Saturday, October 29, 2011

Graffiti Moon, by Cath Crowley

First published in 2010 by Pan Macmillan

Lucy and Ed. Leo and Jazz. Daisy and Dylan. Six characters and one sultry spring night. They are searching for Shadow and Poet – graffiti artists whose work makes even the bleakest parts of the city into something beautiful. But each of them are also dreaming for something else. Graffiti Moon has us travel with them as they search for answers over one long, surprising night.

This is one of those books that is kind of indescribable. How to put into words a book that has all the beauty of a dream and yet such wonderfully funny slices of reality, so much heart and so much hurt. It has that achy feel; bittersweet and momentary – like one of those nights where even everything that is imperfect is perfect, because you know it will never happen in this way again. One of those nights where your chest feels full to bursting. Graffiti Moon is just like that.

I wasn’t convinced at the beginning, but the book won me over with its characters, its humour and Cath Crowley’s beautiful writing.

The writing is kind of flowery and stream-of-conciousness but it is done in a way that is pretty but not purplish. There are so many lines in this book that just get it right.

And of course, the way the six main characters interact is wonderful and warm and witty. There is lots of funny banter, clever without being carried away by it. The three main romantic relationships are cute and charming, but the interplay between the three girls and the three guys is done well too – I especially loved Leo and Ed.

Lucy as a heroine is rather gorgeous – from worrying about her parents to ‘dinking’ Ed on her bike, she has all the quirk and personality heroines should have. How I would love to see more female leads in YA written like this!

Lucy and Ed ended a bit too fairytale-ish for me. I would kind of preferred it if they didn’t end up the way they did – endings can still be happy without everyone getting what they want.

I liked the poems that were included for what they do for the book as a whole, but on their own they don’t do much for me.

I also loved how Crowley created the ambience of a hot night in the city, the strange mix of beauty and filth, the sense of being young and alive with only the night ahead of you. It reminded me a bit of Leanne Hall’s This is Shyness (another great Aussie YA read if you haven’t already).

Graffiti Moon is a pretty book, whimsical and romantic and adept at finding beauty in the strangest and ugliest of places. I can see why it has received so much praise. It is hopeful and sad and vivid with emotion. One of my fave reads this year.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Literary Musings

"I stare at him, trying to see him for who he is, not all the bits that have been scattered tonight ... and then I do know the truth. Then he clicks together and I see him. His face is kind of lopsided for a second, like he's trying to keep himself together, keep himself in the shape that he shows to the world but he can't do it anymore and everything in him is sliding out."

From 'Graffiti Moon' by Cath Crowley

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Orphan of Awkward Falls, by Keith Graves

First published by Chronicle Books, 2011

A boy, Thaddeus – living alone in a dilapidated old mansion with only an ancient robot and an oddball cat for company, conducting strange but brilliant experiments, answering to no one but himself. A girl, Josie – adventurous and curious, recently moved to Awkward Falls and drawn to the old mansion next door. And a grotesque hunchback, Fetid Stenchley – just escaped from the Insane Asylum and heading to a certain mansion where he used to work under the watchful eye of his master, many years before.

What will happen when these three meet? And what could one dilapidated old mansion possibly be hiding? And finally, what will happen when the mansion’s secrets are finally let loose?

This was a grim, gory and immensely readable little story. It is easy to get sucked in and once you’re hooked, the pages fly. There is a great deal of adventure, a bit of sly hilarity (at least for kids) and lots of spooky and gruesome details to keep the enthusiastic reader happy.

I did have a bit of trouble with some of the content – I feel like some of it wasn’t appropriate for the intended age group, there were a few parts where I thought it was just a little bit too sick for kids. I wouldn’t like my own children (if I had them) privy to some of the more violent and macabre scenes. This is not to say that kids shouldn’t read it; but perhaps just exercise some caution when recommending to kids – it’s really dependent on the individual reader.

It looks gorgeous. I had a proof copy, but I have seen the final version and the cover is eye-popping and perfectly captures the content of the book. And although I mainly had unfinished illustrations in my copy, they look like they will be super-gorgeous (in a gruesome kind of way!) as well.

Like I said, it is immensely readable, written in easy English with lots of action and a dose of wit. Scenes are snappy and well-paced. There is a bit of mystery to keep you thinking, lots of creativity and a large amount of fun.

It’s just ... something didn’t work for me. The whole book felt a bit off-balance. I think it was that it tried to be zany and funny in a way that appealed to kids but then having that right next to the violence and scenes that are grisly and even psychologically hideous, it just didn’t sit comfortably. And I think that may alienate some audiences.

Monday, October 10, 2011

India Dark by Kirsty Murray

First published by Allen & Unwin in 2010

India Dark is the story of two girls, Poesy and Tilly, who join a children’s touring theatre company, the Lilliputians, in the early 1900s, and set off on what they think will be show after show of glitz and glamour and adulation. But as the season progresses and the much-promised dream of touring in America becomes just that – a dream – the children are stuck in India. They struggle under poor working conditions and the temper of their Manager Mr Arthur, whose sharp tongue and even quicker hands have earned him the nickname ‘the Butcher’. As Tilly leads the rebellion against the Butcher, Poesy is caught, partly by her own making, in a web of confusion and deceit, where not even all the colour of India and thrall of the stage can get her out of her predicament.

Murray did a great deal of research in writing India Dark, and from what I’ve read, became quite invested in it. This allows me a greater appreciation of the book. I think she has done a fantastic job of taking a small but fascinating part of Australian history and turning it into a novel which is vivid, well-written and complex, plus a rollicking good adventure to boot. I would highly reccommend India Dark for school libraries. It has all the important stuff while remaining a compelling, at times fun, story. There is lots to discuss. There is even more to enjoy. Great stuff.

The journey from suburban Melbourne to the heart of India is filled with colour and life and heat. Murray does a wonderful job of showing us how the intensity of that journey takes its toll not only on eveyone’s emotions, but also the show itself, and it is quite fascinating to watch the Lilliputians fall apart. I also liked Murray’s writing because although there is lots of description and imagery and generally just good writing, it doesn’t get in the way – it suits the tone of the book and moves everything along.

Poesy and Tilly are certainly two very interestig little girls. I began by being more inclined towards Poesy but in the end Tilly won me over. I think the thing with Poesy was that although she was meant to be either totally naive or a bit unreliable – as Tilly herself noted, Poesy never knew what side she was on, she jumped from this to avoid conflict and confrontation – in the end I was still not really sure of her as a character. Did she mean to do everything she did and cause all that trouble, or was she just that totally clueless? I don’t know, because Poesy never seemed to know herself. I find that frustrating. I can handle an unreliable narrator, but I also want to be sure of them as a character.

I did like the switching viewpoints between Tilly and Poesy, though. And some interesting stuff to discover about the other Lilliputians. Also, I think Murray did a wonderful job of allowing us just the briefest of insights into the struggles and hardships Mr Arthur faced in trying to make the Lilliputians a success. Although it might not completely excuse him, it’s just enough to allow us to appreciate where he’s coming from.

In many ways this is a book about loss of childhood, loss of innocence and the terribly scary act of figuring out how to navigate the murky waters between being a child and being an adult. I found the sub-plot with Poesy and Charlie incredibly touching. Their last ‘big moment’ together and the resulting aftermath was so true-to-life that it hurt. A bittersweet ending for a lovely little book. Could have done without the epilogue though.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Siren, by Tricia Rayburn

First published by Penguin in 2010

I’m not one to normally jump on book fads or ‘next big things’, but I will jump on the mermaid bandwagon. Except perhaps it isn’t really jumping, because I have always read mermaid books ... there’s just a whole more lot of them at the moment, and many, I’m sure, to come. You can see more of my thoughts on mermaids by clicking on the ‘mermaid’ tag at the bottom of this post. But if you didn’t – and I know you probably didn’t: who cares, right? ;-) – then I guess I should say again: I love mermaids. They have always been my favourite fantasy/mythological creature, even perhaps one of favourite things. Who doesn’t love an outrageously irresistible beauty in a sea-shell bra?

Siren turned out to be better than I was expecting. Quiet, afraid Vanessa loses her sister Justine in a freak cliff-jumping accident while on holiday at their vacation home in Winter Harbour. Everyone assumes Justine’s death was accidental. But then other bodies, all men, start washing up around Winter Harbour. They are all grinning from ear to ear. Vanessa, with the help of would-be lover Simon and Justine’s grieving boyfriend Caleb, does some investigating. What is the conclusion she comes to? You guessed it – mermaids. And as the body count rises, Vanessa comes closer and closer to the truth about herself.

I liked the setting. It held the story together, it was an effective set-piece, it was slightly ominous and claustrophobic and Rayburn got the holiday vibe just about perfect.

There was a good ration of mermaid to human action. There was even some scenes below the waves, which is, I imagine, hard to do. Often I feel mermaid books don’t use the ocean enough, use the power of creatures lurking beneath, of a whole other world existing. It is all speculative in the mind of the heroine. But I felt I got my money’s worth in Siren. Even though I knew exactly where the story was going, there was a nice atmosphere of mystery about ‘what lies beneath’.

I quite liked the writing. The prose is nothing special but it does what it should and I kept my cringing to a minimum. Of course there are typical para-romance tropes but that’s to be expected. I didn’t quite believe the plot point about ‘freezing Winter Harbour’. And I didn’t like when Vanessa’s Mum told her she was always the beautiful one, she has always had it all but just couldn’t see it; guys have always loved her etc etc. That felt a little bit indulgent. Some reviews I’ve read had expressed discontent with the way Rayburn doesn’t always tell us everything and how Siren jumps from scene to scene, often with no explanation. I didn’t mind. It’s good for the reader to have to work a little sometimes.

No real strong feelings about Vanessa. She was a bit nothing to me. So was Simon. I did like that the real relationship focus was on Vanessa and her sister, and even to some extent with her parents, rather than just being all about Simon. That’s refreshing.

All in all, not too bad. Pretty harmless and a satisfying read for a lover of mermaids. I might even read the next in the series.