Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August Wrap-Up

Whoa, August was a crazy month. All of my university plans are coming together. I went to a bunch of open days, submitted my course preferences, and my VCE coordinator tells me I'm on track to get the highest ATAR my school's ever seen.*

But anyway, here's this month's wrap-up:


2011 Debut Author Challenge:
This month for the Debut Author Challenge, I read and reviewed The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab. It was released on the 2nd, and my review is linked below.

100+ Challenge: completed.
This month I read and reviewed 16 novels that go towards the challenge's goal of reading 100 books this year, bringing my running total up to 125. You can see my completed list of the 100 books I read for this challenge here.

Aussie YA Reading Challenge: completed.
This month I read and reviewed 7 novels that go towards the challenge's goal of reading 12 YA books by Australian authors (I'm on 28 at the moment, and my new personal goal is 35). Their reviews are linked below, marked by asterisks.

Aussie August -- a month dedicated to highlighting and celebrating Australian literature.
My features posts for this month were:
   - International giveaway of six Australian titles | Winner announcement
   - Aussie favourites: recommendations from various Australian authors
   - What makes Australian literature Australian?
   - Top Five List: Aussie titles that need to reach international readers.

You can find a list of all the books (alphabetized) that I've ever reviewed on this blog here.

Book Of The Month:
A feature inspired by Audrey at holes In My brain, at the end of each month I'll pick the favorite book I read, and feature it as my Book Of The (next) Month.

September's Book Of The Month is The Opposite Of Amber by Gillian Philip. My review can be found here.

So that was August in review. How was your month?

* Which, admittedly, isn't that hard. Last year they couldn't even choose a dux because the results were so poor. The highest ever was 85 or thereabouts.

Waiting On Wednesday (40)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine, in which we highlight an upcoming book release we're eagerly awaiting.

This week I'm waiting on This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers, because, Courtney Summers! The premise had me raising an eyebrow initially, but I have faith that she can pull it off in her highly emotional fashion.

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up.

As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, everyone’s motivations to survive begin to change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life–and death–inside.

When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

[Synopsis by Goodreads]

This Is Not A Test (how epic is that title, by the way?) is due for release in June of 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin.

Feel free to leave a link to your own Waiting On Wednesday post in the comments, and I'll be sure to have a look.

Aussie August Giveaway Winners

You've probably known about the giveaway I held for Aussie August. I mean, I had that cumbersome button just under the header for ages (and I've been itching to finally get rid of it!). So I hope you guys all got the chance to enter, because I'm now announcing the winners. Without further ado, the new owners of six Aussie books are:

Congratulations, winners -- I'll be emailing you soon.

* If you entered for Winter's Shadow and missed out, know that the eBook is, for a limited time, only $4.99 at the iTunes Store.

Review: All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Series: Birthright (#1)
Pages: 352
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Published: September 1st, 2011
IBSN: 9780330537896

It's 2083. There's a chocolate prohibition, and New York City is a very changed place. Art museums are now dance clubs, books are musty relics of the past, water is strictly rationed, and the mafia ruled black market consists of chocolate and caffeine.

And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight – at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

Anya is essentially the head of her family. Her grandmother is on her deathbed, her older brother's mental capacity took a turn for the worse after a car accident, and her parents are long dead. But that's not unexpected, given that they led the Balanchine crime family, specialising in distributing illegal chocolate.

She was an exceptionally likeable character; sensible, pragmatic, wry, and strong. She was fiercely loyal of her family, despite their shortcomings, and went to extreme lengths to protect them, even sacrificing her own needs to do so. The way she encountered a problem and immediately and selflessly did what was necessary to fix it was incredibly admirable and made her all the more interesting to read about.

The romantic aspect of the book played a huge role, and this didn't invoke the exasperation non-romantics such as myself would associate with this. Given the personal way in which Anya narrated, her relationship with Win dominating so much of her attention felt natural for her. It was clear how Anya the realist could fall for Win (I mean, his hats), and the way being with him broke her out of her pragmatic shell gave her character a whole other level of depth and relatability.

The setting, a dystopian future, was almost reminiscent of the past. The New York of 2083 had the feel of the New York of the 1920s, with smoky speakeasies and less technology. I liked the notion of our society reaching its peak and then slowly declining back to the past in a symmetrical fashion.

Anya narrated in past tense, taking time occasionally to point out her mistakes in the 20/20 clarity of hindsight. The style was refreshingly original and well executed. The prose itself was smooth and lovely, and had the almost wistful or forlorn quality that you'd be familiar with from Elsewhere and Memoirs Of A Teenage Amnesiac.

The conclusion was stunning, and slightly surprisingly. The final line, "May God forgive me for this and all these things I've done" left me awe-struck, and definitely furthered the impression that the book was written almost like Anya's confession. The next book can't come fast enough!

I give All These Things I've Done a 5 out of 5.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Fury by Elizabeth Miles

Fury by Elizabeth Miles

Series: Fury (#1)

Pages: 352
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Published: August 30th, 2011
IBSN: 9781442422247

It’s winter break in Ascension, Maine. The snow is falling and everything looks pristine and peaceful. But not all is as it seems...

Between cozy traditions and parties with her friends, Emily loves the holidays. And this year’s even better--the guy she’s been into for months is finally noticing her. But Em knows if she starts things with him, there’s no turning back. Because his girlfriend is Em’s best friend.

On the other side of town, Chase is having problems of his own. The stress of his home life is starting to take its toll, and his social life is unraveling. But that’s nothing compared to what’s really haunting him. Chase has done something cruel...something the perfect guy he pretends to be would never do. And it’s only a matter of time before he’s exposed.

In Ascension, mistakes can be deadly. And three girls—three beautiful, mysterious girls—are here to choose who will pay.

Em and Chase have been chosen.

In Fury, two teens misbehave and are, of course, punished. The Furies -- figures you'd recognise from Greek mythology -- come for Em and Chase, seeking retribution.

Though, for a story about retribution, you would expect redemption as a theme, wouldn't you? Our characters' are trying to escape punishment, but aren't trying to make up for their actions. Our characters were relatable in their mistakes, yes, but not particularly admirable.

The paranormal element to the story was subtle and threaded smoothly into the story. The author's reimagining of the Furies was intriguing and well-adapted to a modern setting, while keeping it recognisably similar to the original. The Furies themselves were eerie but with an odd allure, creepy but curious.

I can't say there was anything noteworthy about the characters (the third person narration kept us at a certain distance to them) or the writing style that told us everything rather than showing us but the story was presumably intended to be plot-driven anyway.

While overall I'd say that Fury was an entertaining read, the pacing proved a problem for me. The first half of book tells a story concurrent to and important to the future of Em's, but that it was stretched for so long made its ending awkward. The main story -- her story -- sat quietly in the background waiting for Chase's to finish when they could have ran together.

While I understand the point of the plot device -- sometimes characters need to exist or things need to happen just so that the story can happen
 -- those devices shouldn't be just dropped into the story where they're needed. They need to be  weaved in as not to interrupt the flow. Drea's help and Em's revelation about JD were employed at convenient times but not entirely justified. I found myself flicking back thinking I'd missed something when they came up out of nowhere.

I did find that the ending skilfully tied up the loose ends in a realistic manner, and the different perspective in the epilogue left room for the rest of the trilogy that the main story did not.

Fury was, overall, an well-plotted story with an intriguing premise, but the flawed pacing took away from it. My prediction is that now that the scene's been set and the main complication's been introduced that the rest of the series will pick up.

I give Fury a 3 out of 5.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Top 5 Aussie Books That Need To See Foreign Shores

If there's a problem with a lot of Aussie YA, it's how limited the readership can be. It's difficult, if not impossible, to get most books by our fabulous Australian authors anywhere but in Australia. Some Aussie greats are available overseas, like Marcus Zusak's and Melina Marchetta's books. But there are so many more amazing books that might never (or not for a while) that we might never see reach the larger audience they deserve. Here are five books (in no particular order) that I feel this way about:

A Straight Line To My Heart by Bill Condon

This one because it is just so Australian. A lot of popular internationally available Australian novels don't capture our atmosphere like A Straight Line To My Heart did so effortlessly. I'd really love for non-Australian readers to feel this ambiance.

Alaska by Sue Saliba

Alaska was just written in such a gorgeous way. Mia's voice is just so innocent and sweet and oddly melancholic and the setting felt like another plaintive character in itself. Reading it, I felt like I was on the verge of tears even while nothing sad was happening. I'm feeling that again either just thinking about the story or how relatively few people could have the chance to read it.

All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield

All I Ever Wanted also captures that Australian atmosphere, but a different side of it. The run-down, crime-ridden side. Mim began at a contrast to this setting, but her character arc and change of heart had her a completely different person at the end. A beautiful, true, and inspiring novel.

Good Oil by Laura Buzo

Because it's such a feel-good read. It's not all about mucking around at work and crushes on funny, smart, older boys; it has touching and sad moments too. But I remember finishing this book with a warm, fuzzy feeling and a sudden urge to work at Woolworths.

This Is Shyness by Leanne Hall

Breathtakingly imaginative. The peculiar setting and character in This Is Shyness had the kind of allure of something so strange that you couldn't help but stare. But as the story enfolds and our protagonists explore Shyness further, it stops being compelling based on it being a spectacle an more on the affinity you develop to the characters.

So what Australian books do you wish were available elsewhere? Or are there any books from other countries that you wish were published in more places?

Also, did you guys know that you can win Alaska and A Straight Line To My Heart in my internationally open Aussie August giveaway? Just in case I persuaded you to read them.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review: Hunting Lila by Sarah Alderson

Hunting Lila by Sarah Alderson

Pages: 320
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Published: September 1st, 2011
IBSN: 9780857071958

17-year-old Lila has two secrets she's prepared to take to the grave. The first is that she can move things just by looking at them. The second is that she's been in love with her brother's best friend, Alex, since forever.

After a mugging on the streets of South London goes horribly wrong and exposes her unique ability, Lila decides to run to the only people she can trust - her brother and Alex. They live in Southern California where they work for a secret organisation called The Unit, and Lila discovers that the two of them are hunting down the men who murdered her mother five years before. And that they've found them. Trying to uncover the truth of why her mother was killed, and the real remit of The Unit, Lila becomes a pawn in a dangerous game. Struggling to keep her secrets in a world where nothing and no one is quite as they seem, Lila quickly realises that she is not alone - there are others out there just like her - people with special powers -and her mother's killer is one of them...

Lila has two big secrets: she can move things with her mind, and she's in love with her brother's best friend Alex. After her mother's death, she was separated from Alex and her brother, and now they're about to be together again. But their happy reunion is cut short when both of her secrets are put at risk.

Sarah Alderson's debut combines compelling action, realistic romance, thorough characterisation, enticing superpowers, and a twisting plot.

Lila was likeable and relateable. She misses her family, she hides the powers that scare her, and has a crush on the unattainable Older Boy. She just had this incredible realness to her, even with decidedly unreal superpowers. She was kind, sweet, had a great sense of humour and all of these things came through her narrative voice.

The way the story unfolded felt realistic. With one first-person narrator, it was almost like real life -- we don't know anything but what we know. As Lila tried to figure out who to trust, we didn't know who to trust either. I got the notion that I was seeing the events through her eyes, not just having her tell me about them. We were as oblivious as she was about the secrets of The Unit and the secrets of her power.

The romance was slowly developed and touching. The tension between Lila and Alex was obvious from the beginning, but they were naturally hesitant about their attraction. A very lovely subplot to the dramatic major plot arc.

With the conclusion came a cliffhanger-that-I-don't-want-to-call-a-cliffhanger-because-when-you-hear-cliffhanger-you-think-of-frustration-and-annoyance, definitely well-executed. It was a realistic denouement to a fight scene, where not all of the good guys get away uninjured. I'm definitely hanging on for the next book in the series!

I give Hunting Lila a 4 out of 5.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Aussie August: What makes Aussie fiction Aussie fiction?

So what makes Australian fiction Australian?

Before you guys get excited for a thorough and eloquent discussion of a widely-loved genre, stop and turn turn turn down your expectations meter. A couple of people said they were looking forward to this post, and that scared the crap out of me.

Australian fiction is, on the most basic level, fiction penned by Australians, and ordinarily set in Australia. So the major difference between Australian fiction and fiction from overseas is the context, but it’s such an unbelievably large component to a story. The setting, the language, the social conventions the characters adhere to -- they all have a huge effect on the story.

The small suburbs outside of Australia’s biggest cities that pose as backdrops to Aussie YAs like All I Ever Wanted and A Straight Line To My Heart give the stories a whole different atmosphere. Things as simple as the characters speaking in Strine help to create a unique feel to the setting. Reading foreign books, there's always a small suspension of disbelief required as the characters talk (I thought people only said things like that on TV?) or just plain do things (You take the same classes everyday? Really?). Some of the smaller things in Aussie YA feel so natural that sometimes they just slide by unnoticed (and often in my case, unappreciated).

There are also many Aussie YAs not set in Australia that still have an Aussie vibe to them, like Alaska and Burn Bright. The authors' experiences have an undoubtedly huge effect on their writing, and Australian writers bring a little of their country with them even into their other settings.

And I think this is what gives Aussie YA its allure: the familiarity. It’s why, in a book market dominated by American books, we cherish the small Australian novel. It’s like coming home after the long journeys other books take us on; it's comfortable. I read part of Beatle Meets Destiny on the very tram that Beatle took to school. The day after I read Graffiti Moon I went and toured all of the painted alley ways in Melbourne. The characters in Aussie YA can be so incredibly relatable on a whole other level. It isn't just like knowing the character -- it's like being friends with the character.

So what do you think makes Aussie fiction Aussie fiction? What do you think makes Aussie fiction unique?

P. S. A couple of the books I mentioned specifically here are prizes in my Aussie August giveaway -- open internationally until the 30th of August.

Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Pages: 352
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Published: November 1st, 2011
IBSN: 9781742378206

Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days and the last time was an accident. Now accidental murder has her locked up in an asylum where happy is a hot meal and not being dead in the morning. No one knows why touching her skin for too long is fatal. No one knows how to fix her problem. No one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population. The ozone layer is deteriorating. Farms are scarce, food is hard to find, temperatures are unreliable and the clouds are the wrong colour.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things. They said the people were to blame for wasting and raping the land of its resources. It's time to start fresh, is what they said. Bleach the past and throw away the freaks. So they threw Juliette in a cell and chopped up the opposition while she blinked. Now enough of the population is dead that the rest are whispering war and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she might be useful. Maybe a Venus flytrap is exactly what they need right now.
And maybe Juliette doesn't give a damn what The Reestablishment needs. Maybe she's tired of being a monster. Maybe she wants to be a human being for once in her life.
Maybe she wants to fight back.
But Juliette has to fight much more than a war. She has to fight herself for the right to be human and fight the world for the right to be free.

She has to make a choice.
Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

Wow, that's a long synopsis. Is anyone still reading? Yes? Okay!

Shatter Me was a breathtakingly original paranormal dystopia. Juliette's touch is lethal, and she was ostracized from her community and family from a young age and given over to the Reestablishment who eventually threw her in a tiny cell. She hasn't touched another person in 264 days and interacted with another in almost as long. Until Adam is suddenly thrown into her cell one day.

You've heard of this book before. Of course you have. It's one of the most hyped upcoming YA books of the year. And while it was hard with an ARC that dedicated more space on the back of the book to bragging rights than the blurb, when it comes to books hyped this much, it's necessary to keep everything you've heard about the book separate to everything you find actually reading the book. If I'd went into this book with the amazingly high expectations that over early reviews have set, it probably would have fallen below them.

Though what couldn't have fallen under expectations was Tahereh Mafi's prose. It was brilliant. She used fragments that helped establish Juliette's initially scared and hesitant voice, and strikeouts that showed her internal conflicts. Written in such a uniquely lyrical fashion, there was a strong narrative voice. Juliette's struggles with her power and feelings were clear through the words in each sentence, paragraph, page.

The plot was engaging, the premise intriguing. The minor arc of Juliette and Adam's escape was the main focus for the most part, but the major arc of the series was introduced only towards the end. Shatter Me definitely had the the feel of a first novel in a series -- it set the context for a more large-scale problem to be eventually solved. Alone it was very compelling, but now that the scene has been set, the rest of the trilogy promises to be much more action-packed.

Though the dystopia setting was the canonical post-natural resources world where a new government sells their dictatorship as the solution, Mafi pulled it off in a refreshing way. The way Juliette reacted to her world so deteriorated in her absence was parallel to ours as we read about this almost plausible future version of our own.

Juliette was a dynamic character. Who she was at the end, triumphant and strong, was at complete odds to the version of herself at the beginning, cowering in her cell from the new boy. Her slow transformation into someone proud of her curse gift was touching, and the whole way there you'll be cheering for her.

The ending was slightly anti-climactic, with what felt like a little too much time spent after the drama had wound down, but it had a very 'X-Men' feel* and left us in a good place to continue the trilogy. The ending felt like a beginning, and I get the feeling know this series will only get better with each installment.

I give Shatter Me a 4 out of 5.

* Always a good thing. ALWAYS.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waiting On Wednesday (39)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine, in which we highlight an upcoming book release we're eagerly awaiting.

This week I'm waiting on Last Breath by Rachel Caine, the eleventh book in the Morganville Vampires series. The series seems to be getting better with each installment, and the blurb leads me to believe that this trend will continue.

There is a question Claire has long been asking: why do vampires live so far out in a sunny desert when they're sensitive to sunlight? The reason doesn't have to do with sunlight but water - and an ancient enemy who has finally found a way to invade the vampires' landlocked community. Vampires aren't the top predator on earth. There's something worse that preys on them ...something much worse. Which means if Claire, and Morganville, want to live, they will have to fight on to the last breath.

[Synopsis by Goodreads]

Last Breath will be released by Razorbill on the 21st of November.

Feel free to leave a link to your own Waiting On Wednesday post in the comments, and I'll be sure to have a look.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Shift by Em Bailey

Shift by Em Bailey

Pages: 320

Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
Published: September 1st, 2011
IBSN: 9781921564390 

Olive Corbett is definitely NOT crazy.

Not anymore. These days she takes her meds like a good girl, hangs out with her best friend Ami, and stays the hell away from the toxic girls she used to be friends with.

She doesn’t need a boyfriend. Especially not a lifesaver-type with a nice smile. And she doesn’t need the drama of that creepy new girl Miranda, who has somehow latched on to Olive's ex-best friend.

Yet from a distance, Olive can see there's something sinister about the new friendship. Something almost... parasitic. Maybe the wild rumours ARE true. Maybe Miranda is a killer.

But who would believe Olive? She does have a habit of letting her imagination run away with her…

Shift was a surprisingly intense psychological thriller from a new voice in Aussie YA.

Olive starts out feeling just like your average teenager. She's not exactly popular, she's not exactly beautiful; but it's revealed slowly that she's not exactly normal either. She had a mental breakdown that resulted in her hospitalisation, but she seems well enough on her meds, until a bombshell is dropped mid-way. Despite her odd circumstances, she was always easily relatable and usually likeable.

The plot was very smooth. There were no 'info-dumps' or the like to interrupt the flow. Hints were dropped sparingly and events unfolding in a teasingly slow manner. We had to figure things out slowly, at times even when the main character couldn't.

Written in a clear and frank fashion that still maintained a foreshadowing tone, the plot turns that had the potential to be confusing or awkward weren't, but turned out feeling realistic. This book is the antidote to all those paranormal stories with completely unrealistic reactions to supernatural elements. In real life, if you encountered someone strange, you wouldn't automatically suspect something preternatural, and you'd need a lot of convincing to believe in it. This book reflects that.

The foreshadowing tone built the suspense to the point where there was almost tangible anticipation for what I hoped was an epic conclusion, and I wasn't wrong. The climax was dramatic and tense and the wind-down addressed our concerns for the main characters while still leaving some parts open-ended to maintain the eerie mystique to the novel.

Complete with a gradual romance and a believable, despicable and slightly sympathetic villain, Shift was a compelling from so many different angles. Once you've traversed the slow beginning, Shift is impossible to put down.

I give Shift a 4 out of 5.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In My Mailbox (4)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren. For it, we highlight books we've received over the past week.

The ones standing to the left are either gifted or won:
  • Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater (from my amazing sister because of my A on the Chemistry mid-year).
  • The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (from Cecelia at Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia).
  • So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti (also from Cecelia).
    I don't think I've ever mentioned how much I enjoy Susane Colasanti's books here before but I really enjoy Susane Colasanti's books. Think Sarah Dessen with a sprinkle of Courtney Summers.

The big pile in the middle are books I bought:
  • The Forest Of Hands And Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • Betrayals by Lili St. Crow
  • The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray.
    I've only read the first book in the Gemma Doyle series, but I'm excited to read the other two as well.
  • Blue Bloods, Masquerade, and The Van Alen Legacy by Melissa De La Cruz.
    Again, I've only read the first one, but I enjoyed it more than I expected, so I snatched these up.
  • Looking For Alaska by John Green.
    The American edition! The Hill Of Content Bookshop had so many editions of books that aren't published in Australia.
  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  • Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty.
    These together were only $1 from this amazing second-hand bookstore in Carlton.

The books standing to the right came for review:
  • Bloodlines by Richelle Mead (thanks to Penguin).
    This was a total surprise, arriving just a few hours after my friend and I were talking about it.
  • Fury by Elizabeth Miles (thanks to Simon & Schuster).
    Another that came as a surprise.
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (thanks to Allen & Unwin!).
    I've already read this one, almost immediately after getting it. I lent it to my friend as well, and we spent most of the week gushing about it.
  • Hunting Lila by Sarah Alderson (thanks to Simon & Schuster).
    Another I've already read. My review should be coming in a few days time.
  • All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin (thanks to Pan Macmillan).
    Not pictured because I'm reading it at the moment. Very good so far!

And also on my camera, I noticed when taking that picture, were photos from the two signings I went to for Maria V Snyder and Kelley Armstrong:

So what did you guys get this month? Leave me a link to your own In My Mailbox post!

Review: All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield

All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield

Pages: 202
Publisher: Text Publishing
Published: June 27th, 2011
IBSN: 9781921758300

Mim knows what she wants, and where she wants to go — anywhere but home, stuck in the suburbs with her mother who won't get off the couch, and two brothers in prison.

She's set herself rules to live by, but she's starting to break them.

Over the nine days before her seventeenth birthday, Mim's life turns upside down. She has problems, and she's determined to solve them herself. But in the end, she works out who her people are, and the same things look entirely different.

Mim's story is sweet and raw, her character likeable in its flaws, and her development and change of heart realistic and gradual. Her story is in equal parts heart-wrenching and heart-warming, and wholly touching.

Mim (short for Jemima) doesn't want to associate herself with the deplorable town she lives in, or the people in it. She just wants to get out. She has volumes and volumes of Lonely Planet travel guides read and reread. She's set herself rules to live by to help her get out, but now she's making new friends and delivering suspicious packages for her mother and her rules are slowly being broken.

Mim was a lovely character to read about, even if lovely isn't the word I'd use to describe her. Seeing her begin to contradict herself and realise her truths aren't truths at all and develop was inspiring, and the way she handled the story's gritty romance at the end at odds to how she introduced it perfectly showed how she'd changed.

On gritty romance, I absolutely loved that part of this book -- the way (spoilers ahead!) she was empowered by rejecting the boy who jerked her around even after she pined for him for so long. I always lament about how the girls so many YA relationships swoon over guys who don't deserve it, and I adore how Mim stood up for herself in this one.

Vikki Wakefield's debut was written in beautifully spare prose that easily evoked emotion from the reader. All of Mim's emotions were so clearly and accurately written that they seemed to pool on the page and sticky our hands. Her narration was so honest and her feelings so raw that I began to feel personally acquainted with her.

Mim's story was a short, sweet, and completely gorgeous one. An Aussie debut from a promising writer.

I give All I Ever Wanted a 5 out of 5.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: Feeling Sorry For Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Feeling Sorry For Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Series: Ashbury/Brookfield (#1)

Pages: 288
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Published: January 10th, 2002.
IBSN: 9780312287368

Life is pretty complicated for Elizabeth Clarry. Her best friend Celia keeps disappearing, her absent father suddenly reappears, and her communication with her mother consists entirely of wacky notes left on the fridge. On top of everything else, because her English teacher wants to rekindle the "Joy of the Envelope," a Complete and Utter Stranger knows more about Elizabeth than anyone else.

But Elizabeth is on the verge of some major changes. She may lose her best friend, find a wonderful new friend, kiss the sexiest guy alive, and run in a marathon.

So much can happen in the time it takes to write a letter...

I don't have much experience with epistolary novels, but my experience with this one was a great one. My concern for a story told entirely through letters was that I wouldn't get a lot of insight into the main character, but the frequent letters from various made-up societies such as "The Cold Hard Truth Society", almost letters to herself, gave us a thorough look into the way Elizabeth thought.

With such a strong, quirky voice, Elizabeth reminded me of Ruby Oliver of E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend List. She was clever, self-deprecating, and had a wry sense of humour. The letters she wrote to herself gave us glimpses into her worries and insecurities that her letters to other people hid behind an endearing and bubbly tone. Her character was fleshed out in a surprising but very welcome way that I didn't expect from the book's format.

The context was also interesting. I had to keep reminding myself this book was written almost 10 years ago, and I was constantly encountering things like 'videos' rather than DVDs and letter writing as a common thing. But with such relatable characters and themes, it was difficult to imagine the story taking place when I was in kindergarten.

The offbeat relationships presented in this book showed unique, fascinating dynamics portrayed in a realistic light. The letters between Elizabeth and her mother and Christina gave depth to their relationships that a regular narrative would not achieve.

Finishing on a touching, hopeful note, highlighting all of the positive that the negative things in Elizabeth's life recently have brought, the conclusion definitely showed how much Elizabeth grew and matured.

Overall, Feeling Sorry For Celia was an incredibly funny and heart-warming story told in a refreshingly different and engaging style.

I give Feeling Sorry For Celia a 5 out of 5. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Chasing Charlie Duskin by Cath Crowley

Chasing Charlie Duskin by Cath Crowley

Pages: 240

Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Published: April 28th, 2005
IBSN: 9780330421607

Charlie Duskin is running. Fleeing from failures and memories and friends who have given up on her. And she's not only running, she's chasing things - like a father who will talk to her, friends who don't think she's as invisible as a piece of cling wrap, and an experience with a boy in which she doesn't look like an idiot. But Charlie Duskin is about to have the best summer of her life. She's about to meet a friend who'll change her forever. She's about to fall in love. She just doesn't know it yet.

This book may be better known by the title it was published under in the US, A Little Wanting Song. It tells us the story of Charlie, a sweet muffled melody to everyone else's boisterous song, finding her voice.

Narrated in the dual perspectives of Charlie and Rose, the different outlooks on the characters and events give us added depth. We understand how things that happened or were said affected people in different ways, we can see our characters' personalities complemented and juxtaposed -- all due to alternating perspectives. A perfect example of when this definitely added something to the story.

Both characters narrated with distinct and relatable voices in the beautiful, ornate writing style that I was already familiar with from Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon. Full of vivid imagery and poetic metaphors and similes, every other sentence makes you let out an involuntary and happy sigh.

The characters were all -- every last one -- fleshed out and realistic. I was especially taken with Charlie, whose tone was so soft and sad that I wanted to just big her a huge hug and then hold a microphone up to her so everybody else could hear her, too. Both her and Rose had clear character arcs that intersected in a lovely moment near the conclusion as they began to become real friends.

With narrators that escape the page and seem more real than fictional, beautiful prose, and relatable and touching character development, Chasing Charlie Duskin is a must-read for fans of contemporary or coming-of-age novels.

I give Chasing Charlie Duskin a 5 out of 5.

Waiting On Wednesday (38)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine, in which we highlight an upcoming book release we're eagerly awaiting.

This week I'm waiting on Out Of Sight, Out Of Time by Ally Carter, the fifth book in the Gallagher Girl series. This series is so ridiculously fun to read! I think every book could benefit from having an all-girls spy academy in it.

The last thing Cammie Morgan remembers is leaving the Gallagher Academy to protect her friends and family. But when Cammie wakes up in an alpine convent and discovers months have passed, her memory is a black hole. The only traces left of Cammie’s summer vacation are the bruises on her body and dirt under her nails. All she wants is to go home. But even the Gallagher Academy now holds more questions than answers as Cammie and her friends face their most difficult challenge yet. With only their training and a few clues to guide them, the girls go in search of answers on the other side of the world. But the Circle is hot on their trail and will stop at nothing to prevent Cammie from remembering what she did last summer.

[Synopsis by Goodreads]

Why We Broke Up will be release by Disney Hyperion on the 20th of March, 2012.

Feel free to leave a link to your own Waiting On Wednesday post in the comments, and I'll be sure to have a look.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Aussie August: Australian Favourites

Welcome to my second featured post for Aussie August. You can go here to see my first -- an international giveaway -- and here to see all the other awesome features and a schedule of the rest to come.

I was going to talk just about one of my favourite Australian novels, but we probably don't have the same tastes, so I've asked around for some other recommendations. So aside from just me sharing my favourite, wonderful Australian authors Leanne Hall, Rhiannon Hart, Aimee Said, and Sue Saliba will also be sharing theirs!

Rhiannon Hart is the debut author of the amazing upcoming fantasy novel Blood Song. Her pick is Obernewytn by Isobel Carmody:

 Obernewtyn Chronicles are almost as old as I am. But of course, I didn't discovered them until years after the first was published--probably around the time The Keeping Place appeared in 1999, when I was in year 10. The books are set thousand years or so after a nuclear holocaust, called the Great White, has destroyed the land. Technology is forbidden, for it is feared that any sort of advancement might bring about more destruction. Those who have mutations are also feared, and persecuted by the Herder Faction, the religious order appointed by the ruling Council.

Elspeth Gordie is a Misfit, and has a mutation that she must hide that gives her advanced mental abilities. In the first book, she is discovered and sent to a place called Obernewtyn where it is claimed that people like her can be cured. All is not as it seems, and Elspeth uncovers a truth far worse than she or any of the other Misfits there expected.

These are brilliant adventure books. You might call them dystopian or fantasy, or even science fiction, but it's the adventure that I love, along with the simple world building and interesting characters. I have happy memories of getting lost in this series, and it makes me sad to think that it will finally be coming to a close. Especially as I haven't read The Stone Key yet! I have a signed copy sitting on my shelf, just waiting for me to re-read from The Farseekers onward. I heard Isobelle Carmody speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival two years ago and I was particularly taken by her role in animal activism--something that comes through in her books as well.

For some reason I've never been taken with any other of Carmody's books. But the Obernewtyn Chronicles will always be close to my heart. 

Leanne Hall wrote the richly imaginative This Is Shyness and is currently working on a sequel. Her pick is Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar:

I was going to pick something really old and classic, so you could admire my obscure tastes in Australian fiction. But in the end I decided to tell the truth. My favourite Australian book is a recent one, and a book that has been admired especially by YA bloggers - Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar. Everything about Raw Blue rings true for me. I've read it several times now, and each time I find myself sucked into Carly's world of working at a cafe, surfing whenever she can, and trying to keep her demons at bay. I'm not a surfer, in fact I don't think I've ever even held a surfboard, but Eagar (a diehard surfer herself) really takes you into the surfing world in this book. I feel like I know the water and the waves and the regulars of the northern beaches of NSW through reading it. I had no idea before reading this, how beautiful and complicated the ocean could be.  

Carly is a vivid, unique character going through tough times as best she can. I love it that she's taciturn, I love it that she takes her work at the cafe seriously, I love it that she acts foolishly at times. Eagar paints a really accurate picture of someone trying to get over a very traumatic event. Carly has a lot of strength, but it's still not easy for her to be happy. The story of her learning to trust and be close to people again is an important story to tell.

Aimee Said is the author of contemporary novels Finding Freia Lockhart and Little Sister. Her pick is Clara In Washington by Penny Tangey:

Asking me to talk about my all-time favourite Aussie YA is like asking a mother to pick her favourite child: impossible! Instead I’ve chosen my favourite recent release, Clara in Washington by Penny Tangey. 

What it’s about: Clara, who’s just finished high school, accompanies her mum on an extended business trip to America’s capital, hoping for new experiences and a chance to step outside her studious-geek persona. It’s also a way to avoid some things (and someone) at home that she’d rather not deal with. But Clara’s time in Washington doesn’t quite live up to her expectations, mainly because she’s terrified to leave the house. Then she meets brooding Campbell and his anarchist group and begins to question the beliefs by which she defines herself and her plans for the future.

Why I love it: Clara is an insightful narrator with a dry, self-deprecating (and very Australian) sense of humour. I empathised with many of her fears and insecurities, and the great weight of expectation that comes with her post-school transition. I also found the setting – around the time of Obama’s inauguration – fascinating, especially viewed through Clara’s eyes.

Sue Saliba wrote Watching Seagulls, Something In The World Called Love, and the gorgeous recently-released Alaska. Her pick is Saltwater Moons by Julie Gittus:

One of my favourite Australian young adult novels is ‘Saltwater Moons’ by Julie Gittus. Sun will soon be finishing Year 12 when she meets two older guys: Mark, who has just broken up with her best friend and Tycho, a university student who surfs, paints and reads poetry. Sun feels an attraction to and affinity with Tycho and when he asks her to spend the weekend with him and his family at their beach house, she is excited and nervous and all those things you would expect of emergent first love. But then Mark appears and Sun ends up taking a late-night walk with him – and things get
very complicated.

There’s such honesty to the way this story is told, I found myself having an incredible sympathy with Sun. While she’s an intelligent and sensitive person, things seem to happen in her life at this time that are just beyond her grasp of fully understanding or controlling. There’s betrayal and love and heartbreak and, all the time, a yearning for something or someone who seems unreachable.

This novel is written with real wisdom and kindness and the characters are complex and layered. I felt like I was being given a privileged look back at my own young adult years by someone who understood all the confusion and yearning and ‘wrong’ situations I had found myself in – and who did not judge me but encouraged me to look again, this time with real compassion.

And me? My favourite Australian novel is On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. It tells Taylor and Hannah's highly emotional stories of loss, but ends with hope. Marchetta introduces a plethora of plot threads -- romance, war games, friendship, and family -- that the sympathetic characters will work painstakingly hard to tie together into a neat conclusion. It's not even just my favourite Australian novel, but one of my favourite novels outright.

So, what are your favourite Australian novels?