Wednesday, December 22, 2010

quick christmas pics (-:

I haven't managed to get a book for around the world this week because all the books I have read in the past few weeks don't count (4 set in NZ, 1 set on another planet :P). And it's Christmas on Saturday so I thought I'd do a Christmas post... in pictures, because a picture is worth a thousand words and is much faster to look at when you haven't got much time (-:

Sooooo... pictures of my Christmas, or what I hope Christmas will be like. In 7000 words :D

Christmas in the Park/old volcano crater

Pohutukawa - 'NZ Christmas tree'

close up of a pohutukawa flower, with a happy bee

pavlova mmmmm

West coast beach

giant Santa. Can't figure out how to get the orientation right...

sunrise on an east coast beach

And family, of course, but I thought I wouldn't embarrass them with pictures.

Hope you have a great Christmas and happy new year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book #11: Poland

Siberia by Ann Halam

I seem to be in a future-dystopia mood these last weeks. I tell myself it’s all research for my WIP.

Siberia, according to the author, is less a place and more a state of mind. The Gulf Stream has stopped bringing warm weather to Europe (see The Day After Tomorrow :P) and decent people live in domed cities to escape the cold. Unfortunately, decent people aren’t as decent as they could be, and have managed to kill off most of the animals and accidentally set loose mutations that make monsters of the rest. If you’ve done something wrong or something the government doesn’t like, you’re sent to the wilderness, to a new Siberia.

You’re supposed to make things difficult for your characters, otherwise there’s no tension and no real story. Halam does this to perfection, and makes things extremely difficult for the main character Sloe. At the age of four she’s sent with her mother to a Settlement in the Polish wilderness where summer lasts a few weeks and is spent desperately trying to grow food for the frozen winter ahead. Her mother spends all her time making nails, and Sloe struggles to fit in with the children of the other convicts. She breaks a leg, which heals badly, gets sent off to a boarding-school prison, and sells out her mother by mistake.

On top of all this, she’s promised her mother she’ll take the last secret stores of mammal DNA to a safe city in the north. The only way to get there is across the snow and ice in winter by foot, because you can’t get travel passes if you’re from a Settlement.

I really enjoyed this book. Despite the multitude of difficulties, it doesn’t get to the point where you think ‘here we go again’. You feel for Sloe, with nothing for company but the mammal DNA. It’s actually quite good company, though, as the DNA has to be turned into tiny animals every so often to keep it fresh, and the tiny animals are SO CUTE.

I can’t imagine being outside in such cold. I thought I was going to die at the beginning of winter this year, and it doesn’t even get to freezing point here. Halam does a great job of describing the beauty and harshness of the landscape, and makes me think I could brave the cold to see such places.

Any more books set in Poland?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Call Me Chameleon

Since my Tuesday is now free, I’m doing a teaser (-: This is from my Nanowrimo 2009 project, which I wrote completely for fun and breaks lots and lots and lots of rules just for the hell of it. It has not one but two prologues, characters with names beginning with A (I banned myself from A names after using five seven in the same book), starts with long description not action, and the title calls to mind a certain eighties pop song. But still I like it.

Background: For some people, their names make them who they are. If you’re called Wisdom, you’re really wise. If you’re called Dolphin, you can swim like a, um, fishy mammal. The main characters Chameleon and Raven have just started ‘normal’ school.

“You’re from that weirdo hippy cult commune, aren’t you?”
The question came from behind me. I wondered if I should ignore it, but Raven had already turned around, his arms crossed.
“What weirdo hippy cult commune? I don’t know any weirdo hippy cult communes.”
“You all have names like Flower and Tree.” The boy was shorter than Raven, and a bit chubby. He was squinting at us like we were some strange new species of insect.
Raven’s face was dark and he opened his mouth to say something in return, but I trod on his toe. “Actually, we don’t have anyone called Flower or Tree. Those would be stupid names. I’m Chami.” I stuck out my hand and raised an eyebrow, daring the boy to take it. After staring at my hand for way too long, the boy gave a grin, shrugged and took it.
“I heard your names in class. I’m Charlie. What’s up with Raven, though?”
Raven glared at him. “What’s up with Charlie?”
“Shut up, Raven,” I muttered, stepping forward a bit so I was between the two boys. “Look, we’re new here and we don’t really know our way around. I think I’ve got French next, but I don’t know where it is. Could you show us?” I’d spent ages studying the map of the school yesterday, so I actually knew exactly where it was. What was I doing?
“What about Raven? What does he have?”
“German,” Raven growled. Charlie’s face went back into the pursed-lips mask it had had before, and I thought about kicking Raven.
“Well, I’ve got German now and the French class is just a few doors down. I suppose I could take you.” He looked back to me, and I smiled at him. His lips twitched back, he shrugged, and waved us to follow him.
“Why are you being so prickly?” I whispered to Raven. His eyes were narrowed at Charlie’s back.
“What’s the point of trying to make friends with people who insult you instead of introducing themselves?”
“You can’t dislike someone this quickly. It’s the first day, try to make some friends.”
He didn’t answer. Charlie led us out through the main door of the biggest building and along a path between some spindly trees to the languages block.
“You guys are from that commune, though, right?”
“Well, it’s not a commune,” I told him, trotting a bit so I was beside him. Raven stayed behind us. “It’s just a village. We’ve been there like forty years.” We weren’t allowed to say that much about the village, or why we’d lived there. “It’s great, it has a waterfall and stuff. Where do you live?”
He looked around at me, surprised. Maybe this wasn’t something you asked someone straight off. “I live about five minutes walk away, next to the auto repair shop my dad owns.”
“Oh, so you know about cars?”
He shrugged and grinned. “I know a bit.” He was obviously trying to be modest.
“Yeah, I learned to drive over summer. It was fun. On a nineteen-seventy-three Mini.”
“How old are you?”
“She’s fourteen,” Raven spoke up from behind. “But we’re out in the country, and they mostly let you do what you want. She wanted to learn.”
The reason I’d wanted to learn was so that I could beat Raven home from the far fields, but I didn’t tell Charlie that.
He looked impressed. “I can drive a bit, but only down the driveway. Dad won’t let me do anything else until I’ve got a Learner’s. Nineteen seventy three Mini? Is that a Mark 2 or Mark 3?”
“Mark 2,” I said, wondering how I knew. I didn’t remember being told. “We put gravel tyres on it so it goes well up in the mountains.” And I had no idea where that information had come from.
Thanks for reading ! (-:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

click click click click

Haha! I have won my battle against html, and now have a nice pretty map for your clicking pleasure. I was going to do each individual country as a link, but I think that would have overloaded things and would have meant lots and lots of upkeep and would also have been insanely miniscule. So click on the continent you want (-:

And yes, I know some of those islands don't actually exist and others are missing. It's a representational map. That's why it's in scribbles.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book #10: USA/Arizona

Arrghh I’ve missed my Tuesday again. Round the World Wednesday sounds better anyway (-:

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

So I’m cheating a bit and counting US states as different countries... And the setting of this book is actually a country called Opium which sits around the border between present-day Mexico and the USA, where Arizona is now. But it’s a good book and States are almost separate countries sometimes, or so I’m told. And I’ve had a week of night shifts and woe-is-me-ing so I’m just going to put it in. But enough of sentences beginning with conjunctions. :-D

The House of the Scorpion charts the life of Matteo Alacràn from conception to age of fourteen. Most conceptions aren’t really first-page material for young adult books, but Matt is a clone, grown inside a cow and brought up to believe he is nothing more than livestock, a creature that ‘civilised’ people refuse to acknowledge. His DNA comes from El Patron, the original Matteo Alacrán, who masterminded the birth of the country Opium and who is effectively its ruler.

Opium produces drugs for foreign markets and ensures that no one can cross illegally from Mexico to the United States or vice-versa. People programmed to do obey slave away in the fields while the 140-year-old El Patron searches for ways to further extend his life. Matt receives the best education and hopes to one day assist in running Opium, but begins to question his status. Why should he be classed an ‘animal’, incapable of reasoning thought and the leadership of the country, when El Patron’s great grandchildren aren’t as smart.

Matt must also decide with who he wants to become. Must he follow in the footsteps of El Patron the drug lord, or can he choose his own path? I thought Matt was very well drawn – you watch him through his life as he makes good and bad choices, and always El Patron is in the background, demonstrating what Matt might become if he makes all the wrong choices. Or the right ones, if your goal is to be an international drug lord.

Oh and by the way don’t get the Amazon e-book until after I’ve complained to Amazon. My copy is missing dozens of apostrophes, has replaced half the double ls with capital Us and had two chapter 8s (the entire chapter, printed out again). Made reading interesting...

Any other books to represent Arizona?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Book #9: Iran

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The best and most moving stories often come from reality, and I was reminded of this as I read Persepolis. The author/illustrator was born in Iran, and this graphic novel is a memoir of her childhood during the reign of the Shah and the Islamic Revolution.

Satrapi was nine when the revolution came. Her parents were Marxists and had been campaigning for the ousting of the Shah for years. They hoped for a change towards their ideals, but watched as Iran became a religious state where wearing a veil was compulsory for women (one of my favourite panels shows school girls using their veils as skipping ropes, monster costumes and horse reins), possession of playing cards and videos could earn you seventy-five lashes and almost everyone knew someone who’d been executed.

It’s sobering stuff, but Satrapi depicts her story with such charm and humour that it’s no trial to read. Every page had me in thrall, and even though it’s split nicely into chapters and I had work to do, I kept reading. It’s scary to think how quickly an entire country can change, and you see it happening through Satrapi’s eyes. I think the fact that the story comes from a child/teenage point of view means that you get a better feeling for what life was like. Adults focus more on the overall ‘serious’ picture and forget the small details that create an experience (though I’m happy to be proven wrong :D).

I’d like to know more about the history of Iran, right back to myth. There’s so much history in the world, and at school you only get a small slice of it (usually from your own country). That small slice is, more often than not, pretty boring. What if you could pick and choose your history curriculum from all the histories of the world? And what if, like Satrapi’s philosophy books, you could get it in graphic novel form?

Yes, yes, I know it’s impractical. But soon the Internet will be All-Knowing and it will be possible.

When I got to the end of the book I flipped over the pages a few times to see if I’d missed one, but no, it was just the acknowledgements. I wanted more. I’m so glad there’s a sequel. Now I just have to find it...

What books set in Iran do you like?

(thanks for the pic!)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book #8: Bougainville/Papua New Guinea

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

Personally I wouldn’t class this as a young adult book, but I found it in a list of books for young adults and young adults can read it so I thought I’d include it. It’s also very good.

Mister Pip is the story of Matilda, a girl living on the island of Bougainville when it is blockaded by Papua New Guinea soldiers. For the first few months, there is no school – all the foreign teachers have left the island – and the kids are left to run wild. Matilda’s father left years before for Australia, and her strident, God-fearing mother is a difficult person to live with.

The eccentric Mr Watts, the ‘last white man on the island’, decides to hold school lessons, and introduces the class to Great Expectations. Everyone, but especially Matilda, is entranced by the characters of Pip and Miss Havisham and Magwitch, and by the evocation of nineteenth century England, a world away from their tropical island prison. Great Expectations is an escape from the tension of soldiers and rebels on the island, and Matilda becomes ever more immersed in Dickens’ world.

As the threads of the plot unravel, you begin to see how tightly Great Expectations is bound to the story. Matilda draws the story around her to protect herself from the atrocities of the civil war. Mr Watts takes on the guise of Pip and intertwines his own story with that of Dickens and those of the islanders until you are unsure where one leaves off and one begins. You see the fluidity of story and ‘truth’, and the fact that they can never really be separated from one another. History is always someone’s interpretation, and we have the power to rewrite our own histories, to cover ourselves with the history of others, if we want to.

Bougainville seems like paradise, at least in terms of nature. Matilda’s village is right on the beach, and despite the blockade they do not lack for food – Matilda says that the island is one of the most fertile places in the world, and there are always fish in the sea. The beauty of the setting contrasts strongly against the actions of the people, whether soldiers or villagers. When Matilda is transported to nineteenth century England through Dickens’ words, she is escaping not the place but the people.

The book is a lot more complex than I’ve described here, but I’m not sure how to say more without giving away the plot (and I HATE it when people do that). It left me thinking about subjectivity and the layers of story and half-truth that people surround themselves with. How can you know who a person is? How can you know who you are? And does it really matter if we never know the ‘real’ person?

Do you have any books set in Papua New Guinea that you like?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Excavating the interesting bits

I don’t keep a diary.

When I try, I’m terrible at it. I give blow-by-blow accounts of what I had for breakfast, what time I left the house, whether the traffic was bad or not, and whether the cat was in a mood. I tell, not show. Every second sentence starts ‘And then...’. I spend hours and hours writing and get hand cramp.

For special occasions, though, I do try to keep a diary. These things run to eighty pages over three days. I can look back and see what I had for breakfast on my 21st birthday, what it felt like to go paragliding and (ahem) land in the water, and exactly what our room looked like on a particular trip (I do diagrams too).

No one else could stand to read them but me. I use them as a memory cue, and it’s amazing how you can reimagine the atmosphere of a place or a time by reading your own words. The words themselves are, for the most part, rather dull, but it doesn’t matter because they’re hooking into my memory.

Writing something someone else would actually want to read is entirely different. You can’t just go through a character’s day blow-by-blow (except if you’re the writers of 24, and even they skip from character to character). People (for the most part) only want the interesting bits – the boring bits they can guess for themselves. The trouble is figuring out which are the interesting parts and how to get from one to another.

When I write first drafts, I tend to get caught in a blow-by-blow rut. It’s not as bad as my diary attempts, but you can still see the ‘and then...’s if you read between the lines. I get caught up in telling a true account of my fictional character’s day, and use up so many words that when I finally get to the interesting bits, attention has wandered.

Luckily I have made friends with my delete key.

Maybe keeping a diary would help. I would try to write down my day in ten minutes, picking out all the interesting bits and ignoring the rest. I’d get used to focusing in the right places, and wouldn’t have to depend so much on delete. So, a goal for the week: ten minutes a day of Interesting Diarising.

Have you ever kept a diary or a journal? Do you think it helps you with your writing?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book #7: Spain

 Zorro by Isabel Allende

In my edition, 157 pages of this book are set in Spain, so I’m counting it as Spain. I love this book, and couldn’t leave it out just because I wasn’t sure where to place it.

Allende was approached to write the book by John Gertz, the man who owns the copyright to Zorro. The original Zorro appeared in 1919 in a magazine in serialised form, and was released as a movie the following year. At first Allende didn’t like the idea of writing on commission (she prefers saying she received a ‘proposition’), but she loved Zorro and was given free rein on the story so, in the end, accepted the offer.

Gracios a dios.

We get to see Diego de la Vega close up, watch him grow and take on the world as El Zorro. I always liked the movies, but movies are over so quickly and you don’t get the kind of depth you do in books. And this book is not just a movie adaptation – it is Zorro’s coming-of-age story, and Allende is filling in the blanks in the canon with her amazing story-telling.

Diego is the son of a Spanish soldier and an Indian warrior. He spends much of his childhood learning the Indian ways in the forests with Bernardo (his mute milk brother), and arrives in Spain half-wild. It is up to his father’s friend and the friend’s daughters to ‘civilise’ him, but along the way he meets gypsies and joins a circus and a secret society. It is in Spain that he begins his parallel lives, caught between the pressure to appear 'civilised' and his adventurous nature.

Everything in this book is an adventure. Diego and Bernardo take on everyone from school bullies to pirates and the dastardly Rafael Moncada, and every bit serves to build the character we know as Zorro. Allende has a lot of fun with the dramatics of Zorro (one of the best lines, on beholding Zorro: ‘Padre Mendoza laughed nervously; possibly the fellow was an escaped madman’) and the double life of Diego, who most people see as a hypochondriac fop.

The original is in Spanish (has anyone read it?) but the English translation by Margaret Sayers Peden is very very good. I've bought the book twice - I leant it to someone and never got it back (grrrr...). Had to buy another.

Oh, and I think Diego de la Vega is an awesome, awesome name.

What books set in Spain do you like?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book #6: United States of America/California

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.

This book has a Creative Commons licence. Go on, read it now: I have no idea how Doctorow’s publishers let him do this, but he thinks that people will support the book monetarily if they like it. It’s worked with me so far – I’ve bought two copies and given them to people as presents. And I have a copy on my phone so I can read it wherever I like.

I love this book because it’s so very plausible. A terrorist attack on San Francisco sends everyone into panic mode, with security beefed up and hundreds of people put under suspicion. Marcus and his friends happen to be playing truant that day, and they’re rounded up and questioned Guantanamo-style. An ongoing theme through the book is your own country turning on you – at first Marcus thinks he’s been kidnapped by the enemy, but it turns out to be his own people.

Marcus decides to fight back against the ever-more-encroaching surveillance. Doctorow points out that you can surveille (yes that’s a word, he uses it) people to the nth degree, but it’s always possible to miss things and it’s easy to get false negatives. One of my favourite bits in the book is where upstanding members of the public are pounced upon because they’re suspected of being terrorists – it shows how difficult it is to be certain of anything with surveillance to this extent.

“Little Brother” is a reference to “Nineteen Eighty Four” by George Orwell, where Big Brother was always watching the totalitarian society. Yes, that’s where the reality shows came from. Nineteen Eighty Four is a mirror of 1948 Post-War Britain, and Orwell’s vision of what might happen if society continued along the same lines. Little Brother mirrors our own society, and is scary in how close it comes to reality.

I find it incredible the amount of security we have to go through now. The fact that I have to have my fingerprints taken if I go to America is just crazy (not that I’ll object to it when I get there, nice airport security people. But still).

There’s also an element of hidden identity – Marcus starts an online revolution under a pseudonym, and has to hide from the authorities as well as deal with the movement as it spins out of control. He's like a cyber-hero :-P

I like books that make you think. This one does.

What other books do you like that are set in California?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book #5: Aotearoa/New Zealand

Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey.

I could go on and on about awesome New Zealand-featuring books, but I’ll try not to. I might bore you. This one is set in Christchurch (yes, the city that had a 7.1 earthquake recently) and weaves Maori mythology into real life. I love the idea that the mythological world exists as it is in the minds of people, and as people’s ideas change, it changes too. And hot guys trying to hide their hotness are also good (goes with my love of awesome people in disguise).

Ellie literally stumbles across the magic world that exists beside our own when she stumbles into Mark Nolan. He’s the hot guy she’s had a crush on since she moved to Christchurch, and things become ever more mysterious from there. There are secret societies and chanting wars in the forest, and you never quite know who is on which side. Ellie’s magical problems worsen along with her normal problems, and I think the fact that she has to deal with ‘real world’ situations as well as fantastical situations makes the story all the more convincing, and draws you right in.

There’s something different about reading books about places you know, especially if they’re of the urban fantasy variety. It makes it all so much more immediate, and you find yourself looking around you and wondering. What if it really was real? What if there’s a patupaiarehe around the next corner? Obviously I’m a Kiwi (the person, not the bird or the fruit), and I love the Kiwi-ness of the language. Healey uses munter (heehee) and No. 8 wire and taonga, which is loosely translated as precious treasure/heirloom, as well as many other Maori words. I recognise the landscape and I’ve grown up with the myths. I think she does a great job of evoking the spirit and feeling of New Zealand.

A few other awesome books worthy of mention (that I can think of at the moment):
Halfmen Of O trilogy by Maurice Gee (there are bits in NZ...)
Dreamhunter duet by Elizabeth Knox (pseudo-nineteenth century NZ)
Because We Were the Travellers by Jack Lasenby (post-apocalyptic NZ)
I am not Esther by Fleur Beale (normal NZ, but scary...)
Lots of things by Margaret Mahy. I like Alchemy.

Goal of the week: reduce my use of the word ‘awesome’.

Any books set in New Zealand you like? And no, Lord of the Rings does not count.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book #4: Japan

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn.

This is another setting I have to remind myself isn’t actually real. My travel bug pricks up its antennae and doesn’t really care about the fact that Japan is in the twenty-first century like the rest of the world, and doesn’t have supernatural ninja people. That we know of.

One of the things I love about this book and the rest of the series is the style of writing – poised, poetic and with an undercurrent of tension. It takes a bit to get used to it, but it really evokes the contrasts in feudal Japan – the calm of art and tea ceremony against the fierce and bloodthirsty battles for control.

It’s a coming of age story (like most of YA I guess), and there are assassins and secret identities and hiding in plain sight (in a few senses of the word). Personally, I love secret identity stories. I can’t help grinning when the hero or heroine tricks everyone into thinking they’re a mild-mannered reporter or a hypochondriac fop, when really they’re SO much more awesome underneath. And when everything is revealed...

The book is told from alternating points of view, with the hero and heroine meeting only briefly and falling desperately, mythically in love. I like alternating POV because you get to see the main characters from each others’ points of view, and you get different perspectives on the same world. I also like it because I tend to write it...

It’s not really much to do with the story, but I LOVE the covers for this series (Hachette hardbacks). I’ve rubbed all the ‘gilt’ off Nightingale Floor because I’ve read it too many times, but it still looks dreamy and balanced and beautiful. I like the design of books. I have been known to buy books because they have a see-through dust jacket (Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness) or the chapters are numbered backwards (The Foreshadowing, Marcus Sedgwick). So pretty/different books make me happy.

Okay, I think I’m going to go read this book again.

More suggestions for Japanese books?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book #3: Canada

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Yes, I know, the protagonist is thirteen so this isn’t really YA, but let’s just ignore that.

A boy. A hatchet. Alone in the Canadian forest. It’s about as high concept as you can get. I think all of us, no matter whether we live in a fifty-second floor New York apartment or the jungles of Borneo, can relate to this: the struggle to survive against a Nature that doesn’t care whether we live or die.

Brian must figure out how to survive on his own, and hope that rescue comes soon. He’s up against mosquitoes and bears and poisonous berries as well as thoughts of his parents’ divorce. Everything’s distilled out here into life and death, good and bad choices. What seems important in the world of people is insignificant.

It’s amazing how the entire story can be carried by one character alone in the forest. We get flashbacks, and a brief cameo of the pilot at the beginning, but for the vast majority of the book it’s Brian on his own in the wilderness. It scares me to think of writing a book with only one character carrying all the action. It’s almost like that guy who wrote a book without the letter ‘e’.

But it works. You’re riveted until the final page, and then you go back for more in the sequels. I love that Paulsen wrote Hatchet: Winter, playing with the fluidity of storytelling by changing the ending and making room for an entire alternate-reality book. It’s the same kind of idea as a lot of fanfiction, but more awesome because it’s actually written by the author.

I think the book also catches onto you because it’s about a kid taking control of their life. When I was a kid, I spent hours making secret huts and imagining living in piles of driftwood on the beach. Brian perfects his shelter and actually lives in it, something I could only dream of as a hideaway architect.

I’m not sure I want to be stranded in the middle of the Canadian forest after reading this book, but at least I know to have a hatchet with me at all times.

I wonder if airport security would let me.

Any Canadian books you like?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book #2: Australia

Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden.

I love the way this book gets right into you and makes you think about the world and choices and courage. Many of us live in countries where the possibility of invasion is laughable – how would anyone do it? Our military would stop them. The United Nations would stop them. Decent human goodness would stop them. We feel safe.

And then we’re faced with Ellie and her friends, who thought just that and have been proven wrong. Australia has been invaded, and they have to decide what to do. They’re in a good position – they could go bush and stay out of trouble. Or they could try to fight back.

The invaders have understandable reasons for invading – they have too many people and too few resources, whereas Australia is rich, fertile (in some places...) and sparsely populated. They’re not the root of all evil, even if some of the characters think so, and the morality of fighting or not fighting is explored. People are people, even if they’re on the opposite side of a war.

Everything seems so real, so immediate. You go into the bush, walk along Tailor’s Stitch, descend into the sanctuary of Hell. Reading through the book again, I was amazed at the careful ratcheting of tension right from the first page. Anything can happen, and does. There are love triangles and snakes and mysterious murder stories, bush-bashing and bulldozers and dentists in hiding, uncalled-for dressing gowns and blowing things up...

Ok, I confess. I like explosions. Not the real kind, just the fictional kind. And this series, starting with TWtWB, provides a lot of them. Yes, Ellie tries to figure out if it’s ok to kill other people to save yourself, and how the Bible can say ‘thou shalt not kill’ and then present all these heroes who kill people. But in the end this book is also about fighting for what you believe in, once you’ve weighed your beliefs very carefully. In a situation like this that means explosions and ingenious plotting, both on the part of the author and of the characters. And explosions are fun. In fiction.

However, I’m glad that the number of fictional fatalities is kept low-ish (at least in the first book). It’s enough to give you get a sense that this is serious, that lives are at stake.

The book leaves you thinking, which the best books do.  What would you do if your country was invaded? Would anyone have understandable reasons for invading? Can you do anything to make the world a fairer place?

So what books set in Australia do you like?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book #1: Italy

Part of what I love about fantasy books is finding yourself in places that exist only in the imagination of the author and his or her readers. I like the idea of this imaginary world growing and changing in people’s heads, being shared between them, a meme transferred through the written word.

Unfortunately, sometimes being able to imagine this world is not enough. Think of all the tours based on real-world or semi-real-world books. We want to follow our favourite characters through towns and cities. We take pictures of the entry to Platform Nine and Three Quarters (which doesn’t actually exist as Rowling describes it, but people still try ramming various bits of the station with their luggage trolleys) and re-enact sword battles on bridges. It must amuse the locals.

This week I’m looking at Italy, and the book (or series) I have chosen is Stravaganza, by Mary Hoffman. Each book is set in a different parallel-Italian city, and part of the fun is trying to figure out which cities the characters are in. Teenagers from our world ‘stravagate’ to sixteenth century Talia and engage in Adventures involving mysterious masked ladies, horse races, scheming dynasties, pirates, sculptures and medieval universities. Each book is from a different point of view, but I like that we get to revisit previous characters and their stories continue. Talia seems alive and exciting and cultural, with rivalries between the cities and their distinct identities.

This all makes me want to visit Italy. My inner traveller doesn’t seem to understand that the Italy I find will not be a fifteenth-century version where magic and science mix together and silver is more precious than gold. I want to see Arianna and Rodolfo, ride horses in Remora and watch sea battles from a safe distance. And if I get to Italy and don’t find these things, I’ll have to resort to sock puppets.

(If anyone has ideas on re-enacting realistic sea battles with sock puppets, feel free to suggest them.)

Despite this, I will make a special effort to see all the real-world versions of the Stravaganza cities. I’ve been to Venice, Florence and Ravenna (but you can always go again...) and I’d love to see Siena and Padua. Apparently the next book will be set in Lucca, which I hadn’t heard of. Apparently it’s in Tuscany. It shall be added to my itinerary.

To do list: win Lotto. 

Do you have any favourite books set in Italy?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

technology woes

My faithful laptop is hearing its death knell. It's been at my side for four and a half years, but it won't stay on for longer than 15 minutes and its screen is held up with a piece of string. So I think it's time I let it move on to Silicon Heaven (see Red Dwarf... best line ever: 'but where do all the calculators go?').

This means that I am on the lookout for a new laptop. I'm pretty sure I've figured out which one I want (one with a great keyboard and 10'' screen), but it's about half an hour's drive away or several frustrating bus or train trips. Which brings me to my next technology woe:

My car has no foot brake. So, I will not be driving it to pick up my awesome new netbook because I'm not confident driving around using only the handbrake.

At least my phone is fixed. My accelerometer wasn't working (which meant I couldn't show off how I can play Monopoly and roll the dice by shaking the phone) but I reran a software update and it seems to have fixed it. My one victory against the tech jinx...

Anyway, this all means that I'm waiting with bated breath for my new netbook, which will solve all my problems and allow me to write blog posts to my heart's content.


the rules

These are made to be broken.

  1. I must have read the book representing the country
  2. The book does not have to be written by a native author, but it’s good if it is (-: It should definitely be set in the country it represents.
  3. The book may be set in an alternate version of the country. Which makes it harder to visit the places you’re reading about except in your head. Which possibly reduces air miles.
  4. Each country should only be used once. I’m considering cheating with this and possibly counting different states as different countries, but we’ll see how we go… by my count, about two thirds of native English speakers are American, so lots and lots of the books available to me will tend to be set in the United States…
  5. The category ‘YA’ may be stretched at times if I want to include a totally awesome book.
  6. I will aim to do one book a week. My goal. One book. Per week. (Apparently it helps if you write goals down and get other people to witness them.

Please don’t get offended if the book I put up for a particular country isn’t what you would have – tell me which ones I could have used! It would be great to get a set of books for each country, and I’m always happy to discover new books :-D

I foresee running out of books eventually, so feel free to suggest books you've read and loved that are set in exotic (and not so exotic) places!