Monday, November 29, 2010


The winners of the 2010 Inky Awards were announced last week.
I know I am slow on the uptake but it's been a busy week.
So, just in case you didn't know yet, the winners were as follows:

GOLD INKY: Stolen, by Lucy Christopher
SILVER INKY: Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater

I have heard so much about Shiver, but always steered clear because I didn't want to read another paranormal romance (often badly written) type thing, but I have heard this one lauded both critically and commercially, so might put it on the Summer reading list. (The cover is gorgeous too - very evocative).

My choice to win the Gold Inky was Raw Blue, by Kirsty Eagar. Loved this book - was one of my fave and best reads of 2010.

I am always so very impressed by The Inky long and shortlists. This is their deal: (from )
"There is no other award in Australia that relfects what teenagers want to read. The Inkys are international awards for teenage literature, voted for online by the readers of There are three awards: the Golden Inky for an Australian book, the Silver Inky for an international book, and the Creative Reading Prize, won by a young person for a creative response to a book they love, in any format they choose."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fallen, by Lauren Kate

Published by Delacorte Press, 2009

I was working as a bookseller when I first heard of Fallen, months before its official release. It was sold to me as the book that heralded fallen angels’ triumphant overthrowing of vampires in YA paranormal romance. Well, Fallen is a solid effort by Lauren Kate, but I didn’t exactly feel like throwing away my fangs for [clipped] wings upon first read. Its main competition was Hush Hush when first released, and I think that book was the better of the two. I haven’t picked up any of the numerous fallen angels stories that quickly followed after these two, and I don’t know if they piqued my interest enough to read on (even if I am being whammed in the face with them every vaguely bookish place I go).
Fallen starts off pretty well, with an unusual, appealing setting, a couple of interesting characters and a swampy, quasi-gothic atmosphere that slowly builds over the course of the book. I could not help but feel, however, that some set-pieces, like the lake and the pool-within-a-church, were tacked on just because the author thought they would be cool. Which is fine, but they need to be intertwined more seamlessly in the story and have more function, rather than just being a pretty place for characters to carry on a conversation.
The development of Luce’s big romance with Daniel was intriguing enough, but once it got into all the lovey-dovey stuff at the end I found myself totally unsatisfied. I really don’t feel we got enough of a connection between Luce and Daniel to justify all those grandiose statements of love. Their star-crossed lover deal has appeal, but we need to have more of why they are drawn to each other time and time again rather than just being told they love each other so much because it is meant to be. LOVE IS NOT BUILT ON HOTNESS AND A SIZZLING LOOK. I wish YA paranormal romance would get this.
Luce has her moments, but a lot of the time I found her to be a wet blanket. This is a problem in a lot of teenage supernatural fiction I’ve read – the female protagonist never really shows enough personality to justify all these ancient, powerful, beautiful creatures falling in love with her. Also a lot of her ‘flirting’ with Daniel and Cam came off as stilted when it really should have been cute and clever.
This book certainly kept me turning the pages, and the idea behind it is a good one. But ultimately Luce and Daniel’s love left me a little cold.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Three Loves of Persimmon, by Cassandra Golds

Published by Penguin, 2010

Persimmon is a young lady devoted to her florist shop, at the top of the Botanical Gardens Railway Station. She has been disowned by her family for following the flower profession, and although clever and kind, is rather lonely. Epiphany is a mouse who believes there must be more to the world than the confines of Platform One. Each must undergo their own trials of love, heartbreak, imagination and adventure before they can find the place where they truly belong.
I am divided about this book. On one hand, there were moments of such cleverness and loveliness that is just charmed the socks off me. There are some pithy insights about people and the world around us, beautiful moments of both reflection and descriptive prose, and some genuinely delightful, funny lines, particularly from Persimmon’s ornamental cabbage Rose. I love fairytales, and I love what this book is trying to be. I love the innocence of it. I love how every creature, every action, is made to feel important, is never derivative in comparison to something else. There is a gorgeous mix of the quirky and the real.
Yet I feel like that whatever the book is going for, it isn’t quite there yet. I think some parts are overwritten and overstated, which ruins whatever lovely thing the author has just described or had her characters say. Similarly, the way characters speak, the way events play out, sometimes it feels like they are designed to have a particular effect. This insults the reader’s integrity. There is, perhaps, a little too much telling instead of showing. And although this is certainly a unique book, parts feel derivative – a little too sentimental, a little too neat. What I really wanted was just for Golds to let her story breathe – everything is there, it’s just the way she chooses to tell it.
Parts I particularly enjoyed were the development of Persimmon’s three loves – it  is great to see a young adult/children’s author dealing with the idea that love is not always perfect, that it must develop, that it takes many trys with many significant others to get it right. I LOVED the stuff about Walter and the theatre, having a fondness for the theatre and the theatre life myself. Rose was a great character, with many cabbagey intricacies. And the train station setting, especially Persimmon’s florist shop, was gorgeous. The devotion both she and Epiphany have to flowers (both literally and figuratively) is a delight to read.

"This flower's petals were as red as blood and the fold upon fold of them made a mysterious kind of face that was turned towards her and, it seemed to Epiphany, smiling the gentlest, most beautific smile ... Epiphany extended her trembling whiskered nose into the tips of the petals ... she gazed and gazed into the heart of the rose."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

Published in 2000, by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House

I think I must exist on a different reading planet when it comes to this book. I have read so many wonderful things about it from other reviewers, and I am well aware of how many awards and accolades it has received. But I just didn't like it. In fact on turning the last page I wished I had never picked it up at all.

That is just my opinion, and my own reading taste. I see and approve of the message it is trying to put across about difference and non-conforming. I love difference. I love novels that deal in magic realism. But I don't think Stargirl does either of these well.

I'm not going to write a review that goes on about all the things I didn't like about this book. I don't believe in entirely negative reviews. I find it similar to when people go on a celebrity's messageboard or something just to hate on them - I always think, why bother? Just move on. So that's what I'm going to do.

But to briefly justify my dislike, the three main problems I had with this book:
1. Stargirl annoyed me to no end. I didn't find her charming, or quirky, and I didn't get her appeal. I actually found her a tiny bit deluded.
2. It is too sentimental, naff and at times cliched for my tastes.
3. Sometimes I feel Spinelli is trying to hard to push the message. Let it breathe on its own. Let people be won over of their own accord.

Once again, just my personal taste. But definitely not my thing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier

Published in 2007 by Pan Macmillan

Gorgeous, gorgeous book. Really does the fairytale re-telling genre justice. I used to read a lot of adult fantasy in my early and mid-teens and then stopped once I got into YA and children’s books. Wildwood Dancing makes me want to get into it again – it is sumptuous, vividly told and seamlessly incorporates many elements of folklore and fantasy fiction.

Jena, her five sisters and faithful companion, the frog she calls Gogu, live in a crumbling castle on the fringe of a wildwood in Transylvania. They have shared a secret for nine years – the existence of a hidden portal that allows them to travel through the Wildwood to the other Kingdom, on the evening of a full moon. Their father falls ill and must escape the winter cold to regain his health. When he leaves, the girls’ cousin Cezar gradually assumes overbearing control and creates trouble for them. Their secret is threatened and Jena must embark on a dark and perilous quest into the fantastic realms to save the lives of those she loves.

The world of Wildwood Dancing is sophisticated and intriguing. Dwelling among all these fantastic occurrences is the harsh light of reality and a story of a young girl forced to grow up and assume responsibility. This grounding in realism makes the existence of another world both tangible and engaging. Marillier writes with such belief in her story, and with such story-telling prowess, that Wildwood Dancing is one of those books that can be enjoyed by all ages.

The Transylvanian backdrop is stunning, each location infused with a pearly magic, swathed with the silent, watching presence of the moon and the forest and the frost. There is a seamless blend of Romanian vampire lore, Celtic faerie tradition and classic fairytales. The supporting characters, generally fay creatures, are well-drawn. The villain of the story is a complex and layered character, easy to loathe but easier to understand.

Wildwood Dancing is also about love and longing, and Marillier generally does it well. Tati and Sorrow’s relationship has a lovely ethereal quality. Jena’s own love story is played out skillfully; there is a great sense that her and her partner are true soul mates. The fact that we are introduced to him as a frog only makes it more agreeable.  My only qualm was the final scene, the ‘happy ending’. I think this was a teeny bit overwrought and it made me go ‘ick’, but as this is a fairytale I guess I can make allowances.

This is a beautiful book, a sprawling, shimmering work of art. I could find a few things to nitpick – a few moments of twee sentimentality, a bit of draggy prose, some frustration with Jena – but as a whole it is utterly charming. Love the cover as well.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Prime Minister's Literary Awards

The winners of the Prime Minister's Literary Awards were announced today. The young adult fiction winner was Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God, by Bill Condon, and the children's fiction prize was won by Lorraine Marwood for Star Jumps. Confessions concerns the relationship between boyhood's dreams and manhood's desires and Star Jumps depicts the joys and heartbreaks of a farming family as they struggle to cope with the devastating effects of long-term drought.

Well, I lose credibility by saying I haven't read either of these, so I can't comment on whether I agree with the choices! There was some quality competition from the shortlist, in particular Cicada Summer and Tensy Farlow in the kids category, and The Museum of Mary Child in YA. Those are my picks, but I love these awards because they always give me suggestions on what to read next.

The PM Literary Awards celebrate the contribution of Australian literature to the nation's cultural and intellectual identity, economy and life.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mortlock, by Jon Mayhew

Published in hardback by Bloomsbury, 2010

Mortlock opens with three explorers – Mortlock, Chrimes and Corvis – in an Abyssian jungle, on a quest to find the amaranth flower. The amaranth is the key to eternal life and has the power to raise the dead. Bruised and battered, they eventually find it but its power frightens them and leads them to make a vow: leave it where it is, and tell no one of its whereabouts.
Three decades later and we cut to Josie, a knife-thrower in magician The Great Cardamom’s stage act. We also meet a boy called Alfie, who is an undertaker’s assistant. The two discover they are twins and find themselves caught up in the mystery of the Amaranth and all the grisly havoc it wreaks – including the living dead, the death of loved ones, three terrible aunts who take the form of crows, the evil intentions of the now deformed Corvis and an encounter with a ghastly circus out in the swamp.
Mortlock is a great read. The thing I enjoyed most about it is that it doesn’t demean its intended audience – this is gothic horror for kids, and you know it from the get go. There are many gruesome deaths and macabre scenes and evil intentions directed towards these two kids. It is counteracted with some great scene-setting, a driving pace and some enjoyable, crazy characters – just perfect for this kind of book, and contributing just the right amount to the story.
There are a few problems. I thought the ending could have been a bit more of a grand finale – maybe a bit longer and of a larger scale to suit the scope of the story. The plot and dialogue are at times a bit predictable. I knew how the story was going to turn out long before I read the last pages. Still, it was enjoyable getting there.
As a story of adventure and terror, Mortlock ultimately succeeds. It feels and reads like what it should – a tale of gothic horror. Atmosphere pervades the big set-pieces, like the dank city streets when Josie and Alfie get chased by ghuls; the soggy, swampy marshlands home to Lorenzo’s circus; or the interior of the crow-infested Lord Corvis’ mansion.
I am almost always thoroughly impressed by the kids series Bloomsbury publishes. They are usually stories of creativity and adventure, beautifully designed and packaged and just really good fun (I highly recommend the Septimus Heap series). Mortlock is a great addition.