Tuesday, 27 October 2015

A Little Happy News

Today I found out that I have been shortlisted for the 2015 John Marsden/ Hachette Australia Prize for Short Fiction in the age category of 18-24 years.

It's been hard to keep myself from breaking into bad renditions of the Snoopy Dance all day.

I won't say much about the award, but you can read about it here and also see the names of the other young writers who have been shortlisted for their short stories and poetry.  I'm sure they're all as elated as I am.

John Marsden is something of a hero of mine, and I remember reading his Tomorrow series as being a significant moment in my reading history.  Perhaps part of my desire to write even comes from that time in my life.  To be shortlisted in this award is a big deal  and I want to say a heartfelt thanks to all of my friends and family who have been congratulating me and saying nice things about me today.  You all make me feel special.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Lake House
Kate Morton
Published October 2015 by Allen and Unwin (I own a copy courtesy of the publisher)

It's not a secret that I am a huge Kate Morton fan.  I discovered her many moons ago when I picked up a copy of The Shifting Fog at my local bookshop based almost solely on how gorgeous its cover was.  The story inside was the perfect mix of mystery and history and magic, and I was soon engrossed in the tale of two sisters and a poet, and the tragedy that linked them all.  I declared myseld an avid fan, and was even lucky enough to get a reply to an email I sent to Kate full of encouraging words for my fledgling writing career.  (Which remains fledgling to this day.)  In 2010 when The Distant Hours was first published, I bought myself a copy of it in hardback because I simply could not wait for the inordinate amount of time it was going to take for the book to come down in format, and later that same month I toddled off to a literary luncheon with my mother at which Kate discussed her books with Verity James.  Since that time, a new Kate Morton publication has been an event to anticipate with great glee, and this year millions of Morton-ites will be able to unwrap a brand new novel at Christmas time (or before then if they can't wait) when Allen and Unwin published her fifth book entitled The Lake House.

The story begins in 1933, when Theo Edevane is snatched from his cradle on the night of the annual Midsummer's Eve Party at Loennaeth, a lake house in Cornwall.  While a huge police investigation is mounted, no trace of the boy is ever found, and before long the Edevane family pack up their things and move to London, never to return to their beloved home.

Seventy years later, DC Sadie Sparrow goes on a self-imposed exile to Cornwall to stay with her grandfather, Bertie, after her emotional involvement in a case of a missing mother tampers with her judgement, putting her in the line of fire with her boss.  She stumbles across the abandoned lake house, and is drawn to the secrets it keeps about what really happened that night.  Alice Edevane, the second daughter of the family, holds the key to the mystery but she herself is a bit of a puzzle.  Now a successful mystery writer, she seems to have her own secrets to keep from Sadie and the rest of the world...

The Lake House is a thrilling page-turner, and may just be Morton's best work since The Shifting Fog and The Forgotten Garden  launched her as an Australian publishing sensation.  Full of twists and turns, this novel owes a lot to the study of the traditional whodunnit, and its great skill lies in the way the reader is coached into making interrogative leaps using the evidence they have gathered, only to have more equally likely scenarios become plausible just when it feels like the game might be up.  While the novel does exhibit some classic hallmarks of the romantic genre, such as coincidences which could only be believed in fiction, and lucky clues seeming to fall into the detective's lap at times, Morton weaves her web and catches her reader in thrall-- they do not care if the scenario is unlikely, for it is so entertaining, and in context feels so completely right.  When you are reading a Kate Morton novel, you are under her spell.  She creates fully realises worlds and peoples them with intriguing characters, plotting them with such precision, and all the nostalgia of the golden age of Hollywood.  While at times her writing edges towards becoming somewhat cliched and adjective heavy, the flow of her prose works extremely well over time, and this 500 plus page tome was the work of a few days.  Quite simply put I could not put it down.

Morton's work has just reached a milestone, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide and it's no wonder.  The Lake House is sure to become another bestseller but facts and figures aside, it is a sensational novel and I only regret that I may have to wait another two years for another like it.

The Lake House is available to pre-order now at your trusty local bookshop.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

September Reading Round-Up

September was Ferrante month.  I'll try to write a longer post about my love for the writing of Elena Ferrante but I feel that words will probably fail me.  All through this last four weeks, I've been obsessed with her; this enigmatic, reclusive Italian writer who was the greatest novelist I had never heard of.  I read four of her books, out of a total possible seven, and this was no small feat considering that in total I read six books this month.

Those books which were not Ferrantes shared things in common with her work, so I guess she was guiding my choices a fair bit; I read a novel set in Russia during the war and a young adult novel in which a young girl has her hands cut off, so they were both fairly bleak.  But it's important to remember that bleak novels can also be some of the most insightful and most life-affirming.  It's through reading about the misfortunes that did and do still take place in the world that we can expand our worldviews, gain perspective, and leave our own comfortable couch corners.  That being said, it can be taxing, and so to start this month off I am reading a laugh-out-loud funny romantic story by my favourite Irish gal, Marian Keyes.

Uni finishes for the year for me this week, so I think next month will be a better reading month, and I can try to get back up to my goal of ten books in a month.  There are so many great books coming out this time of year and I have some catching up to do!

The Story of a New Name/ Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay/ The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Books 2,3 and 4 in the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante.  Ferrante herself is as fascinating as her books.  She famously will not do appearances or interviews and very little is known about her personal life, but people have speculated that she and her protagonist Elena Greco share more than just a first name.  The Story of a New Name picks up where My Brilliant Friend left off, with ***SPOILER ALERT*** the girls entering early adolescence and Lila marrying the son of the fearful Don Achille, ogre of their childhood.  Lila's life has diverged from what Elena always expected of her, and she is now the rich and glamorous Senora Carracci, but things are not as they seem on the surface.  The gloss comes off the apple on the night of the honeymoon, and Lila later reveals to Elena that her wedding night was overshadowed with violence and fear.  But trouble is only just beginning for the girls.  Meanwhile, Elena continues to study, making her way through the years of schooling which many of those in Naples do not have access to, and therefore setting herself apart as special.  As the two girls' lives diverge farther apart, they question is, will their friendship survive?

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

This book was the subject of a read-a-long hosted by the Perth YA Book Club (which you can join on Facebook if you're a big fan of YA, they host weekly discussions of great YA books).  It's a novel about a young girl named Minnow Bly who is arrested for assaulting a young man after she escapes from a 'Kevinian' Cult.  Minnow is severely traumatised-- the Prophet who ran the cult has ordered Minnow's father to cut off her hands.  How is a young girl with no hands supposed to survive in a juvenile detention centre?  As she remembers her time in the cult, sifting through what has happened, a clear picture begins to form of what might have caused the devastating fire which destroyed the cult's campsite and killed two of its members.

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Deathless updates the Russian folk talk of Koschei the Deathless, who kidnaps a young woman and takes her to his home in the other world to be his wife; it equates the mythology of Russia with its early twentieth century history, comparing the war between the Tsar of Death and the Tsar of Life with the struggles of the Russian people first under the Bolsheviks and then during the war with Germany.  In particular the siege of Leningrad plays a particular role.  The main character is Marya Morevna, a young girl who has grown up seeing birds fall from the sky outside and become dashing men, who come to the house to wed her sisters.  When it is finally her turn, she realises that the thing she has longed for is much darker than it is romantic and she finds herself performing impossible tasks for the fearsome Baba Yaga in order to get the chance to become Koschei's Tsarista.  I did find this story interesting but I didn't connect with Valente's writing style.  She used some quite odd metaphors, and the narrative seemed to jump from section to section abruptly, weaving together different stories.  I had wished that she included notes about the original myths so that there was something to compare the new version to.  This one was for book club so it will be interesting to see what the other ladies think.

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

I thought that the Neapolitan novels were impressive, but this novella absolutely punched me in the guts with the sheer visceral nature of its prose.  I felt Olga's pain, as she experienced her separation from Mario; her pain was not just the heartbreak of being left but also of feeling the life she had been comfortable in for a long time falling apart.  On the worst day of her separation, Olga finds herself unwell and trapped inside the apartment and things begin to get worse and worse for her.  I could not stop reading.  I just had to know whether she was going to be okay.  In the end, I was unable to hold it together; yes, a novel less than 200 pages long made me cry (and desperately want to hug my dog.)  While the Neapolitan novels have become fast favourites, I have to say this novella gets an A+ for impact.