no longer seems to touch-base with past characters quite so much. This has been a common complaint for a few books now – fans have often pointed to the lack of Rhage & Mary updates, these two seeming to have fallen by the wayside pretty much since their book ‘Lover Eternal’ (despite being one of the fan-favourite couplings). But more recently fans were disappointed to not have a touch-base on John Matthew and Xhex’s relationship. And it happens again in ‘Lover At Last’ –we don’t get any scenes between the latest coupling of Tohr and No’One, which is especially disappointing since it felt like their coupling at the end of ‘Lover Reborn’ was still a work-in-progress, and something the Warden would monitor with updates in subsequent books. 

It used to be that the Warden was quite good at keeping readers in-touch with past couples of the BDB world. Zsadist and Bella were frequently revisited in side-stories, as are Beth and Wrath (who, consequently, are set-up to be the focus of 12th book ‘The King’ in 2014). But now instead of feeding fans’ curiosity about the goings-on of mated Brothers and their Shellans, the Warden has been introducing new characters and side-stories . . .  like that of Assail and Sola in ‘Lover At Last’. Sola being a human sent to spy on lone-wolf Assail, who gets more than she bargained for when her spying is detected – and Assail’s animal instincts piqued by this curious human female. 

Now, in theory I like Assail/Sola – especially because it’s a human/vampire pairing that we haven’t had since Butch and Marissa (or, more technically, Rhage and Mary!). But I found myself frustrated whenever the Warden cut to their story, because I wasn’t as invested in them as I was more established characters – like Trez, iAm, Xcor, Qhuinn, Blay, Wrath, Beth etc, etc, etc. Especially when Wrath and Beth’s ongoing story was set-up in this book, as was Trez’s, not to mention Xcor and Layla . . .  adding Assail and Sola to the pile was one too many. 

The more successful side-stories were that of Trez & iAm – Shadow twins who have apparently been hiding quite a bit from the Brotherhood and fans alike. I’m not thrilled that another Chosen is set-up as Trez’s potential love interest . . .  but I am thrilled that it seems a done-deal that Trez and iAm will both be getting books.

And then there’s Xcor – the ugly, scarred leader of the Band of Bastards, and possibly the only thing saving Layla from being universally despised by BDB readers. Perfect, verily beautiful Layla being paired with the scarred and despised Xcor is actually sort of genius – and while I’m still not invested or enamoured of her, I appreciate that her previously sickeningly Mary-Sue life is becoming layered, messy and complex . . .  and I’m liking that, a lot.

All in all; ‘Lover At Last’ is a most satisfying book for those who have been Team Qhuay and had their fingers-crossed for a book that does them justice. ‘Lover At Last’ is that book – a perfect love story for two of the most popular BDB characters in the series. And while I wish previous characters would get more love from the Warden (while newer secondary characters could be hustled away) stories like Xcor and Layla’s, Trez and iAm’s would suggest that this is a series that still has a lot to offer . . . 

3.5/5



Saturday, April 27, 2013

Interview with Honey Brown, author of 'Dark Horse'


I have a few authors whose upcoming releases I anticipate like Christmas. I mark release-dates in my calendar, and the approach of their new book is met with unmitigated glee. I look forward to these authors because I’ve come to trust in their books and their writing – they’re my guaranteed great reads, and I just know their new books will only build upon their favorite author status on my shelf. 
Honey Brown is one such author and her new book, 'Dark Horse', has become another favourite. So, of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask questions of the author whose books I crack open with Christmas-morning enthusiasm. 

Q: How were you first published – agent or slush pile? 
I’d entered Red Queen into the ABC Unpublished Manuscript Competition, and come runner-up. At the awards ceremony I asked an agent for her card. I sent the Red Queen manuscript to her, and she sent it on to Penguin.     

 
Q: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ - that is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?
I’m a pantser. For me, plotting leads to writer’s block. Characters drive my stories, and their personalities evolve as I write. Characters are like people – they don’t like being told how to act. It’s hard for me to shoehorn them into predetermined plot points. If I do that, it’s like they’re all of a sudden cardboard cutouts. A part of the fun of writing is being surprised by the unexpected things a character can do, and how the story can unfold in a way more fascinating than I first imagined. I do start each book with an ending in mind though, and I try my best to steer that way.

 
Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Dark Horse’, from first idea to final manuscript?
Because I’m writing constantly, staring times and ending times are a bit of a blur. It probably took around ten months to complete.

 
Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall?
 
It’s always a question relating to human nature that sparks my interest. I think of a tough situation, and then wonder what a good person would do if dropped into it, how they would react, how it might change them, the bad things they might be pushed to do. It’s through writing that I get to explore these questions and try and answer them. 

Q: You write such complex, thrilling books that delve into the darkest depths of the human psyche. Do you enjoy reading books in the same genre that you write in? And what is it about the darkness that draws you to write about it?
I’m not a big reader of novels. When I do read a book, I don’t read in the conventional way – I open a book anywhere, I look for the writer’s style and use of language, I’m interested in technique. I’m rarely swept-up in the story. I think I’m drawn to writing about darker themes because I like rawness and honesty and stripping back modern convention and moral codes to see what’s underneath. 

 
Q: All of your books feature strong, female characters. And, more importantly, they’re strong, ordinary female characters – there are no superpowers involved, and they’re incredibly relatable. Do you think there’s a lack of such characters in Australian fiction at the moment? And are your female heroines inspired by women in your life?
There seems to me to be a lot of strong female characters in storytelling at the moment. I don’t write to push any sort of an agenda or to address any kind of an imbalance though. Weak characters are never very likable, I wouldn’t like to spend a lot of time with them, and don’t think the reader would either, so I make my main characters strong. I make them everyday people so I that when I drop them in an extreme situation, the sudden change and test of spirit are there to explore.  

My female characters (like my male characters) have lots of different people in them, and a little bit of me too. I draw from family members, friends, and even people I’ve only briefly met. Personality traits can cross from sex to sex. If anything, I see parts of myself in my male characters more so than in my female characters.     
 
Q: I feel like a big theme you keep exploring in all your books is the edge of male violence against women. It feels like in all of your books, there comes a moment when you write your female heroines into a corner – and put a chokehold on the reader. I can say, personally, it’s always a moment that I dread/can’t stop reading. It’s when your female characters enter into a situation with men – and as a female reader you dread the worst for them – I’m thinking of Rebecca finding herself in a house full of drunk men in ‘The Good Daughter’, or Denny making herself known and vulnerable to two isolated brothers in ‘Red Queen’. I dread the anticipation and potentially reading a quite brutal scene in which women are at men’s mercy – but personally, I think you say everything that needs to be said in these scenes without writing excessive violence against the female characters. Why is this something you keep coming back to? Have you ever thought that other writers have gone too far in writing violence against women, without more thoughtful examination?
My interest lies more with power play than what it does with violence against women. In my stories the characters use what they’ve been equipped with to coerce others and gain control. I believe that men often use their physicality, because they have that in their arsenal, whereas women often use emotional manipulation, because we’ve evolved that skill to compensate for our smaller frames. All types of controlling behaviors can be cruel and soul destroying. Both sexes can inflict pain and be hurtful. I don’t like going too far in my description of brutality; it feels disrespectful to people who have suffered real-life violence, or been emotionally or physically abused, and disrespectful to use my characters in such a way. I’m not at all comfortable around true evil. Good people doing bad things, is where my fascination lies. 

In writing violence and brutality, authors cross the line all the time, but the creative process is about pushing boundaries and thinking outside the box, so it’s understandable that it happens, and I don’t doubt that a writer, or any type of artist, on reflection, regrets it when they’ve gone too far.      

 
Q: Your books alternately explore isolation and pack mentality – ‘Red Queen’ had a main cast of two brothers and one stranger, ‘The Good Daughter’ was centred on an entire town, ‘After the Darkness’ was sort of about two characters against the world, and in ‘Dark Horse’ we’re back to a quite pared-back character list and a focus on two souls – Sarah and Heath. What influences whether you want to have a tight, small cast of characters or examine society on a larger scale?
It’s whatever best suits the original question I put to myself when starting the book. In Red Queen it went without saying that there’d be very few characters, because the question I posed myself was – what would happen if two brothers and one women were isolated in a cabin in the wilderness? Whereas with After The Darkness the question was – what if couple happily married couple were attacked and abused and then had to return to their children and go about their normal life? The background cast of characters is like the setting – it’s about framing and enhancing the story.   

 
Q: You’ve been (thankfully!) releasing a book every year since your ‘Red Queen’ debut. Do you get ideas/inspiration for your next book while writing your current – or do you have a cooling-off period when you think about ideas for your next manuscript? And, speaking of, what are you working on right now, and when can we expect it to hit shelves?
I don’t cool down between books. Sometimes I wish I did. At any given time I have a couple of stories turning in my mind. I file them to the back of my head and draw out one at a time. When I’m writing, I’m aware of the other stories waiting there, not liking being shelved. Towards the end of each story, I tend to get more excited about the next one, and it takes some effort to stay focused on the one I’m actually writing. 

I’m at the halfway point of book five at the moment. It’ll be released next year. I’m very secretive about my raw drafts. If I talk too much about an unwritten story it leeches the energy from it, and the drive to write it disappears. I use the keyboard as my only outlet, and that way I always push through to the end so that at I can at last talk about my story.  


Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?
These authors I envy because of their amazing minds and their craftsmanship when writing – J.M.Coetzee, Graham Greene, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Robert Harris, Alice Munro, the list could go on and on… 

Q: Favourite book(s)? 
My favourite books aren’t always the most perfectly written ones; I don’t mind seeing flaws in a novel, it often endears me to it. These are the books I will never lend out, or pack away in any box, or ever be without – Deliverance, Dirt Music, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Great Gatsby, Lord of The Flies, The Quiet American, Disgrace, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?
Respect your reader. Write a story that will entertain them. 

'Dark Horse' by Honey Brown

 Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

It's Christmas morning on the edge of the rugged Mortimer Ranges. Sarah Barnard saddles Tansy, her black mare. She is heading for the bush, escaping the reality of her broken marriage and her bankrupted trail-riding business.

Sarah seeks solace in the ranges. When a flash flood traps her on Devil Mountain, she heads to higher ground, taking shelter in Hangman's Hut.

She settles in to wait out Christmas.

A man, a lone bushwalker, arrives. Heath is charming, capable, handsome. But his story doesn't ring true. Why is he deep in the wilderness without any gear? Where is his vehicle? What's driving his resistance towards rescue? The closer they become the more her suspicions grow.

But to get off Devil Mountain alive, Sarah must engage in this secretive stranger's dangerous game of intimacy.

Sarah can’t spend Christmas at her mum and dad’s house, she just can’t. Still navigating the wreckage of her marriage, and the discovery that her husband of ten years had been having numerous affairs throughout their relationship, Sarah opts out of any festivities and instead decides to spend the day in the mountains. She saddles her prized black mare, Tansy, packs a picnic and a shotgun and sets out for the ranges that were once her office . . . this is one of the last times Sarah will be able to enjoy a Devil Mountain ride, since she’s also losing her horse trail business along with her house and husband. 

Being out in nature is just what Sarah needed. To get away from the hurt and pitying looks of town residents who know her sad story. Sarah and Tansy enjoy one of their last days in the ranges together . . .  until the heavens open up.

A flash flood decimates the mountain, and Sarah barely escapes with her life and her horse – but the one way off the mountain is flooded. Sarah and Tansy are forced to take shelter at Hangman’s Hut, a property belonging to the long-dead bushranger Sid, which is currently under heritage restoration. 

The rain pours, but Sarah is content – she has shelter, some provisions, a shotgun for safety and she spoke to her father before coming up the mountain. Help will come, when the rain stops. 

But before help can arrive, a stranger does. Sarah hears a noise in the middle of the night, and finds a young man stuck in the mud and unable to help himself – he claims to have a busted knee, a dead phone and his car is stranded somewhere higher up on the mountain. His name is Heath, and he needs Sarah’s help – she’s his only hope.

‘Dark Horse’ is the new suspense-thriller from Australian author, Honey Brown.

Bloody brilliant – those are the only two words that come to mind in trying to summarize this book. 

Bloody.

Brilliant.

Brown sets the dreary, isolated scene – introducing readers to Sarah and Tansy, and pieces of the sad story that finds them alone on Devil Mountain on Christmas day. Sarah is still reeling from the disagreeable disintegration of her marriage, after discovering that her husband of ten years had been cheating on her for all of them. Sarah refuses to spend Christmas nursing a broken heart at her parent’s house and, knowing her property has been sold and horse trail business dissolved, she decides on one last trek to the ranges to say goodbye. 

This Australian story is set somewhere in Tasmania – Devil Mountain being a dense rainforest similar to Gippsland or the Dandenong Ranges. It’s a primal, isolated setting, and for a long time Sarah and Tansy are our only characters – a woman and her horse battling the elements as they become increasingly deadly. It’s a wonderful introduction for Sarah; a clearly broken woman whose confidence has been rocked by her husband’s infidelities and her very foundations shaken by all she has lost in the divorce. And yet, readers are privy to Sarah’s sudden burst of strength and determination –battling against the elements to save herself, and her beloved mare. It immediately introduces us to a fascinating dichotomy in the character; that even if Sarah doesn’t believe in herself, readers know that deep down she still has an unbreakable spirit.  

After Sarah survives the flash flood and takes shelter in Hangman’s Hut, Honey Brown introduces her (now trademark) “what if?” quandary – by throwing a stranded, injured young man into the mix. Sarah, already vulnerable in so many ways, is now stranded atop this mountain with a strange man. Their first meeting hardly assuages her worries;


Rain had slowed. The wind had died down. With the light gone from his forehead and shining from a different angle, the shadows on his face changed and his age was more apparent. He was in his late twenties. He had a youthful gleam in his eyes, liveliness even though he was cold and battered. From all accounts, you’d think he was revelling in the intensity, exactly like a young man would, everything an adventure. The smile he gave her emerged white from within the mud mask. ‘I promise I’m not Ted Bundy.’ 
‘Sorry?’ 
‘The killer.’ 
‘Huh?’ 
‘The murderer who pretended to have a broken leg to lure women.’ 
Sarah frowned. 
‘Bad joke,’ he said.

From here the book takes its twisting turns and spirals into a primal thriller. And this is where Brown always succeeds in her books – she breaks her characters down to their animal natures; she leaves them vulnerable and backed into corners and then sees how they react. 

I loved that ‘Dark Horse’ is a very tight, almost claustrophobic book with minimal cast – the spotlight being firmly on Sarah, Heath and the horse, Tansy (who is most definitely a character in herself!). ‘Dark Horse’ actually reads a bit like a play for its character-driven schematic, in which conversations between Sarah and Heath become intense double-talk and laden in secrets and silences and then switch in increments to something sensual but equally dangerous. Add mother-nature raging just beyond the hut’s doors and this becomes a very intense, masterful suspense story that does a whole lot with very little – two characters in an abandoned hut on the side of a mountain, and yet Brown’s book is a heart-palpitating page-turner. 

What always works for me in Honey Brown’s books is that her characters and scenarios always feel very instinctual. I never read her books feeling like she, as the author, is pushing the story or manipulating the characters – their actions always feel very natural and there are so many times when a character’s response is in keeping with what I believe I would do in such a situation. And that’s the mark of a truly masterful storyteller – when you can’t even see who’s pulling the strings because you’re so engrossed by the play unfolding before you.

I refuse to spoil this book for anyone; because there are moments that are gaspable and all the more fun for Honey Brown’s sideswipes. I will only say that she well and truly got me – perfect sucker punch right to the gut, and I loved every twisting moment of it. 

I became a Honey Brown devotee back with ‘The Good Daughter’ and ‘Red Queen’ – and of course she suckered me into last year’s release, ‘After the Darkness’ – so I really shouldn’t be surprised that ‘Dark Horse’ is another killer thriller from the new (red) queen of Aussie suspense . . .  but I am. This is another book that had my heart racing and palms sweating – Honey Brown even managed to elicit audible gasps from me. And, as always happens when I get to the end of a Honey Brown book, the second I read the last page I wanted another of her novels to consume. I’ll just have to be content to wait, and know that whatever she writes next will no doubt be another wholly satisfying affair.

5/5 



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Adults: Young and New


I have a new column up at Kill Your Darlings, in which I discuss 'New Adult', and look at the negative effects self-publishing has had on this emerging readership. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

'Drama' by Raina Telgemeier



From the BLURB:

PLACES, EVERYONE!

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school's production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can't really sing. Instead she's the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she's determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn't know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!


It’s theatre-season at Eucalyptus Middle School, and when it’s announced that this year’s production will be the wonderfully ambitious ‘Moon Over Mississippi’ everyone is excited – none more so than set designer, Callie.

 


Callie is theatre-obsessed, and has dreams of her set designs making it to Broadway and beyond one day. For Moon Over Mississippi’ she’s already envisioning cannon-fire and willow trees.

But amidst her excitement over this year’s musical tour-de-force, Callie is also grappling wayward crushes and frustrating friends.

Ever since Callie kissed Greg, brother to her good friend Matt, things have gone a little bit skewed for Cal … especially since Greg still is still smitten with bossy Bonnie, and now Matt is acting strange around her.

But then Cal meets brothers Justin and Jesse – extraordinary singers who are as theatre-obsessed as she is. Justin has every intention of trying out for Moon Over Mississippi’, but quieter Jesse refuses to even audition – although he knows all the songs by heart. Both boys become good friends to Cal, but when she develops feelings for one of the brothers, things become even more confusing…

‘Drama’ is the stand-alone, young adult graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to appreciate graphic novels. I’ve found some favourites among ‘Saga’, ‘Lost at Sea’ and ‘My Friend Dahmer’ – and since delving into this new literary world I’ve asked for recommendations and favourites from friends and fellow reviewers. And the one name that pops up again and again is Raina Telgemeier.

Raina Telgemeier has become quite the star in the world of young adult graphic novels. She’s created four graphic novel adaptations of Ann M. Martin's popular ‘The Baby-sitters Club’ series, and was picked by YALSA for their 2007 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, as well as ALA ’s Booklist 2007 Top Ten Graphic Novels for Youth list. ‘Drama’, her latest book, won the 2013 Stonewall Book Award Honor from the American Library Association. In other words; Telgemeier is a very big deal. And now that I’ve finally read one of her books … I can see what all the fuss is about.

The story of 'Drama' is nothing short of spectacular. Telgemeier imbues the page with a heady sense of anticipation, not unlike the butterflies-in-stomach feel of opening night, or the moment right before the curtains part...


What's so great about 'Drama', is that the backstage creatives are in the spotlight. And Callie as set-designer and leading lady is really wonderful - with her shock of purple hair, cool demeanour and heady broadway ambitions she is one incredible heroine. 

The drawing style is colourful and a little retro – there’s a bit of an Tintin look to them, which also reminded me of Disney animated series ‘The Weekenders’. There’s a definite cartoon-aspect, which may lead some people to assume that Telgemeier is writing for a very young audience. Her books are actually a great crossover – definite appeal for ‘middle grade’ readers, as well as young adult (I even think these would be great books for novice adult readers who want to delve into graphic novels!).

Telgemeier’s artwork is beautiful and clever; like the panels where Callie is flipping through an enormous photography book of set designs and costumes – Telgemeier visualises Callie’s obsession for the theatre and her ambitious dreams by injecting her into the book she’s so absorbed in.  


This colourful cartoon is also delving into some very important topics – like teamwork, sexuality and acceptance. I admit, I was very surprised by the story directions Telgemeier took; I (stupidly) expected an entirely light-hearted fare from these vibrant and young characters – but what I got was a brilliantly warm and sincere book that didn’t preach important topics, but explored them with sensitivity and humour.

There’s a big focus in this book about the sexuality of the theatre boys Callie befriends (and later crushes on). I’ve written before about LGBT and young adult novels – and how important it is for this readership to read many and varied portrayals of sexuality and love. But sometimes it can feel like LGBT books tick boxes and get very serious in trying to be inclusive and sensitive and it can just feel like prescribed reading of a different nature. Not so with Telgemeier’s ‘Drama’ – here is a book with a very organic LGBT storyline that has a beautiful message at its heart, but doesn’t preach that message. As a result, ‘Drama’ is one of the most sophisticated and sensitive LGBT books I’ve ever read.

I’m really excited that Raina Telgemeier is coming to Melbourne for Reading Matters in May. I look forward to hearing her speak, and in particular I’m interested to know her thoughts on graphic novels’ place in the young adult literary world (there’s been a shift ever since Gene Luen Yang’s ‘American Born Chinese’ became the first graphic novel to win the Printz Award).  I know I’m late to the comic bandwagon – but now that I’m here I can really appreciate that graphic novels like Telgemeier’s should have a place on school reading lists. Victoria has taken small steps in this direction, by including Art Spiegelman’s ‘The Complete Maus’ to the VCE reading list – but I’d like to see more love for graphic novels from teachers and librarians in Australia. Especially when they are as smart and have as much heart as Raina Telgemeier’s ‘Drama’.

5/5 






The Centre for Youth Literature is bringing Raina Telgemeier to Reading Matters in May! 
And she has been blogging on the Inside a Dog website!

This is my trip to America...

                 

I went to America, and this is what I saw...

Fair warning, there are holidays snaps ahead - AVERT YOUR EYES if you have a Bernard Black aversion to being bored to death, looking at other people's holiday photos. 


San Francisco cable cars! Tram travel is vastly improved when you can swing your body out the door - Yarra Trams needs to look into that, pronto! 



The Golden Gate Bridge! 


City Lights Bookstore! The most famous bookstore in San Francisco, and it definitely lived up to the hype - it was a treasure-cave filled with books, above and below. I bought a copy of George Saunders' Tenth of December, which I'm currently rationing my reading of to prolong the enjoyment. 



I also had a Graffiti Moon moment, when I spotted a Banksy near Little Saigon! 


And the bookish-treats kept coming in San Francisco, when I found this great little bar!


I went to Alcatraz and did the most amazing tour - and this is the view of San Francisco from one of the cell-blocks. Prisoners claimed that on New Years Eve they could hear the cheers of revelry if the wind was just right . . . 


On my last day in San Fran I paid tribute to one of my favourite shows growing up, Full House. 

♪ When you're lost out there and you're all alone, A light is waiting to carry you home, 
Everywhere you look 
Everywhere you look 


After San Francisco I went to Las Vegas and did not gamble . . . but I did fly to the Grand Canyon in a helicopter (and very much appreciated when our pilot played James Bond and Indiana Jones music, to add to the whole experience) 




From Las Vegas we went to the Big Apple - NEW YORK CITY! And this was the view from my hotel room. 


I loved everything about New York, but one of my favourite buildings was of course the New York Public Library. This place is more like a Cathedral than a library (actually, they're both places of worship so that fits)


Breath was officially taken. 

 



While in New York I set aside a block of time to visit Midtown Comics and was blown away. 


I've only recently started reading comics and graphic novels, and I've been quite suckered into a few (form Saga to My Friend Dahmer). So I went to this shop and had a really good chat with some wonderful staff who recommended me a few novels and were just so helpful and enthusiastic. I really wanted to buy Chris Ware's gorgeous Building Stories - but it wouldn't have fit in my suitcase.

I will have reviews of some of these graphic novels going up over the next few months - but I think I can officially say that I am now a comic-convert. I'm in love.



I did lots of BIG things in New York - like going to 'Top of the Rock' (Rockefeller Plaza) which I loved (and not just because I got to feel like Liz Lemon). But New York is also an incredible city for the little things - like when I found myself walking on wise words.




I went to the American Museum of Natural History - and while I was disappointed by the lack of mummy-magic, this place invoked my childhood love of dinosaurs. It was also very cool to go there during a weekday and see all the school excursions wandering around - what a great field trip! 


Aforementioned 'Top of the Rock' - which gave us a pass to see NYC during the day, and at night ...

 




We saw three shows on Broadway - and each one was pure fabulousness! I can't pick a favourite ... though I had "Tomorrow is a Latter Day" from The Book of Mormon stuck in my head for approximately 48 hours.


... So that was my trip. 
And now that I'm home again, I just want to get back to New York!