Life In Outer Space

Life In Outer SpaceLife In Outer Space is a book of firsts – it’s the first book put out by Hardie Grant Egmont’s Ampersand Projectthe first YA novel by self proclaimed book nerd Melissa Keil, and the first time Sam Kinnison meets a girl that he could just fall in love with.

I was lucky enough to be asked to write teachers notes for this one, which you can keep an eye out for here and so read the book a while ago now. Unfortunately Big Life Events have kept me from blogging for a while (and may make my blogging sporadic for the first part of this year), so my review itself is shamefully late – sorry Melissa!

Sam is perfectly happy with the way his life is going.  He’s seen the movies. For a geek like him, he knows that high school is going to pretty much suck. But that’s okay. He knows where he stands, and it’s not like he doesn’t have grand plans for life beyond the school corridors.

When Camilla Carter shows up he’s pretty sure that he’s got her pegged. She’s your standard cool girl, destined to fit in. It doesn’t hurt that her dad’s a fairly famous music journo, practically a free pass to hang out with any crowd she wants to. Which is why Sam’s so shocked when she picks his. He’s not in the market for new friends, and is definitely not looking to fall in love, but it seems like life, and Camilla Carter, might just have other plans for him.

Life In Outer Space is not only a great debut for a fresh new voice in Aussie YA (think Lili Wilkinson or John Green – witty, charming and funny) but also sets the tone for the Ampersand Project overall. There’s a freshness that breathes through the pages of this, and regardless of what comes next for the Ampersand Project, it’s clear that they have an eye for unique, clever writing. Melissa Keil is by no means a novice to the publishing industry (she works as a children’s book editor), and her editing background and love of the genre is apparent in all aspects of her writing.

I often talk about how nice it is to read a book that reminds you how good reading can make you feel – not how clever it looks on your shelf, not how proud you can be of your endurance having slogged through it, but a book that reminds you of how fun it can be to just let the threads of a story wrap themselves around you and pull you in. It’s so important, especially as life throws up more and more alternatives to taking the time out to read a book, to remember that feeling of reading a book for the pure pleasure of it. Life In Outer Space is that book.

Camilla and Sam, along with the supporting characters, are witty and real – enough that you wish you knew them in highschool, but not so much that you feel that you’re watching twenty-somethings trying awkwardly to walk in teenage shoes. Keil’s writing is spot on for the current trend of being super snappy and succinct and the movie references and lists throughout break up the text in a way very reminiscent of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. There’s no sense of trying too hard, or pushing to fit into a particular mold, just good writing by someone who’s clearly having a great time doing it.

With the ongoing uncertainty of the future of the Australian Book Industry, it’s both a relief and a reward as a reader, writer and critic to see the strength of emerging voices like Melissa Keil’s, and publishing initiatives like the Ampersand Project.

Review – One Small Island

Ok, it’s been a while.

On top of growing a tiny person, I’m trying desperately to meet my end of year deadline for the book, and have been swamped with work, speaking, sickness and a few large articles (this post stems from one).

I promise to be back soon, but a few things to tide us over in the meantime.

1. This new section ‘Books for Tiny People’ will be reviews of the books I read to or with my own Tiny Person in mind. He’s not far off now, so I’m turning more of an eye to picture books. If I like them I’ll put something up, and if you’re interested, feel free to read it.

2. This review (copied from my Goodreads account) comes from an article that I’m writing for VATE on texts to support the Australian curriculum. I read it, and couldn’t stop taking notes. It’s a quick review that I just dashed out, but it’s something. Til next time – enjoy!

Such a beautiful book I have to give it 5 stars.
One Small Island leaves me with contradictory feelings in many ways – I want to one day share it with my son because of the importance of preserving our earth, and then I hope never to have to – hope that things will somehow get better or become more sustainable.
This picture book is quick to point out our flaws as we traipse over the earth, taking our lifestyles, our cultures, our specific habitats into undisturbed areas, guaranteeing that they will never be quite the same. And yet there is something beautiful in the balance that is struck (eventually, or at times) between nature and the intruder.
It is a book that doesn’t leave me without questions, I wonder how I feel about extreme conservation methods (myxomatosis – which I watched several pet rabbits suffer horribly from before dying as a child; poison – with the attitude of the native creatures affected being only a small percentage compared to those harmed by doing nothing); I wonder about radical lifestyle changes, about becoming someone who does more than I do right now; I wonder about the future. But at the same time it’s a book that answers many questions, ones I didn’t even know I had, about the shape of our earth, the evolution of our history.

One Small Island is a book that mirrors its name – a small book, but one with great significance to readers.

You can get teachers notes for the book here.

Thursday: Everything Left Unsaid by Jessica Davidson

Has anyone else noticed the abundance of cancer books this year? The Fault in Our Stars   (a clear winner by John Green, who’s brave enough to find laughter even in the most tear-jerking of scenarios), Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (good, you can read my full review here) and now this.
It’s a tear jerker, there’s no doubt about that. It had me going from the end of chapter one, pretty much until the end of the end and even then a little bit after.Tai and Juliet are the Australian Joey and Dawson – they’ve been friends since forever, each on harbouring a secret crush on the other but never quite game enough to come clean. When they do it’s magic, they’re destined to have the perfect relationship. Except that at exactly this moment we find out that Tai’s sick, and it’s looking pretty unlikely that he’s going to get better.
There are parts of this that I didn’t enjoy – I wanted more lightness to alleviate the relentless sadness that I felt reading it (although to be fair, the characters probably wanted something to alleviate their sadness too and we all know that life just doesn’t work that way), and the timing of Tai getting sick was almost too perfect (and of course I mean perfect in a completely awful, gut wrenching sort of way).
But then there were parts that I really loved. Tai and Juliet were great characters, and they each got a chance to tell their part of the story. I loved that they had selfish moments and moments of not being able to communicate, because even though it’s frustrating as a reader to see what they’re both thinking and to know that talking it out would help, it makes it a much realer journey to see them struggle through it on their own.
This is absolutely, unabashedly a Sad Book. But with the amount of Nicholas Sparks readers out there I’ve no doubt that people will read it, they’ll cry, but like me, they’ll find something in it that they love.

Wednesday: “Shadows” by Paula Weston

As a special hump-day post, I’m throwing in two books for the price of one – Shadows and also Rapture, the final book in the Fallen series by Lauren Kate.

A disclaimer first, that I haven’t managed to keep up with the whole series, so although I read the first one or two books in Fallen I’ve definitely missed one, maybe two before jumping ahead to the grand finale.

Let me start by warning you that I’m a little jaded when it comes to paranormal romance. I feel like I’ve read it to death, and when it comes to reviews, well, I’m finding it hard to say anything new, and often even harder to say anything nice.

So when I received the press release for Shadows telling me that I would 100% absolutely love this book and all the characters in it I was sceptical to say the least. A Queensland author making her first foray into the world of YA fiction in a genre that had been so long in the oven that the broccoli had gone from limp to charcoal? I had my doubts.

But page by page Paula Weston drew me into this well written, captivating, and Very Well Researched novel. At first I didn’t even realise it was happening. And then halfway through the book I realised the despite my best intentions she had done what I thought was absolutely not going to happen, to make me heartily enjoy this latest offering to the world of paranormal romance. What I loved about the story of Gaby Winters was that

1. it was so well researched that it was blindingly clear from the get go that Weston’s passions lie at least as much in the myth as the romance, no shoddy plot holes here!

2. Gaby Winters is a strong independent female character who makes her own decisions throughout the book rather than falling vapidly into someone’s arms the minute trouble shows up.

and 3. The local setting. Set along the Queensland coast (initially at least) there’s something refreshing about reading a book set amongst jacaranda trees rather than tall, lonesome pines.

So with a hopeful heart and a taste for angels I set about reading the second book on my pile – Rapture, the series final by Lauren Kate. I’d been slightly taken with the epic love story of Luce and Daniel when I read the first book in this series, but unfortunately, for the grand epic conclusion, four books later, I really didn’t feel that the story had moved that far from where I’d left it. There are similarities between Luce and Gabe – memory loss, the weight of all of the world on their shoulders and two smouldering angels battling for their affections but that’s where it ends. I love a good romance as much as the next girl, but what I find really compelling about a great paranormal romance is the attention to detail, the exploration of the myth, and that real sense of deep historical magic that comes from writing stories based in something so old.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have read Rapture immediately after finishing Shadows, but if I had to recommend one, there’s no doubt which one it would be.

Tuesday: Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar

From nostalgia to downright terror, and yet there was something about this book that made me take a trip down memory lane as well. In this case it was the fact that something in the book reminded me of the eerie feeling I had when my year 5 class teacher read aloud Del Del by Victor Kelleher. Now I don’t remember the plot, but coming out of both books made me feel the same way, as though I had unleashed some creature in the reading that I’d never quite be able to let go of again.

Kirsty Eagar fascinates me, because unlike many authors she doesn’t seem to have any preferred genre. She’s swung so far from a very gritty (and well written) YA story about rape, to surfing vampires, and now with Night Beach into the realms of horror, thriller and speculative. In fact, the link between her books isn’t from genre at all, but from a very prevalent theme in each – surfing culture. Now, I don’t know anything about surfing or surfing culture so I’m not even going to pretend that I do, but Kirsty Eagar obviously does, because not once for a moment, in reading any of her books, do I doubt a word of what she’s telling me.

In Night Beach she’s telling the story of Abbie, an art and surfing obsessed senior who is also desperately attracted to Kane. She’s spent most of the past few years watching his every move, so when he comes home after a surfing trip Abbie’s the first to notice that something’s changed about him, something dark has come with him for the ride.

I hesitate to call this horror, because it isn’t the Christopher Pike knife-wielding horror of my teenage years, however there is something intensely disturbing about this book. In some places it made me think of depression or mental illness, that blackness that you can’t quite escape that all too frequently leads to obsession and the desire to venture down dark and twisted pathways. and then in other moments it’s like a surreal, speculative dream, bordering on a nightmare, but so skilfully woven that you can’t wake up, and you don’t want to.

I’ve never stood on a surfboard in my life, am growing sick of vampire books, and find it very hard to relate to the particular kind of ‘tough but vulnerable wave nut’ that Eagar writes about. But I’ll keep reading any word she writes, because her characters, if not familiar, are achingly real and her stories, no matter how dark, are spellbinding and startlingly original.


Floundering by Romy Ash

Floundering is a quick read but a powerful one. Although this is author Romy Ash’s first novel, it isn’t by any means her first foray into published fiction. She is a regular writer for the Big Issue (both fiction and non fiction pieces) as well as several other publications.

It is difficult to find books that are successfully written in quite a young voice but that are written for adults. Ash’s use of language not only sits perfectly at the age of the book’s young narrator, it gives him a true Australian identity without becoming naff or stereotyped.

Romy Ash is wonderfully understated, every word is worth at least ten more and creates a wonderfully rounded picture. From the title “Floundering” which aptly describes the two young boys cast adrift amidst a foreign outback landscape.

Although Jordy is slightly younger than the young narrator Tom, it is clear that he is out of his depth. Slightly more jaded and suspicious of their flighty mother Loretta from the moment she sweeps back into their lives, a flurry of excitement and promises, his mistrust makes it clear to the reader that her impetuous behaviour and excited offerings mask past betrayal and hurt.

Tom is young enough that he is initially swept up with the idea of a family roadtrip. Again, his language makes the character, he is perfectly natural and his young Australian voice is so evocative. Sunburn, sand, pies and shotgun seating arrangements are some of the few childhood memories that Ash has captured so succinctly.

Floundering is about things unsaid. Ash pushes her story just far enough like a watercolour, the reach of the words extends beyond the immediate images on the page. Jordy’s reaction is indicative of our expectations of Loretta, a mother who has clearly abandoned her children once, before storming back into their lives and rushing them away from the shaky normalcy that they have created with their grandparents. The counterbalance to this is the hope that we see in Tom, and we want along with him for things to turn out ok just this once.

The water image permeates the title deeper into the novel, as Tom and Jordy are pushed further and further out of their depth, as Loretta drifts away. It is in the setting, the seawater edging the beach where they end up, and perhaps most importantly in the thirst they have, both for actual water, and a more spiritual thirst for love, family and a home.

It is unsurprising that only weeks after its release, Floundering is already the recipient of many favourable reviews and publicity. Romy Ash sits comfortably alongside peers Tony Birch and Anna Krien as she writes about the contemporary Australian experience, and our uneasy truce with our landscape and our society.

Review: Love Shy by Lili Wilkinson

When I first began “Love-Shy” I thought it was another invention from the imagination of Lili Wilkinson. It’s not! It’s a real actual condition that people suffer from – you can google it for yourself if you don’t believe me.

But that doesn’t mean that Lili’s latest novel is any less imaginative. There are beautiful elements of the characters that clearly come from a vivid imagination – a boy who builds tiny terrariums, a girl who loves manga, two dads on a mission to find the worlds ugliest jigsaw and the central character, who’s convinced that she doesn’t need anyone’s help to achieve her dreams.

Although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as “A Pocketful of Eyes”, which I really loved, it was a fun read and a good way to begin the weekend. This is a romance, but for those disdainful of the genre, it is a good one with characters that break away from the stock standard mould. There are a lot of little treats – interesting things that make the characters more than the stock standard offerings of romances that give the genre a bad name.

“Love Shy” looks at the complications of falling in love – for the first time, the second time or starting all over again. The secondary characters (family members etc) offer a good backdrop with a variety of families and show them as real people – as real and as vulnerable as the young adults finding their way for the first time.

Lili wrote the initial draft of “Love Shy” as a part of NaNoWriMo and although I’ve no doubt that a huge deal of work went into getting turning it from manuscript to book this stands as an impressive example of what can be done if only you have a draft to work with.

The is a book that is fun above all else, by a writer working in a genre that she clearly feels at home in. There is a real ease in the writing of this book which makes it a pleasure to read.