Fox on Books

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Archive for the tag “Australian”

Short Stories, or, Review-Palooza!

It’s become clear that I read a lot of books. This year, I’m averaging one book every three days, across all sorts of formats, including manuscript, eBook, audio book and, of course, my true love, the paper book.

In order to keep them fresh in my mind, and to deliver opinions about them in a somewhat timely manner, I’m going to do bite-sized reviews of a recent selection.

Dear reader, dive in:

What Came Before – by Anna George

whatcamebeforeOof. This was a hard read. Following the spiral of a gradually abusive relationship, What Came Before challenges us to look at what we expect – and what we’ll accept – from those we love. Ambitious and confronting, it’s not for everyone, but is a particularly powerful novel.

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Looking for Alaska – by John Green
lookingforalaskaUK.indd
John Green’s first novel has all the hallmarks of his later work. Teens who act like teens (bright, loyal, apathetic and often a wee bit pretentious), a simple narrative that allows the beauty and poignancy of his prose to shine, and a quietly wrenching third act make this a must read for older teens and fans of this brand of honest, contemporary YA. (Also, have you read The Fault in Our Stars yet? If not, what are you even doing with your life??)

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Words of Radiance – by Brandon Sanderson

wordsofradianceThe Way of Kings (Parts One and Two) and their sequel The Words of Radiance are perfect examples of high fantasy with truly epic scope and huge payoffs. If you’re a fantasy reader, you’d be foolish to go past Brandon Sanderson. He and Patrick Rothfuss are the best current fantasy writers around. I’m repeating myself and I don’t care: Brandon Sanderson is the real deal. He is astonishing, and if you haven’t read him, you’re missing out.

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Wool and Dust – both by Hugh Howey

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I’m a little late on this bandwagon but Wool and its sequel Dust are something you definitely want to experience. Howey’s exploration of a possible future after the world has been destroyed by nuclear warfare is sophisticated, claustrophobic and nail-bitingly tense. It’s the kind of sci-fi you’ll rant excitedly about in turn. I listened to these as audio books, and the SECOND I finished Wool I had to find out what happened next. four fox

Have you read any of these? I’ve covered a range of genres – what’s your pick of the above?

Top Ten Favorite Books I Read Before I Was A Blogger

top ten

Hosted by the awesome folks as The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme celebrating all things book. This week we’re looking back to those books that started it all. The books you loved long before you could go online to rave about them. The ones you had to rant about in person to your poor (lucky!) friends because they made you the book-obsessed person you are today. Here are the Top Ten books I loved before I was a blogger:

Five

I get that there are problematic themes in Blyton’s work. But to me, Enid Blyton is the crux of my childhood. I can’t count the number of times I read The Famous Five series, The Secret Seven, The Adventurous Four, the Naughtiest Girl and so on. They are classic, wonderful, uncomplicated stories that enriched my young life.

Obernewtyn

Obernewtyn was a series I started reading when I was about thirteen, and I’ve read them a few times since then. Post-apocalyptic before it was cool, Obernewtyn tells the story of a young Misfit girl, Elspeth, who’s been born with powers that she doesn’t understand. Hidden away and mistreated by the authorities, Elspeth learns to fight back. The series isn’t finished yet (!!) but the last book is on its way…

alibrandi

Melina Marchetta was cool WAY before the amazingness that is The Lumatere Chronicles. Meeting the insane, loveable, loyal Italian-Australian family at the centre of Looking For Alibrandi is a must. I studied it in high school and EVEN SO I loved it.

tomorrow

Tomorrow, When the War Began was the Hunger Games of my generation. By which I mean it was the dangerous book we read that our parents worried was too violent for us. Ellie and her friends have ‘gone bush’ for the weekend and by the time they come home there’s a war on, and all their parents are prisoners. What do you do when your home: everything and everyone you love, is threatened? You fight back.

HalfBloodPrince

I’m picking this as my favourite Harry Potter, but I love them as a whole series and a whole experience. I think this generation all grew up with Harry, and while I didn’t need him to rekindle my love of reading, J K Rowling absolutely enhanced my teen experience with Harry’s amazing story.

LotR

Because Tolkien, that’s why. The Lord of the Rings is a brick of a book, a phenomenally imagined world packed with rich, archetypal characters that make it one of the best fantasy novels ever. (“After all this time?” “Always.”) I discovered it as a fifteen year old just venturing into the realm of fantasy reading, and it was love at first read.

Sisyphus

Albert Camus’ philosophy, particularly The Myth of Sisyphus, is fascinating. I love thinking about thinking, about  why things are the way they are, and how they came to be thought of that way. I love the ideas Camus posits in his essays – and I’m not going to go into them here because I’d rather you let his ideas speak to you directly. He does them justice; I can’t!

MoabHow wonderful is Stephen Fry? Whether it’s his accent, his lovely, slightly hoity-toity mannerisms, or the awesomeness that is his show, QI, there’s a lot to love. The most striking element of Moab Is My Washpot, one of Fry’s two autobiographies, is how brutal Fry is with himself. Not just brutally honest: actually almost cruel. I don’t think he has ever felt like a success. And he seems at best bemused by, at worst flummoxed by his popularity. I have such a soft spot for people who are so much more than they believe themselves to be.

anne

Anne Shirley. Who didn’t love the redheaded bundle of energy at the centre of Anne of Green Gables? Growing up, Anne was someone I revisited on more than one occasion. Recently I bought the whole series so I could get my nostalgia on. And I’ll definitely get around to reading them. Soon.

Bridget

I don’t trust people who don’t like Bridget Jones, as a general rule. This ridiculous, manic, endearing, so-very-relatable woman is one of my favourite book people. I hated her obsession with self help books (SO MUCH). I loved her social ineptitude. I despaired for her ability to be happy. I adored her relationship with Mr Darcy Mark Darcy. She’s the best kind of main character.

I’d love to hear about the books you loved before you blogged! Link for me, my pretties, in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I Recommend The Most

top ten

Hosted by the awesome folks at The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme celebrating all things book.

This week, they’re asking what ten books you recommend the most. I LOVE this question! I recommend books all the time – it’s the best part of my job. We often get customers looking for their next book, or trying to find a present for someone. I have to be able to recommend books over a range of genres, and it’s a fabulous opportunity to share books I love with others, passing on the obsession. These are my go-to recommends:

peculiar

The Peculiar is my top pick for 10-15 year olds who enjoy fantasy, both boys and girls. It’s a steampunk faerie tale, and has some of the most glorious language I’ve ever seen, let alone in YA. Absolutely wonderful book.

promise

Promise was the debut crime novel of a former Australian crime reporter, Tony Cavanaugh. Smart, creepy, exciting crime set in Queensland that was good enough to distract me from the real world all day when I couldn’t quite finish it in time before having to go back to work. (The sequel’s stellar, too!)

finalempireBrandon Sanderson is amazing. His magic system in Mistborn is probably the best, most well-established that I’ve come across. And the scope of his storylines is beyond ambitious. The trilogy is complete and infinitely satisfying – this book and this series is a sure thing.

(Actually, I’ll recommend either Mistborn or The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss interchangeably as my never-fail fantasy series. At work we’ll usually have run out of one or the other because I so regularly sell them through, so whichever’s there that day gets my plug!)

This is the old-school cover, the one I have!

I see your Caelena from Throne of Glass and raise you Yelena, from Maria V Snyder’s exceptional YA Fantasy series. She’s one of the original badass heroines, kicking butt and taking names before it was a big deal that she was a woman. This series is phenomenal for YA fantasy fans of all ages, and I keep passing the obsession on.

Rosie

A new favourite, this is one I recommend to customers who like contemporary romance/chick lit but want something a little smarter and more memorable than average. The Rosie Project fits the bill and then some. There are no clichés here, and this book was such a great experience.

stars

Do I even need to explain this one? I recommend it to teens (usually 14+, given the tragic nature of the story) and make a point of telling their parents to read it too. I’ve never come across anyone who hasn’t been deeply affected by how insightful, honest, painful and simply beautiful this one of a kind book is. John Green has delivered an absolute masterpiece with The Fault In Our Stars.

watermelon

Marian Keyes is chick-lit with heart. For women (hey, not stereotyping, just basing it on who I sell this to) who want drama, heartache and for everything to be mostly okay at the end, no-one fits better than Marian. Her grasp of the complexity of human emotions make her novels stand out.

woman

Not only do I recommend this all the time, I’ve bought about five copies for family and friends. Caitlin Moran is hilarious (think Kaz Cooke, Australians!), but also intelligently articulates truths about life as a woman that we don’t necessarily pay enough attention to. The perfect gift for your best friend, or a woman you don’t know all that well but need to find something for. Clever, sarcastic, sassy, and insightful.

wolf

A memoir I recommend to customers looking for something a little different. Scott Johnson‘s dad was a spy, working for the CIA through the Cold War. How this affected Scott, and his relationship with his Dad makes for compelling reading. Added to this, Johnson’s journalistic background is evident – his writing is evocative and often unexpectedly gorgeous.

SabrielNew

I have to have Garth Nix in here! Whenever possible, I’ll introduce someone to my favourite author. Nix’s work is just as good for teens as adults, and I’ve read the Old Kingdom trilogy, starting with Sabriel, more than a few times. Nix’s world-building, characters and inventive magic systems make this a Fantasy/YA Fantasy crossover series that stands the test of time. Unmissable. (Also, I couldn’t be more excited about the forthcoming – 2014 – release of Clariel, the fourth book set in this universe!)

Who are your go-to authors to recommend? I’d love to know what you think of my old reliables!

Dead Girl Sing – by Tony Cavanaugh

dead girl singTony Cavanaugh’s first novel, Promise, came out in early 2012. I’ve been recommending it steadily ever since I devoured it over a 48-hour period. Dark, creepy and very well written, exactly what a good crime novel should be. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to read the follow up:

Darian Richards is no hero. He’s not even a cop any more – he retired a couple of years ago, left the nightmares behind for the serenity of a far North Queensland river view. Well. He’s mostly retired. Last year he caught a killer who needed to be stopped, because no one else could. When one of the girls who got away calls Darian, months later, in tears, saying “Only you can help,” he means to ignore it. He really does. But old habits apparently die hard. If Ida’s in trouble and he can fix it, he’s got to try.

Taut, atmospheric and with exactly the right kind of darkness, Dead Girl Sing was an impressive follow up novel for Cavanaugh. There’ll Be No Rest For These Tired Eyes:

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books On My Autumn TBR list

top ten

Hosted by the awesome folks as The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme celebrating all things book.

This week, it’s all about upcoming Spring Autumn reads – because like The Moonlight Library, I’m an Aussie. Here’s what I can’t hardly wait for:

Top Ten Books On My Autumn TBR List

divergent

CoLS

good news

dead girl

knife

convent

golden

warp

WoK2

SoM

The Rosie Project – by Graeme Simsion

RosieThis came to me highly recommended by a friend in the publishing industry – it’s being tipped as a big hit, touted as “Intelligent and romantic, endearing and funny. A love story like no other.” The trick with love stories is, of course, making one stand out from the crowd, reading something you’ve not read many variations of before. The Rosie Project promised that: but could it deliver?

Don Tillman accepted long ago that he’s different. He has a detailed schedule that allows him to make the most not only of his time at work as a professor of genetics, but also his home life. Don has lobster for dinner each Tuesday and has never used his balcony. He is frequently frustrated by his friends making demands on his time with little notice, disrupting his schedule, and has never been on a second date.

Looking at his options, Don decides that the best way to find himself a partner is to design and administer a questionnaire to any potential dates, that will disqualify unsuitable women. For example: smokers, drinkers and anyone prone to arriving late are immediately out of the running. Gene and his wife Claudia, Don’s only two friends, are wary of Don’s plan but willing to help. Gene sends Rosie to see Don, and after a disastrous date (really, what was Gene thinking?) Don dismisses Rosie from his mind. Or tries to, at least. When You Walk On By/Will You Call My Name?

Froi of the Exiles – by Melina Marchetta

froiMelina Marchetta is a beloved, award-winning Australian author. I remember loving Looking for Alibrandi when we studied it in high school, and when Marchetta turned her hand to fantasy, I was thrilled! I read Finnikin of the Rock, the first book in her Lumatere Chronicles, a couple of years ago, and finally got the chance to continue the tale with Froi of the Exiles this week:

Froi’s still learning what it is not to be alone, to have people you can rely on, and who truly care about you. Queen Isaboe and King Finnikin are the first family Froi has ever had, and he can’t imagine caring more fiercely about anyone. He’s spent the three years since the Queen and Finnikin reclaimed Lumatere training to be an assassin, a fighter, someone who can defend those he loves. When a man from the despised neighbouring Kingdom of Charyn comes to the Lumaterans with an opportunity, Froi is willing to take up the quest. His task is to impersonate one of the Lastborn – the final generation of children born to the Charyn people before a curse rendered the entire Kingdom infertile. As Olivier, he will infiltrate the Palace under the guise of trying to break the curse by impregnating the Charyn Princess, Quintana, and when inside the Palace walls, he will assassinate the King and Princess.

Loyalty to Lumatere aside, something else drives Froi to Charyn. Blood sings to blood, and something about the cursed Kingdom calls to Froi. It draws him closer than is wise to those he meets, embroiling him in new loyalties that may come to challenge those he holds for Lumatere. Gargarin, the former Royal Advisor, is a shadow of his former self, bitter and broken. Yet he retains a stubborn seed of hope for the future. His twin brother, Arjuro, was once closer to Gargarin than to anyone else, but time and betrayals have left the brothers with little trust in each other. Their relationship is uneasy and fraught with old pain. And there’s Quintana, the Princess. Despised by her people, called mad, cursed, useless, Quintana’s life has been nothing short of miserable, consisting of visits from Lastborn men who use her to try to break Charyn’s curse. Froi’s task becomes less straightforward as he finds himself drawn into Gargarin, Arjuro and Quintana’s lives.

Melina Marchetta writes an ambitious sort of fantasy, rich with conflict and convoluted motives. Her characters are fascinating, because they can be so unlikable – Quintana, for example, is a force to be reckoned with. I spent the first third of the book torn between disgust and disinterest when it came to Quintana. Her moods and attitudes were so unappealing. But a character doesn’t need to be liked to be powerful – they must simply be understandable. We can forgive a lot of unpleasantness in people if we can appreciate why they are the way they are. By the end of the book, I liked Quintana a little more, but more importantly I was irrevocably invested in her well-being.

Marchetta’s approach to characters is something I appreciate for two reasons: firstly, because it makes them more real – these are just people, with their strengths and flaws. They are not perfectly crafted two-dimensional vessels for a vapid fantasy tale. Secondly, the story is not contingent on the reader’s liking the characters. I’m not denying that identifying with the people you’re reading is important, but in this sort of story what’s more so is that their world is falling apart, and they are the only ones with any hope of salvaging it. In this case, the reader’s sympathy is for the land at large, rather than just in one heroic main character. I want Charyn to be okay. And over the course of this book, I began to respect these prickly people for their dedication to the same cause, and because of how much they were willing to give. By the time I had to say goodbye, I was as devoted to Gargarin, Arjuro and even Quintana as Froi had become – and that’s one hell of a character arc.

Froi of the Exiles handily avoids the all too common curse of the middle volume, wherein the book is nothing more than a placeholder filling in time before the real action takes place in the final book. Rather, Froi’s instalment is packed with plot development that is a contained adventure in itself as well as one that advances the overall series at great speed.

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Have you discovered the wonderful Melina Marchetta? Have you ever found characters you don’t love (at first) in series you adore?

No Sex in the City – by Randa Abdel-Fattah

This is the first adult novel from Abdel-Fattah, who’s known for her Young Adult novels, like the award-winning “Does My Head Look Big In This?” I picked this up free from work (score!) for a few reasons: a) I’ve a soft spot for pun titles, b) YA to adult contemporary fiction? Very me! and c) I’m interested in the perspective here. Abdel-Fattah’s a young Muslim-Australian, and I thought her insight into such a culture in contemporary Australian society would be fascinating and valuable. Here’s my take on No Sex in the City:

Esma wants to find The One. Who doesn’t, right? And as a twenty-eight year old, intelligent, funny, attractive woman with integrity and standards, this shouldn’t be too hard. Sure, she has a few more criteria for a partner to fulfil if they’re The One – they must be Muslim, able to hold up their end of a conversation, educated, interested in social justice, employed, and spiritual without being too overbearing. But Esma refuses to settle for less in her settling down – why should she? It’s just a matter of waiting it out. Boys and Besties and Fun: Boys and Besties and Fun: Boys and (Grown Up) Best Friends:

Holier Than Thou – by Laura Buzo

I picked this up as an ARC from work. Laura Buzo’s first novel, Good Oil, was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, although I’ve not read it. Here’s what I thought of her second:

Holly is in many ways a typical young Australian adult. She did well in school so she could get into Uni, and she has a job she really believes in even though it’s sometimes hard to feel like she’s making a difference. Her main group of friends are busier than ever but will always be there for each other. She shares her very own flat with her very own perfect boyfriend, Tim. And Holly has a painful history, one that’s inevitably shaped who she is today.

In Holier Than Thou, we see snapshots of Holly’s life that have informed who she is today:  what’s hurt her, what’s overjoyed her, and what’s stayed with her through the years. Her Dad’s slow decline and death when she was in high school is the basis of Holly becoming a social worker, someone who helps those in impossibly bleak situations. Her friends’ steadfast companionship, which has remained constant through high school, University and beyond means security, understanding and support for Holly no matter what. Her non-relationship with the boy she pined over for too many years is a constant source of introspection, regret and second-guessing. And her current relationships with both Tim and Holly’s work partner Nick continue to provide warmth, comfort and optimism about the future. Ah, Young Love and Life:

Promise – by Tony Cavanaugh

This is the first novel by a former crime reporter who clearly knows of what he writes. Here’s my take on the book:

Darian Richards has retired from life as a high profile homicide detective in Melbourne and retreated to Noosa to try to escape the ghosts that accompany that kind of career. But one of Noosa’s inhabitants is abducting, abusing and murdering young girls, and regardless of protocol, Richards can’t help but get involved.

I read this book in about two days and lived it the whole time, which is appropriate because the plot itself is set over only a handful of days. With about twenty pages to go I had to put it down and go to work and was really stressed about it until lunchtime when I dashed upstairs to read the conclusion! Only a Little More:

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