Entertaining and heart-warming – ‘The Memory Shed’

thememoryshedI got drawn into this book by the awesome idea of a sinister garden shed. I admit, I don’t like delving into the depths of my rickety back shed (hello red-back spider, and <hooly dooly> what made that scuttling noise?) but I always love discovering long-forgotten things.

I wasn’t disappointed by the read. In fact, it pleasantly over-achieved! ‘The Memory Shed’ by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Craig Smith, was a delightful read. It is beautiful, well-written and give-yourself-a-hug warm.

The stats…

  • Junior Fiction
  • 5 chapters
  • 55 pages
  • About 2,500 words
  • Chapter 1 – intro to characters (including shed!) and inciting event (going to clean shed out)
  • Chapter 2 – trepidatious entry into shed to start clean
  • Chapters 3-4 – fun and memories
  • Chapter 5 – realisation and happy finish.

What did I love?

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A hug from the hope spreader – ‘Sorta like a rock star’

slarsI’d been crying for at least an hour. My husband peered at me over the ever-growing mountain of used tissues. ‘Why do you read books if they’re this bad?’

‘It’s not bad,’ I sobbed. ‘It’s really, really good.’

And it is. ‘Sorta like a rock star’ by Matthew Quick will give you a hug (because Amber loves hugs), tear your heart apart with anxious little doggy teeth while you’re looking the other way, and then knit it back together. But it won’t be quite the same.

I was recommended this book by an author friend. I was expecting hope and light. Sure, I got that, but I also got some unexpected, wrenching dark. There is depth and harshness and reality that make the hope that much more powerful.

Hence the tissues…

If you have trigger issues around depression, this might not be the book for you. Otherwise, read on…

So what makes this book so enthralling? Continue reading

A sequel that lived up to my ultra-excited expectations – ‘Gemina’

geminaI was jigging-foot excited to read ‘Gemina‘ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Nervous too. Because, seriously, ‘Illuminae‘ was so damn mindblowing I wasn’t sure anything could ever come up to standard.

Thankfully, ‘Gemina’ came through for me. There was something about picking it up and leaping back into the unconventional, characteristic setup that had my blood singing so much those lamina would have sensed me from half a universe away.

Why?

  • Characters of zing
  • World-building of awesome
  • Plot of intricate amaze-balls

Hooray, ‘Gemina’ happily thumbed its nose at the Seriously Sucky Sequel Syndrome. Want to know more? Brace yourselves and read on…

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The joy of brilliant writing and diverse characters – ‘The Sidekicks’

TheSidekicks.jpgThis book absorbed me. I became not one, but three new people as I read it.

That’s powerful.

I didn’t expect to love it this much. Don’t snort in my general virtual direction. I guess because this was written by a bloke, about three blokes adapting to the loss of a fourth bloke. And I’m not a bloke.

So I think my mind just kept gravitating to female-centric books instead.

Thankfully, I purposefully put it on my list at my last library visit after a few twitter giggles at posts by the author. And so should you. ‘The Sidekicks’ by Will Kostakis was a fabulous read, and I’m a bigger person for reading it.

The characters were vivid, the plot was enthralling, the writing was that sort of perfect where you don’t realise you’re reading.

I’m doing a dance now that I have read it, because it’s reminded me of why literature is so powerful. It isn’t just telling a story. With a book, especially in first person, you become the narrator as you read. You see and feel and think like someone else. And when that person is someone completely different to you, this magical thing can happen.

Empathy.

<oh, and a kinda spoiler alert, too> Continue reading

Rich, witty and enthralling: ‘The Iron King’

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Books are like diamonds. You can give two jewelers the same rock, and at the end of all their cutting and polishing, one will spray rainbows among dancing sunbeams, and the other might as well be a shattered fragment of soap-scummed shower-screen.

Likewise you can have several books set in the same world with a similar premise, and one will stand out. This book is one such sparkling delight…

‘The Iron King’ by Julie Kagawa is set in a world shared with many other novels. It involves characters brought into life by others. It follows many expected tropes.

But Kagawa takes her world and lifts it to another level. She cuts a fine diamond!

This is a successful series, with a lot of avid followers. I can see why. I’ve read another of Kagawa’s series before, so I was ready to be impressed. Things that worked especially well in this book for me:

  • Immersive world-building
  • Clever humour throughout
  • A tantalising romantic sub-plot.

If you don’t like spoilers, now is the time to nod sagely and stop reading… Otherwise, read on!

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Putting a little DORK on my FORK: ‘Dork Diaries #1’

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As an ex-librarian, when I found the first ‘Dork Diaries’ on the WRONG SHELF, no – <gasp> – make that the WRONG ENTIRE SIDE of the Junior Fiction section of my library, I knew I had to help it find its way home.

Except when I picked it up, I immediately recognised the title, and took it out instead.

Yes, I hear what you’re saying… ‘But, Heather… this book was published in 2009! How can you not have read it yet?!’

That’s cool – I believe in better late that never when it comes to books.

My first take-home from this book is it’s not entirely my thing. And that’s completely fine because gazillions of other people think it’s their thing. So it’s still valuable to review why it worked. I don’t need (or even want) to write a book just like it (no one should for any book), but I can incorporate some of the winning ingredients into my own writing.

My second thought was about how different this ‘girl’ book was from funny ‘boy’ books of a similar ilk. More focus on clothes and looks and the opposite sex. Hmmm…

But what worked in this book that I can take into my own writing?

  • Friend-making
  • Love interest (not hopeless)
  • Besting the nasty popular kid through personal skill
  • Fab illustrations.

My favourite thing is the way MC Nikki keeps on saying all these awesome and/or outrageous things, and then tells us it was only in her head. A clever trick. I would internally gasp, like ‘Did she really say that?’ and then find she didn’t. Sometimes I was relieved, sometimes I was disappointed!

‘But I just said it in my head, so no one else heard it but me.’

And you know what else I love? In the acknowledgments, author Rachel Renee Russell thanks her agent who saw ‘the potential of this book when it was merely fifty rambling pages about a quirky girl and her fairy godmother.’ This book no longer has a fairy godmother. (Quirky girl? Still a tick.)

From that, I figure that compelling character and great writing will win out. Maybe we don’t need to get that submission perfect. Maybe, even if it’s the wrong genre aimed at the wrong age group, if we write well enough someone will see the potential.

Write on, people!

A fab message in a package kids will love: ‘All The Lost Things’

AllTheLostThings.jpg

Not all Picture Books are created equal…

There are books you hate your kids to love. Ones that tell them beauty is everything and they need to wait for someone else (probably a handsome prince) to rescue them from their problems.

I change the words when reading some of these (eg the beautiful girl becomes a smiling girl) but that doesn’t fix the stupendous plot and morality issues. Besides, now my daughter is starting to read and she’s figuring out my subterfuge…

So, on to picture books you love your kids to love! ‘All The Lost Things’ by SCBWI Aus West author/illustrator Kelly Canby, is one of these. I don’t need to change anything when my daughter and I read this book together.

What does Olive, the main character, care about most? Her family, her community, and hope. She’s funky. She’s happy. She’s inquisitive.

Go Olive!

A wonderful book with a great message and engaging illustrations. And not a handsome prince in sight.

 

Open your heart with ‘Sister Heart’

sister-heart

A powerful, empathy-inducing book, ‘Sister Heart’ by Sally Morgan beautifully tackles the terrible truth of the Stolen Generations. It is aimed at kids aged 9-14. This book had me crying and questioning and hugging my own little girl close.

I invite all Australians to read it, indeed all people. This story surpasses country or race to resonate deep inside what makes us human.

The narrator is a young Aboriginal girl taken from her family and placed in an institution far south of her home. Her voice is unique, her struggle in the face of unassailable odds is vivid, the friendship and support she finds from others like her is heart-warming.

This whole book is a triumph of character and voice.  Continue reading

How characters can make your book a lemon

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Made by me using Pablo

In the last few weeks, I’ve read two books that failed to hit the mark for me. And when I say failed, I don’t mean in a grand and epic fashion. I mean in a baffling and miserable sludge puddle.

Both books were fantasies, from bestselling authors. Fair share of hype. Great covers. Reputable publishers. Promising plots. Great writing. Rock solid world-building.

Total disappointments.

I tried, I really did. I’ve loved other books written by these authors. I read all the way through both of them, hoping to hit that point where the plot starts to consume me and the characters become real. And then the last pages came, and with them that sense of how many hours of my life I couldn’t get back.

Eager to salvage something from the mess, I pinpointed what I didn’t like about them. In my opinion, both books lemoned in two key ways:

  1. The main characters.
  2. The love interests.

And when I write it like that, it starts to make sense. So… what made these characters so unlikable?

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The joy of a good plot twist – ‘Waer’ by Meg Caddy

WaerWaer‘, SCBWI West member Meg Caddy’s debut, has been on my TBR list since its release a few months ago. I was keen to see what caught the eye of Text and led to its shortlisting in the Text Prize (and a contract!).

Getting a contract as a previously unpublished author seems about as easy as brushing your hair with a glue stick. So I LOVE reading debuts. Half of me enjoys hearing a new voice and celebrating their success. I firmly believe that the more great books published, the more kids will want to read.

One writer’s success is a win for all writers.

The other half of me hopes I will pick up that final, vital hint about how to write a novel publishers will latch on to.

So, what did I discover in Waer?

  • Seamless and brave world-building
  • Two vivid POVs
  • A decidedly unexpected twist.

And beware (be waer?) (sorry) the odd, tiny little spoiler ahead.

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