Monday, May 30, 2011

2011 Prime Minister's Literary Awards

The four shortlists have just been announced for the 2011 Prime Minister's Literary Awards. Of particular interest to me was the Young Adult Fiction shortlist - I see that Good Oil by Laura Buzo is on it; a book that I absolutely loved and was crushing on earlier in the year. You can read my review of it here: Good Oil. I feel like it might be an outside chance but I really do hope it wins. The rest of the shortlist is as follows:

Young Adult Fiction:

I have also just read the most gorgeous book: Past the Shallows, by Favel Parrett. My heart just shattered all over the place while I was reading it. I was initially attracted by it being set in Tasmania (I grew up there), on the rough and raw coast, but this book has so much more going for it then stunning scenery. It is the kind of book that just rips you apart, and my eyes were welling up reading about these two lonely little boys, Miles and Harry, and all that they've lost and continued to lose. If I had been reading it in the privacy of my own room, where I didn't have to worry about puffy mascara-ish panda eyes, I would have been sobbing all over my pillow. Do go and read it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Friday Musings

"No marks of wisdom were on them. They were whole, and healed. They were healed of pain, and of life. They were not loathsome as Arwen had feared they would be, nor frightening in the way he had thought they would be. Quiet were their faces, freed from anger and desire, and there was in their shadowed eyes no hope."

~From The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin

Friday, May 27, 2011

Aurealis Award Winners announced

Last week the winners of the 2011 Aurealis Awards were announced, and I am one happy blogger because just about all my fav shortlisted authors took out the top prize. These awards recognise the achievements of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror writers. Selected winners are below:

CHILDREN'S FICTION (told through words)
The Keepers, Lian Tanner

CHILDREN'S FICTION (told through pictures)
The Boy and the Toy, Sonya Hartnett (author) and Lucia Masciullo (illustrator)

'A Thousand Flowers', Margo Lanagan (Zombies and Unicorns)

Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey
(although it was all about Ananda Braxton-Smith's Merrow for me)

Madigan Mine, Kirstyn McDermott

Power and Majesty, Tansy Rayner Roberts

(I was with Juliet Marillier's Heart's Blood on this one, although I LOVE Tansy as well)

Transformation Space, Marianne de Pierres

You can read the full list of winners and Judge's report here:

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Mourning Emporium, by Michelle Lovric

This edition published in hardcover, by Orion, 2010.

Barely a year has passed and Venice is once again in peril. Bajamonte Tiepolo is back, and his baddened magic with him. This time his reach has spread from the canals of Venice to Australia and England, where the imminent death of Queen Victoria has left London vulnerable. Teo, the Undrowned Child, and Renzo, the Studious Son, embark on another set of perilous adventures. Among their encounters: the beautiful but brazen Venetian mermaids and their slightly less vivacious English counterparts; a ragtag bunch of street urchins operating under the guidance of Turtledove the Bulldog, exploits at high seas under the cruel decree of the evil Miss Uish, and Bajamonte Tiepolo’s usual bunch of miscreant minions. Can Teo and Renzo save their beloved Venice in time?
This is the sequel to one of my favs – if not favourite – children’s books last year. These books have all the makings of classics – they are so imaginative and intelligent and immersive, and at their hearts is such a celebration of story-telling. They are certainly literary. I do not think they are easy books to read, but advanced readers will be rewarded. That said, The Mourning Emporium did not quite reach the dizzying heights of The Undrowned Child. I think maybe the formula was a bit off. All the elements were there but sometimes just didn’t gel, or were a little forced. I also found myself quite sceptical at times over how the narrative panned out. A few times scenes ended too abruptly or easily. Also, some of the sparkling wit of Teo and the narrative voice was lacking. But overall, The Mourning Emporium is a winner. The detail, the intelligence, the ambition – I am quite jealous of Lovric’s creative talent.
Many familiar faces are back. Some lovely interplay between the feisty Venetian mermaids and the withering hypochondriac tendencies of the English ones. These scenes are where Lovric’s wit is at its best. The urchin-like street children are a welcome addition, although there are perhaps too many for any one individual to make any impact. Likewise with the Scilla’s orphan crew of young boys. Teo and Renzo are back, but I miss their snippy, sparky exchanges of the first book. There are some nice moments, though, with Teo and Renzo and Sibella, competitor to Renzo’s affections. Very cute. The bad guys are back, and they are the usual mixed bag of wonderful evil absurdity (although I did find the stereotyped Aussie crims a little too obvious, even if it was meant to be like this). Miss Uish is deliciously evil – a great character, fascinating and easy to hate. Once again, most of the characters speak with their own dialects, which is quite brilliant to decipher and read.
Lovric’s writing is high on dense description, but it is all very absorbing and worked in discreetly, adding insight and depth to the story. The writing is exciting and loaded with tension. I particularly loved the scene where Teo is trapped in a melting iceberg along with two vampire eels. What I particularly enjoyed, about the last book too, was that Lovric’s writing is not censored or dumbed down – there is cruelty here, and unfairness, and characters dying, but she doesn’t shy away from the darkness and I appreciate this. A couple of scenes I was left disappointed by – it felt like they were cut short or lacked satisfactory logic: swimming hundred of metre in arctic waters and then wandering around dank dungeons with only a passing thought to the cold? And the final scene, the climatic fight and resolution, felt a little abrupt. But as I said, there is still so much good stuff here, and so much fun to be had.
I hear that there is a possible third book, and The Mourning Emporium makes me excited to see this series continue. Best read if you’re familiar with what’s gone before. One of the best written series out there at the moment.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Friday Musings

"Except I can sit here and think like this all night and you know what it does? It starts a bushfire in me. My chest tightens and my jaw clamps and my hands shake and I can feel it burning me up and there's just no relief from it. I want to drive and even then I don't think I could crash hard enough ... I'm glad I never told anybody ... Because that'd be just like letting it happen again. Once they know they've got hold of your shame, they can shake it out and hold it up for all the world to see. And you become less than it. You become something disgusting. Tainted. Stained. Soiled."

~From Raw Blue, by Kirsty Eagar

Friday, May 20, 2011

Winners APA 2011 Book Design Awards

Awesome summary over at Fancy Goods of the winners in the Australian Publisher's Association 2011 Book Design Awards. Some very cool stuff. I particularly like the Best Designed Children's Cover of the Year and am happy to see Tony Palmer taking out Best Designed Children’s Fiction Book  for The Midnight Zoo. I have heard him speak about his inspiration and designing process and found him very endearing and enthusiastic. So that's a nice little feather in his cap! Well done to him and all other winners!

[untitled] Issue 4

 I attended the Launch of [untitled] Issue 4 last night, and it was an absolutely lovely evening and allowed me an insight into all the fabulous work (most often unpaid) that goes into the literary journals. [untitled] is relatively new to my radar, and I really only discovered it because I entered the short story competiton they ran at the start of the year. It is a journal, published twice a year (and in an awesome paperback book format) that exclusively publishes short stories.
In the coming few weeks you will be able to find it in bookstores (go to their website to see where it is stocked) and also directly from Busybird Publishing and Design (details also on website). I encourage everyone to go and buy it and support these authors and their stories. There is some exciting, amazing stuff, a sentiment that was echoed by judge Arnold Zable on the night. And I would also like to repeat something that was said on the night - if we want to be writers, we have to support other writing, we have to buy and read Australian books. I agree whole-heartedly, which is one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place.
(Admittedly, I also have a vested interest - the picture on the right - see a familiar name? Actually you probably can't, it's pretty bad quality. Anyway, it's my name. You can find out about that on the 'My Writing' page.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Musings

"It was the only living thing in sight except for a stationary cloud of hysterical gnats suspended in the heat above the road."

~From Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Me and Mr Booker by Cory Taylor

This edition published by Text in 2011.

Sixteen-year-old Martha meets Mr and Mrs Booker when her mother throws a party. The Bookers are young, British, eccentric and just a little bit glamorous. Martha is stuck in a going-nowhere town and not really sure what she wants to do with her life. All she knows is that she must get out, away from her crazy father Victor and her well-intentioned if submissive mother. And then Mr Booker kisses her. What happens next feels like it could just be the beginning of the rest of her life.
Yes, it is a coming-of-age story and an old idea, but it works. Me and Mr Booker reads very much like a young adult novel pace-wise, but the content is a bit risque for a YA audience. There is a kind of knowingness to Me and Mr Booker which, for me, places it in the realm of adult fiction. When I first started reading it reminded me so much of An Education (which I loved), but there is such a unique voice at work here, such a sly, wry, affectionate look into the turmoil of adolesence and burgeoning adulthood. Me and Mr Booker achieves such a perfect mix of cheekiness and poignancy that above all feels completely natural and authentic – I loved the tone of the book.
All the characters in this book spring from a kind of inner unease, a quiet despair over that age old question ‘how are we to live?’ Forgive me for using that kind of cliche (bleh!) but I think it is really suitable here. The characters are a study in being bored and lonely but without really the means or desire to be anything but. These people are trying to fill their lives with something that gives it meaning, so we get Mrs Booker wanting a baby, Mr Booker and his alcohol, Victor pursuing a dead-end relationship with Martha’s mother because he’s chasing an idea about what will make him happy, because it is at least something to have as his. And then we get Martha and her Mr Booker.
These two are really as hopeless as each other but I found it hard to do anything but love and sympathise with them. Mr Booker rarely shows anything but a facade of himself; everything is theatrical, designed to gloss over what’s really going on underneath. This makes him a wonderfully fascinating and flawed character.Very sparingly Taylor lets us take a peek into what depth might be underneath Mr Booker’s charm and we understand why ‘he to the hill of his undoing pursued his road.’ As seen through Martha’s eyes,  his relationship with Mrs Booker is also a wonderful, touching example of the blind leading the blind, or as I like to think of it, affectionate hate.
And then Martha – absolutely loved her. She has some great lines. I read elsewhere that she was perhaps written too old for her age, but I think she is spot on, and her sarcasm is exactly like I remember talking as a teen. Martha’s voice is wrought with adolescent troubles, but Taylor keeps her wry and smart and in control all the time. She really carries the book – we understand that she is trying to avoid ending up in the same place as her own parents. I absolutely believed her and all the other characters and their motivations.
Sharply observed, fast-paced and funny, with some great lines and dialogue. The writing is simple and elegant and you get caught up in it because you know that despite this simplicity and matter-of-fact tone there is a whole lot of other stuff going on underneath. Seriously, some of Mr Booker’s and Martha’s lines are just so spot on and hilarious. And Taylor also has some prose moments that are just beautiful, hitting the right emotion without any need of flowery sentiment.
I thought Me and Mr Booker was wonderful – although suitable more for adults and mature YA readers. Smart, funny and sad, and one of the best coming-of-age titles I’ve read in a while. It also reminds us that yes, Martha may be a teen in way out of her depth, but who really is to blame when all around her the adults are acting like kids?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

This is Shyness, by Leanne Hall

First pubished by Text in 2010
I am adding this to my own blog. Originally published at CAE Book Groups.
Naturally, I didn’t read what I’m sure were the many, many entries for the 2009 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. But I still think this is a very deserving winner; it is refreshingly unique with an irresistible voice and tone – it has been a while since I’ve stayed up until the wee hours, unwilling to stop at the end of a chapter.

This is Shyness tells the captivating story of a town under permanent darkness, and the two characters who come together to walk its streets. Wildgirl and Wolfboy each have their own problems, but when they first glimpse each other in a bar, their attraction to each other is immediate. Their coupling, however, is not the usual stuff of teen paranormal romance.
Their verbal exchanges are witty, funny, and very realistic; they spar and flirt with infectious pizazz. Most importantly, their relationship develops naturally, as a result of what they go through. The weird, surreal night they spend together is the perfect background for their burgeoning relationship. I think Hall captures exactly all the awkwardness and thrill and hesitance and desire that accompanies that initial feeling of atraction. So lovely to read. Hall is also clever enough to not tie it all up neatly - this book is as fantastical as it gets, but everything feels authentic and real.
What Wildgirl and Wolfboy actually go through is exciting, unusual stuff - muggings by sugar-crazed kids, dalliances with underground black markets, and a stealth trip through a housing commission block to retrive a prized possession. A feeling of exhiliration sweeps through it all, and the story unfolds briskly and with ease.
This is Shyness is a dark and grungy book, but somehow it manages to remain light-hearted and fun. It is the kind of adventure, spanning one incredible night, that we wish would happen to us. I did not want to leave this bizarre wonderland. The two main characters are some of the best and most compelling that I have come across in young adult literature. Leanne Hall has created something quite wonderful here and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. GO AND BUY IT NOW!!!

Friday, May 6, 2011


"Her lovely face was round like a plate and shallow as if there was no kind of thought behind it except the idea of its own loveliness."

~From Me and Mr Booker, by Cory Taylor, 2011

Monday, May 2, 2011

Anonymity Jones, by James Roy

First published by Woolshed Press in 2010

Critically acclaimed author James Roy’s latest book for teens, Anonymity Jones, concerns sixteen year old Anonymity, a normal teenage girl except for the fact that her life seems to be falling apart around her. Her father - in-between secretary girlfriends - is having a breakdown, her mother’s new boyfriend has some suspicious tendencies, her girlfriends have all dumped her for boyfriends and she’s in love with her thirty-year old art teacher. And to top it all off her older sister, the only one she can talk to, has run away to spend the year in Europe.

Roy takes us through the full reign of teenage emotions, with a narrative tone that will appeal to the adolescent world Anonymity is herself a part of. There are both familiar and ‘what if’ moments to engage with, although I will say that Anonymity is not an entirely sympathetic character, nor does she have much spark. This may deter a teenage audience in search of a new heroine. Some of the situations she found herself in I sometimes felt like saying 'well, what did you expect!?' Then again, I suppose it rings very true to the teenage years, but I still felt like there was so much angst without anything to redeem it.

I came to Roy's writing late and found his style appealing. There is plenty, either in Anonymity's head or in the action, to drive the reader on. He does have some nice moments of well-written or clever prose as well.

Anonymity Jones is a good choice for those who want all the angst without the supernatural love affair. Also watch for the clever plot line with the character Sam. And I also just want to lay on some love for the publishers, Woolshed Press: I love the ideas behind this imprint (of Random House) and am rarely let down by the books they produce.