Sunday, 21 November 2010

my 2011 Debut Author Challenge List

Dear Blog,
well, it's that time of year again when the 2011 Debut Author Challenge is hosted by The Story Siren.  So I thought I'd better make a list of all the books I plan to read next year.

Before I start, I had better mention that so far my attempt at the 2010 Debut Author Challenge has been something of an epic fail.  Mostly because I didn't join until April, and to be frank it's been ridiculously hard to get hold of most of the books I've been wanting to read for the challenge, they've all been in hardback and the postage is extortionate.  That said, I have three books on my shelf I'm yet to read and I've just bought two more from Amazon, so I haven't entirely given up.

Anyway. I haven't been put off by this, and next year with those extra four months (and hopefully some more money) then I'm up for partaking again.  Hence,  so far my list is:

  • Across the Universe by Beth Revis
  • Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky
  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetis
  • Clarity by Kim Harrington
  • Entangled by Cat Clarke
  • Exposed by Kimberley Marcus
  • Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
  • Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal
  • Posession by Elana Johnson
  • Rival by Sarah Bennet Wealer
  • So Shelly by Ty Roth
  • What Can't Wait by Ashley Hope Perez
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • The Iron King by Julie Kagawa (this, while already out in the States, hasn't yet been released in the UK, so it can count towards my attempt at the Challenge)
I suppose that I'll add more if I find out about any more awesome-sounding books.  And when I read the books I'll edit the post by marking ones I've read with italics or some such.

Well, until then I had better start saving.  I'll have a lot of postage to cover.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Ten More Books I Absolutely Can't Wait For

Dear Blog,
because now and again every blogger needs to make a list of all the books they are just dying to posess.
So, in no particular order-

Where She Went by Gayle Forman- If you haven't discovered the amazingness of If I Stay you haven't missed out on a pretty good read so much as one of the most fantastic YA novels of 2009.  And since I heard that there was going to be a sequel I've been drifting about in a state of happy delirium.  Apparently this is going to be set three years after the events of If I Stay, and it's told from Adam's perspective.  The girl on the front cover intrigues me.  Is it Mia? Or some other girl who we are yet to meet?  The mind boggles and I fangirl flail in anticipation. 
Passion by Lauren Kate- because Fallen and Torment were pretty good reads, and it will be interesting to see how things conclude after the big build-up to things in Torment. 
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater- Because who isn't eagerly anticipating the third instalment to the Wolves of Mercy Falls novels? As with Torment it will be interesting to see how things end up for the wolves. 
Corsets and Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances by Various Authors- Because my inner steampunk has been showing herself of late I've been in search of some good steampunk fiction of late.  Also being a fan of short stories at the moment, this anthology seems like a good place to start.  Plus the cover is utterly gorgeous, if you haven't noticed.
Across the Universe by Beth Revis- I don't know if you've seen the cover for this, dear blog, but if you have then surely that's reason enough to want to get a hold of  it.  Plus it's set in the future, in a spaceship, and claims to have romance, mystery and suspense.  What else does a girl need in a book?
Delirium by Lauren Oliver- Lauren Oliver.  Writing dystopia.  Need I say more?!  I have a little countdown clock on the sidebar of this blog so I can just spend hours absorbed in watching the minutes tick by until I can read it.  Which is just proof of how little a life I have, dear blog. 
The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher- Another dystopian novel.  The moment I saw this mentioned on the blog I Swim For Oceans, I've wanted to read it.  The world is in crisis and life is in short pretty suckish for mankind- at least that is as far as the protagonist knows, until they meet someone who completely transforms their word view.  In that respect, it sounds like a pretty typical dystopia, but it's one of those formulas that I don't mind because there are always different ways of working around the norm.  It hasn't quite got that tired yet.  At least not to me.
Entangled by Cat Clarke- It's kind of hard for me to describe what it is about this book that intrigues me so much.  I think it's just, well, the plot sounds intriguing, is all.  I haven't read a novel like this in a while, and if the reviews on Goodreads are anything to go by, then it doesn't disappoint. 
But I Love Him by Amanda Grace/Mandy Hubbard- Admittedly I tend to stay away from scary abuse novels, but I'm currently in the depths of writing a Lit fic novel about consciousness and other deep, rambling things that a teenage girl probably knows next to nothing about but has opinions on anyway.  Strangely, wondering so deep into the depths of the human mind is actually making contemporary, earth-like things seem almost like relief.  A welcome injection of reality, a reminder that people have problems both bigger and smaller than just being a figment of someone's imagination.  If any of that makes sense.  Which probably to a sane person it doesn't.
Clarity by Kim Harrington-  In three words, it looks: Magical.  Mysterious.  Enthralling.
Posession by Elana Johnson- There's a theme running through this somewhat, dear blog.  In case you haven't spotted it then the recurring theme is sinister dystopian novels with beautiful covers that look like they radiate awesome.  Well, with reason, I think.

Well, that's it.  Everyone always says that you should live in the now, but how can you when the release of books like these is just around the corner?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Review: Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Dear Blog,
Review.  I have one.

Summary (from Goodreads): Anax thinks she knows her history. She’d better. She’s now facing three Examiners, and her grueling all-day Examination has just begun. If she passes, she’ll be admitted into the Academy—the elite governing institution of her utopian society.
But Anax is about to discover that for all her learning, the history she’s been taught isn’t the whole story. And that the Academy isn’t what she believes it to be.
In this brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity, Anax’s examination leads us into a future where we are confronted with unresolved questions raised by science and philosophy. Centuries old, these questions have gained new urgency in the face of rapidly developing technology. What is consciousness? What makes us human? If artificial intelligence were developed to a high enough capability, what special status could humanity still claim?

Review: I've been after this book for a couple of months since I saw this edition of the book- there are several different covers and this is probably one of my favourite.  It seems the most symbolic of the nature of the book, or rather to what it really is about: a man and a robot.  For instamce, the cover of the edition that I actually read looks like this, and while nice enough (okay, absolutely beautiful)  is actually slightly irrelevant.  No.  This cover is simplistic and seems to sum things up perfectly. 

Genesis is not dystopian fiction, as is all the range in YA nowadays what with Uglies and The Hunger Games and such. Nay, quite the opposite.  The world in Genesis seems kind of like the world in Allegra Goodman's The Other Side of the Island, but seemingly not as sinister and disturbing in an overly-perfect kind of way.  You seem to get the impression that despite a few shady goings-on and experimentswith robots, the sealed island, all seems to be functioning well to compared with how things were on Earth before.  Speaking of which, I can't tell whether or not I liked the massive dump of information at the beginning of the book. To provide the adjudicators some background, Anaximander basically catches the reader up on what's been occurring on Earth throughout the mid-21st century- Wars, oil crises, disease and bad things, in general. So it's useful to have such a summary, even though it's entirely for the readers' sake.

The writing style is quite unusual.  The whole book takes place in a four-hour entrance exam to the mysterious Academy taken by fourteen-year-old Anaximander (I'll get to Anax in a minute).  It alternates between a calm, distant sort of third-person and transcripts, which makes for pretty interesting reading.  Parts of the book seemed to unfold almost like a film in front of the reader, the ending in particular, which is completely unexpected (I'll also get to that in a minute).

It's kind of hard to talk about Anaximander, mostly because the true protagonist of the story is Adam Forde, Anax's historical hero.  Still, you know that Anax is strong, determinded and very intelligent indeed.   Read Genesis and be amazed at her speeches and opinions on consciousness that go on occasionally for pages.
Adam is also hugely (and even more) likeable. Perhaps it's because of all the interesting questions that the book asks about humanity, he seems like a perfect example of all that is life.  He's clever but foolish, witty but arrogant, confident but headstrong.  His flaws and numerous imperfections are actually what make him so perfect a character. I was probably grinning like a twit as I read the deep discussions between him and Art, the robot he stays with for several months, for his sheer perfection and awesomeness.
Speaking of which, you've got to love Art.  He's witty and snarky  in a hilariously automated sort of way, but not outright entertaining so much as thoughtful at the same time.  The dialogue between Adam and Art leaves the reader constantly switching sides.  One minute you think that Art's in the right, and then the next Adam has his comeback and you're rooting for him. 

There's very little action in Genesis at all, so it's not thrilling in that sense.  But the ideas, the story itself and the big questions about what makes a human human are so intriguing you can't help but devour the book faster than you can say Philosophy. It reminds me a lot of Sophie's World with all the deep discussions about life and the universe and so on, as well as some of the monologues and longer speeches which seem like Bernard Beckett is asking his own questions, and then thinking up answers for them as he goes along.

The ending was...weird, with a lack of any better description.  It was probably the only thing that stops Genesis being rated a 5.  It was kind of rushed, unexplained and "oh.  What just happened there?"  It's hard to describe without much of what happens being given away.  So I'll just leave that a mystery and say: meh.  It was a shame that the book had to end like that.

In Three Words: Refreshing, deep, thought-provoking.
Recommended for: anyone who wants  a change from the norm.
Rating: 4.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

Dear blog,
Because I haven't done a Foreign Language Friday, and Dance Dance Dance is one of those adult books that's so good I just have to review it.

Name: Dance Dance Dance (originally published as Dansu Dansu Dansu)
Written by: Haruki Murakami
First published in: Japanese
Translated by: Alfred Birnbaum
Summary (from Goodreads): In this propulsive novel by the author of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and The Elephant Vanishes, one of the most idiosyncratically brilliant writers at work in any language fuses science fiction, the hard-boiled thriller, and white-hot satire into a new element of the literary periodic table.
As he searches for a mysteriously vanished girlfriend, Haruki Murakami's protagonist plunges into a wind tunnel of sexual violence and metaphysical dread in which he collides with call girls; plays chaperone to a lovely teenaged psychic; and receives cryptic instructions from a shabby but oracular Sheep Man. Dance Dance Dance is a tense, poignant, and often hilarious ride through the cultural Cuisinart that is contemporary Japan, a place where everything that is not up for sale is up for grabs.

Review:  If you like Japanese fiction then it's kind of undoubted that you will have heard of Haruki Murakami, the hugely popular author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore and other such novels.  He left the country after the huge success of his most popular novel, Norwegian Wood, when he became a national celebrity.  Most amusingly, the head of a newspaper claimed that "Haruki Murakami has escaped from Japan!"   This is enough to make me want to read his work.
Dance Dance Dance is, largely, a very confusing book. It's wildly chaotic, some characters and setting appearing for know apparent reason, and seemingly the un-named narrator already knows about.  The Dolphin Hotel, for instance.  Did I miss something there?  For a lot of the book I was expecting some sort of flashback to sort of explain everything, but largely most of it remained unexplained, and kind of threw the reader in at the deep end.  Kiki, for instance.  She was one of the most important characters in the book, but it was like, "this is Kiki, a high-class prostitute  that the narrator was once in love with.  She's disappeared".  Still, I think it was this air of mystery about her that made her so intriguing.  Who was she?  Why did she vanish?

Ditto the Sheep Man. The man who apparently ties everything together and connects thoughts and people.  He serves as a switchboard of sorts. Amusingly, the sheep man stars on the German cover , (the German title translates as Dance with the Sheep Man) although in the book he is actually described as an old man wrapped in some sheepskin, I prefer the idea of a sheep wearing human clothes.  Who wouldn't?  Anyway, I love the Sheep Man mostly for his whole "Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougotta dance. Don'teventhinkwhy" speech, which is to my mind the Japanese "She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl." It's one of those quotes that there are about three different versions of in the Goodreads Quotes section.  With reason, I suppose.

And there are, of course, a multitude of other exciting characters: Yuki, a psychic thirteen-year-old and one of my favourite characters in the book for her frankness, Yumiyoshi, a constantly uptight hotel receptionist, and Gotanda, a divorced actor so handsome he's forever doomed to play dentists or teachers in teen romance movies. Oh, and look out for Yuki's father, Hiraku Makimura.  Stare at his name long enough and you'll get it.

The narrator is un-named throughout the book.  Still, his first-person voice seems very direct, as if he's speaking right to the reader, and how could you not root for him as he traverses across the far side of the world from Tokyo to Hokkaido to Hawai'i in his attempt to see how everything ties together?  He's humorous, realistic and quietly observant of the chaotic advanced capitalism of 1980s Japan, but more than anything he's just an ordinary divorced thirty-something trying to hold everything together.  His voice is realistic, slightly cynical and darkly humorous; it's very believable, mostly because he is nothing special. Until, that is, the string of encounters that throw him, the sheep-man and the other main characters together in the mysterious hotel room.  Still, aside from that obvious fact he is totally, 100%, undeniably ordinary.

And the plot itself is well-paced. I don't read mystery novels very often, mostly because I can't stand all the tension of the unanswered questions.  Maybe it's just me being unfortunate and reading the wrong stuff, but in the mystery novels I read the secrets either all get answered all at once in one big, life-changing scene or else they ask more questions than they answer (*cough* A Series of Unfortune Events *coughcough*).  But Dance Dance Dance is very engaging in how the author strings the reader along in a paperchase of murder, mystery and humour, slowly revealing things bit by bit.

The ending.  Hmm.  The ending, the ending, the ending.  I can't tell whether or not I liked it, actually.  One one hand it seemed like a nice enough stopping point, but it's clear that the narrator's search doesn't end there, and that he could spend his whole life traversing the globe trying to find answers to the multitude of questions left unanswered at the end of the book.  On the other hand, it was a little disappointing that the ending was so inconclusive.  Also, the penultimate scene in the book got on my nerves somewhat, because it seemed kind of "and then Harry woke up in the cupboard under the stairs and it was all a dream".  Let me say before you rip your hair out and scream "Oh my word she hasjust given away the ending", let me assure you that it was not all a dream.  However, mostly because so much of the book seems to surreal, I call into question how much of it was actually real (the obvious answer being none of it because it's fiction), and how much of it was just a figment of the narrator's imagination. The mind boggles, but such is the brilliantness, such is the author's writing that you have to doubt what really happens and what doesn't.

In three words: chaotic, surreal, engaging.
Reccomended for: Murakami fans old and new.
Rating: 5.