Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review: Dead Witch Walking, by Kim Harrison

I didn’t actually know much about the plot of this book before I read it. I’d heard a few people saying that they liked the author’s work, and I’d listened to the episode of I Should Be Writing that featured an interview with her. When I picked it up to read last month, after getting through all my BISP month books, I did, what for me, is an unusual thing. I looked at the blurb.

Instantly I remembered why it had lurked on my TBR pile for more than a year. The blurb is appalling. I don’t know what it’s like on the UK edition, but I’ve got the US/CAN edition, and it tells you the protagonists name, that she’s a bounty hunter and witch, the name of the place where she lives, and that there are vampires there. It doesn’t tell you anything about the plot, or even about the world really. Usually when I write my little plot introductions for reviews, I get a bit nervous about doing the book the proper amount of justice, but this time I am confident, because the blurb set the standard so low!

Dead Witch Walking is set in an alternate universe, where, shortly after the discovery of DNA, a virus was bioengineered that decimated the human population. Previously humans had massively outnumbered all the supernatural creatures – or Inderlanders – but now the numbers are a lot closer to even. Rachel Morgan is one such Inderlander, working for their branch of the police, until she gets sick of getting all the worst jobs. One night she decides to quit, and to her surprise, successful living vampire Ivy and pixy Jenks offer to work with her. Their boss wouldn’t mind Rachel leaving, he’s wanted rid of her for a while, but when he finds out that Ivy is leaving with her, he puts a price on Rachel’s head. Hence the title, Dead Witch Walking. Rachel and her new partners have to find a way to work together to get Inderlander Security to call off the assassins before Rachel runs out of time.

I enjoyed Dead Witch Walking and I read it relatively quickly. I really liked the world in which it was set, however, there was something missing. A really strong protagonist. I’ve read several times that if writers are struggling to decide which character in their story should be the first person narrator, they should pick the one that is the most interesting. I just didn’t feel like Rachel was the most interesting character in the story, quite the opposite, in fact. I was really intrigued by Ivy and her relationship with her parents and other vampires, and by Jenks, his wife and many children. Rachel just didn’t seem that exciting by comparison, perhaps her life is just too straightforward, but I wondered whether the author was deliberately holding back information about Rachel, possibly to put it into later books. There was a lot that wasn’t really explained, like her relationship with her mother. I also couldn’t understand why Rachel was so impulsive, and why she would get herself into really risky situations without any sort of plan to escape them.

I have read on Goodreads and other websites that this series does get better, some people have even said that it’s worth persevering because the later books are amazing. I’m willing to give this series a couple more books to improve, so willing I’ve already got the second, The Good, The Bad and The Undead, on my TBR!

The BookDepository

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Interview with K. L. Going

This interview was supposed to be part of Body Image and Self-Perception Month in July, but there were a few delays, so I'm posting it now as a follow up. I hope you enjoy it.

Most of the books that have been featured in Body Image and Self-Perception month have girls as the protagonists. Why did you choose to write about a boy with body image problems?

When I was writing Fat Kid Rules the World, the character came first and the issues came second. Troy came into my mind as a fully formed person with a voice and image all his own. As I followed where that voice led me, I began to understand that a lot of Troy’s journey had to do with body image. So, it wasn’t a choice I consciously made to write about a certain subject, but I’m glad I’ve been able to offer an alternative perspective.

What challenges did you face when writing from a boy's point of view?

Whenever I write male characters, they usually cry in the first draft and then some male reader tells me that perhaps that’s not masculine enough! I’m not sure if this is true in today’s society, but nevertheless, it’s helpful to have someone double check my work. It’s the little details that can be the most challenging to capture correctly.

In your website FAQs you say that you've always been small and thin. More like Curt than Troy, yet Fat Kid Rules the World is from Troy's point of view. What sort of research did you do so that you could accurately represent the experience of a much larger character?

Actually, I didn’t do too much research. I read other books that featured overweight characters, but mostly, I drew on my own feelings of self-consciousness that I felt as a teen. Those feelings (I believe) are universal, no matter what size you are.

I thought it was really interesting that you made Troy and Curt physical opposites. Why did you choose to do this?

As with my writing of Troy, this wasn’t something I consciously chose. Curt’s character was inspired by Kurt Cobain and he was always stick thin. I did, however, consciously decide that Troy’s brother Dayle was going to have eating issues. You may have noticed that he is always trying to gain weight for the sports he’s on and having troubles with that. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that eating disorders come in many sizes and shapes, and while Troy’s problems are obvious, Dayle has issues of his own that might not be seen at first glance.

I thought that Fat Kid Rules the World showed brilliantly how different our ideas of what other people notice about us can be from the reality. Troy obsesses about things that most other people either don't notice or don't care much about. Eventually he learns to stop worrying about the opinions of the few people who do insult him. Do you have any advice for teenagers struggling to accept themselves and their bodies?

Yes. I’d say that as hard as it is to believe, you’re beautiful just the way you are, and when you feel inadequate in some way, remind yourself that everyone feels this way in one form or another, no matter what they look like on the outside.

Do you have any favourite books about teenagers with body image and/or self-perception issues?

I’ve always loved Staying Fat for Sarah Burns by Chris Crutcher. Also, I’ll add that I have another book out that deals with both of these issues from the polar opposite perspective from Fat Kid Rules the World. It’s called King of the Screwups and it’s about a drop dead gorgeous guy who wishes he was a nerd.

Anything else you would like to add?

Just that I hope people will visit my web site: Thanks for doing this interview!

I'd like to thank K. L. Going for answering my questions. Her responses have definitely given me some food for thought. I reviewed Fat Kid Rules the World as part of the themed month, as did Jo at Once Upon A Bookcase. Jo also reviewed King of the Screwups, which was mentioned in the interview.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

OMG! I Loved It, or Book Review: Della Says: OMG!, by Keris Stainton

Photo by Jonas B. I find this strangely hilarious.

I just finished reading Della Says: OMG! and I'd planned to start reading something else afterwards, as I've got a weird stomach ache, but I had too much energy to keep lying down, so I decided to review it straight away - something I rarely do! I just enjoyed it too much to keep my enthusiasm to myself. Does anyone else get really energised after finishing a good book?

The story is told by Della, who is 15 and pretty mature for her age, but living under the shadow of her parents and sister, who get more positive attention for the way they look than she does. Her elder sister Jamie is especially popular, and has a house party before she goes away to the USA for the summer. At this party, Jamie's boyfriend attempts to make the moves on Della, but she is rescued from his unpleasant attentions by Dan Bailey, a boy who Della has daydreamed about since they met in primary school. She writes about him regularly in her diary and has gotten so used to the idea that he will never like her that it's a complete surprise when not only does he ask her out, but they end up kissing. It's all blissful until the next day, when Della discovers that her diary has gone missing. She searches everywhere for it, but learns that it is stolen when she gets a Facebook message featuring a photo of one of the most embarrassing pages.

It felt like a bit of a mad rush reading this, it's really well plotted and things just keep on happening. I didn't read it in 'a single bite' as Meg Cabot suggested in the front cover quote, but I started reading it yesterday and finished it today. I had planned to read it this afternoon after I got some work done but when I woke up I found myself reaching for it. You know it's a good book when all my self-discipline just melts away. I really liked the main characters, I even felt sympathetic towards the ones that made ethically dubious decisions and I thought it was really refreshing to read a book that was so non-judgemental in its narrative tone. I was pleased that although e-mails, Facebook, and text messaging all featured in the story it didn't overly rely on them, because that can get gimmicky. Most of the action actually takes place 'in real life'.

I was constantly trying to guess who had stolen Della's diary - I think I suspected all of the characters at some point! It was easy to feel sympathy for Della and I liked that her friends were supportive, as this type of story could easily become a cringefest in which all the other characters laugh at the protagonist. I thought most of the characters were interesting, Gemima was a bit of a standard mean girl but I liked Dan's dorky side and that Della's parents have a chain of delis.

No book is perfect but I could only find three real flaws in this one: 1) I wished there were more excerpts from the diary, those that appeared were great but I wondered why the person who had it was so subtle and didn't maximize the embarrassment factor 2) I couldn't work out where it was set, but I know very little about the UK outside London so that may be just a failing on my part 3) the print was quite big and sans serif, it was awkward to read with my contact lenses on. Even the blurb for Della Says: OMG! was pretty good, short and sweet, and I think blurbs are usually rubbish!

Keris was the only author at the Chicklish birthday event whose work I hadn't read, so that made this a must-read in the interests of fairness. I tried to get hold of it before the event, but my local library don't have it in stock, severe error of judgement there I feel. It was quite a quick read, you could manage it in an evening if you're a fast reader, and it's ideal if you have one block of time as it's so hard to put down!

The BookDepository

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Book Review: Nobody’s Girl, by Sarra Manning

Bea is tired of being boring. Her life revolves around school and her dull Saturday job, and she longs for everything to be more interesting. When her ex-best friend Ayesha wants to hang out again, and introduces her to the school’s queen bee, Ruby, and her group of cool party-girls, Bea goes along with it, reluctantly, because what else does she have to do? She believes it’s all a joke until she’s invited along on their trip to Malaga – but things go rapidly downhill once they arrive in Spain.

Bea leaves the other girls behind and joins a group of American tourists heading for France – where she believes the father she’s never met is waiting. But when she tells her Mum about her plans, she’s furious. Will Bea ever find out why? Will gorgeous American Toph ever explain why he acts so weird around her? Will Ruby murder her when she gets back to London?

Of course I loved Nobody's Girl. It was pretty much inevitable, because I've enjoyed all of Sarra Manning's other books, and her writing just keeps on getting better and better. Every book seems to have more description and wit in it than before, and the characterisation becomes more detailed each time as well. Nobody’s Girl is really well paced. Some readers will find the last section back in London a bit rushed, but I think it’s meant to feel that way. And in Nobody’s Girl there is a heroine who is actually honestly like me.

I always wanted to be Edie from the Diary of a Crush trilogy but was never cool enough to befriend/romance art boys or own vintage dresses or get a job as a waitress and live above the cafĂ©. I could relate a lot to Irina from the Fashionistas series but I’ve never been that aggressive or rude. I could totally sympathise with Bea. Even now I still long a little to be more interesting, to read books in cafes and go to the theatre every week and have long intellectual conversations with people in appropriately shabby-glamourous venues. I loved the bits where Bea daydreams about living in Paris and having an eccentric lover to have passionate rows with (it was really great that Sarra chose one of those bits to read aloud at the Chicklish birthday event). I know how easy it is to get swept up in someone else’s whirlwind and find yourself hanging out with people that are exciting but kind of despicable.

The only place where we diverge is…Toph. Still not hotter than Dylan. I suppose he comes second though. (Only out of Sarra Manning love interests. He’s way down the list if you’re talking all books because so many places go to boys from the Ruby Oliver series).

I would recommend Nobody’s Girl to everyone! If you’re already a fan of Sarra Manning, you’ll probably love it, if you’ve never read any of her books, this is a fabulous place to start. It didn’t jump into my favourite spot, but it was a great story with brilliant characters and I enjoyed it enormously. If I didn't have so many other books to read, I'd be re-reading it right now!

P.S. I am ridiculously excited over, of all nerdy things, being able to tag this with 'writers I have met' - a tag I've only used once before!

The BookDepository

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Three Non-Fiction Suggestions

Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for Self, edited by Sara Shandler, various contributors

Ophelia Speaks is a response to an earlier book, Reviving Ophelia, and contains short essays, poetry, and other pieces of writing by American teenagers. There are two chapters about body issues, 'Media-Fed Images' and 'Eating Disorders'. The pieces are very short but it's interesting to see a range of snapshots from different lives, and what real teenagers think about their bodies. The rest of the book features pieces of writing about other issues affecting teenagers today, on subjects like abuse, depression, death, friendship, sex, racism, religion, and academic pressure.

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women, by Naomi Wolf

I'll confess I haven't read the whole of this book yet - I read the first chapter, the last, 'Culture' and 'Hunger' for an essay I wrote whilst studying for my first degree. I do intend to read the rest soon. The Beauty Myth is a look at history, politics and advertising that shows how false the idea of beauty is and how it stops women from achieving as much as they could. It's not perfect, it has received a lot of criticism for only really looking at how the beauty myth affects middle-class, white, heterosexual and able-bodied women, and the accuracy of the statistics is often called into question. I'm aware that there are books and articles that go a bit more in depth and up to date, but as an intro to the ideas it presents, I think it does a good job. The third to last paragraph of the 'Hunger' chapter, beginning 'What if she doesn't worry about her body and eats enough for all the growing she has to do?' (p179-180 in 0701134313) is one of my favourite paragraphs of all time. I wish I could quote the whole thing here, but it'd probably go beyond fair dealing.

Wasted, by Marya Hornbacher

I'm reading this book at the moment and will post a full review when I'm done. It's a memoir by a recovering bulimic/anoretic. The author first decided that she was fat at the age of five. It's well written, but quite heavy going. My head was aching earlier today as I was reading it, just trying to imagine how a child so young would develop these ideas and become so ill. Also, although it's not a thick paperback, the font is quite small, so it's not ideal for reading with contacts in. I might have a better time tomorrow when I can just take my glasses off and hold it closer!


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