Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sydney Bridge Upside Down

Well, I did promise it months and months ago, and I noticed yesterday my review of David Ballantyne's Sydney Bridge Upside Down has finally been put up on Readings.

Link to the review here: Sydney Bridge Upside Down

I really, really loved this one, and hope it can find a new Australian audience.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Folk Keeper, by Franny Billingsley

This edition published in April 2011 by Bloomsbury. First published in 1999.

At the request of Lord Merton, Corinna has been asked to abandon her position as Folk-Keeper for Rhysbridge Home to take it up again in the bigger and grander Cliffsend Manor in the Northern Isles, where the Folk are said to be exceptionally wild. She is to spend her days in the dark cellar, placating the folk and taking their furies upon herself. But gradually Corinna will learn that the folk are not the only ones with powers, and she will finally learn the truth about herself in the caverns and passages of Cliffsend. She must also deal with the jealousies and resentments of Sir Edward, and the easy charm of the red-haired Finian.
Read this one because of all the buzz Billingsley’s latest novel, Chime, was getting. Also because there were Folk and the chance of a sea creature or two, and gothic-style settings and a narrative voice with just the right amount of cynicism and acerbity. Corinna and the closest thing she has to a friend, Finian, are the real winners in The Folk Keeper. Great characters with a real chemistry and relationship pitched almost perfectly (except the end was a little rushed, I thought). I loved the presence of the Folk and the idea of a ‘Folk-Keeper’ although I agree with a few other reviews I read that this storyline and Corinna’s own personal story did not quite gel.
Loved the Folk in this one – there is something very appealing about characters you can’t see – their presence here shadows the pages of the book, giving it a lovely, at times creepy, magical feel. Sir Edward I really enjoyed as a character – he had some flesh to him, some baggage, and didn’t feel like just a token baddie. Corinna I also loved – she comes across as quite cold on paper but because we know what’s going on inside her head, we understand why she works to cultivate this image for herself. I enjoyed her little snide asides and dry commentary – it gave her a bit of spark. She is unapologetic – I like this. I like that Billingsley doesn’t feel the need to make excuses for her. Finian is also hard to dislike, mostly because we see he brings out positive sides to Corinna, in addition to his being easy-going and amiable. The way their relationship develops from friendship to love is refreshing in a YA market dominated by intense, two-second  all-consuming love. Other characters like Lady Alicia and Old Francis and even the hounds also feel like just enough.
Quite a whimsical little book and the language is perfectly suited to it.  There are some pretty turn-of-phrases – the book kind of dances along. There is a sense of it being passed on in whispers. Not usually a fan of narratives told through diary entries but it isn’t obvious here. What it does instead is add an immersive, confidential quality, entices you to lean closer and keep turning the pages. The Folk Keeper reads like a folktale, it has that classic feel to it, but it is also infused with touches of the gothic, and for the most part this works well.
Unique. Magical and just a little bit gothic. Definitely enough to make me want to read more of Billingsley’s work. Also don’t be fooled by the short length – this isn’t a breezy read. I recommend taking time to let all its little whimsies and intricacies sink in.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Night Lights

Well my favourite news of the day: Friday Night Lights, one of my absolute favourite television shows (after, of course, the delicious Doctor Who), has been nominated for four Emmys this year. Best Drama, Best Writing for a Drama and Best Lead Actor and Actress in a Drama for Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.
Oh my goodness, this show totally took over my heart when I first started watching it. My first reaction to it was probably similar to a lot of peeople: Yuck, I don’t want to watch a show about American football. And there is a lot of football in it, but it really only serves as a background to all the wonderful characters and drama and stuff that this show presents in such an honest, intimate, brilliant way. And I found I got so invested in what was going on that the ‘football bits’ were equally as exciting and engaging as the rest of the show. The small town of Dillon, Texas, has a near religious devotion to football but what this show does so well is have all the glory and excitement of the game collide with reality and the realisation that off the field, the glory doesn’t last. Away from the lights and the cheers and the adrenalin, life is just that little bit harder.
I find it hard not to adore every single character, flaws and all. After just a few episodes these characters, brought to life so authentically by the actors, will just worm their way into your heart: they are so warm and real. Aw, just so much love for them and this show.
Friday Night Lights is in its last season, so the Emmy nominations are a nice send off I think. I am thinking it is unlikely they will win in any of the categories, especially up against all these shows that are so popular and commerically driven (Friday Night Lights has had numerous battles just to stay on screen over the past five years). But there is also the news that after its final season has been broadcast it will live on in ESPN Classics – I’m not familiar with this channel (being from Australia) but if this means Friday Night Lights might reach a new audience, I am all for it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

This edition published in 2010 by Little, Brown, Hachette.

Hmmmmm. By all means Hate List has the makings of an ‘important book’. It should be intriguing. It should be challenging, hit you in the guts, leave you thinking about it, running the emotional gauntlet afterwards. I feel like this book should have the shock or the wow factor. To be honest, that’s why I read it. All these reviews were telling me it would be all these things. The concept was telling me it would be all those things – that it was one not to be missed. Hate List concerns the aftermath of a teenage girl’s active role in a school shooting; a few chapters even concern the act as it was happening. Pretty big, controversial stuff. And yet this is what I came away with: boring. Emotionally un-involving. I wanted it to end SO BADLY, just because I’d had enough. And I don’t think it was bad by any means – I didn’t hate it – and it is certainly a brave book. But it just doesn’t feel terribly important.
One of my big problems was that I just found most of the characters not particularly likeable and not particularly interesting. Valerie, the main character, the person we follow for these 400+ pages, is really quite tiresome. Before the shooting she was a bit of an outsider, picked on because of her difference and her supposed non-conformance – by which I mean black eyeliner, black jeans and a generally sulky disposition. Her boyfriend Nick, who is the perpetrator of the shootings, is much the same. I really couldn’t stand him either, even with Valerie’s many flashbacks given us an insight into ‘her’ Nick – nice, loving, attentive Nick. They pretty much hate on everyone for anything, but especially those who give them a hard time at school, and keep a notebook of everyone they hate – the ‘hate list’. I didn’t feel bad for them. Nick accidentally shoots Valerie in the leg and then shoots himself. I didn’t care. I didn’t find Valerie’s grief afterwards particularly compelling. I felt her guilt was often well-deserved. I was sick of her whining. Mostly everyone is against her (both in her family and at school) after the shooting but she is so dim and petulant that I can’t say I blame them.
Her Mum was annoying, her Dad was an ass, and her brother had potential to be an interesting character but towards the end he kind of started to embody a cliché. Her classmates didn’t really stand out to me; they kind of just said and did what they needed to in regards to moving the story along. I did like her psychiatrist and some of the teachers.
Another problem I had was with the way Brown chooses to tell the story Рit kind of just plods along; stylistically there is nothing that really caught my attention. After reading a few of the newspaper clippings that open some chapters, I kind of just scanned the rest. I would have preferred to see the words in the clippings in the actual mouths of the people at school and in the community, even directly to Valerie, to make it that much more dynamic. I kind of liked how Val chose to express herself in her notebook of drawings but the storyline where she discovers art class and the eccentric Bea was once again a little clich̩. I think for the most part that Brown handled t
he scope of the book well, and I know the subject matter is depressing and tragic, but it just needed something to spice it up.
I really, really wanted Hate List to work, but for me, it was just too dull. Not even by-the-numbers – just more that I couldn’t feel anything towards it except a vague irritancy that I still was not at the end.