Blog Tour! Free books! “Bird” by Crystal Chan

Chan_BirdBird (John) was five when he flew off the top of the cliff. Flew all the way to the bottom. The day he died his Grandpa stopped talking. The day he died, Jewel was born.

Jewel has grown up in the shadow of her brother’s death. Each birthday is thick with his absence. Until her twelfth birthday, when Jewel meets another boy called John. He talks about planets and space and makes her feel like she can tell him secrets that she’s only ever shared with her rocks. But her Grandpa thinks that John is a duppy and spits at his feet, and even Jewel knows that there’s something that John isn’t telling her, she just isn’t sure what it is.

I feel very lucky to have been asked to review this book as a part of Crystal Chan‘s blog tour. It’s a very special first book, and is fitting that author Martine Murray has given the cover quote, as she has a similar frankness to her characters, a similar wisdom.

This is a book that finds the perfect balance of heaviness and light. It is rich with culture and colour and longing. Jewel longs to be noticed, her mother longs for her son and Grandpa longs to make up for being responsible for the death of his beloved Bird. It’s a book about wanting something more, wanting to eek more from life than just surviving. Jewel wants to be a geologist, but her mother wants her to be something more, something safer, something normal. The overprotectiveness of a mother who has lost one child is understandable, even to Jewel, but just once she wants to be heard not from behind the veil of tragedy that hangs over her family. Jewel’s father is overprotective too, but as a Jamaican, his protection comes in the form of plants, rituals and totems designed to keep the evil spirits, the duppies away from his family.

This exploration of not fitting in because of colour or culture is mirrored in John, the dark skinned boy of a white, rich family. He resents them because they’re a daily reminder that he’s got no links to his birth family who gave him up. In Jewel he finds someone who understands him. She understands what it’s like to be different, and to have people take one look at you and assume that you don’t belong. She understands his obsession with space, and can match his facts about planets with her own about the rocks and the earth. They are companion stars, moving in each others’ atmosphere.

But while I love the relationship that develops between Jewel and John, my favourite character, and my favourite development in the book is Grandpa and his relationship with Jewel. Grandpa starts as a two dimensional angry old man, silenced by his grief and superstitions. But Jewel knows that there was more to him once. Before Bird flew. ‘Pooba’, who gave his grandson a nickname that encouraged him to fly. A smiling Grandpa, with his arm around Granny. Little by little Grandpa becomes more than his silence and rage. Discovering him is one of the many lovely character mysteries to this book and there are some beautiful moments as he starts to become more than a name or a silent, angry figure to Jewel and starts becoming a person with history and joy and music and pain. It’s extraordinary watching Jewel

Chan2 I(Stacy Jaffe)uncover the mysteries of her family within this old man, and watching her find a place where her soul feels at home.

Words are what we use to tell a story, but it’s the silences that make it special. Crystal Chan uses both to perfection. Her story is one that is captivating to read- it’s rich, colourful, tragically happy and wonderful and the words that she uses to tell it are clean and precise. They are punctuated with perfect silences, lifting this story beyond the everyday and making it fly.

 

Thanks to Text Publishing I have a copy of “Bird” to giveaway to an Australian reader. Just tell me in the comments why you’d like to read it and I’ll announce the winner in the next couple of weeks.

You can read the rest of Crystal’s journey through the blogosphere at the sites below

Extract on Gobblefunked

Review & Guest Post at VeganYANerds

Review at whY.A.not?

12 Curly Questions on Kids’ Book Review

Review at Diva Booknerd

Review at YA Midnight Reads

Review at inkcrush

Review & Q&A at ALPHAReader

A good start

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2014 is so far off to a good start, book-wise, blog-wise and life-wise.

After a chaotic, fulfilling, wonderful 2013 I’m looking forward to another jam packed year. There will be more travelling, a wedding and I hope more time for writing too (or at the very least if not more time then more actual writing).

Technically the first book I read this year was the new Barry Jonsberg – Pandora Jones, for review in an upcoming edition of Bookseller&Publisher (it is very very good indeed). However, the first two on my goodreads list are these, by Laini Taylor.

Anyone who knows me will know that I’m wilfully stubborn and have a tendency to do the exact opposite of things that are suggested to me, just because. I received a copy of Daughters of Smoke and Bone some time ago now for review, and it dutifully went on my to read pile. And was then overshadowed by newer books (plus I was a bit sick of the whole fallen angel schtick). And then someone told me that I simply had to read it because it was amazing, so I of course, did nothing of the sort.

Until last week, when for no particular reason I actually got a stool and dug through the books in my wardrobe for this particular title, because a little niggling voice told me that I really should read it, and actually I had been going through a bit of a fantasy series phase so what was the harm in it really anyway?

Two days later I’d finished both Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight and was absolutely desperate for the third. It’s due in a few months I think, so that’s not an incredibly long time to wait.

To write this series off as ‘one of those fallen angel books’ does it a real disservice. In fact, although it does have fallen angels (and non-fallen ones) by the carload, the story is primarily about Karou, not a fallen angel, but a chimaera  – raised and surrounded by demons. Karou is a most excellent female lead, with her blue hair and independence, while her best friend Zuzana (described by Karou as the ‘rabid fairy’) is tiny, ferocious and loyal. These two are The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo of fantasy. Unlike the swathe of other fallen angel type romances, the women in this series are strong, independent and entirely capable of standing on their own two feet. That’s not to say that there isn’t romance. There is. Lots of it. But it’s made all the more wonderful by the equality, by the fact that it is the male characters who worship the ground on which these wonderful women tread.

This strength adds complexity to the story itself as well. Without wanting to give too much away, there is a time (several times) when Karou’s loyalties are tested and she is torn between the love of her heart and the love of her people. Her decisions are rich and complex, and when she turns her back on her lover it doesn’t come across as merely a plot device to create tension, but as an authentic and heartbreaking choice. Offering a sweet contrast to Karou’s struggles with love is the easy and tender romance between Zuzana and violinist Mik. They may not quite be the focus of the story that Karou and angel Akiva are, but they are no less important, and readers will follow their story with just as much eagerness (so much so that a novella has been written about their first date)

With a backdrop of Prague and Marrakech and a surprisingly loveable cast of beastly characters, there is an ‘otherness’ to these books that is irresistible. We are introduced to the chimaera in Karou’s sketchbooks, where she chronicles her life as a messenger and tooth collector for the mysterious Brimstone. Brimstone might be a demon, but there is something grandfatherly about him, despite his horns. Similarly there is something maternal about Issa, the snake headed female bodied woman. It is these warm familial qualities that play on our expectations of characters in this genre and what makes this series such a unique standout amid so many.

2013 a year in review(s)

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2013 was a HUGE year. Between having a baby (hard work, surprise!), going back to uni (some more hard work), and making the switch from PC to MAC I’m still a little shell-shocked. And amazed that I managed to get through any books at all. But I did. 66 of em if you’ll believe my Goodreads account (which you should).

There were some good and not so good as you’d expect, and quite a few dystopian and sci-fi series, which I got a bit hooked on towards the end there. Some highlights.

1. The Divergent series, by Veronica Roth. How had I not read these before? They had somehow made it onto my stubborn ‘everyone tells me I should read these and therefore I definitely won’t’ pile. But I caved over christmas and am glad I did. Hunger Games who?

2.  Lexicon by Max Barry. Deservedly dubbed ‘the year’s smartest thriller’ by Time magazine. Lexicon is clever, pacey, suspenseful and a little on the surreal side. I’m not ashamed to say that I love a good action/thriller and this is indeed a good one.

3. Invisibility by David Levithan and Andrea Cramer and while we’re at it, Every Day by David Levithan, and actually while we’re at it, everything by David Levithan. Let’s face it the man is a genius who writes about love like it’s liquid gold, beautiful, fiery and raw.

4. Things I Didn’t Expect When I Was Expecting by Monica Dux. I definitely wasn’t expecting to get as much from this book as I did. As a reader I loved the writing which is pithy and witty. Monica Dux speaks frankly about her own experiences as a woman – pregnant/birthing/mother, as well as the shared experiences of those around her. The humour in this didn’t surprise me (although I’d point out that she thankfully doesn’t rely on heavy handed in-jokes or patronising off handers about men/husbands/friends without babies) but the pathos and depth of research and knowledge in each chapter did. This isn’t just some memoir dashed off in the rush of emotion accompanying motherhood, it’s a thoughtful, funny, provocative and frank book about being a mother, being a woman and finding a place in today’s reality. It was perfectly timed for me, and it’s the one book that I can see myself thrusting at new mothers for years to come.

5. Everything (and I do mean everything) by Deborah Ellis. I was lucky enough to interview Deborah Ellis for Viewpoint in 2013 and prepared by reading her entire backlist, as well as a sampler of her new title. Every word is thoughtful and thought provoking, ‘Children of War’ and ‘Off to War’ especially made me look at war more intimately. Each of her books is incredibly personal and humanising.

6. The First Third by Will Kostakis. I’m the only child of an only child (mum) and while dad has brothers and sisters, they didn’t all live close enough to be ever present in my childhood. I grew up around a lot of adults, who are (for the most part) quieter than kids. The family in this Greek Looking For Alibrandi-esque novel aren’t like that. They’re loud, and chaotic and all up in each other’s business. Their madness and love for each other pours liberally from the pages, with laughter and tears and a gradual understanding of the importance of family.

7. Girl Defective by Simmone Howell. Oh but Simmone Howell does know how to write about those painful teenage years. She creates characters like Sky, who is just almost on the verge of starting to fit into her own skin and pairs them beautifully with those characters, those characters that we all have one of I’m sure, whose exotic vulnerability makes them so desirable as a friend. This is a thriller with a heart that catches a time, a place, a person, and a moment just before they fall through the cracks. I’m so so glad to see this and some other great YA titles make buzzfeed’s list of top Aussie titles from 2013.

8. My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg. Candice Phee stole my heart last year. It’s impossible to describe just how much you will love her, and her completely earnest attempts to solve the problems of her family, Earth-pig-fish and Douglas Benson From Another Dimension.

9. Hostage Three by Nick Lake. You wouldn’t think that Somali pirates would make the ideal romantic lead in a YA story, but in this, they do. That’s not to say that Hostage Three is a feel good romance, it’s more a tragic exploration of love and humanity played out in the claustrophobic setting of a yacht that has been taken hostage by pirates.

10. Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield. When I was asked to judge the Clayton awards for the 2013 CBCA I was thrilled not only at the invitation but also to have the excuse to pick up the Australian gems that I’d missed the year before. Friday Brown was one of those gems and I’m only sorry that I didn’t read it earlier. If Girl Defective is about the moments before people fall through the cracks then Friday Brown is what happens after they do.

11. Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne. What a wonderful return to my childhood favourite. I think that this was more for my benefit than the baby’s (who would fall asleep almost before the reading began). I had forgotten how wonderful that Pooh bear is. So strange, and funny to read aloud. And such a wonderful thing, reading aloud. I’m looking forward to reading it again to him in a few years.

12. Shadowboxing by Tony Birch. Was it really only a year ago that I read this? Seems like the stories have been in my brain for a lifetime now. I’m sure I’ve said it before but Tony Birch is nothing short of extraordinary, and is really one of Australia’s outstanding writers.