Monday, November 26, 2012

Blogspiration (46): Tsundoku

Blogspiration is a weekly meme hosted by GrowingUp YA & Saz101. The meme was created to help spark inspiration among bloggers, readers & writers alike. An inspirational quote/picture/video is posted weekly, on the day of the author's choosing, so that it may inspire creativity, conversation & just a little SOMETHING.


Credit where credit's due: I originally stumbled across this word over at the amazing Tumblr, Otherwordly, and pulled the definition from Wikitionary.

I just love that there is actually a word for people like us. Tsundoku. I think I feel a little less alone in the world ;D

More on Blogspiration and Linky sign-up below the jump!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What's Left Of Me (The Hybrid Chronicles, #1) by Kat Zhang

What's Left Of Me by Kat ZhangTitle: What's Left Of Me
Author: Kat Zhang (author website | blog)
Release Date: October 1st 2012 by HarperCollins Australia
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian
My Rating:1 star to What's Left Of Me by Kat Zhang2 stars to What's Left Of Me by Kat Zhang3 stars to What's Left Of Me by Kat Zhang3 stars to What's Left Of Me by Kat Zhang

From the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Obernewtyn, to the stark contrasts of poverty and lavish opulence in Pan Am, Dystopian – YA’s enduring wunderkind – comes in many shapes and sizes, and never has it seemed it so normal and suburban, yet so alien, cruel and wrong as in the alternate reality of Kat Zhang's What’s Left of Me.
From Goodreads:
I should not exist. But I do.Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

The Story

It's an accepted certainty that every person is born with two souls, two girls or two boys, opening their shared eyes for the first time, as separate and unique as they are one and whole.

It's just as certain that one of those souls will evanesce. Dominant and recessive, one soul born to lead, and to live, the other destined to disappear. Two children within the body of one, with their family, friends, and their world, expecting one to die. Hoping one will fade.

Addie and Eva, Eva and Addie are two such souls. Addie, strong, in control, destined to live, and Eva, destined to... not. But Eva didn't fade when it was her time. Eva clung to life, and now the two girls go about their life, Addie leading, and Eva an ever-present witness, both hiding. Because having two souls, being a 'hybrid', is illegal. Eva and Addie hide in plain sight, from everyone. Even their family. Until someone notices the girl hiding inside, and offers her the unthinkable: a chance to walk again. To breathe. To speak. Trapped inside her sister's body for years, how could they say no?

The 101

While, in many ways, Kat Zhang’s debut is an introspective, reflective story, it also carries in its pages a suffocating unfairness, an immense corruption and cruelty that seeps deep enough to rattle bones. I’ve always felt this ‘type’ of novel can go two ways: leaving the protagonist – and reader – feeling empowered, rallied, ready to fight; or adrift in a world of corruption so vast they feel hopeless. What’s Left Of Me left me feeling frightened and small, unconvinced that, hybrid or not, a protagonist so ‘ordinary’ and powerless, so much a normal schoolgirl, could ever overcome a system and government so corrupt, and, honestly, I’m not entirely sure how that makes me feel, or how I feel about the book on a whole.

While it may sound oxymoronic, the lack of grounding in our world, the sense of ‘this could really happen, gives What’s Left Of Me a fantastical feel, but also robs it of frightening impact often granted by the same, yet it feels peculiar to comment on as, in all ways but the obvious – of two souls sharing a single body – there is a profound sense of normalcy to What’s Left Of Me, and an almost Stepford-like suburbia. But this suburbia doesn’t last for long, and despite sixteen years of practice for Addie/Eva, neither does the ‘normal’ fa├žade.’

The relationship between Addie and Eva is the tale’s strongest facet, their pull and push, and the conflict between two very different people with very different desires forced to share one body, one life, is beautiful and painful to witness. This aspect alone is enough to make What’s Left of Me compelling, but a book is never one thing: Animal Farm is not a story solely about talking Animals, and The Hunger Games is not only a story about a girl who’s a decent shot with a bow falling for a baker. Great books are the product of many pieces falling into place cohesively. What’s Left Of Me was like a jigsaw with matching shapes, but not colours.

When we talk of series – and What’s Left Of Me is planned as a trilogy, I believe – it’s not uncommon to hear the term ‘Middle Book Syndrome’ referring to a slump mid-series, or a book two which serves as little more than filler. What’s Left Of Me, being book one, does not have this problem, but ‘Middle Of The Book Syndrome’ may be a more appropriate term. A shocking change in scenery mid-book lends the book a very different – and far darker – tone than that with which it starts, but it also trips pacing. It’s worth noting What’s Left Of Me is very much a character-driven story, but its contemplative tone has moments teetering dangerously close to dull in what should be the novel’s most tense moments.

While What’s Left Of Me is not without its flaws, it remains a lovely story. Quiet, meditative, heavy with stifling oppression, it offers moments of extraordinary insight. Reflecting on what we leave behind as we turn from youth to adulthood – in the case of this world something profound and tangible – What’s Left of Me serves as powerful allegory for the sacrifice of self, of youth, of the self-imposed requirement to conform we each battle.

The Verdict:

Filled with achingly beautiful moments of contemplation, and a dystopian side so oppressive, suffocating and cruel in its subtleties and familiarities it’s crushing, What’s Left Of Me is a wonderfully unique story. The concept is extraordinary, and the interplay, the push and pull, the balance between Addie and Eva is compelling and beautiful and heartbreaking. At its worst, it dances close by the boundary of boring, but at its best? It’s breathtaking. I liked What’s Left Of Me. A compelling start to a very promising series.

Books in This Series:

  • What's Left Of Me (2012)

  • As yet unamed sequel (Expected 2013)

Want it? Get it:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Bookworld (ex-Borders) | Dymocks | QBD
An enormous thank you to Harper Collins Australia for providing a review copy of What's Left Of Me by Kat Zhang

Monday, November 19, 2012

Blogspiration (45): Is It OK To Be Left Handed?

Blogspiration is a weekly meme hosted by GrowingUp YA & Saz101. The meme was created to help spark inspiration among bloggers, readers & writers alike. An inspirational quote/picture/video is posted weekly, on the day of the author's choosing, so that it may inspire creativity, conversation & just a little SOMETHING.


Is it OK to be left handed? Think about it. I think this video kind of speaks for itself. Such a powerful message.
More on Blogspiration and Linky sign-up below the jump!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Libba Bray Q&A - The Diviners Australian Blog Tour

Those who read my gushing review of The Diviners by Libba Bray already know how I feel, but when I was asked a few weeks ago if I'd like to participate in the Australian blog tour, I leaped, skipped, and hopped at the chance. The Diviners was extraordinary, and if you're not familiar with Libba already, you're about to find out just how extraordinary she is, also...

Libba Bray Q&A -- The DivinersFirst-up, I just want to say wow – The Diviners is nothing short of spectacular. Could you tell us a little about how the idea was born? I like the idea that you’re a time-travelling, smart-mouthed, super-powered ‘Sheba’, and it’s autobiographical, but my history teacher always told me to check my sources...

LB: You know what? I like you. I just decided. (And thanks for the lovely compliment.)

Ah, the, “Where did you get the idea for this?” question. Hmmmm... You know, Sarah, sometimes I read interviews with other authors where they tell the captivating stories of how their novels came to be born—dreams, a sentence written in sand, a sad clown glimpsed from a bus window (Why does he cry? Is he French? Does he own a dogwho hates him?) I read these accounts in awe and jealousy as I shake my tiny fists to the indifferent novel gods who never grant me clowns glimpsed from bus windows, and I shed a single tear and seethe with novel-idea-origin envy.


The boring truth is that the idea for this came to me, as is usually the case at my house, over a longer stretch of time—no thunderclap moment. I have long been a fan of all things supernatural and horror (see my answer to your brilliant #3 question) as well as long-form storytelling: comics, twisty TV series, book series. And I am particularly a fan of TV shows like “X-Files,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Dr. Who,” and “Firefly” in which there are spooky episodes atop longer, more political/existential story arcs. I really wanted to play in that sandbox. And so, about four years ago or so, I started thinking about all of the things I enjoy reading/watching and thought, well, hell’s bells, why not have fun and try my hand at that myself? Essentially, Sarah, I am being incredibly selfish by making a big Cobb Salad of all of the things which interest me: history, politics, serial killers, New York City, religious/ethical quandaries, the American mythos, identity, class and race politics, the XL Creepy, literature, music, dancing, witty banter, and people wearing outrageous clothes, possibly adorned with feathers. But with ritual murder and ghosts and cornfields. You know, like you do.

So, #1 is that I’m selfish. #2 is that, apparently, there is a lot thatinterests me, most of it creepy. #3 is that I have always been fascinated by the 1920s—I started reading Dorothy Parker at an impressionable age and The Great Gatsby also made quite the impression on me as a teenager. And #4 is that I really wanted to find a way to write about post-9/11 America, and I wasn’t sure how to go about that, how to explore all of the disquiet I felt about the nation we seemed to have become in pursuit of “justice” and “homeland security.” I started doing some preliminary research and I began to see some rather uncomfortable parallels between the America of the 1920s and post-9/11 America, and that was when the idea really started taking shape in my head.

That’s the origin story of The Diviners. Which is not nearly as captivating as saying, Oh, well, Margo Lanagan asked me, “Hey, Libba, how well can you take a punch?” and when I came to five days later, I had all four books sketched out in my head.

You know, I think I kind of like the Fact version every bit as much the fiction.
The extraordinary amount of research it must have taken aside, The Diviners doesn't seem like the kind of book that just 'happened'. It’s a Big Book, and not just in size – we're talking a sprawling sumptuous feast of a thing with Big Ideas and characters and vision. Was ‘Big’ the goal, or did it grow kind of organically?

LB: Well, Sarah, I do hail originally from Texas, the “Bigger” state. Really, you should’ve seen my hair in the ‘80s. It has been noted by many, many exhausted readers that I tend to, um, run on a bit. Seriously, how much

space have you allotted to this interview? You could be posting this in installments is what I’m saying here.

I knew it would be a sprawling thing as there was so much I wanted to explore. And of course, the story always changes in the writing of it. Story is a slippery fish—or at least, it is for me. But yeah, I knew going in that I was making a big, big commitment. The only thing to do was to tell my editor, Alvina Ling, that I was sorry and bake her cake. Lots and lots of cake.

Talking of big books, I’ve been seeing a few comparisons to Stephen King. I can see why: The Diviners is seriously creepy. I’m not quite sure whether to call it Horror, but there are certainly touches – what drew you to ‘horror’ and a ghost story?

LB: I have always been a horror reader. In fact, other than cute talking animals, that was my first love and my genre of choice. I read horror comics, watched Hammer horror films, “Dark Shadows,” “Kolchak the Night Stalker,” read Poe, Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t interested in scary things. Wait…why are you moving away from me? * pats bench * Sit here, Sarah. Let’s be friends. I got you a heart in a box. Look, it’s still beating…

I think I was drawn to horror at a young age because I was an anxious kid. A Kid Who Asks Lots of Questions. A Kid Who Wonders About Everything. I think I was a kid who was tuned in to the repressed and unspoken of the adult world; hence, the anxiety. I think that for a lot of anxious kids, being told that everything’s fine when they can sense that it absolutely is NOT fine only intensifies their anxiety because then they learn not to trust their inner compasses. Those feelings need an outlet. Enter horror, which is, curiously, reassuring: Oh, there really IS bad shit
out there. I’m NOT crazy. Whew! But rather than the free-form, ill-defined ennui and angst of the human condition, the fear that no one’s in charge, everything we believe might turn out to be advertising slogans, and we’re all one food shortage away from tearing each other apart, there’s a freaking monster or ghost or beastie that you can see and fight—a defined BAD THING. You can find the spell that banishes the evil spirit, drive the stake into the vampire’s heart, shoot a silver bullet at the werewolf, and perform the various exorcisms to rid you of whatever that monster-as- metaphor is. (Note: This is not true of all horror. There is plenty of Ill-Defined Bad Thing Horror. I’m saying that as a kid, I found reading about/watching monsters to be comforting in some sense.)

But I also found certain things that my country was doing in the name of “freedom” and “security” to be a sort of horror story, to be honest. The illegal wiretapping, the appeal to nationalism and nativism, the endless wars, the pictures and stories out of Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, taking a national tragedy and turning it into t-shirts and commemorative cups and key chains... I mean, Jesus. That’s pretty horrific to me.

You’re known for genre hopping, and wildly different eras, but why the 1920’s? (Also: 1920’s! I have a new number one time travel destination).

LB: The 1920s are so theatrical, aren’t they? At times as I did the research, I had the feeling that I was watching a play: the slang, the fashion, the parties, the corruption, the organized crime, jazz and bathtub gin, the ambition and greed, Gershwin, Ellington, Dorothy Parker, Zelda Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, the New Yorker, flappers, chorus girls, the Harlem Renaissance and some of the best American writing/art/music, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois, Rudolph Valentino, the movie palaces... It was wild! They don’t call ‘em the “roaring 20s” for nothin’. And, of course, inherent in this wild party is the knowledge that it’s all running up to a huge fall. When the party ends in 1929, it ends very badly. So there’s a ticking clock on it all.

If you do decide to time travel to the 1920s, just be sure to pack your own gin.

(*Cuddles pretty blue bottle* I knew I'd been saving this for something...)
It’s hard not to call Evie the star of the show, but I felt the book had two ‘main’ characters, Memphis Johnson being the second. He’s a ‘number runner’, essentially carrying illegal lottery numbers across the city for his boss. Could you tell us a little about this? Was this a real thing in 1920’s era New York?

LB:  I’d love to tell you about that—especially because the book I used on numbers running was written by Aussies! The book is called PLAYING THE NUMBERS: Gambling in Harlem between the Wars by Shane White, Stephen Garton, Dr. Stephen Robertson, and Graham White.

I found out about the book because I was reading a history blog called Digital Harlem, which is run by Dr. Robertson. It turned out that he was coming to New York City to give a lecture on the book at Columbia University. I trundled uptown to hear him talk (and to buy his book, of course), and he was great. He said that since most financial institutions were closed to African-Americans and it was hard to get loans, etc., many in the Harlem community saw numbers running not as gambling but as playing their own version of the stock market. It was also a black-owned, black-run business venture, and many of the runners and bankers were women. My favorite stories were about one of the bankers, or “Queens”—a woman named Stephanie St. Clair.

Can you give us any hints on what to expect from book two? I, for one, am dying to find out more about the Man in the Stovepipe Hat (who what is he?!) – can we expect answers?

LB:   You can expect more pages. Probably odd punctuation. And “Diviners 2” somewhere on the title page. ;-) I kid. I can tell you that there is a character, a Diviner, who makes a brief appearance in the first DIVINERS, and she takes a much more central role in the second book as does Henry. We learn a bit more about Project Buffalo and The Man in the Stovepipe Hat, or Mr. Fun Times, as I call him. Of course, this could all change and I could end up giving you an armadillo musical in the middle of the book. It could happen. Don’t get too comfortable, Sarah.

Last one: Congratulations! You’re a Diviner. You should be proud. Just... don’t tell anyone (except us). What’s your special talent?

LB:   Procrastination.

A HUGE thanks to Libba for her time, for The Diviners, and, well, for being her awesome self. If you love her, why not use the links above and let her know? You can find Libba on:
GoodreadsWebsite  |  Blog  | Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Tumblr

Blogspiration (44): Of Blood and Angels and Heartbreak and...

Blogspiration is a weekly meme hosted by GrowingUp YA & Saz101. The meme was created to help spark inspiration among bloggers, readers & writers alike. An inspirational quote/picture/video is posted weekly, on the day of the author's choosing, so that it may inspire creativity, conversation & just a little SOMETHING.


Days of Blood and Starlight Quote

Aaaaand I'm in love all over again.

More on Blogspiration and Linky sign-up below the jump!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Don't Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble

Don't Let Me Go by J.H. TrumbleTitle: Don't Let Me Go
Author: J.H. Trumble (author website | blog)
Release Date: Dec. 27th 2011 by Kensington Publishing
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 starhalf star

From Goodreads:
Some people spend their whole lives looking for the right partner. Nate Schaper found his in high school. In the eight months since their cautious flirting became a real, heart-pounding, tell-the-parents relationship, Nate and Adam have been inseparable. Even when local kids take their homophobia to brutal levels, Nate is undaunted. He and Adam are rock solid. Two parts of a whole. Yin and yang.

But when Adam graduates and takes an off-Broadway job in New York--at Nate's insistence--that certainty begins to flicker. Nate's friends can't keep his insecurities at bay, especially when he catches Skyped glimpses of Adam's shirtless roommate. Nate starts a blog to vent his frustrations and becomes the center of a school controversy, drawing ire and support in equal amounts. But it's the attention of a new boy who is looking for more than guidance that forces him to confront who and what he really wants.Tender, thoughtful, and unflinchingly real, Don't Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble is a witty and beautifully written account of young love, long-distance relationships, and learning to follow your heart.

Love. It’s romanticised, mythologised – frequently sanitised – and at its most beautiful, its most pure, there is no single greater force for good in this world. Yet soured or corrupted, or viewed from aside with a poisoned heart, the hatred it incites is perhaps the most destructive, and it is this – love and hate, and the price of both – that Don’t Let Me Go examines – in often heartbreaking extremes.

It’s a basic right, particularly in the Western world, that we may love who we choose, or, should the adage prove true, who our hearts decide we must. Yet many who take this simple freedom granted for themselves do not believe it a right, but a privilege, one earned by merit of religion, the colour of one’s skin, position, or gender.

We meet Nate, our narrator, and Adam, the Juliet to his Romeo – or vice versa – on page one, which also happens to be the middle of their story. Through a series of flashbacks, Trumble shows the couple’s past and present: sweet romance and horrifying brutality in parallels to a present of petty fights and bickering, of distance which renders hearts strangers, not stronger in their affections. Yet to talk of Don’t Let Me Go in context of romance or of ethical allegory alone is to do it an injustice, for it is so much more than each, or either.

It's a story of extremes, of shining love and blackest hate, of marginalization and bullying, and about a gay teen dealing with a world who views him as a thing which must be ‘dealt with’, rather than a boy with feelings and a beating, hurting heart. Concerned as it is with hate and homophobia (though I suppose the two are, truly, synonymous), it is far more than a simple parable. Dealing with the broader meaning of love than romance alone, family, friendship, and, above all, finding oneself, Trumble handles her characters with sensitivity, warmth and humour. The story’s heartache is balanced with joy, and a love story so tender and pure in its honesty, its messiness, its good and bad, it’s intoxicating. Don’t Let Me Go a ‘feeling’ book, an emotional one, one driven very much by its vividly real characters.

The cast of Don’t Let Me Go is varied and disparate, and amongst its friends and families and heroes, is a love so beautiful and fierce it is humbling to witness. Yet none of them are perfect. Some are certainly more so than others – Adam’s family, Nate’s grandmother, the lovely Juliet and hilarious Daniel Quasimi among them. Others are profoundly flawed, with Nate – broken, combative, and self-destructive – winning that race by a country mile. Nate is not always easy to like. He makes impulsive, foolish decisions, acts in anger and hurts those who love him most. Yet there’s a painful authenticity to his actions, and Trumble doesn’t make excuses for her characters, showing them simply as they are: human. Despite his failings, readers will find in Nate a sympathetic hero, even more so as his story and history unfolds in heartbreaking clarity.

Four hundred years ago Shakespeare penned his now famous maxim on the path of love and, while comic in context, it rings, loudly, true in Don’t Let Me Go. Marrying (500) Days of Summer and Hannah Harrington's Speechless with the raw emotional authenticity of Brigid Kemmerer's Elemental series, Don’t Let Me Go is a powerful story with a profound message.

Don’t Let Me Go starts with goodbyes, and ends with hope, with promise of a future just beyond a not-so-distant horizon. It’s not possible to take the journey through this tale without seeing horrifying truths and the blackest sides of humanity, but, ultimately, it is ‘much to do with hate but more with love,’ and it is this – love – which makes it such a powerful story. Interwoven with a deep appreciation of music, a warm sense of humour, and profound understanding of how much our world needs books such as this, and needs to have such conversations, Don’t Let Me Go is a gem – one uncut and unpolished, authentic and untainted, and immeasurably precious.

I sometimes wish simply saying 'read this book’ were enough – because this book has something very important to say, and to teach, and it's also (when it's not utterly heartbreaking) an absolute joy to read. So perhaps I'll say it anyway, if I may: Read this book. And love. Above all things, in all things, love.

Buy Don't Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble On...

Amazon | Book Depository | Booktopia | Dymocks | QBD

Monday, November 5, 2012

Blogspiration (43): What A Wonderful World

Blogspiration is a weekly meme hosted by GrowingUp YA & Saz101. The meme was created to help spark inspiration among bloggers, readers & writers alike. An inspirational quote/picture/video is posted weekly, on the day of the author's choosing, so that it may inspire creativity, conversation & just a little SOMETHING.

So sorry for the lateness this week, guys. It's been very busy, what with a certain young whippersnapper turning 24 in less than a month, and having a very important list of 23 things to cross off beforehand, and to those of you who didn't know: apparently chocolate pie is a thing. Huh. Who'd have thunk it?

ANYWAY. What A Wonderful World always makes me a little sappy, but David Attenborough reading the lyrics to What A Wonderful World as he says goodbye to decades of making the most spectacular, breathtaking documentaries I've ever had the pleasure to see? Wow, well, that's something else.

More on Blogspiration and Linky sign-up below the jump!


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