Search This Blog

Friday, June 28, 2013

'Just Between Us' by Maya Linden, Christie Nieman, Maggie Scott, Natalie Kon-Yu and Miriam Sved

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Empathetic, supportive and respectful... 

Or competitive, manipulative and downright bitchy?
Or somewhere in between?

In Just Between Us, a host of Australia's best-loved female writers bare all on this age-old quandary: Are female friendships all-natural and nurturing? Or are some more damaging than delightful? And most of all, what happens when female relationships go off the rails? And who is to blame? While falling in and out of romantic love is a well-documented experience, losing a friend rarely gets discussed. Which doesn't mean the pain is less – quite the opposite, as we discover in this extraordinary collection of heartfelt fiction and non-fiction works that put female friendship in the spotlight.

Nikki Gemmell looks at the hardwiring that keeps us bonded in tightly knit packs, but makes us feel oh-so-claustrophic in mothers groups and at the school gate. Melina Marchetta reveals the peculiar shame of being overlooked for the high-status netball positions of Centre and Goal Attack. Liz Byrski conducts a forensic examination of her own friendship history, and finds some uncomfortable patterns. And Merridy Eastman pens a letter from Helena to Hermia from A Midsummer Night's Dream, which shines the light on one of literature's most famously dysfunctional female friendships.

On the surface, a collection of fiction and nonfiction stories from nineteen different writers on the topic of ‘friendship’ sounds like it could be the stuff of a dull Year Nine English writing assignment. But it’s in the subtitle of 'Just Between Us' that the tension and purpose is revealed; ‘Australian writers tell the truth about female friendship.’ And then you only need read the foreword by Helen Garner to know that this is a very special book indeed, promising “a feast of things that women do not consider trivial.” Garner surmises; “that to examine with reverent attention the tiniest of human details is anything but a waste of time. It may even be essential to survival.” Indeed. 

This book is about the little things from which big things grow – the silences and missed phone calls, a crackle of tension in the air and a gaze averted. Some stories are funny, others confessional; many of the nonfiction authors, especially, try to offer condolences and answers to sunken friendships, while others are willing to let questions go unanswered and friends untethered. In this book nothing is too small, all is worthy of examination. From those friendships that drifted into the ether, to those cut short by death. All are examined with the same weight. In the introduction, the books' editors promised that this anthology would “escape the simplicity of those often-seen caricatures of female friendship: the effortless ‘best friends forever’ and the bitchy rival.” And they deliver. 

It’s often the end of a friendship that is examined in these stories. And Julienne van Loon inadvertently questions that in her nonfiction piece ‘In Broad Daylight’, about her last “real” female friend who lived a short, tragic life; 

It is curious that friendship is most often written about after it has gone, as if death legitimises the discussion of what was previously too private or fragile a territory. Are friendships between women particularly private and fragile?  

—‘In Broad Daylight’ by Julienne van Loon 

It’s often said that truth is stranger than fiction, and that seems never truer than in the case of female friendships. This anthology has six fiction and thirteen nonfiction pieces – and some of the true stories come from surprising authors. Cath Crowley and Cate Kennedy have decided to don truth over fiction for their pieces, with glorious results. Lots of the stories sting a bit, because there’s universal truth in them and the authors are laying bare some of their deepest regrets and bad behaviour, and it was in these pieces that I saw most of myself; 

I want to give you a reason but I can’t remember why I told. It wasn’t a mistake; I know that. I used your secret as a kind of currency but I can’t remember what it was I bought. 

— ‘A Letter to a Lost Friend’ by Cath Crowley 

Clementine Ford’s piece ‘Girls Who Wear Gingham’ rings especially, uncomfortably true for me. I went to a private all girl school. I wore gingham. To this day if I have a particularly nasty gossip session with my best friend from high school, we shrug at our petty nastiness and blame it on the school environment that bred it in us. 

There are girls who are never the victim, and there are girls who will always find themselves in that role. But in between, there are girls who pulsate between the two. So it was with me. I was the mouse. Sometimes I was the cat.

— ‘Girls Who Wear Gingham’ by Clementine Ford 

Other authors make delicious breadcrumbs of their stories, like Melina Marchetta’s ‘The Centre’, which is written entirely in epistolary email format between old high school friends rehashing an old debate over netball hierarchy … but which eventually reveals deeper hurts in one of their own, called Matilda. Even if I didn’t know (having heard Melina speak at a Penguin teachers function) that this was the beginning/trigger of a new book she’s working on (two words: Jimmy Hailer) I would want to follow wherever this story leads. 

Sexuality and romance is also beautifully explored in some of these stories; it’s all part of the prism, and love often follows friendship. As the editors promised, there’s nothing cliché or deliberately titillating in such stories – unsurprisingly (to women, at least) there’s none of that ‘male gaze’ pillow-fighting during a sleepover stuff … it’s quieter in ‘Just Between Us’, runs deeper. 

Miriam Sved’s fictional ‘One True Thing’ is about a woman who finds a collection of short stories written by one of her old school friends; one story clearly borrows heavily from their girlhood, and the sexual overtones colour her own memories of their past and have her desperate to reconnect and get to the bottom of what was fact and what was fiction for both of them. Francesca Rendle-Short dissects and vivisects in the nonfiction ‘Glossus’, on her marriage that eventually crumbled, and the little loves she held for the female friends along the way until she found ‘My Beloved’: 

Memories are encoded in our bodies – the forgetting and remembering; they press and lift us into different shapes, change the colour of our skin. There is a kind of ecstasy thinking about what J gave me that night, I feel it in my bones: because she didn’t care what anyone thought, no matter who or what she was or wanted to be – which was none of anyone’s business anyway, she was quick to add. She kept holding my hand, kept dancing, and became even more provocative and free. She challenged them all to yell it again, to grow more furious than they already were. J was always very good with her voice. 

— ‘Glossus’ by Francesca Rendle-Short 

I would love it if Pan Macmillan Australia made another anthology, of Australian writers telling the truth about male friendships. Helen Garner’s foreword includes a conversation with a male friend about the break down of her female friendship, to which he replies “Blokes tend to shrug and barrel on through.” Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s oversimplified. I know that in reading ‘Just Between Us’ I felt a deep connection to all of the stories in some way, because they’re my story too – but I’d quite like to be surprised and learn something about male friendships that could also benefit from an anti-cliché short story anthology. 

Here is a book that explores the shifting tectonic plates and little earthquakes that make and break female friendships. It is equal parts beautiful and uncomfortable, true and elusive … I found a bit of myself in every single piece, and after I finished reading I instantly wanted to pass it on to my friends so that they too could find themselves within the pages.


Monday, June 24, 2013

'Beguiling the Beauty' Fitzhugh Trilogy #1 by Sherry Thomas

From the BLURB:

When the Duke of Lexington meets the mysterious Baroness von Seidlitz-Hardenberg on a transatlantic liner, he is fascinated. She’s exactly what he’s been searching for—a beautiful woman who interests and entices him. He falls hard and fast—and soon proposes marriage.

And then she disappears without a trace…

For in reality, the “baroness” is Venetia Easterbrook—a proper young widow who had her own vengeful reasons for instigating an affair with the duke. But the plan has backfired. Venetia has fallen in love with the man she despised—and there’s no telling what might happen when she is finally unmasked…

Christian, Duke of Lexington, fell in love with Venetia Easterbrook from afar, as many young men have done. But she was married at the time of his falling was for naught. But Christian still made a promise to himself that one day, no matter how long he’d have to wait, he would take a chance with the beautiful Mrs. Easterbrook. 

Christian harboured this thought close to his heart for years. Even after an unsettling conversation with Mr. Easterbrook about his downfall, thanks in part to his beguiling wife, Christian still wanted her. Even after he heard rumours that Venetia Easterbrook had been blazingly, openly unfaithful to her second husband until he passed away, even then, Christian wanted her. Desperately. Maddeningly … until he didn’t. Until the day, while giving a lecture in America, that he realized Venetia Easterbrook’s beauty was a biological lie that harboured a cruel woman behind a beautiful mask. 

Little did Christian know that Venetia was in the audience that day, and listening with a sinking heart to every cruel misconception he uttered about this ‘anonymous’ and evil beguiling woman. 

What happened next was almost out of Venetia’s control. When she found herself staying at the same hotel as the Duke of Lexington … when she wore a veil to hide her face, and called herself Baroness von Seidlitz-Hardenberg to avoid his detection.

And then somehow it all went horribly, damnably, wrong.

‘Beguiling the Beauty’ is the first book in a new historical romance series from Sherry Thomas, called the ‘Fitzhugh Trilogy’. 

I have very quickly become a big fan of Sherry Thomas. Having read two of her stand-alone romances and been wholly impressed, I was so happy to become ensconced in a romance series by this new favourite author. And the first book of the ‘Fitzhugh Trilogy’ certainly delivers.

We meet Christian, Duke of Lexington, on the day he falls in love with Venetia Easterbrook from afar. Yes, this is one of those abhorrent ‘love at first sight’ clichés … or is it? This is Sherry Thomas after all, the writer injecting a bit of literary spice into the historical romance genre. So what starts as a cliché quickly progresses into a damning obsession for Christian, and then into a horrible public embarrassment for Venetia Easterbrook when he unleashes years of pent-up frustrations and dashed dreams on an ‘anonymous’ (but undoubtedly her, with that marriage history) woman who bewitched him with her beauty, but masked a wretched woman underneath. 

What Christian didn’t see, couldn’t see, on that day when he fell for Venetia from afar was how horribly miserable she was. At the time she had a husband who blamed her for everything – from being unable to give him a son, to London society who forget about him in her presence. And then she agreed to a second marriage with a dear friend, a convenience for them both which society has since warped and misconstrued. 

When Venetia, veiled and hidden, bumps into Christian in the lobby of their hotel after hearing his tirade against her, she only thinks to avoid outright vitriol and so pretends to be the Baroness von Seidlitz-Hardenberg. But when he seeks her out again, this masked Baroness who has him so intrigued, their paths take a decidedly different turn … and a sea-voyage sinks them both deeper and deeper into a tangled web of lies.

Oh! This is such a delicious book with a horrendously messy romance at its centre. In theory, both Venetia and Christian could have been pretty awful characters. Venetia is that particular brand of heroine that can go so horribly wrong if not written with finesse – she’s beautiful but despising of her beauty (even as others fall all over themselves for her). Thomas saves Venetia though, by giving us glimpses into two unhappy marriages that have left their imprint on her and added to her disgruntlement with her own outward appearance. Likewise, Christian could have come across as a bit of a dimwit, easily swayed by a pretty face and not much else. But he has a lot of heart, and spends a good portion of the book making it up to himself (and, unknowingly, Venetia too) for the way he fell for her looks before getting to know the beauty. And then there’s the fact that Venetia and Christian click on more than just a physical level – they are both scientists, and his encouragement of her intellectual endeavours is enough to leave readers swooning for this forward-thinking man; 

“If memory serves,” he said, “some of the most significant finds in British paleontological history must be credited to a woman.”  
“Yes, Mary Anning, I've read about her. My husband said her finds were due to blind luck.” 
He snorted. “If God saw fit to give a woman that much blind luck, he can’t possibly object to such endeavours on a woman’s part.”

I loved that Sherry Thomas teased out the idea of ‘love at first sight’, and wrote against typical romantic clichés to explore real conundrum for both Venetia and Christian. Things become decidedly interesting when Venetia, back home in London, casts off her Baroness disguise and becomes reacquainted with Christian, this time as her beautiful self... 

She tilted her umbrella slightly away from her person. “There are those who like me for the way my nose sits on my face – a ridiculous reason to like someone. But it’s also a fairly ridiculous reason to not like someone – as it is in your case.” 
“I disapprove of your character, Mrs. Easterbrook.”  
“You don’t know my character, sir,” she said decisively. “The only thing you know is my face.” 

This is the ‘Fitzhugh Trilogy’, and the focus is on Venetia and her siblings, who will round out the series. There’s her older brother, Lord Fitzhugh ‘Fitz’, who is married to the young Millicent for initial reasons of monetary gains, but whose marriage has become a friendship. Then there’s youngest Fitzhugh, Helena, who is the reason behind Venetia’s American expedition in the first place, after it was discovered that Helena had begun an affair with a married Ton man. 

If I had any complaints about this book, it would be that the larger series context of the Fitzhugh family feels a little underwhelming. I like it if I can at least glimpse the stories for future books in a series, but I don’t think readers were given enough insight into the Fitzhugh sibling dynamic and for that reason ‘Beguiling the Beauty’ really could just be another stand-alone from Thomas … but I suppose time (and the next two books) will tell if this disjointedness lasts or a trilogy feel becomes apparent. For now, I am again bewitched by yet another Sherry Thomas novel, this time in her lengthy (and messy) examination of the old ‘love at first sight’ cliché, and all the drama that can entail. 


Thursday, June 20, 2013

'The Grisha' book #1 and #2 by Leigh Bardugo

From the BLURB of ‘Shadow and Bone’ 

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

In this world The Grisha rule – they are a magical elite, also known as the Soldiers of the Second Army. They practice the Small Science: able to manipulate matter at its most fundamental levels. Led by The Darkling, who brings about darkness and has a lethal weapon called The Cut, which can rend a man in two with just the swipe of his bare hands. Then there is The Corporalki - Order of the Living and the Dead. Etherealki - Order of Summoners. And Materialki - Order of Fabrikators. The Grisha’s Second Army are led by The Darkling himself, but there is unrest amongst the peasants, and the Darkling fears for the age of The Grisha …

Alina Starkov is a mapmaker in Ravka’s first army; before that, she was a fellow orphan of Duke Keramsov's along with her childhood friend, Mal, now a tracker in the first army. They are currently marching on The Fold – a black and desolate expanse of nightmare created by The Black Heretic; a powerful and evil Grisha who lived and died hundreds of years ago. The Fold is now guarded by Volcra – flying beasts rumoured to have once been humans, but are now blind and bloodthirsty. 

Alina is troubled by the march ahead, and by her increasing jealousy towards all the girls that Mal flirts and beds; because she knows he’ll never think of her that way. The night before they enter The Fold, Alina and Mal share a moment together, reminiscing on how far they have come since being orphaned children of the peasant class …

But Alina’s unrest isn’t entirely unwarranted. When they march on The Fold, first army is overwhelmed and swarmed by Volcra – men are dying before Alina’s eyes, and Mal is almost killed … and then a beautiful, blinding light …

When Alina wakes, she is dragged before The Darkling himself, and tested. She is cut and exposed, and revealed to be the Sun Summoner – The Darkling’s perfect balance, who can call on light where he is dark, and the next most powerful Grisha ever discovered, who will change the world with him.

‘Shadow and Bone’ and ‘Siege and Storm’ are books #1 and #2 in a new dark YA fantasy trilogy called ‘The Grisha’, from Leigh Bardugo. 

I owe a great deal of gratitude to book blog ‘the midnight garden’ and Wendy Darling in particular. They were writing such tempting reviews and keeping a steady fangirl commentary on Twitter, to the point that I could ignore their praise of Leigh Bardugo and ‘The Grisha’ no more, and simply had to see for myself what all the fuss was about … Well, wasn’t I missing out? Here is a dark and delicious YA fantasy series, mired in Russian history and folklore and delivering one of the best female heroines I’ve read in a long time. 

What I love about ‘The Grisha’, and the character of Alina in particular, is that Leigh Bardugo starts out following the usual fantasy tropes. Here is an ordinary girl (peasant, no less!) plucked from obscurity to be pronounced as one of the most powerful magic-users in the world. Following her discovery, she is whisked away to The King's Grand Palace in Os Alta, and promised by the Darkling that she’ll help him renew the reign of Grisha and bring peace to The Fold … but here is where the ‘dream come true’ fantasy ends.

The reality is that Alina has denied her true nature for so long, she can barely summon a spark let alone sunlight. And as majestic as Os Alta is, and with the handsome Darkling encouraging her and a new friend called Genya by her side … Alina cannot forget her best friend and unrequited love, Mal. 

Maybe I would wake tomorrow and find that it had all been a dream, that Alexei was still alive and Mal was unhurt, that no one had tried to kill me, that I'd never met the King and Queen or seen the Apparat, or felt the Darkling’s hand on the nape of my neck. Maybe I would wake to smell the campfires burning, safe in my own clothes, on my little cot, and I could tell Mal all about this strange and terrifying, but very beautiful, dream. 
I rubbed my thumb over the scar in my palm and heard Mal’s voice saying, “We’ll be okay, Alina. We always are.” 
“I hope so, Mal,” I whispered into my pillow and let my tears carry me to sleep. 
‘Shadow and Bone’ 

And then Leigh Bardugo continues to blow tropes and truism out of the water – the love triangle turns sharp, the darkly delicious love interest reveals his villainous nature and the good guys don’t always finish first (or unscathed). I went into first book, ‘Shadow and Bone’, happily enraptured by this tale of peasant-turned-saviour and hopeful of romantic tension between the dark hero and unknowing best friend. But by ‘Siege and Storm’ I was thriving in the upheaval of it all; I found myself hoping against hope for redemption for the villain, and cut to the quick by the soured romance between Alina and her perfect hero. 

I really don’t want to give too much away because, as I say, you go into ‘Shadow and Bone’ with certain ideas and expectations and by ‘Siege and Storm’ Bardugo has left her readers as battered and bruised as her characters. For third book ‘Ruin and Rising’ (an entirely too far away, 2014 release) I’m going to be prepared to duck & cover.

A real strength of ‘The Grisha’ is in Bardugo’s unique Russian emphasis that’s not so overwhelming that it feels like you’re slogging through Tolstoy, but lends itself to the dark atmosphere and fairytale/fantasy quality. Another big draw is in the secondary characters (who are curveballs in themselves!) take privateer Sturmhond, for example, who first appears in ‘Siege and Storm’ and steals the limelight with his swashbuckling cheekiness; 

Mal crossed his arms and considered the privateer. “I can’t decide if you’re crazy or stupid.” 
“I have so many good qualities,” Sturmhond said. “It can be hard to choose.” 
‘Siege and Storm’ 

‘The Grisha’ is a truly brilliant series that I enjoyed falling into. It’s certainly a series in which nothing is as it seems, and readers should think twice before rooting for any one hero to win our heroine’s heart … I can’t wait for ‘Ruin & Rising’ in 2014, though I expect this series won’t be one that invites a happily-ever-after ending. 


'Shadow and Bone' is called 'The Gathering Dark' in Australia 

Monday, June 17, 2013

'The Husband's Secret' by Liane Moriarty

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Cecilia Fitzpatrick, devoted mother, successful Tupperware business owner and efficient P&C President, has found a letter from her husband.

"For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick
To be opened only in the event of my death"

But Cecilia's husband isn't dead, he's on a business trip. And when she questions him about it on the phone, Cecilia senses something she hasn't experienced before. John-Paul is lying.

What happens next changes Cecilia's formerly blissful suburban existence forever, and the consequences will be life-changing for the most unexpected people.

Lianne Moriarty’s new novel begins with a bit of Greek Mythology, and the story of poor Pandora who’s been given a bad rap and turned into a sorry metaphor over time, especially considering “nobody said a word about not opening it!”

It’s an apt metaphor, indeed. The unsuspecting and fair Pandora who didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she innocently opened a jar and unleashed horrors onto the world. Cut to modern-day Sydney and Cecilia Fitzpatrick is wrestling with her conscience about opening a letter her husband never thought she’d find, to be opened only in the event of his death (which is a problem, since he’s still very much alive and healthy). Cecilia is an upstanding citizen and beyond-reproach mum at St. Angela’s primary school, where her three daughters are currently attending. Cecilia is a good Catholic, a superb Tupperware saleswoman and loving wife to equally upstanding John-Paul. But this letter is nagging at her – especially when John-Paul is thrown into a fit over it, and her daughters start sharing their own concerns about dad’s behaviour. . . 

In Melbourne, Tess O’Leary has just had a veritable Pandora’s Box blown up in her face, when her husband Will and beloved cousin (more like sister), Felicity, announce their pious love and declare that they’d very much like to start a relationship . . . Tess is shaken to her core, and fuelled with hate. Herself a socially awkward by-product of divorce, and with her young son Liam to consider, she decides to leave her husband and cousin to their debauchery in the hopes they come to their senses – she and Liam leave for Sydney, to stay with her ailing mother and escape the heartache. But while trying to escape the deluge, Tess runs into an old flame and PE teacher at St. Angela’s where she’s just enrolled Liam. Connor Whitby was a blip on Tess’s romantic past, but seeing him again (and aged into a right spunk!) pulls a passion out of Tess that surprises her as much as Will and Felicity’s betrayal.

And then there’s Rachel Crowley, who is hoping to pry open an ages-old Pandora secret. Rachel works administration at St. Angela’s; she is a besotted grandmother to Jacob and widowed wife who is terrified when her son, Rob, and his wife announce they’ll be packing their bags and living in New York for two years. Rachel is also the mother of Janie Crowley – the girl who was famously murdered in 1984, strangled to death and her body left in the local park with rosary beads the only clue to her murder. To this day, the police have no real suspects – though Rachel personally believes Connor Whitby to have ‘lies in his eyes’, as the last person to have seen her daughter alive . . . 

While there are certainly plenty of Pandora-esque tragedies and catastrophies flying around this book, Moriarty plays out a few more metaphors than just the Greek. There’s a biblical ‘eye for an eye’ element running throughout, as these three women test their convictions and heartaches, measure their anger against forgiveness and seek very different retributions against the backdrop of St. Angela’s primary school. Then there’s also the history of the Berlin Wall running concurrently – as Cecilia’s daughter is obsessed with history and has turned her mind to the Cold War, escape artists and the momentous historical collapse of the wall. The Berlin Wall being a metaphor for sealing in and keeping out . . . but also, perhaps, the inevitability of collapse – that secrets very rarely remain kept forever, and walls once put up are bound to come crashing down.

I adored this book. I previously read and loved Moriarty’s 'The Hypnotist's Love Story' and vowed to read whatever she came up with next – though I have no idea why I waited so long (a full month!) to read ‘The Husband’s Secret’. This book hooked me in the first chapter, and by the fourth I was inwardly snarling at anything that kept my away from reading more, more, more (very annoying while reading on the train and making my destination – I did consider just doing a continuous loop until I got to the end of the book). 

There’s a big ‘what if?’, ‘Sliding Doors’ element to this book. Rachel blames herself for running seven minutes late on Janie’s last day – seven minutes that might have meant she’d been waiting for her mum instead of walking home through the park. Tess starts thinking what could have been when she runs into Connor Whitby after so many years, and so much recent heartbreak. And Cecilia blames the Berlin Wall (and foraging in the attic for a souvenir piece) for her uncovering her husband’s letter, and eventually his secret. . . Moriarty weaves this in beautifully to the book, and very occasionally an omniscient narrator reveals what was lost and gained from the small variants of life.

I suppose ‘The Husband’s Secret’ could be said to be all about wives and mothers, as the three main characters very much are. But Moriarty also examines her protagonists as women, which I found really interesting. It was little things – Janie Crowley vulnerable as she walked through the park, Tess driving late one night and noticing a man walking home (musing that a woman would never think to do that). It was Cecilia raising her daughters;

Cecilia noticed that beautiful women held themselves differently; they swayed like palm trees in the breeze of all that attention Cecilia wanted her daughters to run and stride and stomp. She didn’t want Polly to bloody sway. 

And while this is a novel about marriages, Moriarty swerves away from the usual line of ‘nobody really knows what goes on in a marriage apart from the people involved’. . . instead, she explores the possibility that even then, those involved in the marriage don’t know themselves at all;

‘There wasn’t anything really wrong with our marriage, was there?’ she said. ‘We didn’t fight. We were in the middle of watching season five of Dexter! How could you break up with me when we were in the middle of season five?’

I would say this is also a book about anger and morals and how those two are sometimes intertwined, but more often at loggerheads. And Moriarty captured anger so well that I could taste the metallic indignation, like blood, on the tip of my tongue in some paragraphs;

Cecilia thought she’d experienced anger before, plenty of times, but now she knew that she’d had no idea how real anger felt. The white-hot burning purity of it. It was a frantic, crazy, wonderful feeling. She felt like she could fly. She could fly across the room, like a demon, and claw bloody scratch marks down John-Paul’s face.

This is a superb novel that, upon finishing, I instantly wanted to pass on to someone else to read so I could talk about it with them. I think these characters are going to stay with me for a good long while, and I don’t think I’ll ever really be settled or comfortable with the decisions they made throughout this book (I’ll always think “what if?”). I’ll never again make the mistake of waiting one whole month to read a Liane Moriarty novel. 


Friday, June 14, 2013

'The 5th Wave' by Rick Yancey

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:
The 1st Wave 

Took out half a million people.

The 2nd Wave 

Put that number to shame.

The 3rd Wave 

Lasted a little longer. Twelve weeks . . . Four billion dead.

In the 4th Wave 

You can't trust that people are still people.

And the 5th Wave?

No one knows. But it's coming.

On a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs. Runs from the beings that only look human, who have scattered Earth's last survivors.
To stay alone is to stay alive, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan may be her only hope.
Now Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death.
Cassie Sullivan has grown used to living with regret. 

She regrets that her family didn’t panic more before the 1st Wave came, that they actually thought some intergalactic peace-keeping might happen. 

She regrets not telling Ben Parish, high-school heart-throb, how she felt about him these many years and that she didn’t even attempt to make him know she existed . . . now he’s dead like all the others. 

She regrets that her family – mum, dad and little brother, Sammy – didn’t get out sooner, after the 2nd Wave came. 

She regrets not insisting that she help her father, as he buried her mother.

She regrets letting Sammy get on that bus with the soldiers.

And she regrets leaving her father at the Ash Pit, ambushed by those same soldiers and left for dead.

Cassie may be living with her regrets, but she’s also living with a plan – to get Sammy back, no matter what. 

‘The Fifth Wave’ is the first book in a new sci/fi young adult series from Rick Yancey. 

The first clue that ‘The Fifth Wave’ is not your typical sci/fi-dystopian YA, should be that Rick Yancey is not your typical author to be joining the genre-trend bandwagon. Yancey is actually author of ‘The Monstrumologist’, which was awarded the 2010 Michael L. Printz Honor Award for excellence in young adult literature. In other words, this is not an author who was looking to be ‘the next big thing’ by following the lead of other YA best-sellers. 

And the second clue that ‘The Fifth Wave’ is anything but typical YA comes within the first four chapters, when Yancey proves his “kill your darlings” ease – establishing a world that’s more blood-thirsty than ‘The Hunger Games.’ Forget examining totalitarian regimes where absolute power corrupts, absolutely – Yancey’s world isn’t about the dystopian ‘corruption of man’ trend. Instead, Yancey’s world is our world; that has been conquered by extra-terrestrial hordes. In this world, humans have been quickly shifted to bottom of the food chain and the few of us who remain are just waiting for the next cleansing . . . the 5th wave, to put us in league with the extinct dinosaurs. 

Part of the novel is told from the perspective of Cassie Sullivan – one of the lucky (depending on how you look at it) humans who survived Waves 1–4, along with her father and little brother . . . until a mobilisation of the army sent her survival skills into a tailspin and saw her brother kidnapped and father murdered. Now Cassie is solely focused on getting Sams back, at any cost.
“See?” he said softly. “That’s how you know, too.” 
“How I know what?” My eyes were tearing up. His crumpled-up body wiggled in my vision like an image in a fun-house mirror. But I didn’t dare release my grip on the rifle to rub my eyes. 
"That I’m human. If I wasn’t, I would have shot you.”  
That made sense. Or did it make sense because I wanted it to make sense? Maybe he dropped the gun to get me to drop mine, and once I did, the second gun he was hiding under his fatigues would come out and the bullet would say hello to my brain.This is what the Others have done to us. You can’t band together to fight without trust. And without trust, there was no hope.  
How do you rid the Earth of humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Cassie’s plan has a wrench thrown in when a ‘Silencer’ has her trapped and shot beneath a car on an abandoned highway . . . 

And that’s really the most I can talk about the plot; because Yancey throws so many ‘OH MY GOD’ curveballs and fake-outs throughout this novel, and to spoil them would be a serious injustice. Save to say; there’s more than just Cassie narrating this story. 

Yancey adheres to one common trope of the recent YA trend for these books; and that is in the romance. Except Yancey blows love-triangles and star-crossed-lovers out of the water and offers a passionate conundrum that’s sure to add fuel to the flames of the next two books in the series. 

Now, I've read reviews that compare this book to Stephenie Meyer’s ‘The Host.’ I really can’t speak to that since I couldn’t stomach that book beyond the first chapter . . . but I have seen the movie and all I can say is ‘no.’ They don’t compare because Yancey is in a league of his own. And if you need further proof, it’s in the fact that Meyer has stated she has outlines for the sequels and has done some writing on them, but she has some qualms since ‘The Host’ universe is a "dangerous place" where characters might die, and she is not sure if she wants to kill them off. Puh-lease. Yancey knows better than that – he knows how to write high-stakes, heart-palpitating action and that sometimes a body count is absolutely necessary when you’re writing about invading alien hordes. 

If you need further reason to read this, how about the fact that it has been longlisted for the Australian Inky Awards, Silver Inky? If you don’t know; that’s a book award for books that kids actually want to read. And I can totally see why Yancey has earned the admiration of YA readers for ‘The Fifth Wave’. Here is a scary book that forces moral conundrums on its young protagonists and throws readers into the thick of an alien invasion. Absolutely superb, addictive-reading . . . I need the second book, pronto!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Secret Night by Danielle M. Binks

Your mother kept the night a secret from you for six years.

This slips out while you and your husband are undressing, sniggering together about tonight’s dinner at Ben and Theresa’s, and how ridiculous it is that they’ve decided not to teach their son to say please and thank you because they want him to be ‘spontaneously genuine’ in his interactions with others. 

Jed was saying how he didn’t think Ben was so airy-fairy, but he can just picture Theresa reading advice in a stupid New Age parenting manual and deciding it was genius.

So you said how sometimes perfectly sane people do silly things where their kids are concerned, like your mother keeping the night a secret from you for six years.

‘Come again?’ he asks, his shirt half-way unbuttoned.

You thought he hadn’t heard, but when you turn around to place your watch on the nightstand, you see he’s looking at you with doubtful eyes and a mouth that’s verging on a smirk.

 ‘My mother, she didn’t tell me that there was a night-time until I was six-years-old.’

Jed slowly pulls his shirt off and goes to hang it in the closet, and you notice how his belly has started blooming above his belted trousers, like the cap of a mushroom with his skinny legs the stalk.

He comes back to bed just as you’re settling in with Patricia Cornwell, and you can feel his eyes on you and a blush creeping up your neck, but you determinedly find your spot and stare at the words on the page.

‘Are you going to tell me?’ he finally asks.

‘Tell you what?’ you say, turning a page in the book.

‘Why Eleanor would do something like that?’ he replies, and after a beat adds, ‘and how she managed to pull it off for six years?’

A blush creeps a hot trail past your jaw to your cheeks, and you fleetingly think that you haven’t blushed this way in front of Jed since before you were pregnant.

‘I don’t know, she just never told me that there was a night-time and a day-time.’ 

You turn another page.

‘But, how?’ he asks, ‘why?’

Puffing out an angry breath you cut a violent dog-ear into the page and turn to look at him, resting on his side with one eyebrow quirked atop his wrinkled forehead.

‘I don’t know, she just never taught me that there was a day and a night or about stars and the moon and when it was bedtime she always shut the curtains in the house so I couldn’t see outside and she never said “good night” she’d always just say “sleep tight”,’ you huff again, ‘So I guess I always just thought that it was daylight, all the time.’

He doesn’t say anything for a moment and you end up just staring at each other for minutes, just listening to each other breathe, until you have to cut the silence; ‘okay? Can we drop this now? I’m sorry I even bought it up.’

‘Well, we would have never done anything like that if we’d had kids,’ he says, ‘and we’d have taught them their P’s and Q’s too,’ and then he’s flopping onto his back, leaving you to stare at him in the buttery glow of the Tiffany lamp.

 You must make a sound, because his head turns and then his hand is reaching to squeeze yours and he says something like; ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean . . . ’ 

‘No, no, no,’ you say, swiping at your eyes and rolling to your back but keeping your hand tethered to Jed’s. ‘It was crazy, and I don’t know why she did it in the first place and I never thought to ask her. I don’t even know why I've never told you, or anyone, it’s just a bizarre little piece of my childhood history. . . ’ and then you let out a breathy laugh that fishtails at the end, with a little hitch in your throat.

‘When I was little, mum made me cover my eyes whenever we drove past a McDonalds,’ Jed suddenly breaks the silence and you give a wobbly little smile as he continues, ‘fat lot of good trying to hide the place did,’ patting his paunch belly. 

Another moment passes with his hand pulsing yours, and then he’s sitting up again, crossing his legs, Indian-style. He runs his hands down your calves, but his brow is still wrinkled.

‘What?’ you ask, giving his pyjama-clad knee a tap with your foot.

‘How did she tell you?’

‘About night?’

He nods, keeps his hands running up and down your calves, ignoring the slight rise of growing hair. ‘You must have been scared when you first saw the dark.’

‘I always knew about the dark,’ you say quickly, ‘I knew that the lights went on and off in the house and I slept in a dark room, I knew about the lights going out I just didn’t know. . . ’ now that you’re saying it out loud, you hear how odd it is, how different your mother made you because of this one component of your childhood. 

Jed rubs your leg a little firmer, bringing your attention back; ‘Were you scared when she told you?’ 
And you think back to a day that was actually a night, years and years and years ago; when your mother woke you by tracing the arch of your eyebrow with the pad of her finger.

‘No,’ you say, ‘not at all.’ 

You stare up at the ceiling, ignoring the persistent crack that’s coming through the plaster; you admire the glow of the lamp on the dark walls and imagine your bedroom like a lighthouse on this darkened street.

‘She woke me up by whispering into my ear; “I have something to show you,” and her breath tickled, and I remember knowing it was a surprise. . . ’ you look up to see Jed staring at you, so intently, and you smile at him, ‘I suppose it was a surprise.

‘It was summertime, because I remember I was only wearing knickers and a singlet, and mum made me put on my slippers and she was wearing one of dad’s old t-shirts that she could never throw away, and it went down past her knees. 

‘And she took my hand and led me through the house, where all the curtains were shut, and she took me to the back door and told me to push it open. And I did, and I remember thinking there was another house attached to ours, hitched to it like a caravan,’ you turn and Jed is smiling with you, ‘because I couldn’t think why it was dark in our backyard, except that there was another house with all the lights switched off too.
‘Then she sat down on the little stoop, and pulled me between her legs and she told me to look up, and I did, and there were all these tiny holes in the roof where light was getting in. But then she explained to me, she said “stars” and I remember not knowing what she was talking about, but that word was the prettiest one I'd ever heard, and it was even nicer coming from my mum, saying it in a whisper into my neck. Stars, I thought, and then mum pulled me into her chest. . .’

You stop now. Because that first night becomes blurred, it ends with your mum’s breath on your neck, her arms holding you and the night sky before you for the very first time.

‘Why do you think she did it?’ Jed asks.

You give your head a little shake, and Jed uncrosses his legs and takes his place beside you, his side pressed against yours, and when he starts talking you feel the vibrations of his voice shaking your bones.

‘How amazing would it have been if she’d been able to keep the secret for longer? Imagine turning eighteen and your mum telling you she has a surprise. And at eighteen, when you think you’ve got everything figured out and you’re ready to bat any curveball – imagine in that moment your mum takes your hand and shows you night,’ he turns a little, and then his soft rumble is in your ear, ‘imagine thinking that you have everything all figured out, and then your mum shows you that you’ve still got so much to learn, that the world as you know it can still surprise you, because you’ve been living in daylight without ever knowing what was on the other side.’ 

You turn to your husband, his eyes shining and crinkled at the corners, his mouth beautiful and pink and as kissable as the first night you saw him.

‘Thank you for telling me,’ he says.

© Danielle M. Binks 2013

This story was Highly Commended in the 2013 Bayside Writing Competition 
| More