Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book #13: England – Blade series by Tim Bowler

Yes, I finally figured out which book(s) to use for England, mostly because I found one I hadn’t read in the library and consumed it voraciously and decided it ticked all the boxes: Awesome story that I love, great rendering of setting, and being set in the right place.

Blade is a series of 8 books about a street kid named for his skill with a blade. The books are very short and addictive (I’ve always read 2 at a time), with a large dose of mystery. I’ve just finished book 5 and I’m still not sure who Blade is and who the bad guys are, although it’s starting to become clear. If you know any reluctant readers, these are probably good books for them. And for anyone else who likes an adrenaline-filled adventure and a hero with a lot of secrets.

Blade is a loner and lives in a city somewhere in England. The city is a character in itself, gritty and surprising, and Blade knows it inside-out. He’s incredibly street-smart and cold out of necessity, but as the books progress he finds himself beginning to care about things. This is a disadvantage in his eyes, but it makes his character that much more interesting and pulls you in.

The books are first person but speak directly to the reader, who Blade calls Big Eyes. Blade’s use of language reminds me of A Clockwork Orange (though it’s far, far easier to read), and you pick up Blade’s own personal dialect. Grammar sticklers might be exasperated, but the books are amazing examples of voice and vitality and probably worth reading just for that. Blade delights in showing you the city and pointing out the different people just as if you were there beside him, and even tells you off for not keeping up.

If you want something different and refreshing that won’t take you long, try these. The first is Playing Dead.

What books set in England do you like?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Spending large amounts of money

Okay, I have booked my flights. I shall be staying in Sydney and Tokyo for a week each and visiting Abu Dhabi for 4 hours, then on to London. YAY!!! So excited. And my friend wants to take me to Disneyland Tokyo. Must remember to leave enough money to get into the UK...
Now I’m thinking about what I should pack. I have been thinking about this a looong time. Default baggage allowance is 23kg+7kg (multiply by about 2 for lb). It’s not much. Not when I’m planning to be away for 18 months. I once smuggled 13kg worth of hand-luggage on a domestic flight (you just have to walk tall and pretend your backpack isn’t pulling you through the floor. And I did maths to figure out how much the overhead lockers can carry, thank you. There was no danger of me breaking the plane. I thought about it), but I don’t think I’ll risk it internationally. Domestic flights you can just drop stuff with friends if they catch you. International... not so much.
So. 30kg. I had a crazy idea that I’d take pictures of all my knick-knacks and paintings and things, print them out and hang them on my new wall on the other side of the world so that I’d have some kind of decoration in my new room. Then I thought this might be weird. But fun. And possibly entertaining for my bemused flatmates.
What can I fit into a suitcase? I would like to fit three pairs of boots, three pairs of shoes, two blankets and a feather duvet, a pillow, dresses, t-shirts, jackets, coats, a soft toy or two, jeans, skirts, trousers, books, make-up, jewellery, and my cat. I wish I had Hermione’s evening purse, or even Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. Neither of them would have any trouble on international flights (I’m sure the weighers wouldn’t ask to weigh Hermione’s evening bag).
I’m going to make a list of all the stuff I can take and how much fits in my suitcase, which I may or may not have bought yet (depends whether I decide to take a suitcase we’ve already got or not. I’m not going to take my old one because the mayor dragged it around the waterfront and skidded the wheels and now it clicks loudly. Yes, the mayor).
Question desert island style: what would you definitely stick in your suitcase?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Rave: The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. And stuff.

 This could technically be the book representing England, but I want to talk about other things too so I’ll make this a book rave. One thing I’m sure to find in future is another English book. Books set in  places like Kazakhstan may be slightly harder, unless Sacha Baron Cohen decides to write one.

If you haven’t read The Demon’s Lexicon, go and read it now. All good libraries should have a copy. My current local library went up (slightly) in my estimation when it procured a copy, 2 years after it was first published. My previous (awesome) local library was where I first found it, borrowed it, read it while walking home, through the night and then, um, while I was supposed to be at work. It’s probably not for everyone, but you should know by now if you like that kind of thing.

The story is basically about two brothers who fight magicians and demons while trying to look after their crazy mother and avoid the big bad magician who’s out to get them. Nick is the younger brother who’s tall, dark, handsome, and handy with a sword. Alan is the older brother who’s red-headed, bookish, limps, and is handy with a gun. Mae of the pink hair comes to them to try to save her brother Jamie from a demon. Awesomeness ensues.

This book falls into a category with a number of my favourite films and books. Unfortunately, making a list of these books and films is kind of spoilery, not in a huge way but just because you know what the pattern is. It (hopefully) won’t spoil the books or films for you, but you’ll read/watch them a certain way. Anyway, if you want to read this list, keep going down the page and get out your glasses. If not, have a good week!!!

The Demon’s Lexicon (obviously)
To a certain extent, Harry Potter
The Prestige (one of my most favourite movies of all time. Btw the book is MORE complicated...)
Fight Club (bought on my 18th birthday so I could show my ID. They didn’t ask me for ID...)
The Sixth Sense
The Reticence of Lady Anne by Saki (short story)
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
The Matrix (kind of)
Probably lots and lots of mysteries, eg Agatha Christie

Why? You can go back a second time and read/watch an ENTIRELY different book/film. Demon’s Lexicon has Nick as its POV character. Read for a second time, I found you saw things more from Alan’s POV. Rees Brennan takes your standard stereotypes and plays games with your head, making you believe the reasons for something are one thing, when they’re actually entirely another.

From thinking about these kinds of stories, I’ve come to the conclusion that, to make a good twist, you need to have at least two sets of causes for each action/event: at least one that the reader will assume, and one that is the reality. I’d love to write one of these...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book #12: Sri Lanka

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai

Amrith’s parents died when he was six. In the eight years since then, he has lived with a friend of his mother’s in a well-off family. He’s shy, with few friends, and has not yet come to terms with his parents’ deaths and the possibility of his adoptive mother’s involvement.

Uncle Lucky, Aunty Bundle and sisters Selvi and Mala treat Amrith as part of the family, but he is always conscious that he is not. His parents’ marriage was not approved by either of their families, so Amrith’s remaining blood relatives will have nothing to do with him. That is, until Amrith’s Canadian cousin Niresh visits Sri Lanka.

The two boys immediately hit it off. Amrith shows Niresh around Colombo and we see Sri Lanka through the eyes of both a foreigner and a local. I’ve always been fascinated by the differences between cultures, and it’s great to be able to see these differences cast in sharp relief. Colombo is an interesting mix of traditional Sri Lankan influences, Dutch Berber and British colonialism. Aunty Bundle works as an interior designer for a famous architect, so Amrith is well-versed on architecture and can describe the buildings to Niresh and to us.

The facts of Amrith’s life are slowly and gently revealed over the course of the book, and Selvadurai paints a beautiful picture of Amrith’s growth and his learning of acceptance. According to Wikipedia (all hail Wikipedia lol...) Sri Lanka still has no laws allowing LGBT rights - “gross indecency” is not allowed, but this is not defined. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea is set in 1980, when being gay is at best the subject of gossip and at worst illegal. Having lived a sheltered life, Amrith does not understand what the gossip is about, and becomes ever more confused as his feelings for Niresh strengthen.

The book explores both the good and bad aspects of family: love and trust, inherited traits and feuds. It looks at the effects a feud can have on a life, and how forgiveness and reconciliation can heal. And also how, sometimes, you can’t reconcile with someone and you have to go about things in other ways _evilgrin_.

Any more books set in Sri Lanka?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Book Rave: Alex by Tessa Duder. And holiday pics...

Happy New Year! Hope you had an amazing holiday and there was just the right amount of snow or sun (-: I'll get onto the book rave soon, but first some piccies. Here’s where I was for New Year:
campsite with railway carriage and sea in the background

dawn 1/1/2011. Little white dot in the top left quarter is the moon.

one of the surf beaches with big waves and crazy people on rocks
I need to find some more international books, but in the meantime I’ll rave about a book (or four) I read recently: The Alex series by Tessa Duder. They were written in the 80s and 90s and I should have read them before this, but never got round to it. Her more recent Tiggie Tompson trilogy is also very good.

Alex is a fifteen-year-old girl swimming to qualify for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome (well, okay, she’s fourteen at the start but don’t get nitty-picky :P). It made me tired just reading about her life: getting up at five for the first swim training, going to school (which, btw, happens to be the high school I attended :D), doing ballet, hockey, the school play and piano, a second swim training. I may have missed something. I think everyone has known one of these people, someone who squeezes so much into life that you feel a bit inadequate.

Her arch-nemesis and friend, Maggie, consistently beats her in races, but Alex tends to pull off amazing comebacks. Alex’s independent temperament makes her disliked by judges and journalists, especially in conservative 1950s New Zealand, and there are evil plots and connivers galore. (Btw 1950s NZ is very different from 2011 NZ. We actually have restaurants now.) Her boyfriend and family are incredibly supportive, but it’s still a struggle to get through the year to the qualifying race.

Duder herself was a swimmer, so the details of swimming and training are probably pretty accurate. It would be interesting to know how much of the story is taken from her own experience.

There are two reasons I’m doing this book rave: One, the books are really really good. Two, the structure of the first book (Alex) is masterful.

You have the main storyline and timeframe with Alex training and going to school and living life, but interspersed with these main chapters are short snippets of the final qualifying race. Everything depends on this race. Right from the very start you are with Alex as she walks into the pool area, steps up to the starting blocks. You see three-second chunks of time, glimpses of the race as you read what leads up to it in the main chapters. It’s a great hook, building tension as you wait to see if all the work will be worth it, and a great spur to read on.

I was inspired, and decided to use some form of this technique in all my WIPs. Since then I’ve calmed down a bit and realised that, like most things, it’s probably better to think carefully about it and use it if it’s appropriate. Everything has a place, and if you use something in the wrong place it can fall flat or just get boring.

How were your holidays? Hope you had some good ones!