Thursday, September 16, 2010

Out with the old....

So I have a new blog. One that I *actually* intend to follow this time!

If you are interested in what I've been reading, please go check out

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Review - Corey Doctorow - Little Brother

Little Brother is a book that I cannot recommend highly enough. Whether you are a geek that wants a book where you get the in jokes, a non-geek who wants to understand geeks, or anyone at all that wants a book that will make them really think about the way the world works, then this book is extremely excellent.

This book was especially powerful for me because I went into it not knowing what to expect. I highly encourage you to do the same, and if you would like to do so now you can actually obtain a legitimate free copy at Or if you would like to know more, read on.

Instead of being just a book about a bunch of kids running around being awesome, Little Brother is actually an incredibly well constructed story about censorship and terrorism. These aren't really issues that YA, or really any fiction I can think of, usually deal with, yet they are dealt with in this book so elegantly that it really makes you see how these issues relate to your everyday life, and why they are important to consider.

I think that the message of this book is so poweful for two reasons. Firstly, it is so very plausable. The book is set in a time that is in the very near future, perhaps as close as next year, where there are only slight changes to the way things are now, better smartcards and a new xbox for example. Any of the changes he made are so small, and more importantly logically consistent, that you can see how they are not just possible, but likely. This is one of the things that makes some of the bad things that happen in the book utterly terrifying. The other reason is that it is happening to normal people. A main theme of the book is that it's not just 'those with something to hide' that need to worry, but that issues like this can affect even the most nomal and well behaved citerzins.

The novel is not just a dry paranoid tome about how the government hates us all. It is very focussed on people, and the way they react to things, and the serious aspects aside, it is also very fun to read for the excellent geek subculture that the book also expolores. It's actually quite a light and easy read despite the issues it deals with - I just recommend you are somewhere where you can concentrate for the first few chapaters.

Feel free to comment and let me know what you think!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Just incase you happen to be reading...

... and are wondering what happened to 'next week's' post of over a year ago, Real Life(TM) has somewhat interfered with the running of this blog. For the curious, this mostly consisted of full time jobs, angst, and a very serious car accident. Recently however, circumstances have conspired to make me reconsider what is important in life, and I have realised this blog is something that I very much want to continue.

To keep you going until I decide which awesome book I'd like to review next, I thought I'd share the top three reasons I love writing reviews.

1. I love to share.

Many of the fantastic books that I've read I would never have experienced if someone didn't give them to me and tell me I had to read them. Sharing these books with as many people as possible is the best way I can think of returning the favour.

2. I like to know how things work.

When I read to review I pay so much more attention to what I'm reading. I think about what works and what doesn't, why the author is doing particular things, and if it's something I could be doing in my own work.

3. I am completely obsessed with 'the message.'

And I suspect this comes across a lot in my review. Books are such a powerful medium, especially YA which guides many of us in some of the most personality forming parts of our lives. And I'm not just talking about as teenagers. Even as a grown up, I turn to books when I am struggling with a particular issue in my head, or just to help reassure mysself that I'm on the right path.

So however you stumbled accross this page, I encourage you to stick around and read some of the reviews I will be posting over the next few weeks. I promise that it will be worth it, if not for my reviews, just because I know some books that you absolutely HAVE to read...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Trashy Teen Fic Review - Vampre Beach: Bloodlust and Gossip Girl

Teen fiction has a bad rep. When some people think of teen fiction they think of the Sweet Valley High style romances. They think of the trashy "I have to find a boyfriend and look perfect and manage my mazillion friends" kind of books. Usually, I just try point people towards the masses of really awesome teen fiction out there, but this week i was feeling a little ambitious. I challenged myself to read the trashiest teen fiction I could find, and try and find some merit in it.

The first book that I read was Vampire Beach: Bloodlust. The premise of the book is that there are a group of rich spoilt kids in Malibu, and most of them are actually vampires. The premise alone was enough to make me think "TRASH!" but I really wanted to give it a chance. After all - who doesn't love vampires? Unfortunately, my instincts were right. The book is terrible. Jason is new to town, and quickly adapts to his peers world of underage drinking and casual sex. At least Jason and his sister seem to have a slightly higher moral standard then the rest of the characters, Jason is really too busy obsessing over the girlfriend of one of his friends to sleep around much. Sometime around chapter 10 it's revealed that everyone are actually vampires, and this revelation didn't really change much. It just became drinking and sex with a murder mystery. The vampires were actually the most believable element of the whole novel, the rest of the novel felt like the fake hollywood lifestyle it was portraying - none of the characters had any real emotions beyond the scope of their stereotypes.

From a writing point of view, Gossip Girl, was slightly better. I choose this as my second attempt to find a 'not crap' traditional teen fic book because I've seen an episode of the tv show, and it seemed much better than the others of it's genre. The book is again about a group of super rich kids, this time in New York. It starts with a bit of a mislead, with the character Blair musing about her homelife and her parents, but the book, like Blair's life, is soon taken over by the rising starlet Serena who returns to the upperclass society from several years away at boarding school. Blair resents Serena for neglecting their friendship, and sets about snubbing her in the way only rich society girls can - leaving Serena feeling extemely lost, confused and out of place in the upperclass world she grew up in. This set-up was enough to keep me interested in the book for quite a while, but ultimate this book got to me too. Like Bloodlust, this book also seems to advocate the idea that teenagers don't really think about anything other than drinking and sex. I feel really really sorry for them if it's true. The book probably has good things to say on the importance of friendship etc, but I just couldn't get to them through all the melodrama. The series must be doing something right though, because there are eleven books and a tv-show to date.

The only good thing that I can see for these books is that at least they would get teens reading. They both had the same kind of sensationalist plots, and easy to read, if quite repetitive, style. They both had plenty of sex and alcohol and intrigue. It's not what i am interested in reading about, but obviously it appeals to someone

Stay tuned next week for an example of teen fic doing it right, with Simone Howell's Notes on a Teenage Underground.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Review: Barry Lyga - The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy ane Goth Girl

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl is a book that I was either going to love or hate. It's a book about two subcultures that are very close to my heart, yet are often abused in popular media. When I first saw this book, I was scared it was going to be just another gimmick. Fortunately, Barry Lyga is a true fanboy at heart, and between this and his spectacular grasp of the craft of writing, it turned out to be one of the best books that I've read this year.

I'll be one of the first to admit that I'm slightly biased in that regard. As a comic/gaming/reading geek, who is surrounded by other geeks, there was a lot in the book that appealed to me. I got all the references and the in jokes, and felt a special sense of fear and anticipation as to whether the main character was going to acheive one of his major story goals, meeting Brian Micheal Bendis, one of the biggest names in comics. I actually found myself holding my breath for pages at a time leading up to this momentus event. While non-geeks may not get the significance of this, the book is well crafted enough that you would at least understand that it was important to the main character. Lyga was very clever about showing right from the start how important it was by having him checking the website daily to see if Bendis would still be attending the convention. And of cource, various challanges happened along the way that threatened the meeting, really creating high stakes for the character, and drawing you into the book.

You may wonder why I haven't actually introduced the main character yet. There is a reason for that, he remains nameless throughout the book. According to the author, he is called by his name once, but I didn't catch it on my first read though. It makes sense though, as it is 'Fanboy' who is narrating, and what cause would he have for telling us his own name? i don't think i really ever thought about the absesnse until I read an interview with Lyga which brought up the question. He states that it's because fanboy doens't like his name very much, and so he doesn't really use it. If you want to read things into that, it could be a statement on how he doesn't like himself. He doens't refer to either his step-dad or Kyra (goth girl) by name until he gets over his initial dislike for them, but his changing perceptions of them are reflected through the way he refers to them. This is one of the advantages of the really close first person point of view.

Another, is that as a reader we are presented with information that fanboy sees and his interpretation of it, but are still free to make our own minds up. Things are not always as fanboy sees them, and we there are some quite obvious hints about the way things really are that he manages to miss. For example, Kyra has a different car every time we see her, and while she always has an excuse, the intellegent reader starts to question them after a while - even though fanboy never does.

The disadvantage, is that sometimes things don't get as much attention as they deserve. Fanboy's best friend Cal is one that I have a lot of empathy for. He is one of the few black kids in a predominately white school, he is into comics, but he is also into sports and hangs out with the jocks. He is one of the popular kids, but the only person he is really himself with is fanboy, who of cource doesn't see the challanges that are faced by Cal only that his best friend sometimes snobs him off for the same kids that bully him. I understand why fanboy is pissed, but I feel for Cal as well, and I'd really like to know more about his motivations. We get a bit of a glimpse into his world towards the end of the book, and I do feel that I have a fairly good understanding of the character, but it would be interesting to hear more about him.

It's taken me a while to get up to "goth girl", but I don't mind too much because so does the book. It may be titled "The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl", but it's really about the adventures of fanboy, and how he is changed by his meeting with goth girl. I really didn't like Kyra at first. She was everything a bad goth stereotype should be, and i can totally understand why people think they hate goths. As fanboy, and therefore the reader, gets to learn more about Kyra, we start to see why she acts the way she does. We learn to understand that she is a pretty messed up little girl, and care more about the pain that she is in then what what a pain in the arse she is. While I'm still waiting for a book that shows goths like the happy fun people I know, I think that Kyra is still a very important character because she allows people to feel empathy for those that will go to great lengths to push them away.

This book deals with some really important themes: mostly self-confidence, friends, and following your dreams, with a liberal does of family, girls and bullies thrown in for good measure. It's one of those books that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone - but especially to geeks, to teenagers, or to those that want a better understanding of either

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Review: Judith Clarke - Night Train

Nightrain, by Judith Clarke, is one of the of the saddest and most depressing books I've ever read - but I still love itv I'm yet to find anything else that talks so openly and honestly about how hard life can really be. The book beings with the funeral of the protagonist, Luke, as told from the point of view of his two sisters: Naomi, 5, and Molly, 16. Naomi's account especially draws you emotionally in the story from the beginning.

We see that Luke is troubled from the onset, skipping school, expelled twice, failing all his subjects, Luke appears from the outside to be your stereotypical 'troubled kid' who just doesn't care about anything. From the inside we see that Luke is troubled in a different way. He's having trouble managing everyday things, and is obviously struggling from undiagnosed depression.

The action of the book only takes place over a couple of days, as Luke struggles to try and finish an assignment for the one teacher who still has faith in him, and deal with the threat of being expelled from school. The book shows not only his problems, but also how everyone around him is affected by them. Luke's sisters, his mother, his girlfriend and his english teacher all have POV chapters, and we watch them struggle to understand Luke, and deal with the impact he has on their own lives.

The book is largely about confusion and lack of communication. Luke knows that something is wrong with him, but can't express it to anyone else. Similarly, the other characters know he is troubled, but everyone is at a loss for what to do about it.

The two people who stand out particularly strongly are Naomi, his sister, and Dan, his father. Naomi is an ideal viewpoint character because we all naturally have empathy for little kids, but no-one really talks about them. People tend to forget that kids are smarter than they look, and know more than they look, so Naomi's reactions to Luke's situation is particularly powerful. Through her telling we hear about how worried she get when Lukie doesn't come home, and how she has to close all the gates on their street - or something bad will happen to him.

Dan is noticeable for his absence for most of the book. Disappointed in his son's luck of progress during his second attempt at the HSC, Dan stops talking to or about his son. This bothers not only Luke, understandably, but also Margret - who is feeling completely out of control of both her children. Dan's viewpoint is similarly absent during most of the book - it's only at the end, when we get a glimpse of how things might just turn out ok, that he gets a chance to express himself too us - and we learn that he really does care about Luke, and tries to make things right.
The book draws you in by showing you the pain and suffering off all the characters, then gives you hope towards the end that everything will turn out ok. You know that it won't because the beginning of the book told you so, but it's a statement about the power of hope that you still want it to anyway. To me, this book has always been a hopeful book, despite the sad ending, because it's a sign that things often aren't as bad as they look - and that you better make the most of the them because you never know when they will be gone.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Review - Brian Caswell - Loop

Brian Caswell has two talents that a strongly admire; the ability to create characters that will capture your attention and emotions from the start, and the ability to subtly insert moral lessons in his work while still keeping it (mostly) lighthearted and entertaining. His latest anthology, Loop, contains a mix of both speculative fiction and realistic stories which are all examples of what makes Brian Caswell an important Australian author. The stories have an elegance and a simplicity about them, Caswell only ever tells you enough to allow you to develop a relationship with the characters, have a little fun, and explain the point of the story before ending it. He keeps the language basic as well, making the book accessible to readers of all ages.

The speculative fiction is actually the weak suit in this collection. While they all feature Caswell's special talent for making believable and sympathetic characters, the concepts of the stories are usually things that have been done before, sometimes even by Caswell himself. They show a different side of the story, or illustrate a point that others may not have thought of, but there is still really nothing new here. The stories are still well crafted and fun to read, just not as mind blowing as I have found some of his other short stories and novels.

The real life tales are where the volume becomes truley amazing. They show fear, courage, loyalty and determination, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources. One of the things that I like about Caswell's stories is that he sometimes chooses a surprising viewpoint character In November was the first story in the volume that really made me sit up and pay attention. It stuck an emotional cord with me because of the content, but it was also interesting from a style point of view. The story is told by a year 10 student, whose brother's best friend has gone missing just before the year 12 exams. Through her eyes we gain an understanding of not only why he acted the way he did, but also a little of her brother's motivations, and her own thoughts on how much more she appreciates just being a normal kid - without the pressure of everyone's expectations.

Truly, Madly, Deeply... also uses a viewpoint character who is not the hero. The story is about Nicole (good choice!) who is gutsy to the point of recklessness, but the story is told through her brother, who is somewhat of a wimp. We get to see and understand Nicole a bit better because of this distance, and the viewpoint character also tells his own story, quietly and modestly in the background..

The viewpoint character of Running the Majestic is very much the hero - albeit an unlikely one. Poor, honest and hardworking, the protagonist is a character with simple tastes. He is really passionate about movies, and charms you from the start with his candid observations of the things people do in cinemas that drive everyone else insane. It's a classic short story, only long enough to give you all the information you need before it finishes, but it has such a nice message. It's probably my favorite story from the volume.

The other story that could contend for favorite status is Under the circumstances. This story makes me cry; I get teary every time I read it. I won't go into it too much, it's the kind of thing you need to read for yourself, but it's truly an example of how Caswell can get you emotionally involved with his characters, and then encourage you to learn from their experiences.

This book will appeal to a variety of readers: for those who want to analysis it, it provides a good example of style, tone, characterization and message for YA; and for those that just want to read it, it will take you on many short, fun and inspiring adventures. YOUR WEBLOG NAME HERE