Monday, 28 December 2009

Review: Ice (Sarah Beth Durst)

I was really looking forward to this book, but it was a big disappointment.

I wondered afterwards if I would have liked the book more if I hadn't had such high expectations: but regardless of my expectations, I think I'd have been disappointed.

The plot promised on the back of the book, which sounded so interesting to me, isn't quite accurate.

When Cassie was little, her grandmother told her stories about the Arctic... about frost and snow, and a beautiful castle made of ice, and about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King. But Cassie is older now and has no time for fairytales and talking animals, or lies about her dead mother.

But when Cassie comes face to face with a mysterious polar bear, one that defies all scientific fact or knowledge, she begins to realise that the fairytales could actually be true. Discovering that her mother might still be alive, Cassie makes her own deal with the Polar Bear King, embarking on a dangerous journey to save her. But the deal comes with consequences she never bargained for, and before her journey's end, Cassie will discover the true meaning of family, and of loss and love.

Fact: Cassie doesn't embark on a journey, dangerous or otherwise, to save her mother. She makes a deal with the Polar Bear King to save her mother, but does nothing other than that. She embarks on a journey, sure, but it has nothing to do with her mother.

I felt no affection for the hero of this piece: he seemed stupid, irresponsible and presumptive, and the romance part of the story was actually very boring. I felt a little more affection for Cassie, but I didn't understand how she could be so content and passive, in the first part of the book. Also boring.

Durst can write. I follow and enjoy her blog, and I definitely enjoy her retold fairytales on her blog. But I really think here that part of the problem was her plot; as per below, it was too problematic to work properly as a romance.

I think the most irritating thing for me, though, was that the solution to the characters' core problem was so obvious. Not to the reader — to the characters. I don't know how the only character to figure it out was Cassie.

I feel sad writing this about the book. I really wanted to enjoy it; I liked the fairytale it was based on. Durst seems like a really nice person, and I've heard of many positive reviews of the book. And I certainly didn't hate it; it wasn't terrible. Maybe I'm too old for the teen audience it's aimed at, because to me it was just... OK.

SPOILER SECTION

While still trying not to spoil too much of the book, if you know the polar bear king fairytale before you read this book (which I did), then this won't be much of a spoiler anyway. But I think Durst's main problem here was with her plot, which meant Cassie had to be in love with the Polar Bear King before she could go off to rescue him. This meant that her falling in love with him had to be done quite quickly, page-wise; which meant that I, the reader, never fell in love with him. I think it's important, in a romance, for your reader fall in love with your hero (not for themselves, but on the heroine's behalf); otherwise the reader won't feel any empathy for their situation, won't root for the heroine to fight through and win.

Well, I found the hero irritating and didn't understand the heroine's love for him; and I didn't feel any empathy for their quandary at all.

Other reviews: Ink and Paper review, the epic rat, Angieville

Monday, 2 November 2009

Eleven words

I've been gone from my blog for weeks now, which is nearly unheard of. I've been snowed under with stressors and various commitments lately, and unfortunately that means I've let other parts of life — reading, writing, and blogging — slip.

Writing? Ah yes. It's November: the month of NaNoWriMo. I have, to date, written a total of eleven words. They are not well-written words.

Why yes, I do plan to write 100,000 words again this year.

Why no, I don't yet really know what I'll be writing about. But in time-honoured tradition, I've decided to write a sequel to last year's NaNoWriMo. I have a vague idea for this (The sequel's heroine hates the first novel's anti-hero and plans to overthrow or otherwise dispose of him).

The cool thing about this year is that CreateSpace are generously offering a free proof copy to winners again. As I wasn't organised enough to order a copy of last year's novel, this will give me an opportunity to publish both book and sequel in one volume! Sadly, this means the sequel needs to be as good as the first book. Sure, this isn't a high standard, but last year's book was the best one I've written. This year's....

I really need to get beyond the first eleven words.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

In my mailbox (2)

Another week with my mailbox full of books: good times. Hence, time for another episode of In my mailbox! (Cue theme music.) These books are all pretty recent releases, too, which will help me towards completing my Countdown Challenge.

I know very little about Rooftops of Tehran, but it's about "growing up in an Iran headed toward revolution". Really, what else do you need? It sounds fascinating.

I won this book courtesy of a competition at Savvy Verse and Wit

I won The sister, a debut novel by Poppy Adams, in a competition at Need more bookshelves.

The story follows Ginny, a woman living in her childhood home, a sprawling Victorian house, whose life centres around her moths and the "ghosts of her past". But when her sister Vivien returns to their home, "dark, unspoken secrets rise, disrupting Ginny's ordered life and threatening the family's fragile peace....This [is] a disquieting story of two sisters and the ties that bind — sometimes a little too tightly." (Summary adapted from the backcover copy)

I won Comfort food by Kate Jacobs, from Need more bookshelves as well! This is another story about a woman teetering on middle age. Gus, the host of a TV cooking show, is struggling not only with the big "Five-Oh" approaching, but with being forced to work with a beautiful bee-yatch to boost ratings; with two demanding daughters at home; and with, of course, some attractive man. (I'm going to assume Gus is single. But of course, heroines always are. Why aren't there ever any heroines who start and end books in a happy, stable relationship, and who just have other issues in their lives?) (Even in the Shopaholic series, once the heroine gets together with her man, their relationship is threatened in every single book. It gets old fast.)

Pretties is the second book in the Uglies series. Basically, I read Uglies on Sunday, and ordered the next two books in the series on Monday. I got this on Wednesday, and finished it at lunch-time the next day. Review to follow.

I started Specials — the third book in the Uglies series — as soon as I got home from work on Thursday, and finished it before 8pm that night. It's not that skinny a book, so I was slightly surprised at how little time it took me to read it. Again: review to follow. These two books weren't as good as Uglies, though. (But if you read Uglies, you're probably going to have to read the other two anyway, just to find out what happens. Just warnin' ya.)

(Note: comments disallowed due to lots of spam on this blog post. Sorry!)

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The reader's trust

In writing classes, I've been taught about the level of trust between a reader and an author. The author makes a contract of sorts with the reader; that is, the reader trusts that the information the author gives them is true, that the author won't deceive them. Obviously, in a novel, the story told won't be true; but it will be true within the story, if that makes sense.

Take Jodi Picoult. She's an excellent and a talented writer; but she changes the story in the last chapter of every one of her books, turning each story on its head with a surprise "twist" at the end. To me, that feels like she betrayed my trust in her: I stopped reading her books, because what's the point in getting emotionally invested in a story that you know will all change in the last chapter? You can't go the whole way through a book claiming that X is true, and in the last chapter find out that X is all lies (unless it's a mystery/detective/thriller).

I think cliffhangers betray a reader's trust as well. I like books to be standalone books, regardless of whether they're part of a series. I like to be able to read a book in a series, and not need to get the next one to find out how the hero/heroine gets themselves out of the predicament that arose at the end of the book.

Take Juliet Marillier. She's my favourite author, and combines well-researched historical settings with great fantasy details, stirring romances and characters that pull at my heart-strings. I buy every book she's released — I even pre-ordered her most recent release, a first for me.

Juliet Marillier writes a lot of series.

But her books are complete in and of themselves.

When an author ends on a cliffhanger, to me it feels like they're trying to blackmail me into reading the next book. You care about this character now, don't you? Well, look what's happened! Mwaahahahahaa! Now you must read the next book, or you'll never know!

I buy Juliet Marillier's books, not because she blackmails me into feeling I "need" to find out what happens next, but because I love the richness of her writing, her characters, her worlds.

If a book ends on a cliffhanger, I might buy the next one in the series. I might read until the series ends. But I'll have a grudge against that author, and it's less likely I'll buy anything else they've written, because I don't want to be blackmailed again.

Does anyone else ever feel like this?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Another stage to go!

I felt relieved after my interview for the journalism internship. It hadn't gone perfectly, and I'd stuffed up a few questions; but it was over. I could no longer do anything to change the outcome: all I had to do was wait.

Waiting for a call that will come "in a week or so" is much more nerve-wracking than internship test results that will "take five or more weeks".

But I'd passed the application stage; I'd passed the general knowledge test; now all I had to do was hear back from the interview, and I'd know.

Apparently not.

My ideal job would be as a sub-editor, and this came up during the interview. They asked if I'd prefer to do that than be a journalist. I want to be honest, so I said yes.

I know, cringeworthy.

And they rang me on Tuesday: They don't want me as a journalist.

But would I be interested in an internship as a sub-editor?

...

Why yes, yes I would.

I don't have the internship. Not yet. But now there's another — hopefully final — stage to go through. A "casual" meet-and-greet with my potential boss, this weekend.

I'm nervous, for so many reasons. If I get this, the whole direction of my life could be changed — potentially in both good and bad ways.

But wow I hope I get it.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Review: The curious case of Benjamin Button

This review's short, because the book is.

I was disappointed in The curious case of Benjamin Button. It's extremely short - about 40 pages - and while the premise is interesting, the book's so vague that I couldn't really get into it or care about the characters at all. There are very few actual scenes in the book (conversations, etc); most of it is just the narrator describing a period of Benjamin's life, and all of the characters — Benjamin's father, his son, and Benjamin himself — come off looking pretty callous.

It's still a sad story, though, since it's almost impossible to have any normal relationship with your body (and mind) growing younger and sillier.

But I am disappointed, because the premise (person is born as old man and gets younger with time), I think, really is interesting.

But the book? Not so.

Sorry: due to repeated spam comments, I've disabled commenting on this post.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Author interview with Janice Hardy

I've been pronouncing it Nee-yah. Or is it Nye-yah? I hate when I write a story and all my readers pronounce the names wrong!

As long as you have a pronunciation that’s easy for you, I’m happy. But I wrote it as NIGH-uh. Ny as in dye. Uh as in, well, uh.

What gave you the idea for The Pain Merchants?

It was a long process. I first had the idea of shifting pain about five or six years ago. I wrote up a bunch of notes, realized the story was terrible, and stuffed them in a file. Then two years ago I was at the Surrey International Writers Conference and the presenters were stressing originality. I was pitching my first real novel, a prophecy quest story that was not very original. I came back all fired up and started digging through my old ideas to see if anything would work. I came across those old notes, still thought the story was terrible, but the idea of pain shifting stayed with me. Somewhere the idea of buying and selling pain developed (I honestly can’t say how) and I started world building. I wanted to know how a society that bought and sold pain would work. That led to the Healer’s League and how healing worked and the world came together.

Then one day, I was watching TV and came across a rerun of the TV show Firefly. Part of that show’s backstory is that the heroes were on the losing end of a civil war. I loved that idea and knew right away Geveg had lost a war for independence, and that my hero was an orphan of that war. It all started to fall into place then. After that, it was just your basic, who is my hero? What problem do they face? What’s the worst that can happen? brainstorming to develop the plot.

I read that one of your favourite books as a kid was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I love that book! What were your other favourite books/authors as a middle grader? What are your favourites today?

I was a huge fan of The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. Nancy Drew’s were big. I read every Judy Blume, Paula Danzinger and Lois Duncan I could get my hands on. I also read a lot of the old classic sci fi, like Asimov, Pohl, Niven, etc. My father was a big fan and I borrowed his books a lot. Recent favorites are Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Susan Beth Pfieffer’s Life As We Knew It, Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why, Kathleen Duey’s Resurrection of Magic series. I just started Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice series (on book two now) but I’m loving it. (I think some of those are YA though)

Hemingway reportedly called his six-word story ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn") his best work. What can you tell us about your book in six words? (They don't have to be your best six.)

Eek, six words? Hmmm… “My sister’s in trouble, Gotta run.”

When did you write your first novel?

I was eight. It was a four-book series about dog archaeologists called “Dog City.” (So original.) My first real book (written with the intent to try and sell it) was about ten years or so ago, but I’ve always written.

Apart from your main character, who's your favourite character in your book?

Oooo that’s a toughy. I think Jeatar, because I haven’t figured him out yet. He’s hiding depths and tragedy under that cool exterior and I want to know what they are.

What was your reaction when you found out you'd sold your book?

SQUUEEEEEEE!!!!!!! Over and over. Lots of happy dancing and giggling. And jumping up and down.

You've got heaps of events coming up to promote your new release! Are there any in particular that we online lurkers should keep an eye out for?

Let’s see, on the 6th I’ll be over at John Scalzi’s Whatever talking about the Big Idea for the book. Interviews over at YA Highway next week, The Enchanted Inkpot on the 21st, First Novels Club also on the 6th, and Sierra Godfrey’s blog on the 7th. Guest blogs on Tall Tales and Short Stories later this month with a contest for a signed book. There’s also an interview in the November issue of Writer’s Digest. I think that’s it, though there are a few others still in the works.

If your readers take one thing away from this book, what would you want them to take away?

What a great story. I write to tell tales, so as long as folks enjoy it, I’m happy.

You talk a lot about writing issues and how to overcome them on your storyflip blog! What was a writing issue you had while writing The Pain Merchants?

You might not believe me, but this book was the easiest thing I ever wrote. It just felt out of my head onto the page, and I don’t really remember any of it being tough. Of course, book two is making up for that (which everyone tells me is perfectly normal). I had not written a sequel before this, and it’s been challenging trying to balance telling the second part without rehashing the first. Backstory issues, really. You want the book to stand alone, yet there’s all this stuff that influences or had influenced what happens. Maintaining the “why should I care?” factor has also been rough. It’s easy to just dive in and throw stuff at Nya, but unless she has the same level of personal need and stakes, it falls flat. I can’t just say, “Well, they liked her in book one, so that’ll carry over no matter what I have her doing.” Not true. Readers want just as good a story if not better, and I have to deliver on that. It’s getting there, and I have faith readers will be happy with it in the end, but it’s definitely taking more work than book one.

There's heaps of world-building in this - while you don't describe anything in extreme detail, I always had a very clear sense of what the scene was and what the surroundings were, not to mention the history of the world (which I think is fascinating - it seems a lot more "real" than a lot of other fantasy worlds, with more genuine problems). Did you plan out your world beforehand, or did you make it up as you went along?

Thanks! World building came first. A lot of the problems and issues in a story come from just living in that world, so I like to get a solid foundation under me before I start writing. It makes it a lot easier for me to let the story unfold naturally. There’s always some stuff that comes up as I write, and I add that in so everything ties together, but the basic socio-economic-geographic structure is there before I do anything.

So I can guess who Nya ends up with romantically. Are we going to see any of the other characters getting a bit friendlier with each other? I love it when the sidekicks get some romance as well.

I do have another romance brewing, though that won’t fully develop until book three. No more hints on that though!

I really liked the two other strong girl characters in the book - Tali and Aylin. So often, there's the heroine, and then a whole lotta boys all vying for her attention! So I thought it was great in this that there were two other strong, likeable, brave girl characters. I guess that isn't really a question, but I just wanted to say.

Thanks! I’ve always loved strong female characters, so I just naturally added a bunch. I try to make everyone strong and weak in their own way though, because people are like that.

Yeah, and I think all of the characters definitely do have their weak spots as well as their strong. Will there be more main characters in the next book, or are we sticking with the crew from the first book? Will all of the characters come back in the next book? I want to see more of Jeatar (and Lanelle, but for a different reason). Will we ever meet the Duke?

Yes, all the main characters will be back, and you’ll meet some new ones. Lanelle I can’t promise, since she pops in and out depending on the revision. (there’s a subplot that comes and goes) We haven’t seen the last of her though, so if she doesn’t make it into two, she’ll be back in three. You’ll definitely meet the Duke, but I won’t say when.

If I'm going to be honest, I'll admit that if I ever met Grannyma in person, I'd have to be restrained from throttling her. Are we going to hear many of her wise sayings in Book Two?

Throttling? Oh no! (grin) She’s Nya’s conscience in a way, so yes, more sayings from her.

I love the current opening sequence - it's one of the things that made me decide I had to buy this book, when I read it online. (I noticed when I got the book, that the back cover promised to "have fantasy fans hooked from the first sentence". I thought, cynically: Yeah, right! and turned to the first page, where I read the first sentence: "Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken." Well... I wasn't hooked necessarily, but that's a great opening sentence in a scene which gives a really good insight into Nya.) Did you play with a lot of story openings? What were other scenes you thought of starting with?

Thanks so much! I spend a ton of time on first lines because I feel they set the tone for the novel and need to be just right. I also have trouble going forward until I get the right line, so I play with it in my head for days or weeks before I start writing. For Nya’s opening scene, I knew I wanted to show her in her everyday world, show how hard it was for her to survive, reveal her shifting ability, show she was a good person even if she did bad things, and make people care about her. Her stealing food to survive did that, and by stealing eggs, it showed that she wanted to eat, but not steal someone else’s livelihood or ability to eat. It also showed that even if she did steal, she must not do it often if it was still hard for her. I also tried to get in a sense of who she is so you got to know her right away.

Is good luck generally easy to find in an empty pail?

That line makes me laugh. When I first wrote it, it really fit the tone for the book (it was the very first Grannyma saying), but when you think about it, if the pail is empty, there wouldn’t be anything in it, would there? But it just felt right for Nya to say so I kept it. Metaphorically it works, right? If there was nothing else there, you’d be able to find good luck? We use sayings every day that don’t make sense when you think about them, so why can’t Nya!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Spreading the word: The shifter (Janice Hardy)

Aka The Pain Merchants (UK edition)

This MG/YA fantasy was released yesterday (6 Oct 2009). These paragraphs have been taken (with permission from the author) from her original query letter and back cover copy.

Seventeen Fifteen-year-old Nya couldn’t find good luck in an empty pail. As one of the city’s many orphans, she survives on odd jobs and optimism — finding both in short supply in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. Then a bungled egg theft, a stupid act of compassion and boys unable to keep their mouths shut, expose her secret to the two most powerful groups in Geveg: the pain merchants and the Healer’s League. They discover Nya is a Taker, a healer who can pull pain and injury from others.

But unlike her sister Tali and the other Takers who become Healer’s League apprentices, Nya’s skill is flawed: she can’t push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it from person to person, a dangerous skill that she must keep hidden from forces occupying her city. If discovered, she’d be used as a human weapon against her own people.

Rumours of another war make Nya’s life harder, forcing her to take desperate risks just to find work and food. She pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purpose. At first, Nya refuses, but when Tali and other League Healers mysteriously disappear, she’s faced with some difficult choices. As her father used to say, principles are a bargain at any price, but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?

Sounds interesting? It is! Tomorrow I'll be posting an interview with the author, as well as my review of the book.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

In my mailbox (1)

Wow, I never thought I'd need to do an In my mailbox. Here's hoping I need to do another next week, too! (I've ordered so many books lately.)

I got home on Wednesday this week to find not one, but five parcels waiting for me — all containing beautiful, beautiful books. And then I got another parcel on Friday, too. Whee!


I won an ARC of The pain merchants, a middle-grade book by Janice Hardy, from a contest on the author's blog.

This book's being released next week; so to celebrate, next week I'll be having an author interview from Janice Hardy as well as my review of the book.


I haven't read the book — or seen the movie! But I definitely want to, and was lucky enough to win a copy of this book from Katrina Stonoff's blog.

I haven't yet read this one, but according to Fishpond:

In this tender debut, a less-than-perfect debutante decamps South Carolina for a life in New York City. There, she tries to make sense of city sophistication and to understand the strange and rarefied world she's left behind.

I won this book from the contest at Nise Fun Pages.


This book is my first effort towards New Zealand Book Month. I don't know a lot about the book, but I really want to start reading more New Zealand authors — and even if I'm not sure what it's about, I've heard many times that it's good.


Well... I got this book and pretty much gulped it down. Very good book. I'm only sad it's going to take so long for the companion book to get shipped here! I'll probably review this at some stage in the next couple of weeks. But, seriously. Good book.


I haven't read anything by Scott Westerfeld yet, but I've been wanting to for a while. Apart from his Uglies series, he's also written Leviathan, which looks interesting; but I want to test his authorly waters first with a cheaper book than his new release. Plus, Uglies sounds really interesting.

I actually already own Wildwood dancing, but... OK, you may as well know how obsessive-compulsive I am. It was the wrong size. All my other Juliet Marillier books stand 17cm tall. It looks nice on the bookcase. This one was 20cm tall, so... well, I ordered a new one. So now I have two beautiful new copies of exactly the same book in two different sizes.

I think sometimes I need to learn to just get over it.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Spreading the word: Positively (Courtney Sheinmel)

I'd never heard of Courtney Sheinmel or her newly-released book, Positively, before I saw a post about Positively on Melissa Walker's blog. (Actually, the post was more about the book's cover, as that's what Ms Walker's blog is mainly about — it's really interesting!)

From the website:

Emerson Price cannot remember a time when life was ordinary. She was four years old when she and her mom were diagnosed as HIV-positive, and eight when her parents divorced. Now she is thirteen and her mother is dead. Emmy moves in with her father and stepmother, but she feels completely alone. Even though everyone has always accepted her, no one – not her father, or stepmother, or even her best friend – understands what it’s like to have to take medicine every single day, to be so afraid of getting sick, and to miss her mom more than she ever thought she would.

When Emmy’s dad and stepmother send her to Camp Positive, a camp for HIV-positive girls, Emmy is certain she is going to hate it. But soon she realizes that she is not so alone after all – and that sometimes letting other people in can make all the difference in the world.

I clicked through to the author's site and read a bit more about Positively. Then I read this quote from the book:

"When my mother died, I imagined God was thinking, 'One down, and one to go.'"

And I knew I wanted this book. That tugged so hard at my heart-strings.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Interview!

This isn't the post I'd planned on writing for 1 October. But this is much more exciting — at least for me.

I got an interview!

From the time I first applied for the journalism internship, I kept expecting to be politely rejected. I was worried about my application — but they still wanted to see me for Stage 2: the general knowledge test!

I stumbled through the general knowledge test, came home and twittered, despairingly: "I didn't want to get it anyway." (My only consolation lies in linking to everything I possibly could link to.)

I got about 50% in the general knowledge test. I over-analysed the spelling test and I'm pretty sure I corrected things that weren't technically wrong. I bumbled my way through the writing exercises.

And today I got a call from a very nice editor who requested the pleasure of my company at an interview next week.

Squeeeeee!!

I told him twice it was fantastic, and spent the rest of the phone call in a daze, unable to think or speak clearly. I may have said "fantastic" again.

I didn't expect not to get through. But I didn't expect to get through, either.

I don't know how many people they're interviewing, and I know there's still a high chance I won't get through. But it's such a confidence boost to get this far. I would be really good at the job, and I would love this opportunity so much. I think it's when you really want an opportunity that you'd do well at, that you can be most afraid of losing it.

I mean, if I don't get it, it isn't the end of the world. I have back-up plans.

But oh, I hope I get through!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Spreading the word: Liar (Justine Larbalestier)

Yesterday was the release date of Liar by Justine Larbalestier, author of How to ditch your fairy.

If you haven't heard about all the controversy — not about the book, but about the US cover — a good summary (with links!) is at YA Highway.

The thing is, the book is about a liar. OK, maybe you got that from the title. But Micah, the main character, lies the whole way through the book — except to the reader. She promises — over and over again — that everything she tells the reader is true.

One thing she says is that she's black.

The US cover showed an Asian/white girl.

Apparently the publisher didn't feel a black girl on the cover would "sell" well. Not only the author, but many of her fans, got justifiably upset about this — after all, if the main character was lying about such a basic thing, it calls into question everything the main character says in the rest of the book (like Atonement, but not in a good way). In the end, such a big stink was raised that the publishers decided to change the cover to the one at the top of this post. (The masses triumph again!) Still not a very black black person, but I think she says she's three-quarters white anyway, so to me that's still believable.

If I decide to buy this book, there's no way I'm getting any cover except the new US one — just to show there's no reason to discriminate like that.

The controversy's got to be good for it, though. There are so many people who never would have heard of Liar without the controversy. And the author won through in the end, so all's well that ends well.

Finally, to help us poor readers to decide whether we'll like it, Ms Larbalestier (I think that is such an awesome surname, by the way. I don't know how you pronounce it, but I like to roll it like "lar-bar-LEHST-ee-yeahh") has put an excerpt of Liar up on her website. So if it sounds good, but you're not too sure, go check it out!

And happy (belated) release date to Ms Larbalestier!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

New focus

I've been noticing lately that a lot of my posts have been really book-related. Then Book Blogger Appreciation Week happened along, and since then I've begun wondering if I should turn this into more of a book blog, too. I still want the freedom of being able to talk about my life, too, though.

So I've decided to officially make this a bit more of a book-focussed blog*. I still might write posts about my cat, or work issues, or writing — or whatever else I feel like blogging about. But I'll try to have regular book reviews; I might do book giveaways, or author interviews. My blog will be more book-focussed than before.

*I can't promise how book-focussed I'll be during November. During November I'm always pretty focussed on NaNoWriMo, especially since this year I'll have to aim for 100,000 words again**.

**I wrote 100,000 words last year. I can't just go back to 50,000 now! Especially considering how much better last year's was.

I'm also going to try to have loose themes for every month. For example, October is New Zealand Book Month, so expect to see some reviews (and possibly a giveaway or two) of books by New Zealand authors coming up!

What do you think? If you're a regular reader, do you skim over the book-related posts? The non-book-related posts? Do you want more reviews? More posts about contests? Ideas for a potential new title for the blog? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Spreading the word: As you wish (Jackson Pearce)

This sounds like a cute book. (Here's a link to author Jackson Pearce's website, where she does her best to sell her book, also in a very cute way.)

As you wish stars Viola, a girl who inadvertantly calls a genie into our world. He promises her three wishes, but she's afraid of wishing for the wrong thing.

While she's trying to decide on the perfect wish, however, what she doesn't realise is that the genie is start to fall for her.

After she's made her first wish, she realises that she's fallen for him, too. But two more wishes and he's gone from her world... forever (da da da dahhh).

OK, I don't know if I'd read it myself. I don't know that much more about it. I always prefer to read a sample of the book or a sample of the author's writing to know if I'd like a book (which is why Amazon's "Look inside" feature is genius).

Update: Author Jackson Pearce has kindly stopped by and let me know that there is actually an excerpt of As you wish available! So go check it out and see if it's your cup of tea.

(Every time an author stops by my blog or sends me a free bookmark or anything I have this uncontrollable urge to buy their book as a thank-you... it's a very expensive habit.)

Friday, 18 September 2009

October: NZ Book Month

So here's the deal.

Next month (October) is New Zealand Book Month, and I want to show my support of Kiwi authors by buying some books. Problem is, I don't really know that many. So:

Whose books should I buy? Any recommendations? The only NZ-authored books I've really read have been Maurice Gee's children's books (many many years ago), some of Katherine Mansfield's short stories, the various Six Packs, The Sound of Butterflies by Rachael King, and nearly everything by the fantastic Juliet Marillier.

But I want to use New Zealand Book Month as an opportunity to discover some new fiction authors.

So what would you recommend? Mary McCallum's The blue? Eleanor Catton's The rehearsal? Emily Perkins' Novel about my wife?

I don't know that many New Zealand authors — or books. But I want to find out! So, please — if you have any recommendations, let me know.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Upcoming books' excerpts

I thought I'd devote this post to highlighting some excerpts of up'n'coming books. If I'm buying a new author's works, I always like to have a sample of their writing to read so I know I'll like what I buy.

Of course, this isn't the case with Juliet Marillier, whose books I whole-heartedly love, but I thought I'd share this recently-released excerpt of her new book, Heart's Blood, anyway. The book looks good; to be honest, if I hadn't read her work before I might be a bit iffy about it; but because I already know I love her books, I can't wait for Heart's Blood (and have already pre-ordered it).

The second excerpt isn't from a debut author either, although it's an author I haven't read before. The excerpt is, however, from another book I've pre-ordered: Ice by Sarah Beth Durst. The book's about a re-telling of the story of the Polar Bear King and the North Wind's daughter — and if you don't immediately recall the fairy-tale, that's OK: Durst obligingly sets out the backstory to the fairytale in the excerpt.

I haven't had a chance to read the third excerpt myself: or, rather, the third lot of excerpts. Publisher Simon & Schuster have released a sampler of excerpts from several new books by Jessica Bendinger, Sarah Beth Durst, Nick Lake, Sarah Mussi, Amy Reed, Lauren Strasnick, Rhonda Stapleton, Jessica Verday and Becca Fitzpatrick (the only one, apart from Durst, that I've even heard of). Lots of new authors to discover!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld)

I've never read a steampunk novel, but they've never appealed at all. I've heard a bit about Scott Westerfeld lately, too, especially his Uglies trilogy; but his latest book, Leviathan, is steampunk so I've never really paid it much attention.

Then I saw this book trailer for Leviathan:

I'm still not sure I'd read the book. I might buy Uglies, and decide based on that. But I do think that is an extremely cool book trailer.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Countdown challenge

I've found a new challenge to sign up for! The goal is to read one book published in 2001, two books published in 2002... etc, until you read ten books published in 2010. All books must be read between 09/09/09 and 10/10/10.

2001 (1/1)
The ice child by Elizabeth McGregor (my review)

2002 (2/2)
Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Kushiel's chosen by Jacqueline Carey

2003 (3/3)
Can you keep a secret? by Sophie Kinsella
The hollow kingdom by Clare B Dunkle
Kushiel's avatar by Jacqueline Carey

2004 (4/4)
Mira, mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison
Mansfield by C K Stead
Homeland by Clare Francis
The chocolate run by Dorothy Koomson

2005 (5/5)
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
The undomestic goddess by Sophie Kinsella
Poison study by Maria V Snyder***
Mystic and rider by Sharon Shinn

2006 (6/6)
Specials by Scott Westerfeld
The final empire by Brandon Sanderson***
Magic study by Maria V Snyder
The tenth circle by Jodi Picoult
Kitty by Deborah Challinor
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

2007 (7/7)
Cybele's secret by Juliet Marillier
The swan kingdom by Zoe Marriott
The name of the wind by Patrick Rothfuss***
The well of ascension by Brandon Sanderson
Sasha by Joel Shepherd
Making money by Terry Pratchett
The blue by Mary McCallum

2008 (8/8)
Graceling by Kristin Cashore***
Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier
The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
Fire study by Maria V Snyder
The hero of ages by Brandon Sanderson
Making money by Terry Pratchett
The poison throne by Celine Kiernan (my review)
Girls in trucks by Katie Crouch

2009 (9/9)
The pain merchants by Janice Hardy
Ice by Sarah Beth Durst (my review)
Heart's blood by Juliet Marillier
Fire by Kristin Cashore
Evermore by Alyson Noël
Twenties girl by Sophie Kinsella
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Storm glass by Maria V Snyder***
Sea glass by Maria V Snyder***

2010 (10/10)
Girls like funny boys by Dave Franklin (my review)
The demon's covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan***
Mistwood by Leah Cypess
Rebel by R J Anderson
Crossing over by Anna Kendall
Tsunami blue by Gayle Ann Williams
The maze runner by James Dashner
My way to hell by Dakota Cassidy
Stillwater Creek by Alison Booth
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

***Pick of the year

Friday, 11 September 2009

Cadbury go Fair Trade

I gotta say, if/when Cadbury go Fair Trade, I don't think I'll bother buying Nestle, Whittakers, or other chocolate again.

World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello commented: "Fair cocoa pricing is the difference between children wielding a machete in the cocoa field or a pencil in the classroom."

If Cadbury do go Fair Trade, I think I'll have to buy a big lot of chocolate, just to show my support for them.

It's for the kids....

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Amber Spyglass (Philip Pullman)

The Amber Spyglass Things heat up as angels, witches, armoured bears and cliff-ghasts come together for a final fight — or, in the cliff-ghasts' case, to feast on whatever bodies are left over from the final fight. Will and Lyra star again.

To start with my one disappointment: there were a few parts which seemed really slow to me: council meetings which didn't illustrate much; political comments from minor figures. I wanted to get to the action!

Both this book and The subtle knife move between characters quite a lot; you see Lyra, and then just when it gets really exciting it changes to see what Will is doing, and then it skips to Dr Mary "Tempter" Malone in a world of diamond-framed animals on seedpod wheels.

OK, I thought the seedpod-wheeled animals were awesome. I want to see them in the movie. But still. Very effective technique on the part of Mr Pullman; but damn, I could not read that book fast enough.

Couple of quibbles again: I found that Dr Malone acted younger than she was: some of her dialogue didn't quite "mesh" for me. But it is a young adult book, so the language probably worked better for the target audience.

Also, a couple of loose ends weren't really explained for me. We're introduced to the soul-eating Spectres in Book Two; but for some reason, two characters in Book Three wander around happily without ever being affected by the Spectres. Why? We're never told.

This trilogy really reminded me of what some people said when I told them my theory about the Christian God. Our theories are virtually identical, which irritates me. I'd started to write a story incorporating my theory (similar to how Pullman did it, only from Lucifer's point of view instead of from humans' point of view) and now it'll all seem like plagiarism. So there goes that brilliant idea!

Maybe it just goes to show that great minds think alike.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Mutes & Earthquakes (& well-timed advice)

Nice timing: After Monday's post about my lecturer's writing advice, I stumbled across this essay about writing by New Zealand writer and tutor Bill Manhire, in the introduction to Mutes & Earthquakes:

Voice shouldn't be confused with originality, another of those big ideas like inspiration and sincerity. We all learn to speak by mimicking the adult figures around us. We hear a noise and copy it....When we grow up we can hear our parents inside the sounds we make, and yet we are still ourselves - distinctive, and distinctively different from the voices which shaped us. The writing voice is like this, too.

This is why imitation can be very useful for a writer. You find your way to your voice by being influenced, by copying. The twelve-year-old Frank Sargeson started copying out Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe into an exercise book, which is going a bit far; but the idea has a strange sort of merit. Poets, especially, can be silly about this. I have met plenty who declare that they never read other poets: their own pure, original voice might somehow be contaminated. People who talk like that aren't writers. They simply like the idea of calling themselves writers....I don't imagine there are many aspiring screen writers who decide not to go to films on the grounds that the experience may destroy their art. The only person who will never become a writer is the one who doesn't read. Concert pianists listen to music. Great chefs like to eat.

So I encourage people to read widely.

I rest my case.

Manhire also quoted an unrelated but equally cool saying from writer Flannery O'Connor:

Discussing story-writing in terms of plot, character, and theme is like trying to describe the expression on a face by saying where the eyes, nose, and mouth are.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Monday, 7 September 2009

Writing advice

A creative writing lecturer gave our class some advice one day on how to make sure we never plagiarise or copy other writer's ideas.

His advice was this:

Don't read new books.

Don't watch movies.

He was quite serious. His theory was that going to movies and reading all the new pulp fiction around is a highway to having no original ideas left, because movies and books will fill your head with their ideas and writing styles and ways of doing things.

I mean no disrespect to him, but I think that theory is absolute bull.

I plan to read as much and as widely as I can. Not only classics (I think he approved of classics. He brought Nietzsche to class and read us chapters out of it. With effort, I stayed awake: not everyone else did), but new books; old books; in-between books. I want to read other authors' debuts, and established authors' series. I want to immerse myself in YA fantasy — no doubt a dangerous choice, since that's what I want to write and the potential for plagiarism is endless — but because that's what I want to write, and I want to see how others do it and the language they speak, the tools they use, the imagery they portray.

I plan to watch every movie that appeals to me; that is based on a book I love or a true story that intrigues; every cute little rom-com that sounds like it might have that extra spice of wit or intelligence — and this despite the probability that opportunity for plagiarism abounds.

Other ideas inspire my own.

My ideas and this lecturer's very seldom meshed. I learned only one thing from him that I did think was good advice, and that was when another girl in the class complained that her characters' actions "never seemed believable". He gazed at her in astonishment.

"What are these characters? They are words. They don't exist except in words. If your characters aren't acting in a way that's believable, that's because you aren't making the words believable."

OK, I can't remember his exact phrasing, but it was something like that.

I've often heard writers complaining that their characters won't behave, and I think that's a good thing: that shows your characters have life. But you need to be able to control your characters' actions — to change the words to make that believable for who they are. You can make anything believable, with the right words.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Bookish notices

Published author appreciation day
Earlier this week was Published author appreciation day. Your challenge is to buy a new book (not second-hand — not borrowed from a friend — not a library book) to support a good author. If you're short on cash and/or want to support a good cause, I can recommend Good Books NZ, who have very reasonable prices on most books and have free delivery — and all proceeds go to support Oxfam. The only disadvantage is that Good Books don't stock newly-released books, so for those you may want to go to Fishpond or Amazon (or, y'know, a bricks-and-mortar store).

Love a writer?
Eileen Flanagan gives advice on what to do if you love/want to support/are friends with a writer. The two key points, in my opinion: buy their books; write reviews of/blog about their books.

Free ARC giveaway
Janice Hardy is giving away an advanced reader's copy of her debut novel The Shifter for the best zombie title.

Free Kiwi Writers book available now
The Kiwi Writers short-story collection is now available. You can either download it for free or buy a paperback copy at cost price from Lulu.com. There are seven stories in the collection. A bit about the book (more here):

Fly the skies in a dirigible, explore a strange new planet, and feel magic in your veins in this, the first short story collection from the members of Kiwi Writers. Within these pages you will be given a chance to sample life through the eyes of those in love, loss, lust and confusion, spanning the genres of fantasy, science fiction, steam-punk and adult fiction.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The subtle knife (Philip Pullman)

The Subtle Knife Will, a young boy living in our own world, has just murdered a man, and now he's on the run... into another world, where he meets Lyra, and finds out about his own impossible-sounding destiny.

This is where the story really starts turning the heat up. We're introduced to Will, who hails from our world. But one warning: This is not a standalone book, like Book One is. Don't even start reading Book Two if you don't have Book Three by your side, waiting for you to pick up breathlessly the minute you finish The subtle knife.

Unlike a lot of trilogies, I don't feel the second book here really lets down the first one. The stakes are still high (although not quite as personal, overall); it's still fast-paced and packed with action; and while Will is a great new character, it's good that Lyra's still the other main character.

Again, this is a very good book, and I'd recommend it — after reading Book One. Pullman seems to assume everyone will have already read the previous book; so if you don't read Book One first, you might be pretty lost as there are constant references to it.

OK, I know this isn't exactly a long review, but honestly: this is more Part One of Book Three than a standalone book. Next week: My (much longer) review of Book Three!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Gang patches banned

The Wanganui District Council have recently put through a ban on gang patches (with a $2000 fine if you're caught). While the intent behind this ban is good, I think the idea has bad written all over it.

As Dan was commenting yesterday, if you don't let gangs wear patches, they'll only find some other way of identifying themselves.

The ban came into force yesterday — and a small protest was organised in Wanganui. Civil rights protesters turned up, as well as some gang members. And instead of patches, all the Black Power members were wearing blue hats and t-shirts; all of the Mongrel Mob guys were wearing red hoodies.

Gangs will always find some way to identify themselves. Imagine if this ban continues, and the Wanganui Black Power members all start wearing blue t-shirts as an alternative. Does that mean anyone wearing a blue t-shirt is going to be seen as a Black Power member?

Or is the Council then going to ban blue t-shirts?

As someone who doesn't know any gang members, I think gang patches are a great idea. They tell me who I need to walk carefully around. You can take away the patches, but it won't change anyone's behaviour.

The only benefit I can see is a potential reduction in fights. But if all the gang members just start wearing, for example, a certain colour t-shirt — won't that end up increasing the number of fights? And, probably, reducing the number of colours people feel safe wearing.

Plus, there is the whole freedom of speech thing. I can understand hoodies not being allowed in some places — it's always nice when security cameras can see people's faces — but a gang patch ban just seems ridiculous.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

YouTube Tuesday: The Time Traveler's Wife

For anyone who hasn't heard: The Time Traveler's Wife has been made into a movie, so I thought I'd post the trailer for YouTube Tuesday.

I know it's terrible of me to say this, but I did not like the book.

*waits for outraged screaming to subside*

I thought it was melodramatic, full of gratuitous sex scenes, and slightly disgusting at times. It was, however, written well enough and emotively enough that I cried like a baby several times during the book, and expect to do so several more during the movie. I hated the last scene of the book; I loved the last scene of the book. The book made me intensely sad.

*The 40ish-year-old man having sex with an 18-year-old? Even if she does grow up to become his wife, that's still disgusting to me, especially when he time-travels back to his wife in the present day and notices how she's older/less attractive now — it's basically like cheating on her with an 18-year-old, even if it is her at age 18.

I'm not saying it isn't well-written; I'm not saying it didn't deserve to be made into a movie. I'm saying it made me sad, and I disliked parts of it (e.g. the constant sex and disgusting factor) enough not to want to read it again.

But I think the movie actually looks better than the book, so far. It looks like it deals more with the wife's life without her husband and her anger/issues, which to me would be much more profound issues.

Plus, Eric Bana plays the husband. Mm-mmm.

Monday, 31 August 2009

The Black Moth vs. These Old Shades

These old shades, you may think. What a funny name for a book, you may muse. How did Georgette Heyer come up with that title, you may wonder.

OK, I realise that few people are likely think, muse or wonder thus — even my mother the Heyer fan, when I rang her excitedly to tell her my discovery, didn't remember the books or characters involved.

I've mentioned that Heyer's debut novel, The black moth, features a villain who I thought Heyer renamed and used as the hero in These old shades.

According to Heyer's biography, I was right — and that's why Heyer named the book These old shades (shades = ghosts). She was reusing her characters! Now that I know that, I suddenly recognise the Black moth's very vanilla hero and heroine as Jenny and husband in These old shades; likewise, the villain's best friend is the same character in both.

It makes me glad, because I always wanted to know what happened to the Black moth villain. I wonder why Heyer changed the characters' names — unless she didn't want the new book associated with The black moth.

I don't really have a point here; I just found it interesting that a best-selling author can actually do that and get away with it. I guess others have as well. Austen certainly has reused her plots and characters, if not as obviously (and probably not intentionally); and I'm sure there are many others out there that don't spring to mind immediately.

But I just wanted to comment on that, for any Heyer fans out there. Want to read more about the characters — or the villain — in The black moth? Read These old shades and see what happens to them later.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Internship test

The internship test is tomorrow. Spelling; grammar; general knowledge.

I'm so nervous. My general knowledge is crap.

I hoped I'd at least fly through the spelling and grammar, but not so - I did their spelling and grammar test from a few years ago, and I got lots wrong. (I also corrected something that wasn't in the answers, but I'm pretty sure I was right and they just missed that error.) I didn't correct the spelling of some place names — and I can live with not knowing that Taumaranui was meant to be Taumarunui, but I probably should have picked up Sidney, Australia. I forgot that Chateaux was spelled Chateau, and I missed an instance of American spelling (I'm so used to it! It's permeated the very core of our once-British society!).

Worst of all: I didn't notice an apostrophe in the wrong place.

I am covered with shame.

I hope, though, that having done the old tests will help me in tomorrow's one. I've made notes of what to look for, and hope that'll help me.

I've done all three of the previous general knowledge tests, too, and the results ain't pretty. I know absolutely nothing about sports; my best area is international affairs, followed closely by arts and entertainment. And when I say my "best", I mean I got nearly half the answers right. Go me.

I'm not used to taking tests to study or to get jobs, let alone taking tests to take a job to study. The scenario usually goes more like this:

RUTH: I want to study here.
INSTITUTION OF LEARNING: We love you! Make your cheque out to X.

Alternatively:

RUTH: I want to work here.
POTENTIAL EMPLOYER: *evil interview no-one could hope to pass*

Sadly, not only do I have to sit a test, but if I pass the test I'll then have to undergo an interview as well.

And what's a pass mark, you ask? So far as I know, they just pick the best of the bunch. So the only way to be certain you've passed is to get 100%.

I just hope my spelling and grammar will redeem my (lack of) general knowledge... and that I notice all the wrong apostrophes!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Northern Lights (Philip Pullman)

Northern Lights A young girl, Lyra, sets out on a dangerous quest in a world parallel to our own, to rescue her friend from terrors unknown.

Northern Lights took me a few pages to really get into. I wasn't immediately gripped by the action; Lyra, the heroine, seemed childish and silly; and the opening scene seemed melodramatic and unrealistic.

But after the first few pages, I was hooked. Lyra is cocky, smart and likeable; and I loved the action between her and her "daemon" (an external soul in animal shape).

Although that's one thing that annoys me a little bit. What's wrong with good old-fashioned "demon" spelling? A daemon isn't the same as a demon, you say? True enough. Then later in the series you find out about "vampyres". What's wrong with spelling it the normal way? Geez.

Another thing that annoys me? The British version (which I made sure I got) is called Northern lights; the American version is called the (apparently) much more exciting The golden compass.

OK, I agree that the so-called compass is more prominent in the book than the northern lights, even if the northern lights are really what the book is all about. But. It is not a compass. It looks like a compass. It is not one. It is an alethiometer. And, OK, that may look like a hard word before you try to say it, but seriously — just repeat after me. Ah-lee-thee-oh-meh-ter. It's barely more complex than "thermometer".

Not that I'm suggesting they should have called it "The golden alethiometer" because, well, that'd be silly. But if you're going to change a perfectly good British title, at least change it to something that accurately reflects an aspect of the book. Even "The armoured bear" would have been better than The golden compass.

Moving on. Apart from minor quibbles*, I really enjoyed this book, and looked forward immensely to the second in the trilogy.

*Such as the heroine becoming attached really fast to the armoured bear and the aeronaut, and vice versa — they only hung out for a few days! I've done the same thing myself, in my writing; you spend so much time writing the story that it feels to me, the writer, as if my characters are much closer than they actually are. But to the reader, they've only had a couple of fighting scenes together so why does Mr Aeronaut suddenly feel she's the daughter he never had?

Next week: My review of Book Two in the trilogy.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Anti-smacking: the results are in

The results of the referendum are in, and to the question:

Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

87% of the 56% turnout voted "no".

(Side-note: Seriously. Leading question much? "Should good parental correction be criminal...?")

The strange thing to me is that, despite having previously stated he wouldn't change the law regardless of the results of the referendum, Prime Minister John Key is now saying he "agrees" with the result. However, he's saying he'll look at taking measures that "don't involve a law change [but will ensure] that parents have a level of comfort...that they are not going to be dragged before the courts for a minor or inconsequential smack."

Other groups are suggesting that the law be amended to allow only an open-handed smack on the hand or the butt.

To me, that seems reasonable.

What do you think?

Monday, 24 August 2009

Contest: Break (Hannah Moskowitz)

BREAK by Hannah Moskowitz From the back cover:

Seventeen-year-old Jonah is on a mission to break every bone in his body. Everybody knows that broken bones grow back stronger that they were before. And Jonah wants to be stronger - needs to be stronger - because everything around him is falling apart. Breaking, and then healing, is Jonah's only way to cope with the stresses of home, girls, and the world on his shoulders.

When Jonah's self-destructive spiral accelerates and he hits rock bottom, will he find true strength or surrender to his breaking point?

It sounds a little cringeworthy, but also — well — very interesting! And YA Highway are currently giving away ONE advanced reader's copy of Break here (where you can also read an interview with the author).

BREAK is released on 25 August 2009.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Bucket list

Someone at work mentioned today that he'd always wanted to have a winter Christmas — it's on his "bucket list". Later on, he was talking about wanting to lose weight; his wife said that if he loses ten kilos in ten weeks, she'll shout him a bungee-jump. Apparently that's on his bucket list too.

I don't know if he actually has a bucket list, or if that's just what he says when talking about he really wants to do; but it got me thinking.

I don't have a bucket list, per se. I've always wanted to get married and have kids. Such boring, stereotypical woman goals! I've always wanted to be published, too. (A significantly harder goal.)

But I dunno. I feel pretty lucky in my life — I've had so many experiences travelling in earlier years that I don't really feel there's anything I haven't done that I've "always wanted to do". I'd like to visit Africa and the States. I'd like to live in England and travel Europe. I'd love to go back to Kyrgyzstan and see my old home again. I'd like to study creative writing and make some "writing" friends. But those don't really seem like Bucket List items. Go bungee-jumping. Do a motorbike tour of New Zealand. Visit Disneyland. See a live Jim Carrey show. Have a winter Christmas.

I still just want, one day, to get married, have babies and get a book published. (Probably not all on the same day. But you get my point.)

Maybe I should start a bucket list. Or would having a bucket list — for the sake of having a bucket list — just point out what you haven't accomplished yet? I.e., be more depressing than motivational?

I don't know.

What's on your bucket list?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The demon's lexicon (Sarah Rees Brennan)

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time.

It's witty, it's action-packed, it keeps you guessing.

Quick run-down on the plot: Nick and Alan are two brothers on the run with their mother, chased by a gang of magicians. Head magician used to be madly in love with mother and, now that she's left him, wants her dead (ah, true love).

Important note: Magicians have very little power of their own. But they can summon demons to trade innocent human souls for power.

And then Alan gets a demon mark on him. Now they need to find the magician who placed that mark on him, or watch Alan be possessed by a demon and die... which isn't as gruesome as it sounds. But it's still not a good fate.

The demon's lexicon is penned by the delightful and witty Sarah Rees Brennan, whose livejournal you should start following if you're not already. It's the first of a planned trilogy — and I love that she's actually promised to keep it a trilogy, as she says she knows how annoying it is when authors start off with a trilogy and then make it longer and longer! (I whole-heartedly agree.)

The hero is a charming bad-ass — and don't get me wrong, I'm not talking Wolverine-with-a-heart-of-gold. I'm talking really bad. He kills people and gets annoyed at the nuisance of having to bury them. He gets mad at the brother who raised him and deliberately does the thing he knows will hurt him the most. He just doesn't care about anyone else.

Almost anyone else.

I love that the two main characters in this are brothers. You almost never see siblings in books! I think family can be one of the strongest bonds a person can have; and this book follows a brother who raised our hero almost single-handed, and a mother who hates her son.

I have only one nitpick, and that was with a minor character who seemed to be thrown in for comic relief. Sarah Rees Brennan, if you read her livejournal, has a very strong sense of humour; and it seems she couldn't resist channeling her wit through this character. Don't get me wrong, he is funny; it just didn't seem likely to me that a character would deal with his fear with quite this much nervous laughter.

And yes, there is romance. But only a leetle bit — enough to make things interesting (and painful); not enough to spoil the action.

And it was released in New Zealand on 1 August 2009. So what are you waiting for? Go get it!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

YouTube Tuesday: The Lovely Bones

In case you haven't seen the trailer already: behold!

I'm really looking forward to this one — it'll be interesting to see how closely they stick to the book.

Brief rundown of book: Susie Salmon is murdered — and watches her family try to find her murderer — and ultimately move on with their lives — from heaven.

Monday, 10 August 2009

One step closer to the dream

I got through Stage One of the journalism internship!

I feel a little like I shouldn't be blogging about something I'm so unlikely to get, but I'm just too happy not to.

A week ago I applied for a journalism internship, which runs in conjunction with the course I want to do next year. On completion of the course, I'd get my fees paid and be bonded to the newspaper for two years.

That works for me!

My real hope is that I'd be able to go straight out of the course into a job as a sub-editor — which I've been advised some people have done. And if they can, I'm confident I could too. I do think I'm really good at sub-editing. (I found out recently I got the best mark anyone's ever got for the sub-editing course. Kinda gave me a boost of confidence.)

Anyway, I had issues filling out the internship application form, and really didn't feel I'd make it — but they want to see me for a "general knowledge, spelling and grammar test" in a couple of weeks! I'm so excited. The spelling and grammar, I expect to fly through; the general knowledge I probably need to brush up on.

They had 180 applicants. There are 12 internships available. They didn't say how many people they had asked to come in for tests; only that they were "pleased to invite me" (as I am pleased to accept) based on the "quality of my application". I assume they're referring to spelling and grammar rather than content and writing ability.

If I get through the (two-hour) test, they'll ask me in for an interview. I don't know if there's another stage beyond that.

I didn't really think I had a chance of getting this internship. And maybe I still don't have much of a chance.

But I'm really excited to be through to the next round!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

He man. He work.

I've never really thought about women in the workforce. That was such a last-century-feminist issue. I thought these days, nearly all women work, apart from the occasional stay-at-home mom who goes back to work when her kids are old enough. In some ways, it doesn't seem like a bad idea: the mum stays home with the kids, and the dad goes out and is bread-winner.

And now I'm working in a store where we deal with a lot of tradesmen. One of our customers is female; all the others are guys. The only other women I interact with are other "office ladies".

Most of the tradesmen at work are married. And none of their wives work.

Not that these guys have a conscious problem with this. They talk indulgently about their wives, like they would about a naughty puppy.

One man was complaining about his "missus" spending $250 at the supermarket the other day. "What does she find to spend this money on?" he said, and the other men around him clucked and shook their heads and added their own stories of their wives' wastefulness.

Dan and I easily spend $250 at the supermarket; and this guy has two kids. I asked him if he ever went with his wife to the supermarket.

"What? No, of course not," he said, and you could see the very idea was strange. He man. He work. She woman. She shop. She cook. She clean. She look after kids. She complain for no apparent reason. Silly woman.

I couldn't believe it. These women are still living in the 1950s, and they're keeping their husbands there with them.

Two of the men have wives with part-time jobs, and when they mentioned this, everyone else was surprised. Working women are the exception, not the rule, in this world. And even then, the wives who do work, only work part-time while the kids are at school. These men know two types of women: office ladies (or girls who aren't yet married); and wives.

I never want to be one of those women. I never want my partner to regard me with fond indulgence, and complain affectionately about me at work to his working buddies because he doesn't know what his "missus" does with all his money, or what she spends all her time doing, or why she gets so crabby with him when all he asked was why she didn't clean the house today. I want to get married one day, and I want that to be an equal partnership, with both people pulling their weight. I've never been much of a feminist; the world I've worked and lived in has always been pretty unsexist. But there's no way I ever want to conform to those stereotypes.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Website Story

And now for a YouTube Tuesday with a video not actually hosted on YouTube. Westside Story — internet-stylez! With many of the original songs (albeit with some all of the songs slightly heavily reworded). I didn't recognise all of the websites referenced, but they were still all funny. Thanks to pacatrue (via moonrat) for the video!