Crafting a great story: deconstructing ‘These Broken Stars’

TheseBrokenStars.jpgHello beautiful cover. I think I’ll read you…

It started with the gorgeous cover, but this is a clever and crisp novel that followed through on expectations.  ‘These Broken Stars’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner was a fab accompaniment to a great holiday.

And it only got better on my second read, because it was so crafty I didn’t notice some of the cool things the authors were weaving into it until I started analysing.

‘These Broken Stars’ is the first in the successful The Starbound Trilogy. We have society girl, Lilac, and low-born army hero Tarver. Sparks fly, their spaceship fails to, and they find themselves stranded together on a planet with too many mysteries.

I loved the clues and suspense, and the gentle beauty that came from two people hiking and learning about themselves as they went. I also love hiking, but I don’t think that’s a prerequisite to enjoying this fab book.

So, what was great about it?

Let’s do some deconstruction… and beware the occasional (read: frequent) blatant spoiler… Here are three areas I’m going to focus on for this novel.

  1. Multiple plot themes = ongoing interest
  2. Characters and POV (I know, I sound like a broken record…)
  3. Subtle introduction of ideas so you don’t even notice you’re noticing them

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Superb book-hug: ‘Take Three Girls’

TakeThreeGirls.jpgWhen I finished reading this book, I hugged it. Arms. Book. Chest. Smile.

‘Take Three Girls’ by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood is a raw and sometimes confronting book that is also funny, heartfelt and inspiring.

The friendship is fab, the character arcs super, the characters themselves so realistic. I ache for them, I cheer for them, I worry for them.

The book is chock-full of positive ways for teens (especially girls) to learn to feel good about who they are, but without that terrible feeling you’re getting a super-side-serve of preaching with your fiction. It’s simply a beautifully masterful, exciting and enlightening book.

I find I don’t want to dissect ‘Take Three Girls’ like I normally would.

No. I want to hug it.

Again.

I think it’s because I’m now a teacher, and I’ve seen both ends of these character arcs, and that’s why this book hit me so deep. I’ve seen the terrible sadness and missed opportunity of kids who can only deal with hate by hating on others. A dreadful spiral.

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Recommended reading for all teen girls – ‘Risk’

Risk.jpgReviewing this top-notch read has been a long time coming. And when I say long, I mean years.

I first heard about ‘Risk’ by Fleur Ferris before it was published. Here in West Oz, SCBWI have an annual event where we basically invite a few publishers over and then maroon them on a small island with us for several days.

Back in 2015 the publisher was from Random House. And she was talking up this book. If we wanted our YA to be published, she told us, this book was our benchmark.

The tantalising first chapter on the web hauled me in, but the book wasn’t out at the time. And somehow it just stayed on my TBR…

Until now.

My library recently bought a brand-spanking shiny new copy that jumped out and grabbed me as I wandered past the shelf. And approximately seven hours after checking it out, I was reviewing it.

Because this brilliant book dragged me in and held me.

It frightened me.

It made me cry.

And it made me consider internet restrictions for the teenager my daughter will become in less than a decade. May it be a very long eight years.

So, what was so great about it?

  • The balance between fear and reaction
  • The background knowledge of the author
  • The characters

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A super start to a defo non-fairytale fairy series: ‘Valentine’

Valentine.jpgPhew! First semester is over, so it’s back to the (fun) books for me! I couldn’t resist reaching for a novel I’ve been aching to read since it first came out – ‘Valentine’ by Jodi McAlister.

Great cover (don’t you think??!), great premise. Four kids, all born on Valentine’s Day… but which one is the changeling? Add a dash of love-hate romance and you have the perfect recipe for YA enjoyment.

And so…?

This book does truckloads of stuff right. The characters and location feel so real. The start is amazing. All those midnight animals creeping around keep building the suspense.

And whoa… because if there aren’t at least two Valentines who can trace their lineage back to a bit of fairy magic, then I’m not a madcap children’s writer. Unfortunately, I have to wait for the next book to find out if I’m right. Continue reading

Answer the call – ‘The Shark Caller’

TheSharkCaller.jpg

This has been on my TBR since before it was even published… and it did not disappoint! A clever melding of belief and reality, loss and discovery, fantasy and contemporary, it lured me in and held me. It’s been a while since I’ve read magic realism, and I sank back into it like a comfy couch.

‘The Shark Caller’ by Dianne Wolfer is a Young Adult novel that can easily suit Middle-grade readers as well. As in, no sex, drugs, angst or other decidedly YA-only markers.

‘The Shark Caller’ has a funky set-up that I loved, interspersing main character Izzy’s narrative with the POV of a shark (mako). The latter is beautifully set out on the page, not so much chapters as poetry and art. In fact, the whole book is beautiful.

It has a suite of diverse characters, and interweaves Tok Pisin with English so you get immersed in the setting of Papua New Guinea.

It’s fresh, it’s different.

I’m a fan. Continue reading

A sequel that lived up to my ultra-excited expectations – ‘Gemina’

geminaI was jigging-foot excited to read ‘Gemina‘ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Nervous too. Because, seriously, ‘Illuminae‘ was so damn mindblowing I wasn’t sure anything could ever come up to standard.

Thankfully, ‘Gemina’ came through for me. There was something about picking it up and leaping back into the unconventional, characteristic setup that had my blood singing so much those lamina would have sensed me from half a universe away.

Why?

  • Characters of zing
  • World-building of awesome
  • Plot of intricate amaze-balls

Hooray, ‘Gemina’ happily thumbed its nose at the Seriously Sucky Sequel Syndrome. Want to know more? Brace yourselves and read on…

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The joy of brilliant writing and diverse characters – ‘The Sidekicks’

TheSidekicks.jpgThis book absorbed me. I became not one, but three new people as I read it.

That’s powerful.

I didn’t expect to love it this much. Don’t snort in my general virtual direction. I guess because this was written by a bloke, about three blokes adapting to the loss of a fourth bloke. And I’m not a bloke.

So I think my mind just kept gravitating to female-centric books instead.

Thankfully, I purposefully put it on my list at my last library visit after a few twitter giggles at posts by the author. And so should you. ‘The Sidekicks’ by Will Kostakis was a fabulous read, and I’m a bigger person for reading it.

The characters were vivid, the plot was enthralling, the writing was that sort of perfect where you don’t realise you’re reading.

I’m doing a dance now that I have read it, because it’s reminded me of why literature is so powerful. It isn’t just telling a story. With a book, especially in first person, you become the narrator as you read. You see and feel and think like someone else. And when that person is someone completely different to you, this magical thing can happen.

Empathy.

<oh, and a kinda spoiler alert, too> Continue reading

I’m on! 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge accepted!

AWW2017-badge.jpg I’ve signed up for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge!

The challenge I’ve set myself for this year (apparently it’s called  the Franklin…) is:

  • Read ten books by Australian women
  • Review at least six of these and link the reviews back to the AWW2017 site.

Of course, I’ll be reviewing in the Children’s Books area, which should be a joy because we have so many awesome women writers making awesome books for kids and young adults.

In fact, I just read one today :o).

How to create and maintain suspense: the riveting ‘Black’

Black.jpg

I read this book in one sitting. NOT because it’s short (it’s actually 276 pages). NOT because I was reading-deprived after a month of writing (which I was, but that’s not the real reason). NOT EVEN because I didn’t want to go to bed before I figured out what super-scary stuff was going down that would otherwise give me nightmares.

No. I read this in one sitting because it’s that damn good.

I lent it to an author friend and she couldn’t put it down either.

Black‘ by Fleur Ferris is totally worth reading.

Obviously, me being me, I then wanted to figure out why this book was unputdownable for two sleep-deprived children’s writers.

Roughly speaking, it’s split into two almost equal parts. Part One, where we’re anxiously trying to figure out what is happening and waiting for it to all go bad. And Part Two. Where it goes bad, and we’re caught up in Ebony ‘Black’ Marshall’s fight to regain herself. I understand what makes the second part tick. I can write action and up the stakes and have people fight for their lives.

But the first part of the novel is a brilliant study in creating suspense.

I knew I had to work out how Ferris had done it. Want to know too? Read on.

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Breaking free from the circling wolves – ‘Jenna’s Truth’

jennastruthcoverPicture the scene. It’s 2.47pm on a Wednesday. I have to leave to pick my daughter up from kindy in three minutes, except I’m awash with hot silent tears. I’ve been reading a great book again…

Sometimes there are stories that talk to me, change me, teach me. ‘Jenna’s Truth’ by Nadia L King is one of them. It takes the tough issues of bullying and teen suicide, and fights for a positive outcome.

Never relax around the popular kids; they lure you in like wolves circling their prey – I just hadn’t realised yet that I was the prey. (p30)

King was inspired to write this book by the moving story of Amanda Todd. Straight after I finished reading ‘Jenna’s Truth’ I googled Amanda’s You Tube video. Cue more tears on a Wednesday afternoon. Because Amanda didn’t deserve the treatment she got. Jenna doesn’t either. The difference between these two is that Jenna is saved.

‘Jenna’s Truth’ aims to save many more. Continue reading