Wit, world-building and wow! – ‘The Luck Uglies’

TheLuckUglies.pngThe cover of this book drew my eye. A girl, a gargoyle, a rooftop race. I grabbed it for my library bag. So glad I did!!

What a ripper of a yarn!

I really enjoyed ‘The Luck Uglies’ by Paul Durham. It’s a fab piece of middle-grade fantasy, with a crafty and strong female lead.

I often read books to figure out what they did to become popular, win awards or fans. That doesn’t always mean they connect with me. But sometimes, like now, I don’t just read – I LOVE. I get absorbed. I chuckle. I smile.

Seriously, this has to be one of the best first sentences I’ve read in a while:

Rye and her two friends had never intended to steal the banned book from The Angry Poet – they’d just hoped to read it.

So, without further ado, what was fabularytastic?

  • The narration and humour
  • The world-building
  • The House Rules

It’s hard to just pick three, but these encompass why I enjoyed the book so much.

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Suspense and a world of world-building – the epic ‘An Ember in the Ashes’

AnEmberInTheAshes.pngYet another book that I’d heard rave reviews about and was forced to wait until I had time to be devoured by it.

Once again, not disappointed.

‘An Ember in the Ashes’ by Sabaa Tahir is an epic book. It has its occasional flaw, but the strength of the characters and the poetry of the writing is so much I just pushed those issues to the side and kept reading.

The characters are older (19 and 20) and the readership should reflect this. There is torture and an uncomfortable rape culture. But if you can stomach that, then the book is a gem.

Totally awesome bits…

  • Narrator changes
  • Real, 3D characters
  • Intricate world-building
  • Diversity and inclusivity

Let’s go through in more detail…

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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

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

Editing: 3 reasons why talking to yourself is NOT a sign of madness

pablo-7

Made by me using pablo. Not my window. My window is far less salubrious. And has no flowers.

My office window has one metre and a rickety old fence between it and a public access side lane. On beautiful spring days like yesterday, when my window is wide open, I often worry that people walking the lane might come to the conclusion I’m mad.

Because I’m talking to myself. A lot.

Yes, it’s full-on editing time for me and my YA South American Road-trip manuscript. This is about the fourth edit I’ve given it, which means I’m reading it out aloud to myself. And occasionally then telling myself, aloud, what I need to do to fix a spot. Okay, the second bit sounds crazy. But the first is true-blue proven editing gold.

I read aloud for three main reasons:

  1. Dialogue

  2. Awkward phasing/repetition

  3. Consistent voice

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Breaking free from the circling wolves – ‘Jenna’s Truth’

jennastruthcoverPicture the scene. It’s 2.47pm on a Wednesday. I have to leave to pick my daughter up from kindy in three minutes, except I’m awash with hot silent tears. I’ve been reading a great book again…

Sometimes there are stories that talk to me, change me, teach me. ‘Jenna’s Truth’ by Nadia L King is one of them. It takes the tough issues of bullying and teen suicide, and fights for a positive outcome.

Never relax around the popular kids; they lure you in like wolves circling their prey – I just hadn’t realised yet that I was the prey. (p30)

King was inspired to write this book by the moving story of Amanda Todd. Straight after I finished reading ‘Jenna’s Truth’ I googled Amanda’s You Tube video. Cue more tears on a Wednesday afternoon. Because Amanda didn’t deserve the treatment she got. Jenna doesn’t either. The difference between these two is that Jenna is saved.

‘Jenna’s Truth’ aims to save many more. Continue reading

An acorn full of fabulous – ‘Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest’

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If you’ve got a girl of about four or older, and you haven’t met Violet Mackerel yet, you definitely should. The books are in a series, but you don’t need to read them in order. Standalone or not, you will be swept away by their charm.

Book 6 is ‘Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest‘, written by Anna Branford and illustrated (here in Australia at least) by the brilliant Sarah Davis. When the beautiful simplicity of the writing combines with Davis’ vivid illustrations, you’re on to a winner.

‘Pocket Protest’ follows Violet and her friend Rose as they attempt to save the local oak tree from being cut down to make way for a carpark. They meet discouragement and setbacks along the way, but they stay true to themselves and keep trying.

It’s a wonderful book to introduce environmental themes to kids. It also has diverse characters (race, financial status, deafness) that are treated the same as all the others, again a very positive model for young kids.

Brief breakdown

  • 10 Chapters, 108 pages (yes that’s about 10 pages per chapter if your maths-head has clocked off for the day)
  • Illustrations on most spreads
  • Primary problem Chapters 1-10
  • Secondary problem Chapters 4-9
  • Both problems successfully solved, some adult help but mainly due to the girls’ actions.

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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 Fornasier Saved the Cat: the beautiful ‘The Things I Didn’t Say’

thingsIdidn'tsay

If I was Kylie Fornasier, and this was my book, I would be so damn proud. ‘The Things I Didn’t Say‘ had me completely absorbed into the very heart of the narrator. When I put the book down I’d often feel like I couldn’t talk.

Just like Piper.

How did Fornasier do it? Sure, it’s written in first person present, which is a good start. I’ve been known to take a break from a book and be all jittery because somewhere out there Cato and half a dozen other tributes are lurking and all they want to do is knock my bow-and-arrow wielding self into oblivion. So, yes, first person present POV is a great way of immersing a reader.

But there’s more here. I was so taken by this thoughtful and clever book, once I finished and blew my nose a few more times, I analysed the innards out of it to try and pinpoint what made it work for me. Turns out Fornasier Saved the Cat. Don’t know if it was intentional, but it worked.

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Deconstructing the awesome ‘Illuminae’ with a bloodied pair of pinking sheers and a sharpened spoon

illiminaeSeriously. If Unputdownable and Awesome met and had a book baby, it would be ‘Illuminae‘ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. If you’re wondering whether to read it, just take this as a fist-pumpingly enthusiastic, big-brass-band in the background YES!

And go away now and read.

However if, like me, you now want to dissect the story structure and see what made it mind-blowing, then read on my friend.

I think the key areas where ‘Illuminae’ shines are:

  1. Story structure cranking the tension.
  2. Plotty plot plot + plot + more plot
  3. Challenging narrative structure
  4. Characters you bleed for.

And that’s not even mentioning how often it made me laugh out loud.

I cried too. My emotional control is about equal to that of a caterpillar, so this isn’t all that unusual, but there is understated beauty in the way ‘Illuminae’ is written.

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