Review: Clancy of the Undertow

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Clancy Underhill is 16 years old, living in a tiny, dead end town. She doesn’t fit in – she’s not one of the popular kids, she likes science, and she’s gay (but not out). Life seems tough enough when Clancy’s father is involved with a road crash in which two popular local teens are killed. Clancy and her family find themselves the target of backlash from the town, although no charges have been laid against her father.

I requested this book from Netgalley entirely because of the title, a play on the famous Clancy of the Overflow by Banjo Patterson, which is one of my favourite bush poems. Little did I know at the time that the writer is a local Brisbane guy, who works at Avid Reader, a fabulous local indie book store.

Clancy was an absolute delight. Her character is smart and funny, and trying to find her way in the world in less than perfect circumstances. Currie captures her personality, her dilemmas and the tone of small town life perfectly, and fills the story out with some great characters. Clancy is infatuated by Sandra, girlfriend of the chief of the bogans who launches the campaign of vilification against Clancy’s father. Despite this, Sandra seems to choose this time to loom large in Clancy’s life. Sandra seems to pity Clancy for how she is being treated, but is also seriously annoyed with her boyfriend, who she is sure is cheating on her. Clancy has admired Sandra from afar and is very excited that she is now getting to spend time with her crush.

Nancy also comes into Clancy’s life during this troubling time. Nancy is new to town, and Clancy is certain that when Nancy realises she is not in the popular group, Nancy will ditch her. Nancy and Clancy’s eventual friendship is hard won, and this small step helps Clancy feel like less of the loser she is certain that she is.

Clancy of the Undertow is a story about friendship and family, and how important both are to making it through your teenage years.

5 out of 5 awkward teen moments.

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Review: Words in Deep Blue

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Rachel Sweetie has reached what feels like a dead end. Her brother drowned, and she is struggling to face life without him. She has failed Grade 12, and her prospects are bleak. Her grandmother has organised for her to move back to her home town to live with her aunt, who has found her a job. Unfortunately the job is at Howling Books, a book store owned by the family of Henry Jones, who Rachel was in love with prior to moving away, and who Rachel now needs to add to the list of her things to deal with in the midst of her grief.

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Oh my goodness, this book is wonderful! I received it from Netgalley, but also received a copy through the YA Chronicles subscription box. I was putting off reading it due to the subtitle “a love story”. When I think of love stories, I always think of things like Twilight and A Fault in our Stars, which are totally not my bag. The funny thing is that this is indeed a love story, but it isn’t the superficial boy meets girl love story you usually find in YA. Words in Deep Blue encompasses many types of love – romantic, friendship, family, the love of a place, the love of words and the way grief affects all of these. And how books help.

The story is told my Rachel and Henry in alternating chapters. A goodly portion takes place in the Howling Books bookstore, owned by Henry’s family. Henry’s parents are divorced, and his father Michael clings to the store which is running at a loss. Henry’s mother wants to sell the store, but Henry and  his younger sister George aren’t sure.

One of the most wonderful things about the bookstore is the Letter Library – a section of books where customers can read books, underline their favourite passages and leave letters for strangers … or for people they know. These letters make their way into the text of the book which adds a very pleasing ( and heartbreaking!) dimension to the story.

As you might also expect from a book set mostly in a bookshop, it’s also all about books. There are lots of titles and references, both old and new. If you are an enthusiastic reader (which I assume you are if you are reading a book blog) you will love this about the book.

George is my favourite character without doubt. Still at school she actively feels her difference to the other kids (who call her a freak). She loves the bookstore and escapes through reading. She is a bit goth and wonderfully sassy.

Words in Deep Blue is a wonderful read. You may need some tissues though.

5 out of 5 literary references.

 

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Review: Replica

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As with most of the books I write reviews for, I received this free from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I’m not sure if there was an error with the file, but I only received part of the book – Lyra’s part. This may have impacted my view of the book and will change the way I do things here a little.

For starters, here is the Good reads plot summary:

Gemma has been in and out of hospitals since she was born. ‘A sickly child’, her lonely life to date has revolved around her home, school and one best friend, Alice. But when she discovers her father’s connection to the top secret Haven research facility, currently hitting the headlines and under siege by religious fanatics, Gemma decides to leave the sanctuary she’s always known to find the institute and determine what is going on there and why her father’s name seems inextricably linked to it.

Amidst the frenzy outside the institute’s walls, Lyra – or number 24 as she is known as at Haven – and a fellow experimental subject known only as 72, manage to escape. Encountering a world they never knew existed outside the walls of their secluded upbringing , they meet Gemma and, as they try to understand Haven’s purpose together, they uncover some earth-shattering secrets that will change the lives of both girls forever…

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Judging from other reviews on Goodreads, Gemma is the stronger, more fully fleshed out character, so I will be reading the rest of Replica eventually as I definitely want to read Gemma’s part of the story.

For me, Lyra’s character is flat out unbelievable. She has been raised in an institution where the children are referred to as numbers, and are not viewed as human beings – they are referred to as “it” by the workers and their individuality is actively discouraged. Lyra mentions many times that she is not used to being touched by others.

Despite having lived her entire life outside of society, Lyra fits in to society remarkably quickly when she escapes from the institute due to a happy twist of fate.She adapts and becomes savvy in a way that I don’t think would happen in the minuscule timeframe given for her to do so.

Lyra also suffers from the unfortunate “I’ve never been loved (or even spoken to a boy) before, but I want to be loved by you” trope with sometimes crops up in YA. Urgh.

Don’t get me wrong, the plot is fine, the way life in the institute is established is interesting although the plot twist is a little predictable but there’s definitely some interesting stuff going on that will make you speed through the book.

I feel badly placed to rate this book, so I do suggest that you check it out. As i feel I only have half the story I rate it

2.5 out of 5 amazing social adaptations.

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Love YA – Brisbane Writers Festival 2016

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The Brisbane Writers Festival is an annual event and it’s always pretty awesome. I try to make sure we get along to the Love YA portion of the festival, which has been happening for the last couple of years. This year the Aussie speakers were Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman, Jaclyn Moriarty, and Lee Battersby (who is technically an import, but we’ll have him.) Meg Rosoff and David Levithan were the international guests.

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As a huge fan of  Illuminae we were particularly excited to hear Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman speak, and they did not disappoint.

Kristoff’s session was ostensibly to promote his most recent release NevernightHe talked about the struggle to become a full time author, and how he would write in his lunch breaks and until 2 in the morning to write his first books. His move into the US market was intentional as the sheer difference in population numbers meant that he would pick up more readers (and therefore more cash) in the US market, and Australian publishers have a high respect for authors who have done well in the US market although the reverse isn’t true. If you are an aspiring author Kristoff has blogged about his journey breaking into the American market.

Kristoff also spoke passionately about the Federal government’s proposed change to the parallel import rues (meaning Australian publishers would have to compete with cheaply produced mass published paperbacks) and the fact that this would wipe out the Australian publishing industry within 5 years. (You can find out more about this here and sign a petition here.)

Nevernight stemmed from a conversation between two of Kristoff’s female friends about the “c” word and its misogynistic usage. He rewrote the  conversation to be between a girl and a boy and was then intrigued by the girls’s character and wanted to know more about her. This conversation is featured on the book and is one of our favourite moments in the story.)

Kristoff described Nevernight as a book that doesn’t want you to read it When asked why he would do that to himself and his readers, Kristoff answered that he was wanting to flex different muscles creatively. As he was working on three different projects, he was wanting to use different language and structure for Never night, and that is was designed for a reader ‘with a particular capability’.

Excitingly, Kristoff mentioned he had two more projects in the works – a new series called Lifel1k3 and a new series co-authored with Amie (you can find some more details here). I’m not sure how I’m going to last till 2018.

Kaufman, Battersby and Moriarty were on a panel hosted by the very capable and funny David Burton (whose book you can find here).

These three authors were a great combination and would riff off each other when answering their questions. Amie in particular was cracking jokes left and right, but Jaclyn’s understated, quiet and self deprecating humour was also absolutely delightful.

I think the way each author answered the first question (how would you survive the end of the world?) gives a good picture of each of them.  Kaufman responded that her plan was to die in the first wave – she knew she wouldn’t survive too long, she’s done a lot of research about these things, and she would rather go down immediately than be terrified for six months and still die horribly. Battersby observed that even if he was transported to another world, he would still be a slow moving, rotund middle aged guy with a broken back, so shambling about wouldn’t be much of a change of pace for him. Moriarty had interpreted the question completely differently and was planning for after it was all over – she would take her piano and cocoa beans. Both Kaufman and Battersby decided they would like to go to Moriarty’s apocalypse, especially if there was lounge music and chocolate.

They discussed their different approaches to research: Kaufman talked about the range of specialists that she calls on for advice – from a doctor, to a battleship designer to an astrophysicist PhD, who, it seems spends a lot of time being cranky at Hollywood. Battersby said he reads 600 – 700 books a year researching, which is great as it turns up interesting facts which are just waiting to become stories. Moriarty said that she based the alternate world of Cello on her imagination and called it Cello as she liked the word, and she had bought herself a cello on Ebay, practiced for an hour a day and the downstairs neighbour had moved out.

The final panel featured Meg Rosoff and David Levithan. Both authors discussed the fact that they hadn’t planned to be authors. Rosoff wrote her first book at 46, and Levithan had “fooled himself” into thinking  he wasn’t writing a novel when he started Boy Meets Boy. Levithan had started writing by creating short stories for his friends as Valentine’s Day gifts, which is a tradition he still follows (some of these are contained in How They Met and Other Stories ).

Both authors also talked about their experience having their books translated into film. Levithan said that a female author had told him to think of the film as a two hour commercial for the book, but he had been happy with the films that had resulted and felt lucky. Levithan also mentioned that he doesn’t visualise when he writes, which made the translation of book to film easier for him to deal with (unlike his co-author, Rachel Cohn, who it seems struggled a little with some of the portayals). Rosoff’s journey to film was a lot rougher, interrupted initially by her own bout with cancer and her film agent’s murder. It took ten years for the film to be completed and she was happy with the outcome. She is currently involved in the process of turning her new book Jonathon Unleashed into a film.

All of the authors were kind, modest and self deprecating. All stayed (Kristoff for a good couple of hours after his session) to sign books (multiple volumes in most instances) and chat with people.

I’m looking forward to next year!

 

Note:

There was also a panel for debut Aussie authors, which I haven’t covered – but let me know if you’d like more information on what happened there.

Review: The Light Fantastic by Sarah Combs

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It’s April 19 and the morning of  April’s 18th birthday. April’s hyperthymesia, a rare memory condition which means she can recall most of her personal experiences from her life, has her ruminating on all the tragedies of previous Aprils: from Lincoln’s assassination to shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech University.

This story occurs over a few hours on April 19, and is told by 7 voices. Lincoln went to school with April before he left Delware for Nebraska. For some reason he is drawn to think of her while he spends time with Laura, the Honors student he is infatuated with.Sandra Heslip has let the few stragglers that turned up to her English class on Senior Skip day go. She can’t stop think about what Adrian George said to her yesterday. Mastermind has a plan and a number of people who are ready to go out into the world and do his bidding.

April is the Cruelest Month, April is the Weirdest Girl.

I’m going to keep this review short and sweet, because I just loved this book and can’t think of much more to say other than “it was awesome, read it!”

This book is an intense meditation on what it is to be a teenager. My teenage years were a while back now, but I can still remember that particular flavour of powerlessness and shame that you carried around with you on a daily basis – well, maybe you didn’t, but I sure did.

Of course teens these days have different tools at their fingertips – skype, chatrooms, facebook and so forth. These don’t necessarily make life better, and can instead make things more intense by letting people be continuously connected, when disconnecting might be more beneficial for them.

Combs juggles a lot of balls in the crafting of this novel, but I think she has done a fantastic job. My only criticism is that the title phrase is used a couple of times too many in the book. The story is well-paced, and beautifully put together. Make sure you’ve got some tissues lying around for the end.

5 out of 5 #effingwins 

 

 

Review: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

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I mainly read Young Adult books and I’d heard a lot of good things about this series. Ruby Red follows Gwyneth Shepard, her family and a secret society. Gwyneth’s family has a time travel gene which travels down the line to certain people. Gwyneth’s cousin Charlotte has been trained for time travel being predicted to inherit this gene, but, Gwyneth starts have dizzy spells and inherits the gene instead. Throughout the series, Gwyneth deals with the people of the society resenting her, romantic confusion and trying to sneak information to her best friend (which of course is against the rules).

Ruby Red trilogy

Gwyneth is a character that I really like. She’s good enough at school and doesn’t mind poking fun at her teachers and classmates but still takes good care of her younger siblings. She is not a fighting girl like many of the books I read. Gwen is tougher than she may appear at first glance, but still not so tough that she would take on an armada of ghosts on her own with only some masking tape and a baseball bat.

The first time I read this series, I absolutely loved it, not predicting half of the plots twists that were in the books. But the second time I read them was when I noticed the language. The language in the books is very formal, and a wee-bit exaggerated I guess. Given that the book was originally written in German, I can understand this and I’m perfectly fine with it.

There are a few points in the books, where I take a moment and debate with myself. As the series focuses on time travel many of the things that happen leave no paradoxes, but there are a few points where a grandfather paradox should ensue. Being a sci-fi fan for most of my life, it’s difficult for me to ignore these points but, for now I’ll leave it be.

 

3 out of 5 water spewing gargoyles