Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Author guest post: Five Things I Love About Dystopian Fiction by Georgia Clark

I’d like to welcome the lovely Georgia Clark, author of YA contemporary novel She’s With the Band, and newly released dystopian novel Parched, to my blog today.

As someone with an invested interested in dystopian fiction,  especially given the fact that most of them deal with highlighting socio-economic, political issues, violence, rebellion and revolution in a manner that’s a lot more magnified than in most genres , I was thrilled when Georgia graciously agreed to feature on my blog.

In her post today, she tells us about the 5 things she loves most about dystopian fiction; and, having read the post, I have to say that I couldn’t agree more with her points. 

Without further ado, here within some information about the book, followed by her thoughts on dystopian literature.  

About Parched:

Parched is a riveting story about post-apocalyptic survival set in a time and place that pits the small number of haves against the have-nots.

After suffering the death of her scientist mother, sixteen-year-old Tessendra Rockwood leaves her life of privilege in Eden to join the resistance and the have-nots in the desertlike wasteland called the Badlands.

Together, in a fight against inequality, they uncover a shocking government plot to carry out genocide in the Badlands using artificial intelligence.

After witnessing devastation, sordid prisons, and corruption in the rebellion against tyranny, Tess must question her loyalties and risk her life to bring justice to Eden.

Add it to your TBR pile here.

Over to Georgia

Five Things I Love About Dystopian Fiction

The Social Commentary Factor
Like sci-fi, dystopian fiction is the bomb when it comes to casting a clear-eyed view on the problems of the present.

From the dangers of government control (Matched), the deadening effects of reality TV (Hunger Games), to the importance of love in our lives (Delirium), great dystopia is a cool insight into what your favorite author is critical of.

Thrills and Spills 
I love plot. I’m an action-adventure fan: take me on a journey, full of twists and turns; unexpected allies, terrifying villains, and true tests of courage and you’ve got me. I love dystopian fiction as it tends to be big, plot-based stories full of thrills and spills.

 I was keen to give this a crack with my novel, something that would appeal to readers who enjoy rebellions in far-flung places both familiar and strange.

So naturally I was pretty chuffed when my School Library Journal review said, "readers who eagerly followed the rebellions against Panem’s Capitol and Divergent's Erudites will root for Tess and her Kudzu allies.” Mission accomplished.

The Dark Side 
By their very definition, dystopias delve into the dark side. People are oppressed, governments have too much control, life is rough and tough.

My life is not rough and tough: clean water flows from my taps and the most difficult thing about finding fresh food is the lines at Union Square’s Trader Joes. Dystopians let me live in a world where I can see people be tested.

They let you wonder ‘what if?’. What if I was in the Hunger Games? (I would last approximately 3.5 minutes, so I’m really glad that I’m not).

Kickass Heroines 
In YA dystopias we find an abundance of strong, powerful, believable young women, who are not overly sexualized or defined by their relationship to men.

From Karou to Katsa, Clary to Lena, dystopia is a place we can find kickass girls on a journey, not just supportive girlfriends or one-note sexpots. I had fun creating the character of Tess for Parched, a 16-year-old heroine who stands up for what she believes in, despite the odds.

It’s A Wild and Wacky Place
My fifth reason for loving dystopia is simply this: it’s a wild and wacky place. From 1984 to Never Let Me Go to Margaret Atwood’s MacAddams trilogy, the genre is full of insanely imaginative tales that have what I think of as a literary ‘It’ factor.

Good dystopia feels fresh, exciting, and different. What are your favorite dystopias?

Let me know in the comments!

About Georgia:
Georgia Clark grew up in Sydney, Australia. She received a BA in Communications: Media Arts and Production from the University of Technology, Sydney.

After graduating, Georgia worked as editor of The Brag, a weekly music street press magazine.

She then became an online producer for an Australian soap opera called Home & Away and an online writer for Fremantle Media Australia.

Georgia moved to New York City in 2009 to pursue a career in teen and lifestyle journalism.

Her articles have been featured in various publications, including Cosmo, CLEO, Daily Life, Sunday Life, Girlfriend, and more. Georgia currently works as the senior digital creative at Showtime Networks, where she produces the award-winning SHO Sync app.

Despite refusing to own a smart phone, Georgia crafts a thrilling story of robots, renewable resources, and romance in her new futuristic fantasy novel Parched. After the death of her scientist mother, sixteen-year-old Tessendra decides to join a rebel group and risk her life to bring justice to the people living outside the utopian city of Eden.

In addition to her love for writing, Georgia is a travel enthusiast and has visited fourteen countries. She also enjoys improv, studies comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and hosts a monthly show in the East Village with a team called Dreamboat.

For more information about Georgia, visit www.georgiaclark.com and follow her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

Where you can find her online:
Twitter: @georgialouclark

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mini book review: The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

Welcome to another mini book reviews edition of my blog. For this section of my blog, I usually feature reviews of books that don’t really require them – books bought, books I’ve borrowed from friends and books I’ve taken out at the library.

Because they’re not must-review books, my format of these mini reviews differ in that I don’t work the summary into my review in my own words; instead, I feature the Goodreads summary, followed by a few thoughts on my reading experience.

In today’s mini reviews feature, I share my brief thoughts on The Distance Between Us by Kasie West.

About The Distance Between Us by Kasie West (HarperTeen)

Money can't buy a good first impression.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers learned early that the rich are not to be trusted.

And after years of studying them from behind the cash register of her mom's porcelain-doll shop, she has seen nothing to prove otherwise.

Enter Xander Spence—he's tall, handsome, and oozing rich.

Despite his charming ways and the fact that he seems to be one of the first people who actually gets her, she's smart enough to know his interest won't last.

Because if there's one thing she's learned from her mother's warnings, it's that the rich have a short attention span.

But just when Xander's loyalty and attentiveness are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn't a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she'd ever realized.

With so many obstacles standing in their way, can she close the distance between them?

My thoughts:

What an unexpectedly charming and emotional read.

Don't let the cover fool you into thinking that this book is all fluff. Fluffy goodness there certainly is, but there's a surprising depth that explores what it means to live on the opposite side of the tracks in comparison to spending your days hosting charity functions within the halls of a mansion.

It's a book about how young adults are pressurised into being defined by how much they have or don't have.

It's a novel that explores the close bond between a mother and daughter; a relationship that's always been strong but threatens to unravel because of secrets and lies brimming beneath the surface.

Mostly it's about one sassy, prickly-peared, poor young heroine who wears her sarcasm like a fortress, and the sweet, but wealthy boy who gets under her skin in spite of herself.

There's certainly enough swoony and UST moments in this book, but the heart of this novel lies in the growth and development Caymen undergoes throughout the novel.

Throw in an awesome best-friend and a group of raggy-taggy rock-band friends and the result is a book that will hit your right in the feels.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book talk: First world book problems

Being a book addict is, without a doubt, the best thing in the entire world. 

But, as we all know, being a slavish literary enthusiast certainly comes with its set of unique problems. I was chatting to some lovely folk on Twitter and in the office and somehow the topic of First world problems, in relation to books came up.

In no particular order, I’ve decided to share them here:

1.  The pain of having to deal with cliff hangers. And then being forced to wait for years before the next book in the series is being released.

2. Forcing yourself to put a book down because things like sleep, work and daily social interactions get in your way. Although sometimes (okay, most of the time), the need to look like a hungover rat with bloodshot eyes in the morning takes preference over putting the novel aside. 

3.  When publishers change book covers halfway through your collection of a specific book series. Now you have to buy a whole new set in order for them to match.

4.  When people who've watched the movie before they've read the book, suddenly start acting like they're experts on both. I hate to break it to you, but your opinion isn't worth much to those who've read the book first.

5. That moment when you have to deal with people who can see that you're reading, but still insist on talking to you anyway. No reader wants to be forcefully ripped out of the fictional world he or she's immersed in.

6. When you have so many unread books in your shelves, but you're not in the mood to read them and as a result have to buy a new one (oh, who am I kidding; there's always a good time to buy books).

7.  Dealing with people who hate your favourite book without having made the effort to read the book in order to form an opinion that's based on popular mass opinion.

8. Having to cope with separation anxiety issues the moment you (reluctantly) lend someone a book. 

9. When you visit the library or bookstore only to discover that they're closed due to stock take. Words can't describe the level of agony I feel when this happens.

10. That long waiting period you have to endure when a book you've ordered takes longer than day to arrive.

11. My lovely colleague Adele says it really breaks her heart that she can't read her Kindle in the bath. I know, it's utterly tragic (I'm not big on the reading in the bath thing, but I can understand where she's coming from).

12.  Laura, our lovely intern on the other hand, says she hates that she's forced to read a popular book the moment it comes out in order to avoid spoilers.

These are just a few of the struggles that I, and my colleagues, like to whinge about. What are some of yours? Please share – I’d love to giggle and nod my head in agreement. 

This column originally appeared as part of Women24’s monthly book club newsletter. Keen to receive this as a monthly newsletter in your own inbox? You can subscribe here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book review: The Classics edition: Grimm's Fairy Tales

Anyone who hasn’t read Grimm’s collection of Fairy Tales, hasn’t had much of a childhood. 


This review also appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm (Vintage Classics)

What a marvellous little collection of tales.

Strange, creepy, romantic and filled with all manner of twisty things, Grimm’s anthology of fairy tales is one of those classics that should be on every fable and folklore lover’s book shelves.

Most of us are familiar with Disney’s treatment of stories like Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella and The Frog Prince - to mention but a few - but in this collection, The Brothers Grimm go back to some of the roots of these tales and present a version that is not only different, but that are also much darker.

In quite a few cases, some don’t even have the happily-ever-after ending that we’re so used to seeing.

Even more interesting is that, based on recently doing a little research on folklore (I adore anything fable, myth and legend related),  I discovered that in some cases, even the Grimm brothers had much better and  happier adaptations and endings for some of their  versions of these legendary stories.

And that’s saying a lot about two intellectual scholars who’ve never shied away from including murder and cannibalism in their tales.

But, more on that later - I’m getting ahead of myself.

This collection, published by Vintage Classics in 2013, features a diverse range of stories.

From the relatively well-known (Little Red Riding Hood, Brier Rose and Puss in Boots), to the rather obscure (The Juniper Tree, The Lettuce Donkey and The Singing, Springing Lark), these stories will take you on a journey that will leave you feeling at once both nostalgic and slightly sad that you missed out on so much subtext when you were younger.

While I certainly adored these narratives with my limited understanding of them when I was younger, reading them anew has certainly left me with an even deeper appreciation of these tales of yonder. 

Looking at it from a child’s still developing point of view, it’s rather easy to assume that fairy tales, as a rule, is all about brave knights, resourceful princesses and the happily-ever-after it generally contains.  And for me, it certainly did represent that.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this impression at all, but I do think that as they get older, children should be made aware of the underlying themes and metaphorical threads that are interwoven in them.

My personal experience of this collection was one of reawakening; one where I was reminded that behind these folklore tales, a treasure trove of hidden meanings was (and is) just waiting to be found.

From wicked enchantresses, to singing larks, golden birds and magical beasts, these Grimm-told stories are filled with all sorts of fantastical imagery.  You’ll meet everything and everyone and discover that magic and goodness can be found just around the corner.

On the other hand, Grimm’s collection also tells us that dark deeds, enmity and cunning tricksters are just as prone to lurk about, and that some exist closer to home than anywhere else.

Exploring and incorporating themes of incest, murder, cannibalism and human folly in general, you’ll be astonished at just how much twistedness there are in these stories. 

My absolute favourite?

The Juniper Tree – this one’s probably one of the darkest  I’ve read in this collection, although I’m sure that I’ll probably discover more of their darker works in my quest to read every single Grimm story I haven’t read yet.

Interweaving themes of child abuse and murder with cannibalism and greed, The Juniper Tree is the story of a young boy who, loathed by his stepmother, is tricked into getting an apple to eat from a chest.

When he takes the apple, the stepmother closes the chest, lopping off his head in the process (You can see why this is one of the lesser known Grimm’s tales).

Trying to hide her cold-blooded act of killing from her husband, she chops up his body parts and feeds it to the family when he comes home from work.  His stepsister, however, is heartbroken with grief and saves his bones. She eventually wraps them in a handkerchief and buries him underneath the magical Juniper Tree.

What happens next is for you to discover, but suffice to say, you’ll be hearing the phrase: “My mother she killed me, my father he ate me” throughout the story.

Deliciously twisted, but also incredibly hopeful, this story is a reminder that love can triumph from beyond all planes.

I wish I could spend more time going through all the stories, but I’m sure that what you’ll get instead of a book review, is a novel-length discourse on each of these little gems. 

I will however make a brief mention of some of the stories that have stood out for me, the tales in question being:

Brother and Sister (a tale of two resourceful siblings who escape their evil stepmother),

All Fur (a young princess who flees from her father after he falls in love with her and demands to marry her)

The Singing, Springing Lark
( A young princess, an enchanted prince, a 7-year period apart and a wicked princess’s scheme. Here’s quite a lot that happens in this story, but the journey of the brave heroine will certainly have you rooting for her.)

Snow White and Rose Red (the version that involves an enchanted bear and one nasty, ungrateful, thieving dwarf), oh and…

The King of the Golden Mountain and The Lettuce Donkey (both decidedly sinister, although the one more so than the other because the ending is just so bluntly shocking).

See, there are just so many to mention here. The one thing I should add though is that if you’re looking for a book with a collection of fully developed and fleshed out stories, you won’t find that here.

These stories are written in a way that’s often choppy and abrupt, but strangely all the more beautiful for it. Many may even consider it somewhat simplistic, but I find that sometimes it’s these kind of reads that have the most pearls to offer.

If you haven’t read it yet, go out and grab a copy.

If you’ve read it before, but it’s been languishing in your shelves, dust it off and pick it up again. After all, there’s nothing like a book that reminds you that you’re never too old to be fall in love with your childhood favourites again.

And that is indeed what this collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales ended up doing for me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book talk: Jennifer Ridyard

Today I’d like to welcome YA author, Jennifer Ridyard to my blog. As one half of the duo who wrote the dystopian novel Conquest, a book I enjoyed and recently reviewed, Jennifer is someone who is actually no stranger to my blog.

Last time I featured her, Jennifer wrote an awesome guest post on why science fiction isn’t just a guy thing (I’d highly recommend that you check it out).

In today’s spot, I chat to Jennifer about the concept behind Conquest, what it was like writing with John Connolly (co-author of the book, best-selling author of a popular crime thriller series and, her actual partner) and what’s in store for the next book.

For those who haven’t heard about Conquest before, you can check out my in-depth review which I posted here, and add it to your Goodreads pile.

If you have read the book, just a note of caution: there are one or two spoilery questions below (but don’t worry, I’ve highlighted it clearly so that you can just skip pass those if you’d like).

Welcome to the blog Jen!

Q1:  You’ve been a journalist for many years. When John first approached you with the idea of the book – a book about an alien girl being born on earth – what was it that made you say yes?

Oooh, it was probably my ego that made me say yes!

The story of how it happened entailed a bit of wine (him) and a bit of madness (me): he’d been on a boozy lunch-turned-dinner with a friend, and he’d been musing over the idea of a story told from the perspective of the first alien girl to be born on earth after the invasion, so when he got home at around midnight full of Dutch courage, he asked me.

He said he felt he couldn’t comfortably write a teenage girl – any teenage girl and even more so an alien teenage girl! – without some female input, and also he was very pressed for time, having other deadlines and books to write.

He was terribly nervous, and sweetly humble, and I was just so delighted to be asked, to be trusted that much by someone who is so solitary and efficient as a writer, and it felt rather like it validated my own (largely unsuccessful) attempts to write fiction. 

So I foolishly leapt in where angels ran screaming, because I’m no angel! Like I said, it was probably madness, because it was damned hard!

Q2:  How challenging did you find the transition from being a solo writer to being a co-author?

I found it pretty easy… at first. I think John struggled a lot more. As a journalist, I was used to working in a messy, open-plan office, with other voices and opinions and sub-editors and editors all having their say.

I was used to being part of a process. John’s background was in journalism too, but nearly 20 books in he is well used to working alone, unchallenged, and apparently I can be very challenging. Snigger. 

Q4:  What kind of structure did you and John employ when writing the book? Were you each responsible for different characters and character arcs?

Or did you write the book in such a way that you started where John left off?

He didn’t know what the book was actually going to be about because he just had the seed of an idea, but I told him I needed more than that.

I suggested he start it off, and then write a synopsis for the rest, so he went away then came back several weeks later with 14 000 words, a 2-page synopsis, and a frown on his face.

 As he said, this was not how he worked usually, and he’d found it difficult.

I then sat down, read through it all and off I went, type-type-type, rather delighted with myself as it grew to 70 000 words, with my own characters being born – like Fremd and Just Joe, and the people on the Highland march – and the ones he had created developing and changing, and I really started to see Syl and Ani as mine. Mine!

Q3: At which points during the writing process did you and John oppose each other the most? And how did you find a way to compromise on aspects in the novel that you didn’t agree on? 

When I agreed to write with him, I said that he would have the final say, being a successful, published novelist. That was my compromise, theoretically at least.

But sometimes I forget what an opinionated, bloody-minded person I can be.
As I said, I handed him back 70-odd thousand words, all chuffed with myself, and he said “Who on earth are you writing for?”

I was devasted: when he’d said “young adult” I’d taken that to be around 13 or 14, because it was at that age I’d taken to reading adult books, but he meant an older teenager, and what I’d done was too simplistic, too young.

He tore into my babies, beat them, reshaped them, and then handed me back his version of our completed book, now 120 000 words, and a much more serious, dark beast.

Not to be outdone, I then had a small slash-and-burn of my own, adding more lightness, humour and humanity (odd choice of words!) to it all – I hope! – and getting rid of some of the darker, denser prose at which he excels. I think. Well, that’s how I remember it.

It was tough though. It was very tough indeed. Egos were bruised. Wine was consumed. Weight was gained.

Q5: Speaking of characters, I thought Syl, Ani and Meia were phenomenal characters.

What I particularly found interesting is that Ani’s gift was an incredibly important factor in Conquest – something which is not often seen in supporting characters in most novels.

In fact, while we get subtle hints about Syl, it’s Ani that really rises to the occasion in one major rescue scene.  What made you decide to make use of Ani’s gift instead of Syl’s? 

The Chronicles of the Invaders is a trilogy, and there is some way to go still. Syl particularly needs room to grow and change as the main protaganist, which I suppose she can do best against the backdrop of more static, set characters, like funny, quirky Ani.

Also, Syl’s powers are darker, so are only being revealed as the darkness of adulthood encroaches on youth and innocence.

I suppose it could be a metaphor if I tried hard enough! I guess it just worked too: both of them were conceived on the same strange night, in the same starlit phenomenon, so it’s nice to know that they were both formed by it. Sometimes you don’t plan these things.

They’re just organic. 

Q6: You chose Scotland as the predominant setting of the novel. 

While there are certainly Illyri that dominates over many areas, the main focus is placed on what happens in Scotland, in particular the Highlands. Is there any particular reason for this?

Ah, wait for books two and three! We’re going off-world… 

Scotland, meanwhile, with its history of rebellion and occupation and its huge nationalism, seemed like fertile ground for a revolutionary, underground army, which is what we needed.

It has a beautiful, harsh, desolate countryside in its Highlands, the kind of wild place you can easily get lost. It has attitude in bucketloads. It has that Celtic fire. The only other option would have been Ireland, but that’s a bit close to home…

Sometimes you need to be a step outside to see in properly. Also, it has the rather fabulous sprawl that is Edinburgh Castle: who could resist that as a base?

Q7: If you could describe a country on earth that would be closest to what Illyri’s world looks like, which country would it be and why? 

Oh goodness, I couldn’t begin to tell you. The thing about Illyr is, like our own world, it has many different regions, many different climates (although generally it’s warmer and more humid, but it does have polar ice-caps), and many different geographical features.

It is not uniform throughout. There are cities that spill into the ocean, there are plants that reach to the storm clouds, there is a yellow sea, there is more than one moon, their sun moves slower so their days are longer.

The difference would be that the Earth has many governments, many countries, and no unity, whereas Illyr has one Ruling Council (however divided that might be), as is true of most science fiction. I doubt a world could invade unless it was unified.

Q8: Which character did you find the most challenging to write?  

The Illyri were much simpler than the humans! We were making their nature up, so they could be like us, but different… alien. 

With the humans, we all know humanity, and so we each bring our own expectations and understanding to our reading. When you’re creating what are essentially a new species, you get to play a bit more.

Q9: Let’s talk about the Nairene Sisterhood.

With the already existing problems between the Military and Diplomatic Corps, the two existing factions who have different ideologies about ruling earth, the Nairene Sisterhood only exacerbates the situation.

How did you come up with the idea of the Sisterhood and why did you decide to include them in an environment already teeming with hostility? 

The Nairene Sisterhood are at the very core of the hostilities…

The Sisterhood are (I think) a lovely thing that has become corrupted, a repository of all knowledge and a library of the history, science, art, philosophy, and all the collected wisdom of the ages for their people.

They are an ancient order, rather like nuns, existing before the civil war that split Illyr into the two camps of Diplomats and Miltary.
The idea was of a cloistered order, rather like the old religious orders of earth, focussed entirely on their stated purpose.

There will be a lot more about them in the second novel, so hold that thought.


Q10: Can you give us a little more about what we can expect in the next novel? Will we be finding out more about the invasion behind the invasion, so to speak?

Also (and I totally squirmed throughout the last bit of the novel), the parasitic organisms and how they came about in the first place?

SPOILER ALERT: Well, in the next novel Syl and Ani are on Avila Minor, the moon on which the Sisterhood reside, and Paul and Steven are off fighting in the Illyri battalions on other worlds, and we find out more about… well, I don’t think I should give anything away.

Suffice to say the canvas broadens, and the plot thickens!

Q11: And finally, can you tell us what it is that you love most about writing sci-fi for Young Adults? 

I really do LOVE writing for this market. I think the YA reader particularly likes a cracking adventure, and audacious characters, and a bit of romance and a healthy squirt of anger and war, all the things I like in a book.

It’s tremendous fun, but also a little terrifying because there’s nothing worse for a teenager than being told stuff in a prescriptive, diadactic manner, or treated with precious kid gloves.

You need to show them, not tell them (to borrow a cliché); you need to draw them in but you can never talk down to them – that’s the part you desperately  hope to get right, and I hope we did by treating our readers as complete adults, but adults who are not yet jaded, grim and cynical. Adults with hope and passion.

The best kind of adults, actually.

Thanks for stopping by Jennifer. I had so much fun compiling these questions!

About Jennifer
Jennifer Ridyard was born in England and grew up in Johannesburg, where she worked as a journalist for many years.

Conquest is her first novel.