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’

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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.

Continue reading

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

Alcohol and social media and the desire to conform: ‘Saving Jazz’

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Mate, after reading this I’m glad I’ve finished High School. Compelling and chest-huggingly confronting. Sickening actions with terrible repercussions. This book isn’t shy. It’s on a mission. But fear not – it also has the poise to end positively without a whiff of cheddar or colby. And it absorbed me.

‘Saving Jazz’ by Kate McCaffrey tells the tale of a drunken party gone wrong and its painful aftermath. It has a level of clarity that only comes from a combo of great writing and clever and careful editing – bravo Fremantle Press. The part of me that’s a mum was rocking in the corner muttering, ‘Home-schooling, home-schooling.’ The part of me that’s planning to be a Science teacher was setting her jaw, more determined to take the path already chosen, but also a little terrified.

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How Fornasier Saved the Cat: the beautiful ‘The Things I Didn’t Say’

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If I was Kylie Fornasier, and this was my book, I would be so damn proud. ‘The Things I Didn’t Say‘ had me completely absorbed into the very heart of the narrator. When I put the book down I’d often feel like I couldn’t talk.

Just like Piper.

How did Fornasier do it? Sure, it’s written in first person present, which is a good start. I’ve been known to take a break from a book and be all jittery because somewhere out there Cato and half a dozen other tributes are lurking and all they want to do is knock my bow-and-arrow wielding self into oblivion. So, yes, first person present POV is a great way of immersing a reader.

But there’s more here. I was so taken by this thoughtful and clever book, once I finished and blew my nose a few more times, I analysed the innards out of it to try and pinpoint what made it work for me. Turns out Fornasier Saved the Cat. Don’t know if it was intentional, but it worked.

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Deconstructing the awesome ‘Illuminae’ with a bloodied pair of pinking sheers and a sharpened spoon

illiminaeSeriously. If Unputdownable and Awesome met and had a book baby, it would be ‘Illuminae‘ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. If you’re wondering whether to read it, just take this as a fist-pumpingly enthusiastic, big-brass-band in the background YES!

And go away now and read.

However if, like me, you now want to dissect the story structure and see what made it mind-blowing, then read on my friend.

I think the key areas where ‘Illuminae’ shines are:

  1. Story structure cranking the tension.
  2. Plotty plot plot + plot + more plot
  3. Challenging narrative structure
  4. Characters you bleed for.

And that’s not even mentioning how often it made me laugh out loud.

I cried too. My emotional control is about equal to that of a caterpillar, so this isn’t all that unusual, but there is understated beauty in the way ‘Illuminae’ is written.

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The joy of a good plot twist – ‘Waer’ by Meg Caddy

WaerWaer‘, SCBWI West member Meg Caddy’s debut, has been on my TBR list since its release a few months ago. I was keen to see what caught the eye of Text and led to its shortlisting in the Text Prize (and a contract!).

Getting a contract as a previously unpublished author seems about as easy as brushing your hair with a glue stick. So I LOVE reading debuts. Half of me enjoys hearing a new voice and celebrating their success. I firmly believe that the more great books published, the more kids will want to read.

One writer’s success is a win for all writers.

The other half of me hopes I will pick up that final, vital hint about how to write a novel publishers will latch on to.

So, what did I discover in Waer?

  • Seamless and brave world-building
  • Two vivid POVs
  • A decidedly unexpected twist.

And beware (be waer?) (sorry) the odd, tiny little spoiler ahead.

Continue reading

Finding what you’re not looking for

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What sort of book gets named a ‘Notable Book’ by the Children’s Book Council of Australia in their Book of the Year Awards? Well, the awesome ‘Cloudwish’ for one. And here’s another – ‘A Small Madness’ by Dianne Touchell.

So, what does Touchell offer that makes this book so notable? Here’s what I found out. And if you haven’t read the book, be warned. Because I’m here to discover why and how a book worked, and little spoilers escape everywhere when I put my thoughts down.

The Basics – write well about things people want to read about

This book is beautifully written, simply written, intricately written. It involves themes that are important to Young Adults, indeed all society. Sure, having the main two characters going all the way on Page 1 is one heck of an engaging start. Most people agree your first page has to jump out and grab the reader… but you still need to deliver.

And this book does.

It hauls you in because from the very start you dread what you fear you think you know will happen. And then it turns out worse. Continue reading