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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

'Alien vs Alien' Katherine 'Kitty' Katt #6 by Gini Koch

 Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Jeff and Kitty Katt-Martini and the rest of the American Centaurion Diplomatic Corps are still recovering from their introduction to Washington D.C. politics, parties, and conspiracies. So when compromising pictures arrive, no one’s too surprised. They’re also the least of anyone’s worries.

Evil androids running amok, birds of all kinds and from all places creating havoc, a Senator trapped in an ever-tightening web of intrigue, and escalating international tensions all seem tough but manageable. But the disappearance of Jeff Martini and Charles Reynolds during the International One World Festival signals more than the usual nastiness — and it looks like even ACE can’t help them.

Then new trouble arrives in old packages and even with the best hackers in the world, beings from near and far, the full might of Earth’s military, and the Wonder Twins on their side, Centaurion Division’s outmanned and outgunned.

Now Kitty’s racing against the clock to find not only Jeff and Chuckie, but to keep the peace between Middle Eastern countries, all while searching for the bases of super-soldier operations — to stop them or die trying.

This review contains spoilers of all other books in the 'Katherine "Kitty" Katt' series

Kitty Katt-Martini is finally settling into her new life as Ambassador’s wife and member of the American Centaurion Diplomatic Corps. Yes, Kitty’s settling right into politics – she’s dodging calls from nosy senators, sweet-talking paparazzi and soon finds herself embroiled in a sex scandal with her best friend, Chuckie. It’s just another day in Washington, really, and the helter-skelter life of Katherine ‘Kitty’ Katt.

Except Kitty and Chuckie’s ‘scandal’ is a complete lie based around very convincing photoshop pictures. And Jeff (normally King of Jealousy Town) isn’t even mad or suspicious. This might have something to do with the fact that he’s had to stay away from his family while Jamie-Kat’s been teething, and Jeff’s astute empathy skills have been causing him no end of trouble where his daughter’s pain is concerned. Or it might be due to the fact that Jeff, Chuckie and Christopher have bigger fish to fry. Like escalating international tensions, evil androids and unexpected visitors from ‘out of town’.

But just when things can’t get any worse for Kitty & Co – Chuckie and Jeff go missing while at the International One World Festival. Suddenly androids, birds and blackmail photos seem paltry in comparison to finding Kitty’s husband and best friend. In fact, the fate of the world may very well depend on it.

‘Alien vs. Alien’ is the sixth book in Gini Koch’s blockbuster series, ‘Katherine “Kitty” Katt’.

I know summer is near in Australia when the flip-flops are slipped on, the smell of barbeques fills the air and I have a hot new Gini Koch novel in my hands.

We’re now six books into this epic, intergalactic series and Koch keeps the curveballs coming and the action jam-packed. ‘Alien vs. Alien’ is a particularly interesting instalment in the series because it’s really kind of the Katherine “Kitty” Katt show; what with her husband, the indescribably scrumptious Jeff Martini, kidnapped and whereabouts unknown. We really haven’t ever read Kitty on her own – since she and Martini have been a two-for-one kind of deal from book one ‘Touched by an Alien’. It’s really nice to remember that while Jeff has been her hunky alien protector for five books now, when Kitty’s in dire straits she can also hold her own; simultaneously pulling off a missing-persons search and working to prevent intergalactic/earthly warfare.

“It’s a tremendous security breach, not to mention culturally frowned upon, so I can understand why the four of you don’t want it shared with the world. But since the secret you’re trying to hide isn’t related to interstellar security and the fate of the world, the four of you can relax.”
“Interstellar?” Jakob said. “Did I hear you correctly? You were serious about an alien invasion?”
“Yes,” Franklin said. “Based on everything that’s happened, much of which has involved all of you, I’m prepared to break any number of protocols and bring you up to speed. Because I think we need to focus on saving our would more than my career.”

I would say that each of Koch’s books has been slowly expanding Kitty’s (and the readers) understanding of the galaxy from which the Centaurion Division herald. We know that they were forced to flee across space and are still wary of being found here on earth. With these remembered tid-bits from past books in mind, ‘Alien vs. Alien’ is really interesting for what Koch reveals about what is out there – in the galaxy unknown.

But don’t go thinking that this sixth book is all doom and gloom and kidnappings. As much as Koch is expanding the ‘Kitty Katt’ universe, she’s also very much grounded in exploring the relationships between her characters. Expect some highly amusing scenes concerning Christopher and Amy and what it’s like to have a parents-in-law who are, literally, from outer space. Chuckie may or may not also have a very interesting development in the romance department. . . . But I refuse to give anything away!

‘Alien vs. Alien’ is another resounding triumph for Gini Koch and her crazily wonderful ‘Katherine “Kitty” Katt’ space opera series. It has everything you want from summer blockbuster reading; an impending alien invasion, lovers torn apart, the fate of the world in a mother’s hands and a Washington sex scandal. Terrific!


'Alien vs Alien' is released on December 4

'10 Tips for a Healthy Interspecies Relationship' by Jeff and Kitty Katt-Martini


I’m so pleased that my two favorite aliens, Kitty Katt-Martini and her husband Jeff Martini, were able to take time out from their world-saving to come over to Alpha Rader and speak to me. I’m especially grateful to them (and their creator, Gini Koch) because I know their sixth book ‘Alien vs. Alien’ is released on December 4th and they’re no doubt gearing up for a very busy festive season! 
So without further ado – I give you ….

10 Tips for a Healthy Interspecies Relationship
By Jeff and Kitty Katt-Martini

Hi, I’m Katherine “Kitty” Katt-Martini, and I narrate the true-life adventures of what it’s like to live and work with the most gorgeous, talented, and out of this world folks around. Heavy emphasis on “out of this world”. Because they’re originally from another world -- Alpha Four of the Alpha Centauri system.

Along the way I, and many others, have fallen in love with a special someone who’s got a lot of special under the hood, so to speak. And, for some reason, everyone’s looking to me for advice about how to ensure that their beloved remains their beloved forever and ever. (No, I’m not sure why, either, but I roll with it.)

So, to help everyone out, let’s get the advice flowing! To be fair, I’ve asked my main squeeze, Jeff Martini, to help me out.

Jeff: Main squeeze? I’m your husband.

Kitty: Right you are! So, what’s your first tip?

Jeff: Never refer to your spouse as your ‘main squeeze’. Because it indicates there are subsidiary and secondary squeezes.

Kitty: Only to the overly jealous, like you.

Jeff: Thanks for proving my point.

Kitty: Okay, we’ll go with, “Be sensitive to your special someone’s needs, particularly if your special someone is a really strong empath with serious jealousy issues.”

Jeff: I’ll take it. I’d add that sometimes a person needs their own space, and you should be understanding about it.

Kitty: When have I, or you, for that matter, needed our own space?

Jeff: You did way back when.

Kitty: Okay, we’re contracted with Alpha Reader here for ten tips, so I’ll take it. That’s Tip Two, folks, space! Accept that your mate will be considered the hottest thing on two legs by everyone, everywhere, and try not to worry about fading into the woodwork when standing next to them.

Jeff: Right, because we A-Cs don’t care about looks.

Kitty: Well the gals, or Dazzlers, as I call them, sure don’t. Brains and brain capacity, that’s their thing. To a scary degree.

Jeff: A-C men prefer a brainy girl to a pretty one. I just happened to score the sexiest and smartest girl in the galaxy.

Kitty: Tip Four would be to lay on the compliments, because that kind of stuff never gets old.

Jeff: Hey, it’s true. I like how you slid Tip Three in while no one was looking, baby.

Kitty: Thanks, I thought it was pretty slick, myself. So, next up would be to dump any prejudices you might want to cart along, because A-Cs have no sexual orientation or skin color hang-ups. Or age hang-ups. And most of the religious issues are being handled -- convert, don’t convert, everyone’s okay with it now.

Most everyone. Not all. But I do agree that in many things, we’re far more liberal and relaxed than humans. But not everything.

Kitty: True enough, which brings me to our next tip -- get used to seeing your male spouse in a black Armani suit, white shirt, and black tie for the rest of your life. And if your spouse is female, she’ll be in the white Oxford button-down and a black slim skirt forever. A-Cs love their formality and their Armani, not necessarily in that order.

Jeff: I like the suit. I’m comfortable in the suit.

Kitty: I know. Believe me, I know. So, Tip Seven is to remember that even if your alien mate was born on Earth, like my man was, they were probably schooled within the A-C community, so there are still areas where they act very alien, and also don’t get human reactions or terminology.

Jeff: Same goes for humans not understanding us.

Kitty: I suppose. Tip Eight is that almost no A-C can lie believably to any human. There are a few who can, but they have their own special clubhouse. The rest of them? Cannot lie to save their or anyone else’s lives. They get around this problem by not telling you the whole story. But pay attention and you’ll soon easily spot your mate’s tells. After that, go to town.

Jeff: I don’t have tells.

Kitty: OMG, Jeff, you have more tells than anyone else on Earth.

Jeff: Thanks for that. Okay, two more tips, let’s make them count. I’ve got the tips your dad gave me when we were getting married. The main one being a happy wife is a happy life.

Kitty: My dad’s the greatest, isn’t he? Okay, last tip, Tip Ten -- be willing to risk your life for your alien mate, because they’ll be willing to risk theirs for you. And remember that, due to their double-hearts and increased stamina, they are sexual gods and goddesses, making all that life and limb risking beyond totally worth it.

Jeff: I went for the sweet, caring last tip, and you went for life risking and sex. What does that say about us?

Kitty: Whoops, time’s up! That’s all the tips for today, folks! We now return you to our regularly scheduled Alpha Reader!

Get ready to read Jeff and Kitty Martini in their new book 'Alien vs Alien' out on December 4!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Interview with Andrew McGahan, author of the 'Ship Kings' series

Andrew McGahan’s first book in his ‘Ship Kings’ young adult series was a notable CBCA book and made the Inkys longlist. A rollicking and exhilarating sea adventure, the book feels like an ode to the greats like Robert Louis Stevenson and Herman Melville; it’s a remarkable new series, and both children and young adults will find themselves pulled into the swelling story.

Second book in the ‘Ship Kings’ series is released on November 1st, and is ‘The Voyage of the Unquiet Ice

I was lucky enough to pose a few questions to Mr. McGahan in the lead-up to his second book’s release. . .

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?

For most of my earlier novels I was content to let things develop as I wrote, although I usually had a fair idea of where I was going, but for a four volume fantasy series it did feel necessary to plot things out in somewhat more detail, book by book. That said, nothing turns out exactly as I planned, and I’m quite happy to veer off in new directions if they occur to me mid-manuscript.

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?

I generally have a beginning in mind, and an ending, when I start – but often only a vague idea of how to get from one to the other. Or to put it another way, I know what emotional and dramatic state I want the characters to end up in – usually that means exhausted or traumatised in some manner! - but the question is one of how to reduce them to that state in a way that feels meaningful and significant.

Q: Your ‘Ship Kings’ protagonist is a bit of a contradiction. The first page of ‘The Coming of the Whirlpool’ describes how Dow will one day be known as Last of the Ship Kings, but in a twist of fate the first half of his life was “a landlocked one.” I’m just curious if you wrote this series as a great lover of the sea, or as a “landlocked” author fascinated by it?

Entirely the latter. I’m no sailor – indeed, like Dow I grew up nowhere near the sea, and even as an adult I’ve never taken any great interest in boats or in getting out on the ocean. My interest is purely in seafaring tales, which I’ve always loved, from Moby Dick on; not seafaring reality.

Q: There’s such fabulous detail in the ‘Ship Kings’ series – everything from sea life to sea creatures is meticulously explored and beautifully bought to life. I’m curious what sort of research you did in writing these books?

I didn’t go overboard with research (if you’ll excuse the pun) as this is a fantasy series and so it’s as much about creating a new world as it is about accurately recreating the real one. So I didn’t, for instance, go and serve on a tall ship or anything. But I did read up a lot on both small boats and large ships and on how to handle them, and studied the raw basics of navigations etc, so as not to have my boats and ships doing things which are utterly ridiculous – hopefully. But I’m sure I wouldn’t fool a real sailor for five seconds, and nor am I trying to.
Q: ‘Ship Kings’ is your first foray into children’s literature after your great success as a writer of adult books (even winning the 2005 Miles Franklin Award). What prompted you to enter into children’s fiction? Did you consciously set out to make ‘Ship Kings’ for a younger audience?

I wasn’t overtly thinking Young Adult, it was more that I was thinking of a certain style of fantasy – a classic and simple style, if you will, which is less about the complexity of the politics and intrigues of the created world, and more about the pure wonder and adventure of it. I guess that style of fantasy just naturally lends itself to the YA category, but I’d like to think adults can still enjoy it too.

Q: Is it harder to write for adults or children/young adults? And since writing for this readership, have you started reading other young adult and children’s books? 

I haven’t read much YA stuff, to be honest, even now. But then I’m always way behind the times in my fiction reading, whatever style I might happen be writing in myself, so that’s nothing new.
As for comparing YA with adult – I don’t think that one is notably any easier to write than the other. There’s more subtext perhaps in an adult novel, so the thought processes behind imagining the different levels of narrative might be more complex, but the craft of writing the actual story is just as demanding for a YA fantasy adventure as it is for anything else. You still have to strive and sweat in the effort to get it right.
Q: ‘Ship Kings’ is intended as a four-part series, with second book ‘The Voyage of the Unquiet Ice’ released on November 1st. Can you give us any hints about what’s in store for books three and four; ‘The War of the Four Isles’ and ‘The Ocean of the Dead’? 

Ha – no hints, beyond saying that the scale and drama of Dow’s adventures will only increase as he voyages through battle and war and very strange seas to the utmost ends of the Four Isles world. 

Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?

There’s too many to name. But as we’re talking YA fantasy, I’ll plug Patricia Wrightson, whose Australian YA fantasies like The Nargun and the Stars and The Ice Is Coming quite changed my life, as well as changing how I thought about the land I lived in.
Q: Favourite book(s)?

Again, there’s so many. But in the seafaring vein, Moby Dick, The Cruel Sea and The Kraken Wakes.

Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?

For a first draft, don’t worry too much about the opening paragraph or chapter, just breeze on through quickly and get to the story’s end, then you’ll know what the start should really be like.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

'Amelia Anna is Dead and Gone' by Kat Rosenfield

From the BLURB:

Becca has always longed to break free. Free from her backwater hometown. Free from its small-town gossip and dead-end lives.

But the horrifying discovery of a dead body—an outsider, Amelia Anne, battered and broken—on the morning after graduation sends Becca into an unexpected tailspin. As the violence of the real world creeps close to home, Becca retreats, paralyzed from moving forward for the first time in her life.

The details of Amelia Anne’s final, harrowing moments play out against Becca’s own out-of-control summer as Becca and Amelia’s parallel stories twist the reader closer and closer to the horrifying truths of Amelia’s last days.

This emotionally arresting, sexy, and raw debut tells the vivid story of two young women struggling with self-identity and relationships on the edge.

At the same time that Amelia Anne Richardson was dying on a lonely dirt road, Becca was having her heart broken in the back of her boyfriend’s truck.

While Becca gets ready to blow out of her small Southern town and mend the heart that James broke, news of the dead girl travels fast and persistently. And in the wake of her murder, when suspicions turn inwards, James looks to reconnect with Becca over the summer before she leaves for college . . . but with her father as the local judge, Becca finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into the mystery of the dead girl.

Running alongside Becca and James’s last summer together is the story of Amelia. The girl who found herself in acting, but feared she’d lose her boyfriend, Luke, when she broke it to him that their carefully planned life was going to be derailed.

‘Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone’ is the debut young adult novel from Kat Rosenfield.

I’m torn about this novel. Admittedly, when I started reading it there were sad events going on in Melbourne that seemed to eerily echo Rosenfield’s storyline. I am of course talking about Jill Meagher’s tragic death. Amelia Anne being discovered on the side of a sad dirt road sent an awful shiver down my spine, since the very day I started reading this book, it was announced that Jill Meagher’s body had been discovered in a shallow grave on the side of a road in Gisborne.

I actually had to put this book down a few times, because Rosenfield was so acutely and frighteningly describing the atmosphere in Melbourne in the wake of Meagher’s death and the arrest of a man;

In a small town, murder is three-dimensional. We make it that way, elevating it and turning it over until it’s more than a simple tragedy, until it becomes tangible. Murder in a small town is always more than a paragraph in the local paper. In a place so insulated, where lives are so small and gone about so quietly, violent death hangs in the air – tinting everything crimson, weaving itself into the shimmering heat that rises off the winding asphalt roads at noon. It oozes from the taps and runs through the gas pumps. It sits at the dinner table, murmuring in urgent low tones under the clinking of glassware.

I will say that’s the strength of this novel – the atmosphere and Rosenfield’s sinisterly beautiful voice. She is a wonderful writer – with a lovely lyricism to her words that’s both creepy and compelling. But where this novel flails is in the actual meat and bones plot.

The blurb describes how “Becca and Amelia’s parallel stories twist the reader closer and closer to the horrifying truths of Amelia’s last days.” Except Becca and Amelia’s parallel stories don’t ring true. Yes, Becca is looking at the prospect of moving on from her boyfriend, James, once the summer ends and she leaves him behind and goes off to college. Meanwhile, Amelia is in college but has made the decision to pursue an acting career – knowing her boyfriend, Luke, won’t appreciate the news of their life plans are being thrown off-course by her whims. Amelia’s chapters, set in the days before her death, felt clunky and I never really made any sort of connection between her and Becca.

But where I think this story really missed an opportunity was in the small-town repercussions of murder. Becca writes a lot about how the discovery of Amelia Anne’s body is impacting the residents and feeding the rumour-mill. Perhaps the best atmospheric scene is at the book’s beginning when local-boy cops, Jack and Stan, lose their lunch and find themselves completely out of their depth in dealing with a murder. Another great scene was Becca’s omniscient narration describing how Grant Willard became a local celebrity for being the person to first discover the body. I loved these scenes in which we got to meet the locals of her town, and see how the death has impacted and influenced them. But the majority of the book is concerned with Becca and her small circle of friends – particularly James’s friend, the creepy Craig. I wish Rosenfield had written more about the characters of Becca’s town – because it was these scenes that showed off her talent for atmosphere and characterization.

I also thought there was a big aspect of the book missing in Becca’s relationship with her father. Her father, who is the town judge, is her connection to Amelia Anne’s case. Becca mentioned on numerous occasions that the relationship between her mother and father is strained, at best. But her father is really a non-character. I think a lot of what was missing in the parallel connections between Amelia Anne and Becca could have been plugged if Rosenfield had relied more on Becca’s father as a character – and a gateway to the case.

And as much as I loved Rosenfield’s atmospheric writing, there were times when I was utterly confused by moments of convolution. The timeline is particularly hard to wrap your head around. For one thing, Becca is narrating this story from somewhere in the future, looking back. But there were moments when Becca would be in a moment, and then something would trigger her memory and within the same scene she would recount a memory from earlier. If that sounds confusing, it was. There was an instance when Becca has returned from inspecting her college campus and is in a scene with James, but within the same paragraph she begins recounting what happened on the campus tour . . . and it took me a while to realize the scene had suddenly split between now/then without an ellipsis or line break or anything to help aid the timeline. 

All in all, this book could have been superb. Rosenfield could have written a small town murder of ‘Mockingbird’ proportions. She writes pitch-perfect town characters and sets a beautifully creepy atmosphere of a town choking on a mystery. However, it’s a shame that Rosenfield didn’t spend more time introducing us to Becca’s small town characters. And the link between Amelia Anne and Becca felt hollow. A missed-opportunity for a strong father/daughter storyline, and Rosenfield’s complex lyricism did not lend itself to time-shifts.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

'A Monster Calls' A novel by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd with illustrations by Jim Kay

 Judged in the 2012 Inkys

From the BLURB:

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

The monster comes to Conor, shortly after his mum starts her treatments.

The monster says he will tell Conor three stories, and then he expects a fourth.

The fourth story must be Conor’s own, and it must be truth. His own truth . . .  the story he holds in a deep, dark cave within. The story he cannot tell, not ever. It is the worst story of all.

The monster knows Conor’s truth. He knows there will be pain in the telling. But he wants it anyway.

‘A Monster Calls’ is the 2011 illustrated middle-grade novel, written by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay and with story by the late Siobhan Dowd.

This novel. This novel right here is sublime. It stuck with me, and long after I finished reading and crying I was still thinking on it, carrying Conor’s truth around with me, mulling over Ness’s beautifully heartbreaking words and the equally fascinating story-behind-the-story of Siobhan Dowd.

For one thing, I think this novel shatters a lot of misconceptions about ‘middle-grade’ reading. It feels like in recent years we’ve turned people’s opinions about Young Adult novels around – they’re now the blockbuster movie adaptations, the bestsellers, and so popular amongst older readers beyond the target-audience that books are re-released with ‘adult covers’ and there’s even an emerging sub-genre of ‘New Adult’. I feel like we’ve conquered what was previously a reading misconception where people thought ‘young adult’ meant ‘children’s’ and not for them if they were over a certain age (the literary equivalent of ‘you must be this ⌐ tall to read’). But I still think a lot of people are dismissive of novels for younger readers; what is often called ‘middle-grade’ or novels for ‘reluctant-readers’. I remember attending the Morris Gleitzman discussion for Melbourne Writers Festival, when he said there is a stigma attached to writing for children – because you don’t fit into the ‘mainstream’ (i.e.: adult fiction). And then there’s this misconception that a book for younger people, which is often shorter than young adult or adult novels must be “easier” to write.

Well, I think ‘A Monster Calls’ is the perfect antidote to anyone who thinks ‘middle-grade’ novels are lesser/easier/not deserving of their reading time.

For one thing, there is nothing easy about this book. Truly, it’s one of the toughest books I've ever read. Conor’s story grips your heart and never let’s go; it’s a constant squeeze, from beginning to end, and by the end you do feel wrung-out and emotionally bruised. Indeed, researching the story of ‘A Monster Calls’ also highlights that there was nothing easy in the creation of this wonderful book.

Siobhan Dowd (author of ‘Bog Child’ and ‘A Swift Pure Cry’) had the idea for what would become ‘A Monster Calls’ and discussed the project with her Walker editor, Denise Johnstone-Burt. Sadly, Dowd had been receiving treatment for advanced breast cancer for 3 years and in August 2007, she died from the disease (her Goodreads biography stresses that she “did not go gentle into that good night”). Denise Johnstone-Burt also happened to be editor to Patrick Ness, (author of ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’) and she contracted him to write Dowd’s story. Jim Kay was contacted to illustrate, and interestingly enough; Ness and Kay completed their work on the book without ever meeting. Ness won the Carnegie Medal for ‘A Monster Calls’, as did Dowd who became the first author to be awarded the medal posthumously, and Kay won the companion CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.

I also love that this book is full of illustrations. Indeed, some may think a middle-grade novel with pictures is a truly childish thing. But, once again, that’s not the case at all. Kay used “everything from beetles to breadboards to create interesting marks and textures” for the images in this novel. And they are truly horrifically breathtaking – at once fantastically creepy and sinister, but like the story itself there is beauty in the creep and the images are a wonderful companion to the equally chilling text.

Finally, what makes this middle-grade novel so compelling and utterly necessary reading is the story itself. Ness and Dowd are writing and whispering awful truths through the story of Conor’s struggle with this mother’s illness. So often in marketing, charity campaigning, TV shows and Lifetime movies the person ‘battling’ cancer is portrayed as a stoic ‘warrior’ who will claw and fight this ‘evil’, menacing disease. The truth, as Dowd’s story and Ness’s words illustrate, is far starker and, yes, uncomfortable. The truth is; dying is ugly. It hurts – not just the dying but those who will be left in their wake, left to live without them. Dying is messy. It’s brutal. It’s frustrating. It makes you want to claw at the ground, smash glass and scream into the night. But watching someone you love die? That’s just as ugly and brutal. Dowd and Ness have created a truer story of losing someone to cancer than a good deal of adult novels have ever done. That they did so in some 215-pages, with Jim Kay’s haunting illustrations acting as echoes of the feelings of our young protagonist is nothing short of remarkable.

I loved this book to bits. It hurt to read but it’s perhaps one of the most satisfying reading experiences I've ever had – where afterwards, though I felt battered and bruised, I also felt better for having read this story. As the Monster explains to Conor about the brutality of stories:

Conor blinked. Then blinked again. “You’re going to tell me stories?”
Indeed, the monster said.
“Well—“ Conor looked around in disbelief. “How is that a nightmare?”
Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt.

To anyone who thinks there’s nothing to be gained from reading children’s books, for those who scoff at a story with pictures and less pages . . . I would recommend you read ‘A Monster Calls’ and be prepared to eat your words.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

'Cry Wolf: Volume One' Alpha and Omega graphic novel by Patricia Briggs

 From the BLURB:

Anna never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack…and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the pack, she’s learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. Then Charles Cornick, the enforcer—and son—of the leader of the North American werewolves, came into her life.

Charles insists that not only is Anna his mate, but she is also a rare and valued Omega wolf. And it is Anna’s inner strength and calming presence that will prove invaluable as she and Charles go on the hunt in search of a rogue werewolf—a creature bound in magic so dark that it could threaten all the pack…

‘Cry Wolf: Volume One’ is the first graphic novel instalment of ‘Alpha and Omega’, an adaptation of Patricia Briggs’s urban fantasy werewolf series of the same name.

Alpha and Omega’ is the second of Briggs’ series to get the graphic treatment, after her New York Times Bestseller ‘Mercy Thompson’ series was adapted in 2009. I was a very big fan of ‘Homecoming’, so was thrilled to learn that Anna and Charles (themselves a spin-off from Mercy’s world) would also be bought to drawn life. I was especially happy that the adaption would be based around the first book in their series, ‘Cry Wolf’ which follows Anna and Charles shortly after their first meeting under terrible circumstances in Chicago.

Anna was turned against her will by a crazed werewolf and beaten into submission at the hands of a sick and weakened Chicago pack. And then Charles Cornick, son to the Marrok in charge of the North American wolves, was sent to investigate the brutal goings-on in Chicago, where he met and fell quickly in love with Anna (with the help of their wolves too). After the terrible, bloody ending of the Chicago pack, we meet Anna and Charles at the beginning of ‘Cry Wolf’ when Anna is new to his Montana wilds home and finding her feet in Charles’s pack and family.

But Charles and Anna don’t get much of a honeymoon period – first because of the nightmares Anna still has, remembering her abuse at the hands of the male Chicago wolves, and then because of wolf attacks in the Montana mountains forcing Marrok, Bran Cornick, to send his son and executioner to investigate. Charles’s new wolf mate insists on tagging along, if only to take care of the injuries he sustained while saving her in Chicago.

So, there’s plenty in Briggs’s ‘Cry Wolf’ story for readers to sink their teeth into – and the storyline was sure to offer some interesting illustrations. Particularly because quite a bit of ‘Cry Wolf’ is based at the pack home of Aspen Creek, and I’m sure curious fans will be eager to know the look of this werewolf hub. But just generally, ‘Cry Wolf’ has some lovely settings – with the snow-covered Montana Mountains making the backdrop for the second-half of the story.

This is also a really important story for Anna and Charles, because it’s really a chronicle of their coming together and I knew that would be hard to communicate in images. There’s a lot of tension and push-pull between Anna and Charles in ‘Cry Wolf’ – because they have only known each other for a few days, but their wolves have played a big hand in choosing one another for their ‘mates’. Their human sides are yet to catch up, and with Anna’s abuse still fresh in her mind, it makes for some friction between them. 

First of all, I think the story of Anna’s abuse at the hands of the Chicago pack is handled beautifully. I really didn’t want to see any awful images, and while artist Tod Herman has relayed the brutality, he doesn’t go too graphic with these. I also thought it was very telling that the flashback images of the violence Anna suffered often mimicked the images of wolf packs – to give the impression that Anna’s abusers were very much acting with a pack mentality separate from their human conscience.

I also loved ‘Cry Wolf’ simply for being able to see what a few of my favourite characters look like. I will say that there were times when Herman’s drawings didn’t like quite right; not edgy enough or just a bit too simple. But then there were times when he nailed it; like Bran’s mate Leah (who reminded me of Claudia Furschtien from ‘The Chipmunk Adventure’ – but that oddly suits). I liked Asil and Samuel’s looks, and particularly appreciated Charles’s masculinity (even with the infamous pink bandage). But perhaps my favourite images were the issue covers by Jenny Frison – which I think beautifully captured the look of Anna and Charles, and were closer to how I pictured them in my mind.

I’m a big fan of graphic adaptations; I think they add layers to the already intricate worlds built in urban fantasy stories and I think Briggs’ werewolf world is one of the most interesting to see drawn to life.

Text adaptation by David Lawrence
by Todd Herman
by Mohan
by Bill Tortolini
Issues covers
by Jenny Frison
Contributing editor
Rich Young
Front jacket
by Daniel Dos Santos

Thursday, October 18, 2012

'Mortal Ties' World of the Lupi #9 by Eileen Wilks

From the BLURB:

FBI agent Lily Yu is living at Nokolai Clanhome with her fiancé, lupi Rule Turner, when an intruder penetrates their territory, stealing the prototpye of a magical device the clan hopes will be worth a fortune--if a few bugs can be worked out . . .

But the protoytpe can be dangerously erratic, discharging a bizarre form of mind magic—and it looks like the thief wants it for that very side effect. Worse, whoever stole the device didn’t learn about it by accident. There’s a Nokolai traitor in their midst.

Lily and Rule have to find the traitor, the thief, and the prototype.  One job proves easy when the thief calls them--and his identity rocks Rule’s world.

As they race to recover their missing property, they find Robert Friar’s sticky footprints all over the place.  Robert Friar―killer, madman, and acolyte of the Old One the lupi are at war with―an Old One whose power is almost as vast as her ambition to rock the entire world . . .

This review contains spoilers of all other books in the 'World of the Lupi' series

Nokolai Clanhome is probably the most secure place in America. It is a safe haven for lupi and their families, where women and children are protected before all others, and the wolves feel free to be themselves away from the media’s glare and human prejudice. So when Clanhome is infiltrated in the dead of night, everyone is on edge and suspicious that a traitor may be in their midst.

But perhaps the most unsettling part of the attack is the fact that it was a distraction – while the lupi scrambled to respond to the grand attack, Cullen Seaborne’s workshop was broken into – and a rare artefact with powerful magic properties stolen.

Now Special Agent Lily Yu and her chosen, Rule Turner are on the hunt for Cullen’s artefact – suspecting that the thief is somehow connected to Robert Friar ―killer, madman, and acolyte of the Old One.

‘Mortal Ties’ is the ninth book in Eileen Wilk’s fabulous urban fantasy ‘World of the Lupi’ series.

I have been such a huge fan of Wilks’s series for the longest time. It’s crazy to think that first book ‘Tempting Danger’ first came out in 2004, and we’re now almost at a perfect ten for the series with ‘Ritual Magic’ due out next year. Ten books in a series is a pretty big deal, and there is a real sense throughout ‘Mortal Ties’ that something big is just around the corner . . . plans are being laid, new but important characters are introduced and perhaps most importantly of all is the reference to Lily and Rule’s long-awaited marriage (which is two months and some days away). ‘Mortal Ties’ feel like a book on the precipice of something big – but it’s also a book that’s looking back.

For one thing, the book opens with Lily visiting a graveyard – specifically, paying her respects to Helen Annabelle Whitehead. Though ‘respects’ probably isn’t the right word – Helen was the telepath Lily killed one year ago, back when this series started. Helen’s death has been plaguing Lily of late, probably because another death has been coming back to Lily in a much more surreal way – the ghost of Al Drummond has been visiting Lily and offering his services and himself as a sort of sidekick. But it’s not just Lily who is looking back – when the book begins Rule and Isen are also in a sort of mourning, as it’s Mick’s birthday – Rule’s half-brother who died in ‘Tempting Danger’.

So this is very much a book about looking back as much as it is about Wilks laying the groundwork for what’s to come with the all-important tenth book in the series. We’re remembering where Lily and Rule started, and how far they’ve come. A few times throughout the book Lily also makes mention of her own history; what made her want to be a cop in the first place, and the childhood tragedy that still has a great impact on her.

When Lily was nine years old, a monster had stolen her and her friend. He’d raped and killed Sarah. Lily was alive because of a cop who got there in time. Since she was nine years old, she’d known two things: there were monsters who looked like people. And one day she would become a cop and protect the real people from the monsters. By the time she joined the force, she’d understood that the monsters were real people too – twisted and warped and bad, but people. But her goal hadn’t changed.

But it’s not just Lily doing a bit of reflection into her past and particularly her childhood. The events in ‘Mortal Ties’ force Rule to confront the rocky history he had with his mother – the woman who left him to Isen shortly after he was born, and seemingly never looked back or came back for him. Rule has never really spoken about his mother before – something which greatly frustrates Lily, particularly because family is such a big part of her own life. I won’t give anything away, because there’s a great twist to Rule examining his childhood – but I look forward to this being picked apart more in future books.

As much as this book is about looking back and unearthing secrets and memories of the past, the storyline with Robert Friar is edge-of-your-seat fantastic. It’s a very tricky mystery to keep readers guessing, but so many fascinating clues are unearthed that will surely have wonderful repercussions in the future.

I loved this feeling of looking back but going forward throughout ‘Mortal Ties’. If I had any complaints, it’s probably that I wished Benedict and Arjenie had made an appearance on the page (instead they’re mentioned in phone conversations) only because this felt like a book about family and I would have loved Benedict’s reaction to Rule’s discoveries throughout. And, as always, I do wish we were further along in Rule and Lily’s relationship (two paltry months – we’re so close to “I do”!) but overall this felt like a wonderful book to gear up for number ten.


Monday, October 15, 2012

'Rapture' A Novel of the Fallen Angels #4 by J.R. Ward

 Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

Mels Carmichael, reporter for the Caldwell Courier Journal, gets the shock of her life when a man stumbles in front of her car outside the local cemetery. After the accident, his amnesia is just the kind of mystery she likes to solve, but she soon discovers they're over their heads with his past. Over their heads with passion, too...

As shadows walk the line between reality and another realm and her lover's memory begins to come back, the two of them learn that nothing is truly dead and buried. Especially when you're trapped in a no-holds-barred war between angels and demons. With a soul on the line and Mels' heart at risk, what in heaven - or in hell - will it take to save them both?
** This review contains spoilers of all previous books in the ‘Fallen Angels’ series **

The odds are in their favour, but Jim Heron and his last remaining angelic aid, Adrian, are still fighting hard in the war against Good and Evil.

This time the soul in question belongs to Jim’s old XOps boss, the pathologically cruel Matthias who was a previously lost cause.

Matthias is back from hell and upon his return he’s involved in a car accident with Caldwell Courier journalist Mels Carmichael. Mels can’t forget about the John Doe she hit with her car and when the limping, scarred man admits to her that he has amnesia, he also asks for her help in finding who he is. Mels finds that she cannot refuse him, and it’s not just her guilty conscience pushing her to stay close to Matthias . . .

Meanwhile, evil beauty Devina is still rampaging mad that Jim duped her in the last souls round, and her payback will involve poking at the open-wound that is Jim’s little lost, virginal soul, Sissy. . .

‘Rapture’ is the fourth book in J.R. Ward’s ‘Fallen Angels’ series.

I swear, this fourth book in the ‘Fallen Angels’ series feels like a giant step back . . . which is such a shame after the four-star glory of third book, ‘Envy’. I have not been an easy fan of this series, but I will admit that the books had been getting progressively better from the lacklustre two-star first book ‘Covet’, each new book gaining a one-star improvement. But here we are with ‘Rapture’ and we’re backtracking. It was a mixture of slow plot, a too quick romance and the Warden yet again dragging her pen on the slow-as-molasses developing plot of Sissy and Jim that really put me off this book.

First of all, it felt like the Warden was not-so-subtly reminding fans of the ‘Fallen Angels’ timeline throughout this book. I marked the four odd times that characters alluded to the series timeline – from ‘Covet’ through to ‘Rapture’ – revealing that there has been only a span of about two weeks. A couple of weeks. That’s it. The Warden mentions it when Mels and Matthias investigate the electrocution/shooting death of Jim Heron – the fact that he has been dead for a little over two weeks. Now, I think part of the reason that the Warden made it a point to put a mark on the ‘Fallen Angels’ timeline is to reveal the real urgency in the Heaven vs Hell competition. This urgency is actually part of the reason I have never really enjoyed the romances in the ‘Fallen Angels’ series – because they are very quick; Jim and Devina are fighting tooth and nail for these lost souls, and that urgency translates to all of the romances in which the men need the love of a good woman to save their soul.

Luckily the Warden has shied away from out-right ‘love at first sight’ clichés, but it has been a close thing. With Matthias and Mels, for example, he feels a stirring for her when she comes to visit him in hospital – but it’s more seeing her head-strong journalist self that really turns him on. But, all in all, the quick-fire romances have never really worked for me and that’s again true with Matthias and Mels. Never mind that following the same tropes in every single book is growing a wee bit old – lost guy’s soul needs to find his one true love to get a win for heaven. Slight yawn. Bigger yawn in ‘Rapture’ because Matthias and Mels’s physical relationship has strong echoes of Rehvenge and Ehlena’s romance in ‘Lover Avenged’ – particularly because battle wounds have made Matthias impotent (and where Rehv was a bad-ass nightclub owner/drug dealer, Matthias was a bad-ass XOps leader). The scene in which Matthias and Mels find ways around sex without penetration read like déjà-vu for the same exchange in ‘Lover Avenged’.

Jim cleared his throat. Twice. “Ah, you’re back because we need you to make the right choice this time.”
“At the crossroads.” Jim prayed he was going to make some sense. “You’re, ah, you’re going to come to a moment where you need to choose, and if you don’t want to go back where you were, you have to pick the righteous path, not . . .  what you’re used to.”
“So it’s true? About Heaven and Hell?”
“And you’ve got a second chance.”
“The devil cheats.”

Part of the reason I’m actually really impatient for Sissy to hurry the heck up and get a bigger role in this series is because I like the build-up for her and Heron. Whereas all the other romance focuses in the series have followed the lost soul’s romances, and have been very quick developments, Jim and Sissy’s potential romance is the only one that has roots going back to book one and a bit of history behind it. But we’re in book four now, and Jim’s occasional slip-ups of “his girl, Sissy” are quickly becoming not quite enough to keep me on the hooks with this romance. And I’m also becoming concerned that the Warden is writing Sissy into a Mary-Sue type of role, a girl who can do no wrong who, we are always reminded, was a beautiful blonde-virgin-smart girl before Devina killed her. Jim is building her up waaaaaay too much, and as a result Jim’s holier-than-thou thoughts of her are off-putting to the reader. It may have helped if the Warden had given us the occasional POV chapters from Sissy? – yes, she is stuck in a wall of souls, but maybe if we were there with her, experiencing the horror or reading how she’s keeping herself psychologically strong, then we’d be a bit more sympathetic towards her. As it is? I really feel like ‘Rapture’ should have been the book in which Sissy steps into the spotlight, because as of this book the romance I was looking forward to is rapidly losing my interest and patience.

Another reason I think the Warden mentioned the two-week timeline is to remind us that it wasn’t all that long ago that Jim Heron was getting down and dirty with Devina in ‘Covet’ . . . because there is quite a big focus in this book, on Devina’s growing infatuation with Jim. Actually, there’s also a growing focus on Devina as a multifaceted villain, complete with OCD quirks and job pressures. I’m not so sure how I feel about this; on the one hand, I always love a bad guy with shades of grey. But on the other hand, I have been enjoying Devina’s truly heinous self . . . and I’m not entirely certain that the Warden won’t continue to give Devina more emotional depth, and possibly push her towards Jim. I really, really hope not. Because that’s creepy. Although, I think it may help to throw a spanner in the Sissy/Jim romance if Devina is in a viable love triangle with them – and I'd be interested to see how it plays out, if Jim (the veritable balance in this whole game) has to choose between the evil Devina, and the innocent Sissy.

All in all, I think this series is going a little wonky. We’re four books in now, and Sissy is still being alluded to as the ultimate Mary-Sue, we’ve been reading the same guy-needs-true-love-to-make-a-win-for-heaven storyline and Devina has only just started to become more multifaceted. *Sigh*. I’m struggling with this series, I really am.


Friday, October 12, 2012

'This is Not a Test' by Courtney Summers

From the BLURB:

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

“This is not a test. Listen closely. This is not a test.”

Sloane Price was meant to escape a very different horror story, before she found herself in the middle of another one. She thought her life couldn’t get any worse than it has been these last six months – six months since her sister, Lily, left without her. Six months being her father’s only target. Six months wondering how Lily could do that to her, just leave. Just like that.

And then they came. People with grey-clouded eyes, mottled skin, slathering mouths. They do not die. They just keep coming.

Seven days later, Sloane is holed up in Cortege High with a cast of misfit survivors.

Harrison is only fifteen and new to the town of Cortege – he cries all the time. Grace is beautiful and compassionate, just as Sloane remembers from the brief time when they were childhood friends. Grace’s twin brother, Trace, has a hot temper and he is not accepting the fact that their parents are dead. Cary Chen was a no-hope stoner in school, but has proven himself a skilled survivalist since the world changed around them. Rhys was famous at school – he was an impossibly cool senior, always seen smoking with a bevy of beautiful girls. And then there’s Sloane … who carries a note in her pocket and a dark wish in her heart.

 “This is not a test. Listen closely. This is not a test.”

‘This is Not a Test’ is the new young adult novel by Courtney Summers. The novel was released in June this year, and I am woefully late in singing its praises.

I should start by saying I was aware of Courtney Summers before this book came out. I read ‘Cracked Up To Be’ back in 2009 and was blown away by it – by this infectiously interesting but unsettling teen book. I made a promise to myself then to read more of Summers’s work, so I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only just fulfilled that promise with ‘This is Not a Test’.

This is a zombie novel. But you must dispel any misconceptions you have about zombie novels before you start reading Courtney Summers’s take. Right from chapter one, even before any flesh-eating undead have lumbered onto the page, readers will quickly cotton onto the fact that our protagonist, Sloane Price, is already living a horror story of a very different nature. Her father has endless rules, one of the biggest being that she cannot leave the house with visible bruises. So she stays home, until they heal, and then he can give her fresh ones. Sloane must also eat everything on her plate before she can leave the table. She does not have friends. She does not talk back to her father. And she desperately wants to kill herself.

Sloane had a very different plan originally, one that included running away with her older sister Lily … but then Lily left without her. When we meet her, Sloane thinks she is at the brink of her life – she can go no further. And then a slathering, limping, mottle-skinned woman crashes through their front window, and Sloane’s horror story changes.

The novel then skips ahead to seven days later. The town of Cortege is burning, and six students may very well be all that is left. They have made a fortress of their High School, and now they wait. And wait. And wait.

Courtney Summer’s novel stings. That’s the first word that comes to mind with this very raw, very brutal but starkly beautiful and original novel. It stings, a little. She writes an incredible balance between Sloane’s personal struggles and dark memories, playing out against a high-octane thrill-ride that’s heart palpitating and scary. She’s also written an intense and fascinating novel about human nature, as these six teenagers come to terms with a crumbling world and their battle for survival.

But Sloane is really the stand out of this novel. She is a most curious character, and it’s a sort of chicken and egg debate as to whether she’s interesting because of the zombie storyline, or in spite of it? For starters, the zombie-apocalypse forces Sloane into a survivalist situation – which is darkly ironic when all she wants to do is die. At one point she muses about her suicidal wish that she’s already dead, she’s just waiting for her body to catch up. Oh! See what I mean about ‘this novel stings’? It’s those sorts of precise little gems that Summers pops into your head and makes you mull over – no matter how uncomfortable the question, you admire her for even asking it.

Sloane also offers an odd dichotomy for readers – because on the one hand, we’re rooting for her – we like her, we feel sorry for her and we know she deserves a better life than the one she has been dealt (even before the zombies came to town). The clash comes because while readers are hoping that Sloane survives in this post-apocalyptic world, Sloane herself doesn’t want to live. We’re barracking for a character who has given up on herself – so we’re just waiting for her to catch up and realize what we, as readers, figured out very early on – that she’s a survivor, and stronger than she could ever imagine. And she deserves to live.

I just love the simple brilliance of a horror story within a horror story. And how often the zombie/suicide storyline crosses over and blurs. The day-to-day of surviving when the world is crumbling, versus the day-to-day of surviving when you are crumbling;

The thing no one tells you about surviving, about the mere act of holding out, is how many hours are nothing because nothing happens.

Of course, this is still a zombie novel. Courtney Summers never forgets that, and certainly never lets readers forget it. But before you claim fatigue with the undead that seem to be over-populating bookshelves at the moment, I would implore you to read ‘This is not a Test’ for a beautifully different zombie-horror story. Summers stills asks sharp end-of-the-world questions;

It’s a while before she opens it and when she does, I glimpse cutouts of actors and musicians taped to the door and I wonder what they’re doing now, if they’re dead. I wonder if they’ve saved all the celebrities. When this is over, society will need entertainment to get past it. We’ll make movies about it, hundreds of movies, and in every one of them, we’ll be the heroes and the love interests and best friends and winners and we’ll watch these movies until we are so far removed from our own history, we’ll forget how it really felt to be here.

‘This is Not a Test’ is a scary, scary book. The undead are only ever just outside the High School doors and a succession of plot twists and OH-MY-GOD curveballs will have you holding the book in a sweaty-handed death-grip. As fascinating as Sloane’s inner turmoils are, Summers is equally brilliant at the action and base horror. Cortege High becomes ‘Lord of the Flies’ when there are power-struggles amongst the three boys and the undead start pounding on the doors.

‘This is Not a Test’ stings, just a little. It’s unsettling and thought-provoking, beautifully crafted with equal-parts human story and horror story. I must send out a big ‘thank you’ to Adele Walsh, for recommending me this book. And now I must read every single book in Courtney Summers’s back list. She’s one to watch, you mark my words.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Interivew with Paddy O'Reilly, author of 'The Fine Color of Rust'


So, I recently read and loved Paddy O'Reilly's novel 'The Fine Color of Rust'. I loved it so much (snorted my way through it, in fact) that the first person I hand-balled it to was my grandma, who always trusts my reading recommendations. 

Now, my grandma is in her 80's and been having some problems with her eyes - so had to go in for surgery. I checked up on her the other week, and she's doing fine but her eyes are recovering and between the surgery and eye-drops she can't read as much as she normally does (which is, all the time). She's finding this particularly frustrating because she has been reading O'Reilly's 'The Fine Color of Rust' and enjoying the heck out of it! ... That should give you some idea of how wonderful this book was, that my grandma is effectively saying; "Cataracts be damned! I want to read more about Loretta and Gunapan!"

Of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity to interview the author, especially since I've been a big fan of her short stories for a while now. 

Without further adieu, I give you - P.A. (Paddy) O'Reilly!

Q: You have found such great success as a short-story writer. You won the coveted ‘The Age’ short story competition in 2002, and your 2007 short story collection received critical acclaim. But did people always expect you to ‘progress’ to novels? As though short stories were just something to cut your teeth on?

You obviously know about this. So many people talk that way, even novelists who should know better. But anyone who loves the short story, as a writer or a reader or both, knows that the form is entirely different. No one asks poets if they are practising to write short stories. Some poets do write short stories. Some write novels. Some novelists write stories. But each form is unique. Each form makes different demands on the writer and the reader. Each deserves respect for what it is and what it can do. Sorry about the rave but you've touched a tender spot. I still write short stories and I still love the form. I wish more people read them. They are jewels!

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘The Fine Colour of Rust’, from first idea to final manuscript?

Do you mean in word-writing hours or looking out the window hours or living hours? Counting living and looking out the window, toilet cleaning, breaks for short story writing and other writing, and the times where I thought, what the hell am I doing, this isn't the kind of stuff I write, and abandoned it for a while, probably about three years. Every time I start a new writing project I think, this time I'm going to work straight through and do it in one go, but I never can.
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?

As you can probably tell from the answer above, plotting only makes me anxious. I can barely plot out what I have to do in a day. That said, once my story has evolved naturally, it's a complete shambles. So plotting for me comes in the editing stage, once I'm confident I know what the book or story is about or at least where I think it's headed. The editing process involves taking a clear-eyed look at what I have and sometimes smashing it up in order to arrive at a functioning plot.

Q: And on the topic of plotting and pantsing – does your writing rhythm/routine change a great deal between short stories and novels? What writing quirks are swapped and changed depending on the length of your story?

I don't think it does. The process is anarchic whatever I'm writing. There are times when I look at what's on the screen and think, who on earth wrote that? Somehow things get written. I have a superstition that if I examine it all too closely, it will become a chore. Not that writing is always fun. It's often an arduous challenge, but never a chore.
Q: I’ve read that ‘The Fine Colour of Rust’ was born out of a short story you wrote. What made you want to spend more time with Loretta and Gunapan, and do you have other short stories you’d like to expand?

I couldn't get Loretta's voice out of my head. Still can't. That is the only time I've ever had a story evolve into a larger work. When I was writing the novel, I kept going back to the story and finding things in there that told me more about Loretta and Norm. The story contained the essence of the novel. I think my other stories are much more quintessentially short stories, that they briefly open a door on a life – from which the reader can extrapolate a world.

Q: I loved the town of Gunapan, and especially its residents. You write such pin-point-accurate characterisation, and I saw a lot of people from my life reflected in the characters. Sometimes it was little things, like the grade-three teacher who always says “At the end of the day.” Where do you find your characters? Were some of the Gunapan natives people you’ve met in your life and you were just hording them for this story? Have family or friends told you they see themselves in your stories?

Nothing comes from nowhere. I never deliberately base a character on a person, yet when I look at my work of course I can see quirks and idiosyncrasies, patterns of speech and even lines of dialogue that have seeped into the stories from my interactions with and observations of people in real life. It's astounding when you're writing how things float up and emerge in the writing, things you didn't know you knew. There's a certain level of observation you need to have as a writer, and whether it's conscious or not, you absorb the flavours of people.
Q: I loved the note about ‘sabi’, a Japanese word “which connotes the simple beauty of worn and imperfect and impermanent things.” When did you first hear about sabi?

A long time ago I lived in Japan and worked as a copywriter and translator. The aesthetics of Japan have such wonderful contrasts: there is wabi and sabi, which we all recognise as the aesthetic of the pottery, the zen gardens, the wooden implements, the use of space and so on. Then there's Hello Kitty!

Q: I was pretty much laughing out loud for the entire 280-odd pages of this novel. I wonder if you write to make yourself laugh, or do you have readers along the way who act as your laugh-o-meter gauge?

I didn't start out to write a funny book. It was Loretta, the character, who had the funny lines. She made me laugh, and all I was doing as I wrote was trying to keep the Loretta voice true. I love people who can raise a laugh in the face of adversity – it's such a strong Australian trait. And it's probably terrible to admit it but after all this time, when I do readings of the book, I still find the lines funny.
Q: I have noticed that the ‘chook lit’ genre has exploded in Australia, a spin on the traditional ‘chick lit’ that focuses on romances in the rural Australian outback. Those novels are fun and can be enjoyable, but I felt like ‘The Fine Colour of Rust’ was far more truthful about the ‘glamorous’ outback lifestyle – writing it, warts and all. How do you feel about the emerging ‘chook lit’ phenomenon? What do you think Loretta would have to say about it (y’know, if she wasn’t a fictional character)?

One reviewer described The Fine Colour of Rust as a 'tongue--in-cheek anti-romance' which made me laugh. As a reader, I like to be surprised and challenged, and they say you should write what you want to read. So I guess I was always going to write against expectations. I think the romance genre and its various branches, of which rural romance seems to be the latest, provide a reassuring reading experience for their audience. But although I was writing a novel with commercial appeal, I did want to play around, subvert the conventions, and it wasn't too difficult since Loretta is hardly your average romantic heroine. I honestly cannot imagine Loretta trying to ride a horse or rope a steer. (Mind you, it does suggest some great comic images. Hmm.)

Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?

I cannot answer this or the next question because all time isn't done yet and there is so much to read. I hope I have many hundreds of favourites ahead of me.

Q: Favourite book(s)?

Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?

Read, write, read, write and have a life as well. Reading will help both your life and your writing.

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