Monday, 31 August 2009

Review - The Agency: A Spy in the House / YS Lee

Summary - This is a colourful, action-packed Victorian detective novel centred around the exploits of 'agent' Mary Quinn. At a young age, Mary is rescued from the gallows by a woman masquerading as a prison warden. She is taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. The school, Mary learns, is a front for a private investigation agency and, at 17, she is taken on as an agent. In her new role she is catapulted into the family home of the Thorolds to investigate the shady business dealings of Mr Thorold.

Review - Mary Lang is a character that is hard to get a hold of both literally and figuratively. She’s sitting on a secret that she’s never deluged to anyone, she’s working undercover for The Agency and she’s surrounded by individual with suspicious motives all around her. Most fascinating is that this is a life she has chosen for herself - one that she’s trained for and embraced. Lee’s presented the audience with a captivating glimpse at what may have been possible for young girls during the nineteenth century.

Set in the 1850s London the reader is presented with a unique predicament as the Thames befouled the city with a hideous odour. The summer heat combined with the many noxious things (human waste, dead animals, etc) dumped in the Thames River created the Great Stink, a facet of British history most people would be unfamiliar with.

Mary has been placed in the Thorold household as a means of discovering a link between many ships lost and a family’s wealth. It provides an interesting perspective on an orphaned girl’s situation of the time as well as the social politics that ruled every action. The introduction of James Easton brings fun to the seriousness of the investigation. They spark off each other wonderfully, the quips come hard and fast and it’s easy to feel the attachment they unintentionally feel for one another.

At times the procedural nature can slow the evolution of the plot down though anytime the protagonist speaks rectifies this situation. As this is the first in a series, further explanations on the running of The Agency and it’s end goals are probably still to come, as is information on Mary’s ancestry. Lee’s created a vivid world of intrigue, gender constraints, romance and some wonderful dialogue. While the balance of all the themes isn’t perfect, it does make a rip roaring read and the sequel is sure to be much anticipated.!

Published: June 2009
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
Publisher: Walker Books Australia
Origin: Canada
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Friday, 28 August 2009

Review - Once A Witch / Carolyn MacCullough

Summary - Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and she was supposed to be one of the most Talented among them. But Tamsin's magic never showed up. Now seventeen, Tamsin attends boarding school in Manhattan, far from her family. But when a handsome young professor mistakes her for her very Talented sister, Tamsin agrees to find a lost family heirloom for him. The search—and the stranger—will prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the sins of her family, and unleash a power so vengeful that it could destroy them all. This is a spellbinding display of storytelling that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant.

Review - The premise of this novel grabbed me a few months back when it started popping up on everyone’s Waiting on Wednesday posts. The idea of coming from a successful witch family and not being bequeathed a Talent is a fact of life we can relate to whether is looking different, lacking a family ability or just being different. Of course this witch, Tamsin, who is initially established as a thoroughly “ordinary” (aka wears jeans and has a clumsy streak) isn’t powerless for long and it’s this development that disappointed me no end. A study of a family where one child is without the generational power could have been a complex and thought provoking read. Instead, we are handed the all too common power struggle between two warring supernatural families where our protagonist has the power to affect who wins.

More concerning is Tamsin’s power once it manifests or should I say re-surfaces. It’s remarkably like Bella’s “shield” in the Twilight series, with elements of Peter’s power acquisitions (Heroes). It’s simply been done before, and recently. The areas of the plot that are more involving, that of the family interactions and the notion of the Keeper, aren’t explored in enough to outweigh the two dimensional aspects. Any element of the novel that involved the family was stronger for it. Although anytime time travel is brought into a story there are numerous issues - time travel quite often is an author or screenwriter’s worst enemy. Clarity is lost and while meeting one’s relatives is exciting there are questions that are bond to arise.

The romance is one of those where the guy (Gabriel) has loved her since they were children. He’s come back after a decade away and immediately starts with some pouting, innuendo and then finally romancing Tamsin. The development of this relationship was far too automatic to allow the reader to have a stake in it other than knowing that Gabriel is aesthetically pleasing. It’s fun filler.

No doubt the critical nature of this review implies that this novel isn’t good. It’s not the case, it was a fun read with good use of conflict and family melodrama. You can’t help but wonder if another hundred pages would have allowed the author to flesh out all the characters so that the reader’s attachment could be more than superficial. MacCullough has a great voice for YA and some great snappy dialogue; it’s just that Once A Witch could have been so much more.

Published: September 14 2009
Format: Paperback (ARC), 272 pages
Published: Clarion Books
Origin: USA
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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Review - The Poison Throne / Celine Kiernan

Summary - Wynter returns from a five-year exile in the bleak Northlands to find her beloved homeland in turmoil. King Jonathan's civilised, multicultural realm is no more; the gibbets and cages have returned. Days of laughter, friendly ghosts and gossipy cats remain only in Wynter's memory - the present confronts her with power play, dark torture chambers, violent ghosts, and cats (those still alive) too scared to talk to humans. The Inquisition is a real and present danger.

Crown Prince Alberon is missing. There are murmurings of a 'Bloody Machine' of untold destructive power. And as Wynter and her friends, Prince Razi and the mysterious Christopher Garron, seek to restore stability to the fragile kingdom, risking death at every turn, Wynter is forced to make a terrible choice.

Set in a fantastical medieval Europe, this is the first book in a compelling trilogy of court intrigue, adventure and romance. It draws the reader in from the very first sentence and doesn't loosen its grip until the last.

Review - The Poison Throne immediately took me back to those fond years when I discovered book detailing the adventures of a lady knight named Alanna. In no way does this mean that Kiernan has borrowed from Pierce, instead it’s about girls in fictional medieval settings trying to buck gender conformities. In the case of our heroine, Wynter, she has the support of her father and we meet her after her considerable carpentry training. Her father, Lorcan, was a master in engineering and design as well as a good friend to the king and as such has been entitled, Lord Proctor.

We join this family of two as they return to the castle after a three year sojourn north. Quickly they realise that all is not well with the kingdom, the cats have stopped talking, people are whisked away and tortured and the heir has been disinherited. The king’s bastard son, Rezi, is to be the new heir and he’s extremely reluctant as he’s loyal to his brother. If Rezi is reluctant then the kingdom is livid - they don’t want an Arab (via Rezi’s mother) as their future ruler. The king is a brute. The heir would rather be a doctor. Lorcan's dying. Wynter’s confused, upset and conflicted and there’s a new guy too - the slippery and charming Christopher.

Featuring some of the most beautiful cover art of the year, The Poison Throne, has a lot going for it. Rich writing, fully formed characters, political intrigue, secret passages, ghosts and horrific torture. Kiernan’s work is amazingly detailed and absorbing, a wonderful debut effort from this Irish author. She has effectively weaved a whole host of characters that aggressively pursue their own goals. The world building is also beautifully achieved with the societal structure, political agendas and even the layout of the castle vividly detailed.

There is a strong relationship depicted between Lorcan and his daughter, he is a widow who is inordinately proud and supportive of Wynter’s achievements. There love is the heart of this novel. Wynter’s relationship with Rezi is a little more complex, each regard the other as their sibling but the nature of that tie is continually altered throughout the novel. This is the one element that frustrated me, Rezi’s love for the family means he also needs to keep them at arm’s length. His constant to-ing and fro-ing between fierce care and removal was focused on a little too much, though I empathise with the character’s predicament. It’s through Rezi and his best friend, Christopher, that we get the lion’s share of action - sword play, fist fights and beatings. However, it’s with Christopher that the romantic interplay begins. Christopher is a man of mystery (complete with missing middle fingers) who also has a way with the ladies yet, Wynter and he manage to establish a sweet link that is based on what is not said between them.

The Poison Throne is a book full of possibilities. With such a strong start, it is exciting to anticipate the second title in this series. Questions are asked, characters are spread across the lands and the royal family is still an absolute mess. Celine Kiernan has debuted with a bang!!

Published - September 2009
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Origin: Ireland
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Extract of book

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Review - The Ask and the Answer / Patrick Ness

Summary - We were in the square, in the square where I'd run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her - But there weren't no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men...Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor's new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode...

Review - This novel takes off with the speed of NASA spacecraft; the events of the previous title are picked up and tossed over the very able shoulders of Todd and Viola. Having successfully taken over Haven (now New Prentisstown), the noxious President Prentiss has decided to use our two industrious kids to further his political gain with those on the planet and those soon to arrive.

The Ask and the Answer proves that the second title in a trilogy can be a strong one, surpassing the first title in my eyes. The pace is thrilling, the events are breathtaking and the character development is supreme. As the opponents and supporters of Prentiss’ evil plans swell in numbers, it’s less of a good versus evil conflict but more about what one might do to retain a hold on their own morals, identity and life. What happens in New Prentisstown can be read on many levels but the political edge of this novel made this a fascinating read. The Answer, New Prentisstown’s guerrilla movement, could be seen as the French Resistance of this world with Prentiss himself treading the line between genuine horror and charm as the self-determined leader of the planet.

Viola and Todd are immediately separated as the events of The Knife of Never Letting Go take effect. Viola is whisked away to recover while Todd is held captive as he’s the one preventing citizens of Prentisstown (the original) from being whole. Ness has changed this novel up, having the perspective jump between Viola and Todd and it works fantastically. Their allegiance to one another allows the President to work each of them like puppets. While Todd survives by turning in on himself and taking on more responsibility with the Spackles, Viola is left anchorless, watching another tussle for control of the planet through less-than-noble means.

This book has many moments that are genuinely discomforting and horrifying - whether the annihilation of captives, the banding of citizens or the physical and psychological torture inflicted under the dictator’s control. Ness has a great way of making the page and its characters come alive through clear language and the deeper character study that is undertaken makes the world all the more richer. That being said there is a certain repetitiveness, perhaps as I have read both titles uninterrupted. Todd and Viola continue to take turns rescuing one another, calling out each other’s names and stupidly failing to realise they are being lied to over and over again (you would think they would catch on after the third time.) But the alternative perspectives ably assist in showing how different factions are dealing with occupation, assimilation and rebellion.

The Terminator-esque preacher has been done away with and as a result there is larger focus placed upon President Prentiss, his son and the depths people will plunge to in their need to live. The villains are all fantastically portrayed, not as evil incarnate (though that could be argued), but as individuals utter convinced they are doing what is best. Conviction makes the best kind of baddies and this novel has many to choose from. Of particular note, the relationship between Todd and Davy was one that evolved continually throughout the novel. Davy’s arc was one from two-dimensional villain to a friend by the end which boggles the mind and impresses the heck out of me. The characters, old and introduced, are what make this novel.

Terrorism, oppression and dishonesty are a large part of the narrative. Todd struggles to retain a sense of self while making his thoughts private as many take the cure for The Noise. Both Viola and Todd are seen as their self-appointed mentors as leaders and are regarded both respectfully and brutally in their “education” of those fighting for the survival of themselves and their ideals. This is what great dystopia should aim to be. An absolutely thought provoking, entrancing and thrilling read.!

Published: December 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover, 544 pages
Publisher: Walker Books Australia
Origin: USA
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Review - The Knife of Never Letting Go / Patrick Ness

Summary - Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town full of men, a town where everyone can hear your thoughts and Todd finds out he doesn't fit in with the town's plans as he approaches the birthday that will make him a man. The town has been keeping secrets from him. Secrets that are going to force hime to run...

Review - This much hyped and award winning novel sat on my shelf for a good long while before I got around to cracking open it's covers. Part of it was not wanting to be disappointed, part not wanting to get so sucked into a book where I wouldn't sleep until I finished reading. A hundred pages in and it was genuinely difficult to work out what all the fuss was about - I was confused, frustrated and just wanted the sodding plot to hurry up. Shortly after that, the fantastic premise finally hit it's stride and this reader was suckered in for the ride.

A combination of interesting dialects, a good old character building journey and the revelation of the town of Prentisstown make this an interesting read. However, it's the interplay between Todd and his newly found girl, Viola, that really sets this novel apart. Add a crazy but cool Mayor and a Terminator-esque ranting preacher-man and you have two of the best, Big Bads, that I have read in quite awhile.

Ness has created an highly complex reality for these characters and then wrapped it in clear, precise and memorable dialogue. The Noise is a devise that is used so wisely and written so cunningly that many aspects of the plot sneak up on you and then jackhammer your head in. The use of sexual politics is a fantastic one as the truth of Prentisstown isn't revealed until much later in Todd's story. Ness has brilliantly used Todd's unconventional education and illiteracy to counterpoint the excess of information available through The Noise to great effect. The Knife of Never Letting Go is a bloody, tense, captivating read that is sure to hold on tight and possibly shake your socks off.

Published: 2008
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Walker Books Australia
Origin: UK
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Monday, 24 August 2009

Review - Blood Promise / Richelle Mead

**Spoiler Free**

Summary - The recent attack on St. Vladimir's Academy devastated the entire Moroi world. Many are dead. And, for the few victims carried off by Strigoi, their fates are even worse. A rare tattoo now adorns Rose's neck; a mark that says she's killed far too many Strigoi to count.

But only one victim matters . . . Dimitri Belikov. Rose must now choose one of two very different paths: honoring her life's vow to protect Lissa—her best friend and the last surviving Dragomir princess—or dropping out of the Academy to strike out on her own and hunt down the man she loves. She'll have to go to the ends of the earth to find Dimitri and keep the promise he begged her to make. But the question is, when the time comes, will he want to be saved?

Readers who fell in love with Rose, Lissa, and Dimitri won't want to miss Blood Promise, the much-anticipated, epic fourth novel in Richelle Mead's enthrallingVampire Academy series.

Review - Previous to this title, my feelings towards to two main characters (Rose and Lissa) of this series weren't all that rosy. It is truly amazing what 512 pages of dense character development can do for one's regard for a book. Rose truly evolves and matures in Blood Promise and becomes more accessible to the readers and those around her. The distance between Lissa and Rose has finally allowed Rose to take that step towards independence, accountability and undoubted likability.

The majority of the storyline takes place in Dimitri's home of Russia where we encounter his many sisters, the head of a kind of Moroi mafia and a couple that Rose will feel a real kinship with. Russia is like a breath of fresh air in the Vampire Academy series, Rose's departure allows for all the characters to make huge strides and become infinitely more dimensional. That being said, the Russia portion of the book could have been tighter in pace but the speed in which these titles are published undoubtedly made editing a less thorough process.

Blood Promise starts off with Rose desperately seeking out Dimitri (in Strigoi form) so she can kill him. By the end of the novel the journey has become something else completely. Some of her convictions have become increasingly unsteady, someone from her past comes to her rescue and the world of the Moroi (and other supernaturals) becomes more fully formed. Dimitri is forever present in a variety of mediums and as not to spoil the storyline I shall now hush. I will say that I wasn't entirely satisfied with the direction of the Dimitri-arc and probably would like it if it went in a direction that most fans would be adverse to. Vague enough?

Lissa's journey demonstrates how truly dependant she is upon Rose. Despite their distance, Mead uses one of her earlier devices to allow the friends to stay in touch, albeit like a one-way mirror. The separation allows some of the book to take place at the Academy and also involves Christian and Adrian. It is truly remarkable that Adrian and Rose's interactions can still be steamy when they aren't ever in the same room together. The concept of a Moroi with spirit powers comes through hard and fast in many directions in the novel and is most probably going to culminate in something big by the conclusion of the series. Mead is building towards something that is weaving many elements and characters into one web and it makes me really excited for Book 5 - Spirit Bound.

Blood Promise is a great addition to the Vampire Academy series. It departs in content and pace from the first three titles, allowing the focus to be on Rose and her personal journey to save Dimitri, to save Lissa and to find out what she is truly capable of with some assistance from her family and friends.

Follow this link to read my interview about Richelle Mead.

Published: 24 August 2009
Format: Paperback, 512 pages
Publisher: Penguin Australia
Origin: USA
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Sunday, 23 August 2009

Review - Beatle Meets Destiny / Gabrielle Williams

Summary: Imagine your name is John Lennon, only everyone calls you Beatle. And then you meet your Dream girl and her name is Destiny McCartney. But what if you're already with the perfect girl?

Review: To describe Beatle Meets Destiny in one word is surprisingly easy - charming. It is a perfect depiction of Australian teens in all their wackiness, romanticism and earnestness.

I have to wonder how though as the protagonist acts questionably, seeing two lovely girls at once. Yet Beatle is so winning, so honest and so deprecating that Williams has provided a very effective means to empathise with this kid that makes some doubtable decisions. Beatle is still trying to get a grip of his life after a stroke two years prior. His romantic counterpart - Destiny is a force of nature. It’s clear what Beatle sees in her; she’s confident, she’s a trifle bizarre and most importantly, she’s perfect in his eyes. Seemingly they are perfect for one another...except he has a girlfriend already.

Set in the suburbs of Melbourne, Williams has deftly constructed a heightened yet realistic teen-world. Between stalker advertisements, curiously named siblings, student/teacher affairs and a fascination with astrology - there is a real heart to Beatle Meets Destiny. There is considerable flash-bang in terms of kooky content but the characters are fully realised with sparky dialogue, moral conundrums and questions regarding the nature of fate that you cannot help but be sucked along for the ride.

Structurally the book reminds me of When Harry Met Sally, chapters are broken up with many twins’ stories. While this might sound unrelated, it is not. Beatle has a twin named Winsome and their birthdays are separated by months...yep months. It’s an interesting story that can be saved for your read of the book but the twin vignettes are a very nice touch to contrast Beatle and Destiny’s arc.

As readers of this blog know, I love contemporary Australian stories and I have a real yen for authentic male protagonists too. Beatle Meets Destiny checks all the boxes of what I am looking for in a great read - snappy dialogue, authentic characterisation and some whimsicality. This is definitely a book you need to get your hands on. !

Published: 3 August 2009
Format: Paperback, 294 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Origin: Australia
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Saturday, 22 August 2009

Eyes Like Stars Faeries Interview Adele

BERTIE sits down and adjusts her cats' eye glasses while consulting a clipboard. The fairies zoom in with a variety of licorice whips, caramel popcorn balls, and pie.

BERTIE: Off the top of your head, what are the three most memorable characters of books you've read in 2009?
Ooh that's tough but I definitely have a yen for bad boys and snarky offsiders but these are my favourites -
  • Jules from Lili Wilkinson's Pink- he's proudly gay and as blunt as a kick in the shins. He's fabulous.
  • Amy from Elizabeth Scott's Love You Hate You Miss You - a wonderfully crafted conflicted Miss Independent.
  • Elaine from Lisa Ann Sandell's Song of the Sparrow (published in 2007 but I read it this year) who is strong, caring, courageous and written in beautiful prose.
MOTH: What's your favorite kind of dessert?
Pecan question.

MUSTARDSEED: Do toilets flush backwards where you are?
To be honest, I haven't really thought about it. I have heard that the flush direction is determined by the shape of the bowl. I guess the real question is - how do Australian toilet bowls differ from their American counterparts? :)

PEASEBLOSSOM: What kind of corset would you wear, if we put you in one?
Something stripey and fabulous.

COBWEB: How much wood CAN a woodchuck chuck?
What exactly is a woodchuck and what is chucking? In Australia chucking is something that is done after some bad takeout. So if the woodchuck has been gnawing considerable tree trunks then I suppose he is chucking an awful lot!


Thanks to Lisa Mantchev, author of Eyes Like Stars, for devising this interview. You can find Lisa at her blog, website and the official website for the Theatre Illuminata series.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Aussie Awards - Inkys & CBCA

Yesterday I had the honour of being a part of the Inkys online launch. As part of this launch, the long lists for the Gold Inky (Australian authored YA) and Silver Inky (International authored YA) awards were announced. You can hear my dulcet tones and that of the brilliant compare, Andrew, and fellow blogger, Steph Bowe, by following this link.

If that's not your style then check out the long listed titles here.

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The Children's Book Council of Australia Awards have also been announced this morning as part of Australia's Book Week

The five nominated in the Older Readers Category:
CORNISH, D. M. - Monster Blood Tattoo Book Two: Lamplighter
EATON, Anthony -Into White Silence
FRENCH, Jackie - A Rose for the Anzac Boys
MARCHETTA, Melina - Finnikin of the Rock
MOLONEY, James - Kill the Possum
TAN, Shaun - Tales from Outer Suburbia

Shaun Tan's Tales of Outer Suburbia was decreed the winner.

Anthony Eaton's Into White Silence and Jackie French's A Rose for the ANZAC Boys were named as Honour titles. Congratulations to all those who were shortlisted and the award recipients.

Interview: Lisa Mantchev (Eyes Like Stars)

Lisa Mantchev kindly allowed me to ask interview her about Eyes
Like Stars, her debut release. I love this book and if you haven't read it so immediately!

Why blue hair?
Originally Bertie was painting her bedroom set Cobalt Flame, probably because my own bedroom is decorated in shades of cocoa and blue. Then, in revisions, I wanted a way to firmly fix that she was 1) older, and 2) a handful, so I had her dye her hair instead.

Ariel is an airy spirit. Could you explain what it is that an Airy Spirit is and what they can do for those that haven't read ELS yet (silly people)?
All Shakespeare said about Ariel is that it was an "airy spirit" and is consumed with the longing for freedom, because he/she/it is in servitude to Prospero, a magician. The character has several songs, and was the one who guided the tempest to the island. So MY Ariel is a silver-voiced spirit who can control the winds; I also refer to him as an air elemental, because Nate is of the water, and Bertie is of the earth.

You are obviously partial to Ophelia? What do you find so intriguing about this character?
I was thoroughly annoyed by her character in high school, because I just wanted her to punch Hamlet in the stomach. In college, I finally understood how trapped she was by conventions and the time period and her role in life, then I translated that to my Ophelia, trapped by her written part in Shakespeare's play.

What is the most important correlation between your writing as a playwright and as a YA writer?
Characterization. No matter what I'm writing, the characters happen first. Then the costumes. J

Which song lyric summarizes you as an author?
I actually found a song entitled "Eyes Like Stars" by Faulter after we titled the book, and the lyrics are JUST EERIE.

You let it out
When the world collides
The deepest sigh
Then you close your eyes and then
The words come out
And you wanna shout inside
But you hold your tongue
And hope they come out right

The album title is also "Darling Buds of May" which is a Shakespearean sonnet reference. O_O

What do you like most about the YA blogosphere?
The sense of community. Everyone is so incredibly enthusiastic about reading and learning and new authors and favorite authors.

Which novel coming out soon (other than your own) would you highly recommend?
I was actually a beta-reader for Stephanie Burgis's A Most Improper Magick (The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, #1) back when she had it titled Kat by Moonlight. Also, ANY of the Word Ninjas' novels...

Thanks Lisa! Tomorrow the faeries from ELS interview moi - anticipate some craziness.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Interview: Richelle Mead (Blood Promise)

Speaking with anyone you are unfamiliar with on the telephone can be a scary proposition. Toss in the fact that it is an interview of a best selling YA author, the interviewer is newly awakened and inevitable American/Australian accent issues and you can imagine what a ball of nerves this blogger was. Despite the nerves, my interview with Richelle Mead was an enjoyable experience. She’s bright, bubbly and thoughtful. She’s the perfect kind of subject to interview as she can give you a serious, detailed answer and then switch it up with an amusing, self-deprecating quip.

Mead is coming to Australia next month in celebration of the release of her fourth title in the Vampire Academy series, Blood Promise. You can detect a certain nervousness in her discussion of the book. It’s a departure from the previous three titles. Ironically, not much of the action happens in the Academy and the tight bonds of the Rose/Lissa relationship are tested with physical distance. Throw in a worldwide simultaneous release, considerably hype and some very expectant fans and you can imagine the pressure Mead is feeling but she need not worry. Fans will receive considerably more character development in their protagonist, learn more about Dimitri’s decent into the Strigoi world and see the negative effects Rose’s departure will have on Lissa’s wellbeing.

Blood Promise is much more of a character study than the previous titles but it shares the same snappy dialogue, smouldering interplay and my favourite character of questionable moral integrity, Adrian. Rose finds her own strong opinions challenged and she experiences an alternative way of living for the first time in her life. Rose has choices to make, good and bad. Watching her navigate the treacherous waters of human/supernatural politics, a Moroi Mafioso and Dimitri’s family is like piggybacking Rose’s journey and evolution as a character.

Richelle Mead says that she is very excited to come to Australia. The support she has received from Aussie fans has been extremely enthusiastic will countless communications via email, Facebook and Twitter . Their most pressing question? How the series ends, of course.

Touring Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in the week following September 14th, Mead is eager to meet her antipodean fans, despite the long and daunting flight ahead of her. Blood Promise is released (August 24th) just prior to her visit and while she is finds the enthusiasm "rewarding, touching, overwhelming and humbling", she admits that it is a trifle "scary" in terms of the fan's expectations.

The Vampire Academy series has taken off strongly since its 2007 debut. It's remarkable to think that this woman is responsible for simultaneously releasing three series. It is difficult to contemplate how one can be so prolific. When asked how often she writes, her answer surprised me "a draft every three months, two at the moment though". With all this hurried writing I wondered if any character or plot point surprised her as she was writing. Instead Mead reveals that she has adhered mostly to her original outline, sketching it from its first intended trilogy to the currently anticipated six-title series. Listening to Mead detail her writing schedule boggles the brain. She pulls no punches when she states it’s a job; it’s not as glamorous as people would like to think. She’s more productive when she’s under the gun of a deadline, used to write more in the evenings but now finds herself writing throughout the day. Mead considers two thousand words in four hours to be disappointing and this Sunday’s effort of six thousand in three hours to be productive. It makes one wonder how she is able to juggle the multiple deadlines and releases without developing a drug habit. She laughs when I suggest it and jokes “maybe I do and it’s not public”. Instead her productivity comes down to “me sitting at a computer, procrastinating, caffeine. It’s hard!”

Not much has surprised her as the series has unfurled, with the exception to the burgeoning popularity of Adrian. She does state that he is “incredibly fun to write” and will continue to be a part of the series. Mead was generous too, when I stated Adrian’s similar feel to another Lothario, Chuck Bass (from the CW's Gossip Girl television series). She giggles and states “I knew you were going to say that” but she also sees Christian Bale’s depiction of a desolate and angry Laurie in the Little Woman movie (after Jo’s turned him down) in everyone’s favourite bad boy. Her other characters will continue to evolve. Rose‘s focus is becoming more and more clear (read Blood Promise for more details) but she will continue to try and keep Lissa sane. What about some of the more peripheral characters? Christian will continue on along the same path of page time, retaining some hope that the tide will change in terms of him being kept at arms length from the Moroi society.

In many ways the Vampire Academy series is about finding your own family. Lissa and Rose have both been orphaned by death or dedication and I wondered if Richelle’s upbringing might have been equally traumatic. Not the case, she tells me, her family was “fairly ordinary” but she likes to espouse the truth that there is “no perfect family”. For Rose and Lissa though, it’s the family they have made with one another, and other characters, that has provided them with the most stability. The power of friendship is unquestionable.

The many twists and turns of the interview revealed some other interesting facts: she’s a Smallville fan, is terrible anxious to begin the Vampire Academy spin-off series and agrees that Jo really should have chosen Laurie, not Professor Bhaer. Is that not proof of her considerable intelligence and common sense? Richelle Mead is a wonderfully warm and humble individual not entirely comfortable with her considerable success. It’s a job to her and the most important facet of her writing is to satisfy her eager hoard of fans. I don’t think she has to worry.

The second part of this interview, including some spoilers will be posted within the fortnight. Thank you to Richelle Mead for taking the time to talk to me at length and to F. for making all the arrangements.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Reader's Snapshot - Lisa Mantchev

If my randomness could find a soulmate, then Lisa Mantchev's randomness would be top of its list! She's wacky, she's smart as all heck and she's current enjoying her third print run of the uber-successul debut title, Eyes Like Stars.

Lisa is the author of the week here at Persnickety Snark. Now let's strap her to the table and subject her to the reader's snapshot inquiry.

Which book is memorable from your teen years?
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. And that's odd, because I didn't read it, I saw it performed by a troupe of three actors, who played all parts and acted out the entire book using only a steamer trunk full of costume bits. It made a HUGE impression on me, because I immediately went off to write my own play (an amalgam of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland and other fantasy novels.)

Describe your high school English teacher in three words...
I actually had four... one for each year. I'll go with my senior year AP English prof: trial by fire. *G*

Your book of the moment?
My current love is Frank Beddor's Looking Glass series.

What do you use to mark your page when reading?
Bookmark. Sometimes the jacket flap, if I'm reading a hardcover. And sometimes I leave them face-down on the nightstand. *shame!*

Favourite place to read?
In my parents' second house, we had a window seat in our formal living room that overlooked our driveway and lawn, which was canopied by a massive oak tree. I thought having a window seat was very Little Princess and spent hours reading there.

Favourite word?
Today? Coterie.

Favourite book store?
Anything with old, used hardcovers. *loves to rummage for treasure*

Character you wish you had created?
Harry Potter. *loff* Actually, I adore the character of Howl from Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle. (Also the Miyazaki movie-version of him.)

Thanks Lis! Come back Thursday for an interview of equal randomness and brilliance on her debut novel :) Eyes Like Stars is available at all good book stores and you should check out Lisa's blog and website stat!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Inky Awards Online Launch

The Inky Awards are an Australian award for young adult literature. Twenty books, published in the previous financial year, are announced as the Inkys Longlist - ten Australian books for the Gold Inky Award, and ten International books for the Silver Inky Award. As some of you know, Steph from Hey Teenager, author James Roy and myself are among the judging panel for this year.

Of these books, five from each category will be selected by us, and then the voting lines will open, and Australia's teenagers are invited to vote for their favourite book. The book with the most votes wins the Inky Award!

This Thursday, at 1:15pm (AEST), the 2009 Inky Awards will be launched online, and we would like for you to attend! 2008 Gold Inky winning author (and 2009 judge) James Roy will be speaking, and the 2009 Inky Longlist will be announced. Guess who you will also SEE online? That's right, moi.

You can attend the online launch as long as you have a computer with an internet connection, a current browser with Java installed, and computer speakers. Register attendance here. Check your system's compatability here. Click on "Configuration Room" to check that your connection and speakers. The first time that you enter Elluminate, it may take a while to download onto your system (up to about 10 minutes) but it will be much faster next time you log in.

Finally, on Thursday, click the Elluminate link that you were given when you registered. Create a name for your login session, then click "Login".

Then sit back, and enjoy the launch. You can contribute comments to the session by typing in the Chat field.

And if you want to know more about the Inky Awards, check out the Centre for Youth Literature's website, inside a dog.

Thank you to Andrew from Librarian Idol (and chair of the online launch) for allowing me to cut and paste all the details of this launch!

Review: Big Fat Manifesto / Susan Vaught

Summary - Jamie is a senior in high school and, like so many kids in that year, doing too much - including trying to change the world - and fighting for her rights as a very fat girl. And not quietly: she's writing a column every week in the paper with her thoughts and fears and gripes. As her column raises all kinds of questions, so too, must she find her own private way in her world, with love popping up in an unexpected place, and satisfaction in her size losing ground to real frustration.

Review - On many levels I could relate to this book and it's protagonist, Jamie. On the positive side, the book insightfully explores the way that society sees those that are overweight, or as Jamie prefers, fat. While the discussion of overweight teens is interestingly addressed through newspaper columns, her boyfriend's gastric bypass surgery and her inner dialogue, some elements fell flat for me.

At no point do I doubt that Vaught knows her stuff. You only need to check out her own website to view her own stunning weight loss but issues seemed to take a front seat to characterisation in Big Fat Manifesto. Jamie is a funny, thoughtful and occasional bitchtastic teen girl who just happens to have weight issues. She's also trying to prove her journalistic worth with a series of searing columns about society's view of "fat" people as Fat Girl. While the columns have some great points and contradict many stereotypes, Jamie's lack of journalistic prowess is clear. The character hangs her hopes on achieving a scholarship through her series of articles, the author positioning that they are great articles and this is where the crux of the articles and the novel converge. The issues and points made are fantastic, the execution not so great.

There is plenty of humour, a lot of information on the notion of being overweight, surgical intervention, confidence and a zippy pace. However, the characters are quite two dimensional in their set up - the jock, the vegan, the lesbian, the rich boy and while Vaught makes strides in deconstructing these stereotypes, she doesn't do nearly enough. At times I hoped that Jamie would explore her own contradictions than concern herself on her probable odour but perhaps that is too much introspection for a senior. Regardless, Big Fat Manifesto is a fun and thoughtful read that skims the surface, never really ducking into the deep waters of characterisation.

Published: 3 April 2008
Format: Paperback, 250 pages
Publisher: Random House
Origin: USA
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Questions for Richelle Mead Interview?

Two-ish days from now I have a telephone interview with the bestselling fantasy author, Richelle Mead.

I have read Blood Promise (Vampire Academy #4) and will have questions regarding that, sorry can't say anything about it at the moment...wait for the review! That being said, I'd like your input on what you'd like to know about the Vampire Academy series, her writing, her other series and anything else you can think of.

If you have some burning questions for Richelle, please post them in the comments section or email me.

She will also be visiting Down Under (with Penguin Australia) from September 14-19th.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Interview - Kirsty Murray

On Monday, Kirsty Murray answered my fluffy questions about her reading tastes but today you get the whole literary enchilada. Keep reading to hear about the fantastic concept of Vulture's Gate...the prevalence of the XX chromosome...and how much input she had into my favourite cover art of 2009. My review is here.

What is Vulture's Gate ? One girl - could she be the last girl alive? One boy, pursued by reckless men who have kidnapped him from his fathers.Bo and Callum go in search of a safe haven, a place to call home. But where can they turn and who can they trust? When every stranger is a threat, does their only hope lie in reaching Vulture's Gate?

Following a journey that takes them across barren deserts and lost valleys, Bo and Callum must discover how to survive alongside runaway boys and crazed religious terrorists, in a world with an uncertain future.

And what is the disturbing secret at the ruined city's core?

What was the inspiration for the events that wipe out the XX chromosomes in Vulture's Gate?Is there a back story of how this one virus targeted females?
Novels never spring from a single event or inspiration and ‘Vulture’s Gate’ grew from a range of ideas and information that I’d stumbled across in my reading of popular science and current affairs as well as conversations with kids and adults. One book that was seriously influential in my coming up with the idea of a world without women was‘Bare Branches - The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population’ by Hudson and den Boer. It explored the potential ramifications of the fact that the world currently has more than 50 million ‘excess’ men.

Nature ordains that there are slightly more boys born than girls but by adulthood there should be roughly equal numbers of both genders (as boys are more accident prone!) and then in old age there are slightly more women. Yet that’s not the current state of world affairs. Dueto offspring sex selection, female abortion and infanticide and inadequate nurturing of girl children, we have a global problem where millions of girl children are ‘missing’. So I started to think about what would happen if nature began imitating culture. What if nature followed our lead and generated a virus that resulted in all female fetuses spontaneously aborting?

Take a deep breath here and brace yourself for a brief note on biology. The average human is born with 23 pairs of chromosomes (which carry our genetic inheritance), for a total of 46. Twenty-two of these pairs, called autosomes, look the same in both males and females. The 23rd pair, the sex chromosomes, differ depending on your gender. Occasionally, people are born with variations but ordinarily, girls have two copies of the X chromosome (XX), while boys have one X and one Y chromosome (XY).

Men determine the gender of a baby depending on whether their sperm is carrying an X or Y chromosome. Mothers contribute an X chromosome to their babies and fathers contribute either X or Y depending on which sperm fertilizes the mother’s ovum. So in ‘Vulture’s Gate’ the presence of the Y chromosome protects the fetus from destruction (as is the case in many cultures).

The premise of ‘Vulture’s Gate’ is that a world pandemic of bird (avian) flu results in a lethal side affect. Unlike Swine Flu, Bird Flu still hasn’t successfully crossed the species barrier. Humans can catch it from birds but humans don’t transmit the virus to each other. Accordingly, it hasn’t spread through the human population. In ‘Vulture’s Gate’, Bird Flu has finally mutated effectively and spread like wildfire. Not only does the virus kill millions when it finally crosses the species barrier, but a side effect is that it stimulates the production of an antibody that causes a mutation in cell division affecting the sex chromosomes soon after conception. But the antibody only attacks the XX chromosomes, not XY. All female fetuses die in the early weeks of pregnancy so a generation of males only is born.

A pandemic on this scale would wreak havoc, no matter which gender was affected but in ‘Vulture’s Gate’ I used it as a device with which to explore more complex ideas about the world and the way we relate to each other.

Yet despite the ‘back story’, it was the creation of the characters of Bo and Callum that really compelled me to write the novel. There is always a lot of argument in fiction writing workshops about whether stories are plot driven or character driven but for me it’s always the strength of the central characters that makes it possible to bring a story to life, irrespective of how action-packed you make the plot.

Callum came to me first, over a year before I started work on the novel. One afternoon, when I was in the offices of Allen &Unwin with my publisher Rosalind Price, sifting through images for the cover of the reissue of my first novel Zarconi’s Magic Flying Fish, Ros showed me a fabulous photograph of a boy acrobat flying through the air between two Harley Davidson motorcycles in a small circus ring. It didn’t connect with ‘Zarconi’s’ but both Ros and I were intrigued by the image - the boy’s body arched and lithe, the two powerful motorbikes and their burly drivers. As soon as I saw it, I knew there was a story attached to the image. Ros jokingly said if I wrote a book about the boy, she’d publish it. Later that night, I wrote a vignette entitled ‘Motorcycle Boy’ and tucked it away in a file of scrappy ideas. Interestingly, when we tried to find the image later, it had disappeared from every photo library on the internet.

On a summer evening some months later, I sat on my front verandah with an old friend talking about the sort of world our children would inherit. My thirteen-year-old goddaughter, Roxane came out onto the verandah, the light behind her. I love that mixture of strength and sweetness that adolescent girls encapsulate. She looked like a young Amazonian. Later that evening, Roxane and the Motorcycle Boy became inextricably linked to a story of the future and I scribbled down the first outline of ‘Vulture’s Gate’.

Bo and Callum encounter many people that exemplify some of the worst traits in humanity, how difficult was it to depict these characters realistically without creating a furor about its appropriateness in YA?
Young people don’t live in a parallel universe populated by socially acceptable characters. They live in our world and they bear witness to it no less than we do. I think we often underestimate young readers’ ability to contextualise evil. Writing historical fiction has taught me a lot about exploring human darkness and still creating a story that is both accessible and appropriate for younger readers. In the past ten years of writing fiction I’ve wrestled with much darker demons - true characters and events from history - than the ones in ‘Vulture’s Gate’.

What would you imagine this society would be like had the XY chromosomes being wiped out?
There is already plenty of fiction around that imagines a future world without men. I do imagine it would be less violent but there would be less innovation, less exuberance, and a lot less fun.

How much involvement did you have in the concept for the cover art?
I’m fairly opinionated about covers and would find it difficult to ‘own’ a book if I felt unhappy about its cover design. So I’m lucky that Allen &Unwin took my suggestions on board. I still find Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘The Birds’ very freaky and I wanted the cover to capture that same sense of brooding threat that massing birds convey. Ruth Gruener, the designer, had to put up with a lot of chopping and changing as the marketing department weren’t excited about my early ideas but I’m stoked Ruth managed to marry so many elements and make everyone happy in the end.

Big thanks to Kirsty for taking time to answer all my questions! Vulture's Gate is a fascinating read and sure to capture your interest. If you are interested in purchasing your own copy, you can do so through Australian booksellers or via the link Buying OZYA at the top of this page.

Blog -

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Review - Hollywood Ending / Kathy Charles

Summary - Set in a glamorous and seedy Los Angeles, Hollywood Ending is a story that will make your heart skip a beat.

Pink-haired Hilda and endearing punk Benji, both seventeen, have an obsessive hobby—they haunt the places where Hollywood celebrities have died.

In rundown Echo Park, once the hub of the movie business, they find the squalid apartment where a second-rate silent movie star stabbed himself to death with nail scissors. Its current tenant is Hank, an old man with a mysterious past.

While Benji dives deeper into the cult of celebrity death, Hank and Hilda make an unlikely pair. Then Jake the screenwriter turns up. What’s his story?

Review - If I had to summarise this book in one word it would definitely be ‘seedy’. I would use ‘dark’ but the ever increasing Harry Potter movie franchise seems to have a monopoly on that term. There isn’t anything cuddly or comforting about this book. Instead there is a wonderfully crafted tale of friendship. A friendship established between a dead-obsessed teen and a cantankerous senior citizen.

Hollywood Ending is not what you expect to see within the YA genre by any means. It tackles some grim subject matter - grief, death, murder, obsession, fixation and guilt. The pink haired protagonist, Hilda, haunts famous murder scenes as a means to process her own parent’s death and has a friend whose predilections for death are more frightening. Despite the outer wrapping of grime, at its heart Hollywood Ending is about finding the light in all that pollutes our surroundings and our hearts. New people in our lives can allow us to process some of the harder aspects of our personal histories.

Centred on dingy Hollywood, many sites of homicides are incorporated into the plot. You will find yourself curious about these murders (that the author has verified) just as the protagonist is. Hilda’s journey is rather intoxicating as she bonds with the elderly Hank, who has secrets of his own and Jake, the screenwriter who’s rather secretive also. Secrets drive this novel, whether it’s the ugly truths the characters are holding onto with an icy grip or those that have seeped into the building of Hollywood. You will find yourself captivated.

Charles has debuted with a fantastically strong and unique story. The use of Hollywood history, the sadness that underpins the towns and the shadows that cling to all of the characters within this tale. You may be repulsed by some of the choices made but they are made increasingly understandable as the tale unfurls. A smashing good read.

Published: 31 August 2009
Format: Paperback, pages
Publisher: Text Publishing
Origin: Australia
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Review - Little Bird / Penni Russon

Summary - Ruby-lee is cynical about love; after all, she's watched her sister Shandra call off her wedding three times a week. But when Shandra volunteers her to babysit her friend's seven month old baby, Ruby-lee discovers just what love means. First she's overcome by powerful feelings for tiny Maisy, then she starts spending time with Maisy's dad, Spence. She even begins to imagine a future together, as a family. But where will Ruby-lee's fantasies lead? And what sort of trouble could they get her into? When it looks like Ruby-lee might lose everything, she has to discover what love truly is to find her own heart.

Review - Little Bird isn’t what you might expect from a series of books brandishing the Girlfriend name. Instead of following a teen girl’s gushy and frustrated yearnings and interactions with a studly piece of teen boy perfection, Russon’s explored love in all its meanings.

Ruby-lee is adrift. She’s convinced, with the help of her long-time bestie Tegen, that she’s utterly blah. She’s not in as dire state as she believes herself to be but it takes babysitting Maisy (love the name) and being “dumped” by Tegen for her to realise it. Ruby-lee is a doormat for the better part of the novel but it’s through her many missteps (her adoration of Maisy’s father a large one) that she’s able to gain a stronger sense of self and what she wants from life.

Russon has developed a range of characters to surprising depths in the one hundred and eighty page title. Ruby-lee is a highly relatable character who is caught between the melodramas of those in her life. Her evolution is natural and builds to a realistic conclusion. It’s a great to read Ruby-lee's discovery of what she wants and move towards her happiness.

Published: July 2009
Format: Paperback, 180 pages
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Origin: Australia

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Monday, 10 August 2009

Reader's Snapshot - Kirsty Murray

I first "met" Kirsty Murray when I made a complete schamozzle of a mix up with another author's name and her own. She was lovely about it and immediately made me feel less like an idiot. I was then fortunate enough to meet her in person at the Reading Matters conference where her graciousness and fierce head of hair (arguably the best in all of YA-dom) made a huge impression.

This month her novel, Vulture's Gate, has been released. It details a future Australia where all females have been wiped out and men have been forced to find alternative means of continuing the race. Two children, one girl and one boy, go on an adventure that is of enormous risk. It's a fantastic read and you can read my thoughts here.

It's Kirsty Murray Week here at Persnickety Snark and as such she's been subjected to the Author's Snapshot survey!

Which book is memorable from your teen years?
Alan Marshall’s ‘Whispering in the Wind’.Although possibly, if you’d asked me at the time I would have said something fairly pretentious like ‘Brothers Karamazov’. Marshall’s book was an allegorical ‘rites of passage’ story full of wry humour and very Australian characters.

Describe your high school English teacher in three words...
American, innovative, compassionate

Your book of the moment?
Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’.Vivid, sharp clean writing about a place and a time of which I knew little before reading this book.

What do you use to mark your page when reading?
I have stacks of bookmarks strategically placed all around the house. The only time my grandfather ever lost his temper with me was when I left a book open face down and cracked its spine. He told me books were our friends and we should treat them with care and tenderness - which necessitated always using a bookmark.

Favourite place to read?
Anywhere warm. When I was a kid I used to like reading in trees. These days, I prefer either one of two favourite couches (in different rooms in the house) or my bed.

Favourite word?
Persnickety Snark (whoops, that’s two words)

Adele - Flattery will get you everywhere :)

Favourite book store?
Collected Works which is run by the charming Kris Hemensley here in Melbourne. A chapel dedicated to poetry and an eclectic mix of books on ideas, theatre and culture.

Character you wish you had created?
Pippi Longstocking - both as a character and a literary icon she’s a rule breaker on every front.

Thanks Kirsty! An interview with Kirsty regarding Vulture's Gate will be posted on Thursday, be sure to check back then.

Review - Outside In / Chrissie Keighery

Summary - Outside In explores friendships, divorce, body image and growing up in a deft, lyrical and moving way.
The cool group at school is not as luminous as it seems. Sure they appear to have it all, but there are problems lurking just below the surface. And then there's someone who's not part of the group. The others have no idea she's there. But she knows that there are cracks.

She watches them from inside, out. From the outside, in.

Review - Australian YA is exceedingly strong at the moment, especially the fantastic contemporary content that is being released. Chrissie Keighery's Outside In is a thought provoking exploration of the chasm that exists between individual's, friend's and an outsider's perception of same events.

Using multiple protagonists, Keighery has made it possible for one friendship group to really deconstruct themselves as a group and as individuals. Most interesting of this is how the same events are told from varying viewpoints, allowing us the see a character from both an objective and full disclosed viewpoints. The overlapping method is always a risky one but it has been expertly handled in this tale.

That being said, the first chapter is from one of the more removed character's perceptive and it does make it harder to delve into the story. However, this was most probably a deliberate strategy as the other chapters start chipping away at her deliberate isolation and her friendship group's issues as well. There are many issues - anorexia, divorce, puberty, the opposite sex, rejection and the nature of friendship. The chapters are issue ridden due to the many characters, all with their separate issues. Though each issue is written realistically, the sheer number of issues could have been scaled back. This may not have been as much of stumbling block for me had there been one protagonist. Like an anthology, I would like to have read more about several of these characters in depth as they were very well written.

Vastly relatable, fantastic dialogue and an interesting structure make this a great read on teens.

Published: 6 August 2009
Format: Paperback, 208 pages
Publisher: Hardie Grant
Origin: Australia

Friday, 7 August 2009

A Guide to YA Blogging

A few weeks back I thought it would be a great idea to ask YA authors and bloggers about what they expected of one another in the blogosphere. The list below is a collation of recommended conduct that you might use as a guide when starting a blog, or to see how your expectations match up to everyone elses. Forty YA review bloggers (new and established) and authors (unpublished, debut and established) were asked to contribute their expectations to construct a comprehensive list.

The most important message from all contributors was that being polite is essential.

Authors and bloggers alike were very honest in their contributions and as such I have chosen to keep this anonymous. Hopefully this can be a document that guides new bloggers around mistakes that all of us have made. I have learnt a considerable amount just from reading them as they came in.

One author’s suggestion really struck a chord with me and I think it’s the best piece of advice for all bloggers - “...find the right balance between professionalism and fun.”

• Do away with expectations. Don’t think you deserve a review copy because you started a blog.
• Authors would love to give ARCs to every book blogger who asks but they don’t have unlimited supplies of ARCs. If authors say that they can’t, they really can’t - but they wish they could. Say please and thank you and most importantly, don’t be bitter.
• Check the author’s review policies before contacting them as it saves everyone time.
• Avoid requesting books from authors unless they have specifically stated that they have books available for review.
• Request or accept only as many books as you can read.
• Don't beg for an ARC, but if you plan to do a large feature on a specific book or author, it's okay to ask politely. If the author can't oblige (or doesn't get back to you or in any way doesn't respond in the way you had hoped), be gracious anyway.
• Never badmouth an author, online or off, for not providing an ARC. They have all sorts of reasons for saying no, keep it professional.
• Don’t badmouth other bloggers or make assumptions about how they received ARCs. The cattiness makes authors reluctant to send ARCs to anyone.
• Even if an author can’t send an ARC, they may still be able to do an interview of guest post so make sure you ask. The author may be able to send you are ARC or finished copy next time around, so stay in touch.
• Take the time to familiarise yourself with the author and the book before contacting the author. Be sure that they book is something that genuinely strikes you interest as a reader/reviewer.
• Personalise your request. Don’t send a form email or with the incorrect information (wrong book title, misspelled names, asking for an ARC of an already released book). Tell the author about yourself and why their novel piqued your interest.
• If you request and receive a specific ARC directly from an author or publisher, you are expected to post a review.
• Don’t list the person in which you received your ARC from as it makes it easier for the masses to approach that person for a copy of their own. The publicist or author deserves privacy - list the company.
• Read the requested ARC in a reasonable amount of time. No one expects it to be read immediately but if you know you can’t get to it within 1-2 months there is no point in asking for an advance copy that might better serve another reviewer.
• Don’t sell ARCs on eBay.
• If you are giving an ARC away in a contest, consider letting the author know.

• Think before you request that an author provide prizes for the contests you are running on your blog. These requests inevitably flood an author’s inbox around the release date and it’s not financially feasible for an author to do it for everyone. If you demand swag, don’t expect a polite response.
• If the author hasn’t heard of you, you won’t be receiving swag no matter how legitimate a blog you have. When inquiring, ensure you introduce yourself and your blog to the author properly and state why you specifically would like their book.

• Correspondence between authors and bloggers is fantastic. However, it’s the bloggers responsibility to ensure that all of your reviews are unbiased, regardless of your relationship with an author.
• Ensure the content of your review is relevant and well written. Take your time when writing the reviews and ensure that all errors are caught prior to posting. People don’t read blogs that are a minefield of spelling errors and are generally careless.
• If you don't like a book, be honest but sensitive in your review. Personal attacks should be off-limits, but thoughtful comments about the work itself are not. Bloggers are very relevant to the review community but if everyone loves everything, bloggers lose relevance.
• Reviews should be honest but not harsh. If the book is terrible (in your opinion), tell the truth but realise that other readers may love it. Reviews are subjective.
• If the author has assisted you in procuring a copy of their book (directly or via their publishers), they like to know when the review is up. Make sure you send an email with the link attached.

• Check the author’s website for their interview policy. If a publicist is listed, contact them first, then the author if there is no publicist. Don’t contact both. Many authors don’t mind if you contact them directly but be polite.
• If you have asked an author for an interview and they say yes, pay close attention to what they write next. If they want the questions ASAP, then please follow these instructions.
• Don’t expect an author to answer your interview questions on a tight schedule. Give realistic timelines.
• If an author personally sends you their book for review ask them for an interview or guest blog for your blog.

General Manners
• Spell the individual’s name correctly - whether author/publisher/blogger.
• Reviewers should not ask authors for their publicist’s contact information and should not expect authors to forward the blogger’s information to the publicist (unless this is something the author offers).
• Bloggers shouldn’t ask other bloggers for their publicity contacts. Don’t tweet or post this private information in public chats.
• If you like a blogger’s feature, be sure to ask permission before adopting it for your own use. Don’t assume it is a meme.
• Don’t brag about receiving an ARC that everyone wants.
• Be polite and courteous to authors. You are not to beg or threaten them.
• Be polite and courteous to publishers. Don’t ask for every title in the catalogue. You can’t possibly have the time to read them all. Publishing is a business and it’s essential that you demonstrate that you are dependable and easy to work with.
• Don’t request or accept what you don’t want to read.
• The blogging community is a great way to make friends. Commenting on other’s blogs and discussing books is equally important as your own blog.
• Cover author events that you attend - there is nothing more exciting that sharing pictures and other coverage from conferences and author signings.
• If you are talking to an author face-to-face you may need to assure them that your conversation is “off the record”. Authors are human and they might not want their gossip on your blog.
• Authors are increasingly approachable with websites, blogs and twitter. Make sure that you mention their blogs and websites whenever you review or interview.
• Be grateful.

Thanks to all who gave their two cents worth, your honesty is much appreciated.

If you'd like a copy of this document, email me and I will send it your way in a prettier format.

Review - The Eternal Kiss / Ed. Trish Telep

Summary - There’s an allure to vampire tales that have seduced readers for generations. From Bram Stoker to Stephenie Meyer and beyond, vampire stories are here to stay. For those fresh-blooded fans of paranormal romance or for those whose hunt and hunger never dies, these stories have what readers want!

This collection of original tales comes from some of the hottest, most popular, and best-selling YA writers, including:
Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Tithe)
Libba Bray (A Great and Terrible Beauty)
Melissa De La Cruz (Blue Blood)
Cassandra Clare (City of Bones)
Rachel Caine (Morganville Vampires)
Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguie (Wicked)
Cecil Castellucci (Boy Proof, Queen of Cool)
Kelley Armstrong (Women of Otherworld)
Maria V. Snyder
Sarah Rees Brennan
Lili St. Crow
Karen Mahoney
Dina James
They will make everyone a sucker for eternal kisses.

Review - Anthologies are like the tastiest of literary samplers - you get a little bit of this and that and (hopefully) it gives you the hunger for more. An anthology is only as strong as it's weakest link and this is quite a solid collection that leaves a good (and varied) impression on bit-lit. There is also a great mix of new and established authors presenting their take on what makes an entertaining YA vampire short story.

There are stories contained that are more effective than others due to varying degrees of success with the short story structure. Among the more impactful contributions:

UK debut author, Karen Mahoney's Falling to Ash commentates on protagonist Moth's daddy (and sire) issues but throws in some considerable URST with a mission involving some ashes and a vampire hunter. In some respects it is a warped take on an interrogation scene but instead of violence, it's heavy on the oomph - you know, an oxygen sucking, heart pounding, toe curling scene that satisfies?

American fantasy writer, Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was an especially strong contribution. Black possessed a stronger sense of what worked in a shortened format with a very distinct tone combined with some interesting takes on vmapire lore. By far the most emotionally taxing of the thirteen stories, Matilda's journey downward spiral leaves a chilling after taste that will stay with you.

Lastly, Ireland's Sarah Rees Brennan's Undead is Very Hot Right Now was piercingly funny. Who would have thought to combine the cliched boy band, young love and vampires in one hysterical but emotionally grounded mishmash? It takes awhile to settle into the tongue-in-cheek tone but once you're comfortable you will find yourself cackling at the many ways the band's manager tries to pimp out Christian's vampirism for album sales.

If you are fang-inclined, and not all vamped-out, then this anthology is for you.

Published: 3 August 2009
Format: Paperback, 416 pages
Publisher: Random House Australia
Origin: Everywhere

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Interview - Michelle Zink

Michelle Zink's debut novel, Prophecy of the Sisters is now available in the US and in Australia from the 15th of August. Following the disintegration of an American family in the late 19th century, Zink has created a dark and mystical exploration of sisterly love, fate and the nature of good and evil. It's a fabulously involving and intoxicating read that will whisk you away into another world.

I was very fortunate to interview Michelle a few weeks ago in preparation for her novel's release. Enjoy!

What is the attraction to scary twins?
I didn't know there was one! Lol! Seriously, I don't remember thinking, "Let's make them twins - that will be scarier!" It was more my fascination with that sibling relationship that drew me to Lia and Alice. I'm an only child, and I've always been interested in the idea of coming from the exact same place as another human being. Twins only amplify that connection. Their bond is so mysterious. It was interesting to create that conflict between two people who are inherently closer than any two people could possible be.

What set off you Prophecy of the Sisters "a-ha" creation moment?
It's difficult to trace any of my books back to a single moment, because everything unfolds in a very organic way for me. I'm a little obsessed with ancient myths and legends, particularly biblical ones, and I pick books up and flip through them all the time. There's something terrifying about the supernatural - and demons especially! I came across the story of the Watchers - the angels sent to guard mortal women who then fell in love and became Fallen - and was immediately intrigued. Prophecy of the Sisters, like all my books, just sort of unfurled from there.

James is a relatively issue-free love interest, will there be someone unhinged in Lia's future?
Well, I can't say too much except that James, like all the characters in Prophecy, grows throughout the three-book series. He remains very central to the story, but there IS a very hot new guy that comes into the picture in Book Two. I'll also tell you that both men are VERY central the absolute conclusion of Prophecy at the end of Book Three.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I would label PotS as a feminist novel. The role of strong, independent females, in and outside of Lia's family, is extremely important. Was this a goal from the beginning?
I think you're right! I didn't set out to make it a feminist novel, per se, but I DID specifically vow to create a strong female main character who who had hopes, dreams, desires, and demons apart from that of her love interest. I know how much teen girls love reading about romance, but I also think there's a danger in setting up too neat a relationship, too fairy-tale a love, you know? In real life, things get in the way of love sometimes. You don't always know what to do. Sometimes you make mistakes and sometimes other things have to come first. Sometimes it's necessary to put your love for someone aside to take care of yourself or others close to you. In Prophecy, Lia loves James and wants him in her life and her future. But she doesn't NEED him to survive. I think teenage girls are smarter and stronger than we give them credit for, and I'm betting on their responsiveness to a main character they can admire and maybe even see some of themselves in.

Are some of your children's traits or characteristics found in any of the characters?
Wow. GOOD QUESTION! I've never been asked that before. Both my girls are very strong, self-contained people. They have so many interests and such innate curiosity about life and the world they live in. Lia's character traits are probably a little more evident in my older daughter who is fifteen. I already see the same kind of "do what has to be done" discipline and iron-will that I so admire in Lia.

What can we expect from Book 2?
Oh, I am SO enamored with Book Two right now! It's such a sweeping adventure! Lots of action, an epic journey, that promised, hunky guy, family secrets revealed, and a betrayal of unimaginable proportions. Plus, our girls get even stronger and braver, as all girls should!

What scares you?
Oooooo, Adele. You are GOOD! Without a doubt, it's losing the people who matter to me. They're the only thing in life that isn't replaceable. Everything else is just stuff.

Which debut book from this year would you highly recommend?
Another difficult one! Of course, I ADORE Lisa Mantchev's EYES LIKE STARS. Yes, we're friends, but that's not why! It's just an utterly imaginative, smart, frolic of a book unlike anything else in existence. I'm also super excited for Catching Fire (like the rest of the world) by Suzanne Collins and The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I haven't read that last one, but Shadow of the Wind is one of my all-time favorites so I've been looking forward to TAG for a loooong time! Other books on my radar are Hate List by Jennifer Brown, Ash by Malinda Low, Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron, and Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

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Some great recommendations there! A big thank you to Michelle for her great responses and flattering comments (I am now a black belt narcissist). Go and get your hands on Prophecy of the Sisters today!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Review - Into The Wild Nerd Yonder / Julie Halpern

Summary - It's Jessie's sophomore year of high school. A self-professed "mathlete," she isn't sure where she belongs. Her two best friends have transformed themselves into punks and one of them is going after her longtime crush. Her beloved older brother will soon leave for college (and in the meantime has shaved off his mohawk and started dating...the prom Princess!)...
Things are changing fast. Jessie needs new friends. And her quest is a hilarious tour through high school clique-dom, with a surprising stop along the way--the Dungeons and Dragons crowd, who out-nerd everyone. Will hanging out with them make her a nerd, too? And could she really be crushing on a guy with too-short pants and too-white gym shoes?
If you go into the wild nerd yonder, can you ever come back?

Review - As someone who used a Chupa-Chup tin as a pencil case in year 12, I am fully aware of the need to be different without falling into the nerd category. Unfortunately, I am not positive I was all that successful. Unfortunately again, I was never introduced to Dungeons and Dragons by an awesome group of self-possessed, groovy nerds either. I never sewed original skirts or excelled at maths but I did struggle over my friendships and whether or not the angst was worth it.

Halpern makes this exploration of nerdom and evolving friendships a fun read. She has an easy, light style that translates well as the consciousness of a teen girl in turmoil over the big issues. Jessie is a relatable protagonist who's comfortable in who she is but not so much with who she's surrounded by. Her long term friends have turned into clingy, boy crazed, selfish space wasters and she's not so sure that she likes them anymore. Jessie's struggles with the abysmal Bizza were understandable but greatly frustrating as a reader. We've all had friends we've hung onto far too long because of our need to retain the familiar. It's much easier being the objective reader than the authentic conflicted protagonist that Halpern has presented us with.

The novel is just plain old fun. The nerds are delightfully random, even if you discount the D&D. They are comfortable being themselves, they aren't the socially inept messes that we often see on screen. They are warm, just like Jessie and as such Into the Wild Nerd Yonder is a warm, entertaining read. I particularly liked the use of the sibling relationship throughout. It wasn't a cliched relationship, Jessie and her brother are tight. Barrett's transformation into something more socially acceptable is an element of the book that I really enjoyed. His family wholeheartedly supported his mohawk and band and yet supported him in his new direction too. His reasons are completely individual and his strong sense of self positively affected his sister in some of her tough decisions. It was also great to see a family without obvious dysfunctions, they were a little bizarre (aren't we all?) but realistically supportive of each other in their pursuits. It was a great touch in am industry often filled with death, divorce and demonic activity.

The romance is nice, the boy scrummy but ultimately this is about accepting change. Being brave in declaring yourself openly to the world, shucking those that hold you back or weigh you down and embracing the new. Miraculously it's all achieved with a great sense of humour and a firm handle on what teens are like today.

Jessie is a great girl to get to know and Halpern's voice is one that I look forward to revisiting.

Published: September 29, 2009
Format: Paperback, 256 pages
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Origin: USA
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