Sharing is really quite a nice thing to do.

I am not a person with artistic skills. At all. Luckily, a thing called Canva exists which lets me kind of pretend a little bit. So I’ve made some cute social media sharables from the three stories in Almost Midnight. If you like the book, or even just like the quotes, please feel free to save them and share them to Facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram, reddit or any other platform you cool kids are into.

x

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cindersoot

not-all-that

2015: My Year In Reading

Happy 2016, friends!

I’m not one for making resolutions or reflecting on the year that was, but here are the books I read last year in the order I read them! Yay!

1794575 1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 5 stars 

2. Sabriel by Garth Nix (The Old Kingdom #1)
My rating: 4 Stars

3. Girl Of Nightmares by Kendare Blake
My rating: 4 Stars

4. Mad About The Boy by Helen Fielding
My rating: 2 Stars (Note: I don’t know why I gave this book 2 stars. It was awful. 1 star for Bridget.)

5. The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss
My rating: 4 Stars

6. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 Stars

7. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (No Scrubs Book Club)
My rating: 3 Stars

97818639569258. The Muppets Omnibus
My rating: 4 Stars

9. Laurinda by Alice Pung
My rating: 4 Stars

10. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen #1)
My rating: 5 stars (I actually don’t remember anything about this book other than the fact that I really enjoyed it while I was reading it. Might need to revisit this rating, or try to remember the plot. One of the two)

11. Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
My rating: 4 Stars

12. Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming (Audiobook) (No Scrubs Book Club)
My rating: 4 Stars

2378363813. Song Of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope (Earthsinger Chronicles #1)
My rating: 5 Stars

14. Voyage by Ellisa Barr (Powerless Nation #2)
My rating: 4 Stars

15. Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
My Rating: 3 Stars

16. Me, Earl And The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
My rating: 4 Stars

17. Matilda by Roald Dahl (Audiobook)
My rating: 5 Stars (seriously, listen to the audiobook. Kate Winslet is hilarious) 

18. Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger (Finishing School #2)
My rating: 4 Stars

19. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (No Scrubs Book Club)
My rating: 5 Stars (I actually expected not to like this at all and I loved it)

20. Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson 
My rating: 5 Stars

21. Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle23603939
My rating: 5 Stars

22. In The Skin Of A Monster by Kathryn Barker
My rating: 4 Stars

23. When We Wake by Karen Healey
My rating: 5 Stars (retrospectively I think I’d actually give this 4 stars. Still good, though)

24. Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger (Finishing School #3)
My rating: 5 Stars

25. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (No Scrubs Book Club)
My rating: 5 Stars

26. Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 Stars

27. The Sending by Isobelle Carmody (Obernewtyn Chronicles #6)
My rating: 3 Stars 

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28. The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody (Obernewtyn Chronicles #7)

My rating: 5 Stars (THE END OF AN ACTUAL ERA. I’VE BEEN READING THIS SERIES SINCE I WAS TEN.)

29. Clancy Of The Undertow by Christopher Currie
My rating: 4 Stars

30. Eleanor by Jason Gurley
My rating: 5 Stars

31. Their Fractured Light (The Starbound Trilogy #3)
My rating: 4 Stars 

So overall it was a great year for books! I only hated one of them, and I really enjoyed the overwhelming majority. The main disappointment was only reading 31 books when I’d set myself a goal of 52, and only finishing 4 book club books out of 12. Tragic effort.

Books not included, as I started them in 2015 but still have not finished, for varying reasons, but still intend to: Absolute Pandemonium by Brian Blessed, Ayoade on Ayoade by Richard Ayoade, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield and Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood.

Book currently reading: The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim.

Almost Midnight Update: It’s being formatted! Which means you are much closer to being allowed to read it.

And now I’m going back to reading! I suggest you all do likewise.

x

 

Review: These Broken Stars

These+Broken+Stars

 

THESE BROKEN STARS
Author:
Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Genre: Young Adult Romance/Sci-Fi
Edition & Publisher:
Australian Paperback; Allen & Unwin

I wasn’t sure I was going to find much to enjoy in These Broken Stars. Not because I’d read any negative reviews (I went into this one completely blind of reader and critic reactions), but because I’m generally terrified of all things space and it’s been a very long time since I read a book with a romantic focus. But I’ve been trying to open myself up to new genres and I’ve been ogling that cover for a while now.

And in this case, trying something new absolutely paid off. I was hooked from page one and didn’t put the book down until page three hundred and seventy-four at 2:13AM the next morning. I haven’t done that with a book since the wonderful Zac & Mia back in February.

So what’s it about?

The story begins on the Icarus, the unsinkable uncrashable luxury spaceliner ferrying 50,000 souls across the universe. Major Tarver Merendsen, a young, spunky soldier allowed out of steerage the lower decks thanks to his newly won war hero status meets the sparky Lilac in an excruciatingly boring upper class saloon and flirts with her, not realising she’s the daughter of the richest and most powerful CEO in the universe. Despite her attraction to him, she humiliates him to keep him at a distance and protect him from the wrath of her father. But they find each other – of course – when disaster strikes and the Icarus is yanked from hypserspace, sending it crashing into a nearby planet. Making their way to an escape pod, they find themselves alone on an unfamiliar planet and must work together to survive until Lilac’s father’s fleet can locate and rescue them.

But the longer they spend on the planet, the clearer it becomes that there’s no help coming. And though there are no other living humans on the planet, there is something. Voices haunt Lilac, urging her on. But to what?

While These Broken Stars is first and foremost a love story, the narrative is driven by the mystery of the abandoned planet and their quest first for rescue, then survival. The story is told in first person present tense, alternating between the two characters. Each chapter is punctuated by an excerpt from Tarver’s interrogation in the unspecified future with an unspecified person, post-rescue, where he frequently contradicts what we see in the chapters. It’s a risky format, but Tarver and Lilac have clear character voices, so I never found myself having to flick back and check the name at the top of the chapter (sorry, Allegiant) and the interrogation excerpts keep the tension alive even in the more docile chapters. Tarver never gives any indication of whether Lilac survives with him.

The characters and their situations aren’t exactly original. Rich girl meets poor boy, poor boy rescues rich girl, her family objects to poor boy, they fall in love anyway. But similarities to Titanic aside, there’s a nice sense of reality and heart to both Lilac and Tarver. They’re likeable and interesting, and unlike some romantic set-ups, are interested in each other for slightly more than their (above average, of course) looks.

Tarver is a soldier with poetry in his heart and unresolved feelings about the older brother he idolised – a soldier, like him, and killed in action. It’s never really specified what elevated him to war hero status (apparently it’s being released as an ebook novella/short story this year) but we’re often shown him applying his combat and survival training, and we see his abilities as a leader in the best sense of the word. He’s kind, patient, and able to put personal feelings aside to motivate and encourage others. He’s not even petty, perfectly able to acknowledge Lilac’s contributions to their survival while he’s still smarting from her public rebuke – if only to himself. He has flaws, of course, unable to believe in what he can’t see, slipping too easily into soldier mode at the expense of his emotions, stubborn and uncompromising. But he respects women, which is always nice to see, and though he’s extremely attracted to Lilac at face value, he really falls for her when she defends a poor man from the first class guards, and finds himself more attracted to her by her actions during their time together. And normally I’d roll my eyes at the secret love of poetry thing, but here it’s pretty dreamy.

Lilac LaRoux is an interesting take on the snotty rich girl trope. While Lilac can and does play the role of zillionaire socialite perfectly, she’s more than just a snub-nosed (bless non perfect noses) pretty face. Her father might practically run the known universe (ah, capitalism), at the end of the day he’s an engineer, and between him and the building sites she’s spent a good portion of her childhood in, she’s picked up a lot of electrical and mechanical know-how. Tarver might save her from tumbling off a balcony, but Lilac is the one who knows how to hot-wire the malfunctioning escape pod and disengage it from the Icarus before it can take them to their deaths. And despite being marooned in heels and a ball gown, Lilac shows enormous fortitude. Her stubborn, sparky exterior hides a lonely girl who has been wounded before by emotional attachments, but as she lets her guard down she’s able to show how intelligent, brave and capable she can really be. Even at her most ‘annoying,’ I found Lilac warm, funny and likeable.

Amie-Meg TBS headshot

 

I don’t know how Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner managed a book this cohesive when they don’t even live on the same side of the planet, but their prose is clear and evocative, painting beautiful imagery without labouring the point. The dialogue wasn’t painful, the side characters were mostly interesting. The only real complaint about the book I can think of is that Lilac’s humiliation of Tarver before the crash didn’t seem public or humiliating enough to provoke the extreme level of dislike from Tarver afterwards (he’s such a whiny sook about it for a few chapters I couldn’t even feel sorry for him). I wish it had been in front of another military official, or even a paparazzo to really escalate it from slightly bruised ego (would he really care that two girls he didn’t know giggled at him?) to an actual professional and personal injury. A few chapters near the end are also a bit weird and complicated, but this isn’t an official complaint – it was very late when I read them and I’m willing to allow that my brain was a bit fried.

But that aside, I really loved These Broken Stars, and I’m even more excited to find out that The Starbound Trilogy won’t follow Tarver and Lilac (as much as I like both of them) but two more couples in different situations across the galaxy. Kaufman and Spooner have introduced us to an interesting galaxy, setting up a key conflict (there’s a war on!) and villain (sorry, no spoilers!), and now they’re going to let us explore it. Next up, This Shattered World (December 2014), following a rebel and a soldier on opposite sides of the conflict.

TSW_C_2-6-alt3SO pretty.

My score: 4.5/5

Random thoughts:
I admit to being a fairly big prude about shagging in my media, but this is perfect level lovin’ for me.
What kind of idiot is deep into Greek mythology and calls their biggest spaceship the Icarus? Was Titanic II already taken?
I didn’t understand a single word of the science stuff, but I appreciate that it’s there. I have no idea if any of it checks out, but kudos if so.
If I’d taken a shot every time Tarver or Lilac gazed at something I would be in hospital. Or at least chained to the toilet.
I don’t even cosplay and I want to dress up as Lilac. Someone get me a green dress and a portable wind machine.
Lady soldiers! Lady bodyguards! Nobody making a big deal of it! Excited for the possibilities of this in future books, especially since our female protag in This Shattered World is a soldier.

 

 

The Edge of the Woods: Launch Day!

IT’S HERE!

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Well, it’s kind of been. It’s 7:52pm and I launched this morning, woken up at 6.30am by a text from a friend who’d just ordered her copy. Which was sweet and exciting and fuzzy in the ‘Jesus, what time is it?’ kind of way.

But here we are. My first novel has gone live. It’s out there, like one of those baby turtles who has to scuttle (crawl? Land flap?) its way to the ocean and try not to get eaten alive. And like a million year old mama turtle, all I can do is watch and refresh the KDP reports page.

…bad metaphor?

Anyway.

It’s been a great day, with lots of people saying lots of lovely things and being all around very supportive. Thanks to them The Edge of the Woods is sitting at #1 in the Australian Kindle store under the Young Adult Women & Girls category, #860 in the Australian Kindle store overall and #33,274 at Amazon.com. Which is pretty cool!

So now we press on! A friend asked a while back that when I publish I make a blog post about my self-publishing process, so I’ll spend some time on that over the next few days, but otherwise it’s on with Book #2 and following up some leads and opportunities re: actual paid work.

It’s been a big day! Let’s all kick back with a beer and a good book.

You could always try mine, if you’re into that sort of thing.

x

 

Books vs eBooks

I’ve seen a sudden resurgence in the books vs ebooks argument lately, usually raised by passionately pro-book people and defended angrily by e-reader devotees. As a reader/writer person, I’m occasionally dragged in and demanded of an opinion.

So here it is:

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I like both.

I like the look and feel of a real book in my hands. I like to crack open the spine, bunny ear my pages (offending many), write my name and the date I bought it in the front, curl up with it in bed and drink hot chocolate. I like to see my books on the shelf, like a display of the way my mind works. I like to have beautiful copies of books I’m almost too afraid to read.

But I don’t like carrying them, which I do – often – because I’ve lived in over nine houses in nine years. I don’t like it when I can’t fit them in my handbag, I don’t like it when they’re so long my arms get a workout trying to read in bed, I don’t like it when great books have ugly covers, or when they’re movie poster editions, and I don’t like it when I drop them in the bath (a problem they admittedly share with eBooks).

I don’t own a kindle, but I do have an iPad mini. It’s adorable, it fits in my handbag, and it has over fifty eBooks on it. I can buy new eBooks on it whenever I like. It travels with me, on days out to the city and internationally. I like the way it’s introduced me to authors I’d never find in a book shop, and how nobody can see what I’m reading just by looking at me.

I just really like reading. In whatever form happens to be easiest at the time.

The No Scrubs Book Club: Written On The Body

written_on_the_body

‘You said, ‘I love you.’ Why is it that the most unoriginal thing we can say to one another is still the thing we long to hear?’

Written on the Body is an experimental, poetic novel written from the point of view of a narrator with no name and no gender signifiers, recounting their relationship with a married woman. The narrative is non-linear, meandering between memories of her married lover, Louise, and others before her.

I’ll be honest, I started this book on the train to Book Club. It’s been a hectic sort of month. But by page thirty two, I was hooked.  The story itself is thin, but the prose is rich – almost overflowing – and completely engaging. So it was enough to have some thoughts to share. And luckily half of our little group had finished the thing, so there was plenty to talk about. In fact, we managed to stay on topic for over two hours.

The first question that came up was, who did we think narrated the story? Every single one of us identified them as a woman. While we admitted some bias – the book was written by a woman, and selected for the club by a lesbian woman who rates this as one of her favourite books – we also discussed what made us think of them as a she. After all, Winterson was careful to use mixed gender comparisons when describing them: swaggered like Mercutio, trembled like a schoolgirl (these are complete misquotes, I’m sorry) and keeps all descriptions of their clothing gender neutral. Several members thought the narrator noticed and described small moments as only a woman would. Another thought the narrator had seemed out of place in the men’s bathroom, treating it (and other instances when they encounter men) like foreign territory. I felt the love interest’s husband was far too unthreatened by the narrator spending so much time alone with his wife for it to be a man. Another, the least convinced of the narrators gender either way, admitted the book had caused her to examine her own notions of stereotyped gender behaviour. At no point did we examine why it was so important for most of us to assign a gender to the narrator, which is an interesting question in itself.

‘I have a head for heights it’s true, but no stomach for the depths. Strange then to have plumbed so many.’

Conversation went from unhappy marriages to the nature of affairs and trust to whether we perceived the narrator as selfish (a resounding yes, from those who’d read far enough), to the usefulness of homing pigeons, to the strength of the story versus the strength of the prose. We agreed the story, in the hands of a different writer, probably wouldn’t be worth reading. Some of us (okay, me) pointed out aspects of the prose we’d definitely find annoying written by someone else, and one of our members argued there were not enough sex scenes. But she also hadn’t finished the book, and was advised – very enthusiastically – to keep going.

I can’t rate the book, but I can promise to finish it. It’s rare to find a poetic writer I can sit through, let alone enjoy, so I’m glad to have been introduced to Jeanette Winterson.

‘Sometimes I think of you and I feel giddy. Memory makes me lightheaded, drunk on champagne. All the things we did. And if anyone had said this was the price I would have agreed to pay it. That surprises me; that with the hurt and the mess comes a shift of recognition. It was worth it. Love is worth it.’

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 3.54.36 AM

Next up, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. I’m excited for the chance to finally get into some Vonnegut. I’ve been meaning to read something of his for ages, and now I have the excuse.

Recently read: Good Bones by Margaret Atwood (5/5), Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (3.5/5), The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (4/5), Switched by Amanda Hocking (2/5).

On The Reading Pile: The Waves by Virginia Woolf, Wicked by Gregory Maguire, 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, Cold Fire by Kate Elliott. Possibly not in that order.

What’s in your reading pile at the moment? Any recommendations?

The No Scrubs Book Club: The Book Thief

And so, with cups of tea, the fancy brand name kind of cheese, a chocolate cake, a flan, Tim Tams and a big Boston bun, the first official meeting of the No Scrubs Book Club came to order.

BZ1f7SHCcAAuhr1.jpg-largeSexy disembodied knees.

While one member was too busy to actually start the book (‘Oh wow, it’s about Nazi Germany,’ she observed, scanning the Wikipedia plot summary on her iPhone ten seconds before we started) and three hadn’t actually finished yet (first book, busy time of year, large-ish page count – we don’t judge), feelings about the book were largely positive.

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For those who haven’t come across this massively successful book by Australian author Markus Zusak (who slips a nice little nod to Australia at the end), The Book Thief follows four years in the life of Liesel Meminger during World War II. Willingly given up by her impoverished single mother (her husband a confirmed communist taken away by the Nazis), Liesel and her brother are taken by train to Molching. However, Liesel’s brother dies of ‘a cough that kills’ on the journey, and so Liesel has her first brush with Death and at the same time steals her first book.

In a bold move, Zusak has the novel narrated by Death: a dry, invisible but very busy entity who tells the story in retrospect via their own encounters with Liesel (of which there are three during Liesel’s lifetime) and from the memoir Death rescues from the back of a garbage truck.

‘I waved.
No-one waved back.’

Death’s interest in Liesel’s ordeals during this short period is understandable. Liesel is a thoroughly likeable little girl who’s been through much in her short life – and she doesn’t take it lying down. Although she battles flashbacks of her brothers death every night, Liesel has a sharp tongue inherited from her foster mother (the fabulous, lovingly abrasive Rosa Hubermann) and a mean fist. While Liesel could be considered a vulnerable, and deeply empathetic character, she has no trouble looking after herself.

‘Her knuckles and fingernails were so frighteningly tough, despite their smallness. ‘You Saukerl!’ Her voice, too, was able to scratch him. ‘You Arschloch. Can you spell Arschloch for me?”

This sort of unusual coming of age story focuses on the two most important elements in Liesel’s life: her relationships with her loved ones, and her relationship with words.

It may be an indicator of a male author, but Liesel’s most important relationships are with the men in her life: Hans, the only father she’s ever known, Rudy, her best friend and first love, and Max, the young Jewish man her foster parents conceal in their basement. It could also be argued she has a strong relationship with Hitler and Death (who remains unmarked by gender indicators, though interestingly was perceived to be male by most of our book club – though Terry Prachett got the blame in at least two of those cases). Hitler, interestingly and appropriately enough, is a presence throughout the novel despite never physically appearing. Also interesting to note is that, even in Max and Liesel’s imaginations and despite their hatred of him, Hitler always wins.

It was universally agreed that Hans Hubermann was a wonderful person and father, interestingly drawn and with real human depth, and that Rudy was impossible not to love, for all his cheek and charm and kindheartedness. However, it came up that several of us had trouble really caring about Max as a person. While we could sympathise with him for his situation, and cared about his wellbeing for its effect on Liesel and Hans, it was difficult to associate ‘Max the Jew’ with ‘Max the Man’ – it seemed like he was a completely separate person to the man we’d been introduced to via his backstory. While it’s not something I felt personally (though I do believe he wasn’t as richly drawn as Hans or Rudy, but more like the lesser characters of Rosa or Ilsa), I can appreciate the observation. And maybe that was the point. It could be commentary on the dehumanisation of the Jews under the Third Reich. Nothing about Max in hiding was the same as Max the free man.

Liesel’s relationship with words is, to me, something special. Relevant to the backdrop, in a nation won over by poisoned words and whole classes of people oppressed by them, illiterate Liesel understands their power. Over the course of the four years, Liesel learns that words have the power to hurt and heal, using her own to wound when cornered, to distract others when hiding in the bomb shelter, and to bring pieces of the world to a man who doesn’t dare go out and see for himself.

”Don’t punish yourself,’ she heard her say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too. That was writing.’

For me, The Book Thief is a lovely story told through a unique lens. The language is beautiful, and Death’s observations on humankind are at once inspiring and heartbreaking. Liesel is a character I warm to and care for, and so are the people around her. Just like Death, I have a special place in my heart for people like her and Rudy.

‘I have hated the words, 
and I have loved them,
and I hope I have made them right.’ 

The Book Thief gets a 4/5 from me, though according to my Goodreads list I gave it a 5/5 on my first reading. And I am quite annoyed the movie isn’t out in Australia until January.

Our next book will be Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Or is it Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close? I can never remember. It’s a surprise choice by a member who once gave me a copy of Marquis De Sade to read when we were teenagers (which was… scarring) and loves a good romance.

And next up on my personal reading list:
Good Bones – Margaret Atwood
Breathing GhostsLaekan Zeakemp

Until next time, happy reading!