Sunday, July 31, 2011

Melbourne Writers Festival 2011 Plans

I can't believe it's almost been a year since the last Melbourne Writers Festival! So much in my life has changed sinced last August and I'm now one of those sad people who wonders where the year has gone. Like last year, I will be attending sessions in the School's Program at the 2011 festival. Here is what I'll be seeing:

Monday August 29:
Reasons Why I Read - Maggie Stiefvater, Nick Earls & Kate Grenville

Why spend your time reading when there are so many million other things you could be doing? Maggie Stiefvater, Kate Grenville and Nick Earls share how reading has inspired them, and reveal their favourite classic and new books.

Meet Nick Earls
Author of best-selling YA books, including After January and 48 Shades of Brown, Nick Earls talks about his writing career and what has made his books perennial favourites with young adult audiences.
Meet Maggie Stiefvater
Best-selling US author Maggie Stiefvater makes a very special appearance to talk about her incredible Wolves of Mercy Falls series: Linger, Shiver and now the long-awaited Forever.

Tuesday August 30:
In the Family - Lili and Carole Wilkinson
Dynamic duo Carole and Lili Wilkinson describe their books for children and young adults, and what it's like to be part of a whole family of writers.

I had planned to also attend sessions on Lili Wilkinson's A Pocketful of Eyes and Jane Caro's Just A Girl, but was too slow getting tickets and the events are sold out!

Wednesday August 31:
Emerging Writers - Lisa Dempster and Johannes Jakob
Hear from key people in Melbourne's best loved organisations supporting new voices in writing, and from freelancers making their way in publishing. In this session we discuss ideas on finding a community as a writer, routes to getting published and building your profile on your way to success.

Politics in YA Fiction - Lili Wilkinson and Penny Tangey
Characters in Lili and Penny's books have their eyes truly opened to the power of politics for the first time, be it in Washington DC on the eve of Obama's inauguration, or via some difficult choices much closer to home. Come and hear these two leading authors discuss the explosive combination of fiction and politics.

Thursday September 1:
Clara in Washington - Penny Tangey
In Penny Tangey's new book, Year 12 student Clara goes to America and finds the world of politics opening up for her in a way she never thought possible. Suddenly she might have a lot more impact on the future than she thought.

Tickets to all events can be purchased here and be sure to check out the full program for more exciting events through the festival!

Fellow Melbournians, if you'll be attending the festival, what sessions are you going to?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Zombie Week Wrap-Up

So the second Zombie Week on My Girl Friday has come to a close. Unfortunately it was not as eventful as I had originally planned, as my organisation skills slipped and I didn't manage my time as well as I'd have liked to. I still managed to review six zombie-riffic titles, which isn't too shabby. In case you missed any, I reviewed:

Zombies vs Unicorns - Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier
How to Speak Zombie - Steve Mockus
Alice in Zombieland - Nickolas Cook & Lewis Carroll
Raising the Dead - H.J Harper
The Enemy - Charlie Higson
The Dead - Charlie Higson

For friends of the 'differently biotic', I hope you've enjoyed my mini-feature and for everyone else, thanks for putting up with my zombie-obsession and normality will resume here next week!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Dead - Charlie Higson

The Facts

Author: Charlie Higson
Australian Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Date of Publication: September 2010
Length: 464 pages

The Fiction

Maxie, Blue and the rest of the Holloway crew aren't the only kids trying to escape the ferocious adults who prey on them. Jack and Ed are best friends, but their battle to stay alive tests their friendship to the limit as they go on the run with a mismatched group of other kids – nerds, fighters, misfits. And one adult. Greg, a butcher, who claims he's immune to the disease. They must work together if they want to make it in this terrifying new world. But as a fresh disaster threatens to overwhelm London, they realize they won't all survive.

In terms of its relationship to The Enemy, The Dead is a prequel, set approximately one year before. It begins just after disaster has struck, with a terrible virus infecting those over the age of fourteen and turning them into infected, hobbling re-animated corpses. We begin at an English all-boys boarding school, where the surviving students are about to head off in search of other kids – amongst them are best friends Jack and Ed, who’s friendship is put to the test by the new, hostile environment they find themselves in.
Similarly to The Enemy, The Dead features a large cast of characters, however it does focus strongly on Jack and Ed. There is also the very creepy (very, very creepy) Greg – one of the few adults featured in the series (and those who have read The Enemy will surely recognise him). The Dead certainly felt more male-centric in terms of voice than The Enemy, but there is a trio of school girls, who join the boys on their travels and make for some great comedic moments (amidst quite a chilling story – it’s something Higson does very well – in between the violence and chaos, we are reminded that these are still kids).
The Dead is jam-packed with action, nail-biting suspense and some epic zombie-kills. I was planning to do a body-count comparison between the two books, but thought that might be a bit much! Like The Enemy, The Dead has a few different narrative strands running at once, though the story felt more contained and slightly easier to follow. Thematically, The Dead continues to look at leadership, power and survival, it also has a surprising (and interesting) examination on religion and the role of faith. Higson manages to weave these themes rather seamlessly throughout the story, and makes them relatable to a range of readers.

Whilst I read The Dead after The Enemy (in publication order), you could definitely read them in narrative chronological order (meaning read The Dead first). I loved the small overlaps between the books (most prominent in the ending of The Dead) and there is some excellent foreshadowing of events to come (or if you’ve read The Enemy already, an explanation of what’s happened) and I think the next book, The Fear, will continue to weave this series together nicely.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Enemy - Charlie Higson


The Facts

Author: Charlie Higson
Australian Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Date of Publication: September 2009
Length: 410 pages

The Fiction
From Penguin: When the sickness came, every parent, police officer, politician - every adult - felt ill. The lucky ones died. The others are crazed, confused and hungry. Only children under fourteen remain, and they're fighting to survive.
Now there are rumours of a safe place to hide. And so a gang of children begin their quest across London, where all through the city - down alleyways, in deserted houses, underground - the grown ups lie in wait.

I’m going to try and keep this review fairly straight-forward and ramble-free (with minimal fan-girling – which may be a bit of a struggle), but straight-up, I loved this book and will say it’s probably my favourite zombie story from my 2011 reading list so far. Higson has crafted a dynamic story, peppered with real voices and engaging characters.

The Enemy introduces us to a number of characters, and is really an ensemble piece. It begins with the two separate groups – the Waitrose gang and the Morrison kids (distinguished by which supermarket they are hiding out in, as well as more of a social distinction as to where they shopped prior to the sickness taking hold of their parents). What I loved about The Enemy is that even though there are multiple characters, Higson’s writing gives us enough detail and description that we can easily bond with many of them (I tend to find in most stories with ensembles there are characters I love and I tend to skip sections that don’t focus on them as heavily in order to get back to the ‘good parts’). There is a fantastic mix of characters – lovely Arran, hot-headed Achilleus, Maxie, Blue, the chav with a heart of gold, Whitney, plus the deliciously villainous David King. Despite most of the characters falling in the younger end of YA fiction, Higson throws them some very tough blows (certainly not holding anything back!) and it’s really interesting to watch how this group of personalities play out as the situation worsens.

The Enemy has two main narrative threads running throughout – the first is that of the Waitrose kids (before they join with the Morrison gang) and their journey to Buckingham Palace in the hopes of surviving the spreading sickness and constant threat of attacks from infected adults. The second is the heartbreaking story of small Sam, a younger boy who is separated from the group and his attempts to make it back to them (with a group of infected parents, cannibals and some pretty scary stuff for a nine-year-old to deal with). Higson’s writing covers quite classical themes – survival in a harsh world, the effects of a class structure, and abuse of power in a way that’s still accessible to a younger reader.

I feel like I should warn you, it’s not a ‘nice’ zombie story. I think it’s a pretty realistic telling of what could happen in the aftermath of a virus outbreak in a cosmopolitan city. Higson reveals in some pretty gory details (seriously, his descriptions of infected parents are full of puss-gobules and rotten skin). The Enemy is also fairly violent (with plenty of Tallahassee worthy zombie kills) and is pretty much action-packed for the bulk of the 400+ pages. I also really loved the setting of this novel, and found it fun (and creepy in a 28 Days Later kind of way) to read about London attractions either abandoned post-outbreak or re-purposed by kids).

If you aren't squeamish, enjoy fast-paced stories (and one that also make you think) with a decent side-helping of creepy, infected grown-ups, then The Enemy is certainly a book for you!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: The Fear - Charlie Higson

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine to "spotlight upcoming releases". Right now, one of the book's I'm most looking forward to is:
The Fear - Charlie Higson
Publisher: Penguin Books (Australia)
Australian Publication Date: September 15th, 2011


The sickness struck everyone over the age of fourteen.
Mothers and fathers, older brothers, sisters and best friends. No one escaped its touch. And now children across London are being hunted by ferocious grown-ups... They're hungry. They're bloodthirsty. And they aren't giving up.

DogNut and the rest of his crew want to find their lost friends, on a deadly mission from the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace and beyond, as the sickos lie in wait. But who are their friends and who are the enemy in this changed world?

I'm a huge fan of Charlie Higson's work and loved both The Enemy and The Dead (which will be reviewed later this week). These stories are action-packed, exciting, clever and quite funny (which I can assure you, for a story set in apocalyptic London as a virus infects everyone over the age of fourteen, is tough to do!), so I highly recommend you check them out before devouring The Fear.

What upcoming releases are you eagerly anticipating?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Snack Size - Zombie Fun

Zombie stories don't always have to be about a quest for braaaains (or a metaphor for some aspect of society or to highlight a social issue). Sometimes they can just be plain ol' fun! Below are three 100-word mini reviews of some fun, non-threatening, non-scary zombie books:
How to Speak Zombie – Steve Mockus (illustrations by Travis Millard)
Published by Chronicle Books

This would make a great present for any fans of the differently biotic! How to Speak Zombie is a fun guide for breathers, on how to communicate with our living-impaired friends. Mockus covers a variety of situations (from the gym and sporting events to the beach and dance parties). I think my favourite is the zombie coffee shop etiquette:
= skinny double half-caf soy latte”. The best part about this book is definitely the handy dandy sound module, so you can hear the phrases being said in the appropriate combo of moans and grunts. Seriously, it will keep you entertained for a while.

Alice in Zombieland - Nickolas Cook & Lewis Carroll
Published by Sourcebooks
(read as an e-book)

Yet another zombified twist on a classic text! Whilst I think the concept worked successfully in Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and  Zombies, it just isn't as well suited to Lewis Carroll's story. Here Alice follows a black rat into an open grave and finds herself in Zombieland, where she encounters a myriad of strange, undead creatures. It is certainly not a challenging read (I finished in within a couple of hours) and in my opinion, Cook could have been a bit more creative with his zombie inclusions. Still, if you enjoy your childhood favourites with a side of braaaains, check this out.

Raising the Dead - H.J Harper
Published by Random House Australia
This is the third book in new Australian middle-reader series, Star League by H.J Harper (about a troupe of kids who make action movies by day and are an elite crime-fighting squad by night).  Roger Romero is the group’s zombie, who when he isn’t taking down baddies, is playing pranks or mixing up potions. I am loving this series – it’s a lot of fun, is suited to either gender (though I think they would go down especially well with reluctant boy readers). Also, the graphic-novel style illustrations from Nahum Ziersch are brilliant and nicely compliment Harper’s energetic writing style.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Zombies vs Unicorns - Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier

The Facts:
Authors: Edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Australia)
Australian Date of Publication: November 2010
Length: 415 pages

The Fiction:
From the Publisher: It's a question as old as time itself: which reigns supreme, the zombie or the unicorn? 'For too long, the zombie has dominated the public consciousness, but the reign of the unicorn is at hand!' Holly Black - Team Unicorn
'I think that posterity will look upon this as the moment when zombies took their rightful place at the top of the food chain.' Justine Larbalestier - Team Zombie
Contributors to this unique collection include bestselling teen and YA authors, Garth Nix, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson and Margo Lanagan. Zombie vs Unicorns challenges you to pick a team, and stick to it. But be warned, these are stellar story-tellers, and they can be very convincing...

One freaking awesome concept and a kick-arse author team = one must-read anthology. I had been looking forward to this release since last year’s zombie week.
Firstly, here’s a breakdown of who’s writing and which team they represent:

Zombies (Team Captain - Justine Larbalestier):
Libba Bray
Cassandra Clare
Alaya Dawn Johnson
Maureen Johnson
Carrie Ryan
Scott Westfeld

Unicorns (Team Captain – Holly Black):
Meg Cabot
Kathleen Duey
Margo Lanagan
Garth Nix
Naomi Novik
Diana Peterfreud

First, I have to preface this review with the fact that I’m very much 100% Team Zombie (as you will all know by now), so the review may be slightly biased, despite by best efforts to stay fairly neutral.
The basic structure of the anthology is that each chapter alternates between a unicorn and a zombie story (and each chapter is marked with a handy-dandy logo in the corner, so you can skip through and read all the stories of one team if you wish). All of the stories are introduced by the captain of the appropriate team, with some banter between the two editors (which was fun, but to be honest, I skipped through it on my first reading – I just wanted to get straight to the stories!).

Now here are some of my thoughts on the two teams and the stories of the anthology:

Unicorns: I was actually kind of surprised by how much I enjoyed the unicorn stories. Prior to reading, I was curious as to how these stories would stand apart as I had thought that unicorns don’t lend themselves to as many potential readings/covering as many issues as zombies. However, each unicorn story is engaging and an enjoyable read, and whilst themes such as purity are common in the unicorn stories, there is also a great mix of coverage (from the poetic, to the bloodthirsty, to the just damn funny). My favourite was probably Meg Cabot’s Princess Prettypants (c’mon, the name is enough to be a winner!). It’s just pure silly, enjoyable fun (I don’t want to give anything away because it is a great read, but I will say that Meg Cabot’s unicorn can fart rainbows – now surely that is teaser enough to make you want to read it!).

But of course, it was the zombie stories that really captured my attention. They too range from the laugh-out-loud funny to the quietly haunting. Though I thought each story was strong, my personal favourites were Carrie Ryan’s Bougainvillea, Maureen Johnson’s Children of the Revolution and Libba Bray’s Prom Night (which by the way, is a kind of perfect story to end on). My only complaint is that some of the stories were so good, that I would have loved to read a full-length novel about them (especially Carrie Ryan’s Bougainvillea), and similarly, I felt like Scott Westerfeld’s Inoculata was almost a tease, and could have definitely been part of a larger work.

Overall, the anthology is a very entertaining read. I think it will go down well for fans of either team (or (or for fans of any of the contributing authors), I also think this book would be a fun way for those who don’t normally read zombie stories (or who haven’t pledged allegiance to either team yet), as it’s definitely a nice ‘taster’ with a variety of different perspectives. For unicorn skeptics like me, the book showed me that unicorns can be funny (and also rather gruesome – thanks Diana Peterfreud!) and for people who find our living-impaired friends a bit creepy, hopefully these stories will show that there is more to zombies than a hankering for braaaaaains.

Question time: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

(as if you needed to be reminded!)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Second Annual MGF Zombie Week!

Around this time last year, I had my first Zombie Week at My Girl Friday. It was predominantly spawned from my love of the living-challenged and the fact that I could pretty much talk about them non-stop, but I know not everyone is a fan and decided to keep my zombie love to a more contained time frame (though of course, there are mentions snuck in throughout my blog, all year round).

In my first zombie week I reviewed seven books, four films and was looking forward to two new zombie-themed releases. I was excited by the emerging interest in zombie stories in YA literature, especially in a market saturated with vampires. This year, I’ve been happy to see that zombies are still generating some buzz in the community (even if, in my opinion, they are still overshadowed by other supernatural tropes).

Over the next week, I will be reviewing a mix of both books and films related to all-things zombie! For those of you who are not interested in our living-impaired friends, no worries, regular posting will resume here on July 25th. Otherwise you can kick back and enjoy a week of zombie-filled-brainy-goodness!

image source: we ♥ it

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Somewhat Quiet on the Blogging Front

image source: we ♥ it

Hi friends,

Just wanted to check in quickly and apologise for the recent lack of posting. My life outside of blogland has been a bit hectic lately (organising a sales conference, going to Brisbane for work), and have also managed to kill my lovely laptop Dell Parker. I'm hoping Dell will have a speedy recovery and I'll get back to posting soon, but rest-assured, in the meantime I'll be working on some new content the old-fashioned way - with a pen and paper (!). I'm hoping you're all well, and even if I'm a bit slow in the commenting department, I'm trying to keep up with all your reading adventures.

Also, can you believe the year is half-over!? Where has time gone? Here are some things I'm looking forward to over the next couple of months:
♥ The second annual Zombie Week at My Girl Friday is not very far away!
♥The Melbourne Writer's Festival kicks off next month (and I'll be attending a number of the schools sessions. If you're planning on going, let me know!
♥ In less than two months, I will be going on a holiday to the US of A!!!
♥ In October, I'll be seeing my all-time favourite filmmaker, John Waters, on his Australian tour.

What are you looking forward to in the second half of 2011?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday - Lola and the Boy Next Door

I feel like I haven't done one of these in forever (or more accurately, since September last year!). Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine to "spotlight upcoming releases".

The book I am especially excited for at the moment is:

Lola and the Boy Next Door - Stephanie Perkins
Australian Publisher: Penguin Books
Australian release date: 3rd October 2011

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn't believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit—more sparkly, more fun, more wild—the better. But even though Lola's style is outrageous, she's a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket—a gifted inventor—steps out from his twin sister's shadow and back into Lola's life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

I love Stephanie Perkins' debut novel Anna and the French Kiss. I loved it so much, that not only did I review it, I also made a Polyvore Profile for Anna and wrote a guide to the film references from the novel! So it's really no surprise that I am very, very excited to read about Lola and Cricket. I have a feeling it will be a really sweet, enjoyable (and no doubt, very funny!) read.

What  books are you eagerly anticipating?

Monday, July 4, 2011

By My Bedside (in Brisbane!)

Hello friends! By the time you are reading this, I will be up in (hopefully) sunny Brisbane! I'll be there for work, but will have a lot of downtime, so have picked plenty of books to take with me to keep me occupied.
By My Bedside is part of In My Mailbox, created by Kristi of The Story Siren.

Here's what I'm taking in my handbag:

♥ Latest issue of Frankie magazine
Clara in Washington - Penny Tangey (so excited to read this!!!)
♥ All I Ever Wanted - Vikki Wakefield (thanks to the recommendation of a Readings shop assistant)

I'll also be taking my trusty e-reader. My local library service now has a really good range of e-books available for patrons to borrow, and I took full advantage of the service! I borrowed:

Infinity - Sarah Dessen
Curse of the Werewolf (Star League #2) - H.J Harper
Raising the Dead (Star League #3) - H.J Harper
Dare You - Sue Lawson
A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

What are you reading this week?