Category Archives: Books

Book reviews and recommendations; writers and writing; here are a few of my favourite things

The joys of November

Herewith the usual humble cringing puppy-dog eyes apologies for the last fortnight silence: yep, I’ve been having a bit of a crap time [read: seriously scary and horrible and agonising pain episodes], spending WAY too much time in bed writhing and screaming in pain, and just feeling fundamentally vile because all I have in my gut is loads of heavy duty drugs and maybe an apple or so and it is churning around in a most disconcerting manner. Meantime the weather has been totally weird, humid and stormy then cold and fine then stormy again then hot then sudden rains . . . No wonder my body is writing outraged letters of complaint to the Chief Editor. Bleh.

HOWEVER.

November has really been pretty spectacular IF you overlook all the shite stuff, which I will proceed to do.

First off, books began arriving in the mail in dribbles and drabbles, from The Book Depository, and Fountain Books in Virginia, USA, and also from Paul Kidby / Sir Terry Pratchett. MEGA-W0000000000T!!!

I do have a major beef with The Book Depository, with their system of packaging up one book at a time instead of the whole lot or even a few in one corrugated cardboard envelope. I mean, presumably someone somewhere is trudging around a warehouse with an electronic pad thingy and a trolley, putting my order together. Why the fuck can they not be a wee bit more organised? ARGH. Okay so it’s about shipping costs blah blah blah but . . . It is an insult to my greenie leftie femmo bitch self over such a waste of materials.

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Help somebody

Brenna Yovanoff is one of my favourite new-found writers. I have always loved the Fantasy and Urban Fantasy genres, and I enjoy the YA entries into that pool.  There are probably a couple of blurbs / reviews of Urban Fantasy / YA books on this blog. My Books Wish List has kind of exploded recently . . . and the price of books in Australia is ridiculous!  [Riddikulus! even]

Brenna is part of the Merry Sisters Of Fate group with Tessa Gratton and Maggie Stiefvater. It was via my somewhat fan-girly love of Maggie S. that I discovered Brenna and Tessa, was captivated by their writing, and overcame my long-time dislike of short stories in the process!  I have since ordered books by Brenna – The Replacement, and The Space Between is being published in November – and Tessa’s Blood Magic.  I can’t wait to get my fuzzy little paws on them, along with Maggie’s just-released The Scorpio Races.  Truly an embarrassment of riches! There will be blurbs [and going by my recent BookDep order – see previous post – and others in the queue, there will be LOTS of blurbs].

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Anyways, this is actually an entry for a contest for Brenna’s new book The Space Between, about Daphne, the daughter of fallen angel Lucifer and demon Lilith, who leaves  her home in the city of Pandemonium [in what is essentially Hell] to rescue her brother Obie who has somehow gone missing whilst doing good works on Earth.  One of the main themes of The Space Between, says Brenna, is “helping people who just aren’t in a position to help themselves.”

The contest then is “ . . . to tell a Good Samaritan story; when someone helped you, and they didn’t have to; or maybe, when you helped someone when you could tell they needed it . . . ”

I could just outline what Tux does for me every single day, especially the really, really, REALLY bad days, but I’d rather not, for this.  Instead I give a very little story, no drama, maybe everyone has done the same, maybe it is trivial,; yet it was something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, and even if it’s a small thing it still is meaningful and important.

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More booksesss

LOTS more booksesss . . .

Wheeeee!!!  I finally finally finally made my  long awaited Book Depository Order . It’s a mite overdue [like three months] due to annoying things like medical bills, and the electricity dying dramatically on a weekend, and the various house / plumbing leaks needing urgent professional attention, and work to be done on the roof and blah blah blah less important expenditure than BOOKS!

As with everything I have long long lists of books I need, divided into genre, then sub-categorised into priority, and so on.  Some time I’ll post it up for you so you can laugh at me some more.  Look, I like lists, and making lists, and especially crossing things off lists, okay???

[ Viz a viz the latter:  in one of my previous lives as an admin assistant*, at especially boring times I would write out “To Do” lists of jobs I had already done just for the simple satisfaction – and time-suck involved – of crossing them off.   I bet I’m not the only person to have at least felt like doing this. ]

[ * I have also had past lives working in politics, medicine, and marine environment research, and etc.  The marine environment research job was my absolute favourite, my dream job, utter utter bliss with the best work-mates EVER, so of course it was the one that was cut by the fucktards in Canberra.  Yup, devastating.  I’m not talking about the “etc.”, it was so grim and appalling you’d want to gouge out your own eyes to stop reading about it. ]

Listed priorities aside,  “How I Feel At The Time” does affect the ordering process.  Hence the ratio of mind-improving Non Fiction books to YA / Urban Fantasy is perhaps not as it could be  – or maybe that IS as it should be.  YA / Urban Fantasy is incredibly entertaining, while even the best neurology / genetics / physiology books are, well, kinda dry and not the sort to keep you up turning page after breathless page til 0300 unless one is cramming for an exam.

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“Books, glorious books . . . “

“. . .  fat hardbacks and werewolves . . .”

Well maybe not werewolves this time but flesh-eating water-horses are pretty damn scary-cool and bloodthirsty, right?

I am looking forward to a couple of orders flying in from other countries fairly soon;  a pre-ordered copy of Maggie Stiefvater’s new book The Scorpio Races SIGNED and DOODLED in by the author herself, plus Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement, from Fountain Books in Virginia, USA;  and Sir Terry Pratchett’s new Discworld novel SNUFF from the UK, also pre-ordered and signed by Sir Terry himself [!!!].

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Book blurb: The Piper’s Son – Melina Marchetta

The Piper’s Son is a sequel-ish to Saving Francesca.  I say “ish” because it’s not about Francesca, but another member of her group of friends at high school, and is set some five years later.  Set again in Sydney, Thomas Finch Mackee – who seemed the archetypal yob but with hidden sensitivity in Saving Francesca, has lost touch with his friends and family in the last couple of years, and has pretty much lost the plot.  He spends his days stoned out of his mind, deliberately cut off from family, friends and the world except for his love of music. 

What happened to Tom to send him off the rails and basically treat his friends like shit gradually unfolds and is explained, in much the same way as Taylor’s story in On The Jellicoe Road.

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Book blurb: On The Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta

Melina Marchetta is the Australian author of the much-beloved and much-awarded Young Adult books Looking For Alibrandi and Saving Francesca (also Finnikin Of The Rock – so far unread).  I’ve read these multiple times, and on my latest visit to a bookshop greedily scooped up On The Jellicoe Road (published 2007) and her most recent release The Piper’s Son.

I am a big fan of Melina Marchetta and her writing.  Her characters are so real and alive, through brilliant characterisation and dialogue.  Her books are in the Young Adult category so are directed at the mid-to-late teen group, but the stories and themes are universal and heart-warming* so Proper Grown Ups can enjoy them too (and have a bit of a nostalgic gleam about their teen years).

*I usually despise the description of any YA or chick-lit as “heart-warming”, it’s tossed around by reviewers in such a generic way, like so many MickDee burgers (and just as nauseating).  However in Marchetta’s case “heart-warming” is so perfect a description I’ll let it go.  In Saving Francesca especially I totally related to the feeling of alienation experienced by Francesca herself, and also her mother’s “nervous breakdown” and deep dark depression.

So, firstly, On The Jellicoe Road     (The Piper’s Son to follow)

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Addendum – Urban Fantasy

Whilst mulling over the previous post and posts-to-come, I recalled a chat I had with a Borders counter person the other week.  I was in the Young Adult / Children’s section, and couldn’t help but notice all the Twilight books and tons upon tons of merchandise.  Burning out my retinas, so they were [and those of the poor young woman working there, who noted with despair that the movies / merch are only up to the second book, oh woe].

I could do an entire post about my hatred for all things Twilight but most of the points are in the Urban Fantasy – Patricia Briggs post.  I did, however, come up with my own nickname for the phenomena.  “Twi-hards” simply doesn’t cut it. 

For the books, the undiluted Year-Nine-level crappiness of the writing within, all the merchandise, and the silly people who roll about in the mediocrity of it all, I came up with “Twi-Shite”, which says it all, really.

Book blurb: Urban Fantasy – Patricia Briggs

The “urban fantasy” genre (or “paranormal”, “supernatural” et al) is really big these days.  The vile Twilight series is getting all the credit for the rise in popularity of books about vamps, werewolves, fae or faerie, witches and various other ghosties and beasties.  This pisses me off enormously because hellooo?  Buffy???  Anne Rice novels?  And the hundreds of other books to be found in the SF&F shelves that were deemed too nerdy for the general adult / young adult populace?  Now it’s “cool”.  And hey it’s all down to a series that is misogynist, anti-feminist (or anti any non-passive-female;  the only strong female characters are Evil), abstinence-only and MORMON.  BLECCHHHH!

I’ve always loved the fantasy genre (oh I like SF too, except for the really heavy-duty military-space-opera stuff) starting with Lord Of The Rings at nine years old, and moving on from there.  It’s true a lot of fantasy is, well, bilge, and poorly-written bilge at that.  The same-old, same-old heroes, stupid names, dragons and swords and beautiful useless heroines.

Some fantasy is pretty damn wonderful though.  Terry Pratchett is one of my absolute favourite authors, over all genres, not merely the SF&F category.  Personally I think his books should be on the same shelves as the posh Booker-Prize-winning Literature, he’s so good; besides he got an OBE for Services To Literature so the Queen (or some lackey) obviously agrees with me!  For an incorrigible bookophile (technically it’s “bibliophile” but I don’t want to bring the so-called Good Book into this), even one who is a compulsive list-maker, such a thing as “Absolute Favourite Authors” is difficult to quantify.

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Book blurb: Wintersmith – Terry Pratchett

The Discworld Series, by Terry Pratchett, has to be Tuxedo’s and my favourite reading material.  One or other of the thirty-odd books is first choice for our “bedtime story” (we read a chapter or two of something aloud to each other at bedtime every night – you may shudder at the saccharine but we enjoy it and it helps lull us to sleepytime mode).  While each book can be read as a stand alone it helps immensely to have read them in order; for plot, backstory and most importantly, character development.

For character is what Pratchett does best.  Many shy away from Discworld because it’s categorised as “fantasy” – and yes, it does have trolls and vampires and werewolves, oh my, and magic rather than physics is the guiding principle (and it rides on the back of four giant elephants carried by a space turtle) – but few fantasy novels, let alone straight fiction, have such great well developed characters.  Ask any Pratchett fan who their favourite DW character is and you’ll hear yelps of “Vimes! Granny Weatherwax! No – DEATH!”.  (I tie between Sam Vimes and Granny, personally.  Not to mention Foul Ol’ Ron; “Buggrit, Millennium hand and shrimp, Burning my eyes with rays” etc.)

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Book blurb: Nineteen Minutes – Jodi Picoult

Nineteen Minutes is Jodi Picoult’s latest novel.  Author of past bestsellers The Tenth Circle, Vanishing Acts, My Sister’s Keeper, Second Glance et al, Picoult (pronounced Pee-koh) has a gift for focusing on significant and current ethical topics, gives them a twist, includes a courtroom drama and a touch of romance and relationship interest.  Plot and characters involve and interest the reader and provide talking points galore for book clubs.  Despite the possible Oprah book-club designation, Picoult is never trite.

The protagonist of Nineteen Minutes, 17-year old Peter Houghton, has been bullied and tormented every day of his entire school life, and finally fights back in a fairly dramatic manner.  The school shooting, echoing Columbine, Thurston High and Red Lake, leaves ten dead and nineteen injured.   As with many Picoult novels, the setting moves to courtroom drama, where the life and motives of Peter are revealed through flashback and reports.  Other characters – Josie Cormier, former best-friend of Peter who went over to “the dark side” of the popular group (many of whom are targeted in the shooting), her mother, Peter’s parents, the detective and defence lawyer on the case – are also revealed and their own lives and interactions revealed in Picoult’s sympathetic and involving style.

Nineteen Minutes is a very sensitive, perceptive and significant portrayal of a divisive and emotional  issue.  Picoult pulls no punches, and the novel moves along at a cracking pace.

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