Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

PURCHASE HERE

After the amazing phenomenal experience that was reading Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, I was obviously desperate to get my clammy paws on the sequel. I get nervous reading sequels, because what if it doesn’t live up to the incredibleness that was the first book?!? But Gemina was an absolutely mind-blowing book. It had gut-punching plot twists, blood and bullets, and that gorgeous and complicated visual formatting we know and love from this series.

And I think it probably has left many readers screaming into the void in pain and agony while waiting for the finale. I just have this hunch.

Gemina begins with two new characters from those in the first book. This time we have Nik and Hanna. Their relationship is love-and-war as Nik has an insurmountable crush on Hanna, but she, as the captain of the station’s daughter, is dating a respectable officer. Nik is son of cutthroat Mafia organisation that sells drugs (which Hanna buys covertly) so you can imagine that getting them together is not going to be easy. Since the story takes off outlining what’s happening at the Heimdall Jump Station while the journey in Illuminae is still going on, we get to see the evil Baytech company infiltrating the station and trying to take it down. Except they didn’t count on Nik and Hanna being a lot better at fighting then their given credit for.

I was worried I wouldn’t love these new characters as much as I adored Kady and Ezra from Illuminae…but I shouldn’t have been concerned! Hanna and Nik were fantastic and complex and dynamic. One of my favourite things about Hanna was how she drew quirky things in her journal, liked fashion, and did things like draw hearts around her and her boyfriend’s name…but then she was also skilled at physical combat training and military strategy. She was absolutely full of badass surprises.

PURCHASE HERE

Nik was equally wonderful, with a dash of tragic bad-boy on the side. As part of the Mafia, it’s dubious as to exactly what illegal activities he’s been involved with. Which does create some questions. And tensions. He’s about 90% sass and 10% sadness, which he covers with sass, and his crush on Hanna was equal parts adorable and pathetic. This is unrequited love at it’s finest. I also loved Nik because when something bad happened, he reacted like any normal teen would. He’s not bullet proof and he’s emotional.

And bad things happen to everyone all the time, so this book is, in a word: stressful.

The plot has a similar set up to the first book: two teens have to save a lot of people on a dire countdown. This time we have psycho soldiers from Baytech sneaking about and trying to utilize the wormhole for their own dark needs. There are freaky monsters in the vents and clever guerrilla warfare tactics.  Nik and Hanna are trying to save people and also stop the jump-station from exploding as the wormhole collapses. There’s clever traps, traitors, child computer geniuses, Mafia families, an irritating pop song, explosions, murder, and plenty of sass.

The plot twists are also my favourite part! This series never fails to blow my mind with the genius creativity. Although be ye warned: the cliffhanger is not kind.

And of course I must mention the art! This series is done in a very unique type of formatting, which involves pages of art, interestingly done typography, transcripts, interviews, and amazing galactic explosions across the page. The added affect of art by NYT bestselling author, Marie Lu, was also incredible and so cute. I would also thoroughly recommend the audiobook as it’s dramatised and features many actors and sound effects that makes it feel like a movie in your head!

Gemina was everything a sequel should be. It was exciting and terrifying and had my heart pounding several times wondering who’d make it out alive. The kill-count is high and the nerves are exploding. It’s not your traditional sci-fi story, which I think makes it the best kind.

5 Reasons You Should Read Nevernight

9780008179991As a rather rabid fan of epic fantasy, I was very keen to try Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. It’s an adult fantasy that features teen characters and it promised to be dark, gritty, and sassy. It absolutely was. It was brilliant! And not only that, it’s by an Australian author, so obviously it has my pledge of intense fangirling for evermore. (No no, I’m not dramatic at all.)

Today I have a list of 5 reasons why YOU should try Nevernight! It’s a very sensible list and you’re going to want to listen to it. Trust me now.

 

1. IT’S ABOUT A SCHOOL FOR ASSASSINS.

Which I’m sure we’ve all read a lot of, because it’s a very popular trope. But this one just brought a whole new level of DANGER! ALERT! to the page. This school is actually vicious, cutthroat, and unforgiving. The tests the students go through are pretty creative — and also terrifying. There’s also a good helping of magic too. And poisons. And really creepy teachers who might kill you or train you. Either/or.

 

2. IT FEATURES A TOUGH AND SASSY PROTAGONIST.

Mia is 16, which originally made me think the book is YA…but it’s probably a little too dark and graphic with the violence and sex to be strictly considered YA. Still! Mia is a vicious little poppet who wants revenge on her father after he was wrongfully murdered by the most powerful men in the city. She travels across deserts and survives rigoursous initiation tests to get into the Red Church assassin school. And she still manages to find time to throw around some barbed quips that made me snicker.

 

3. SPEAKING OF SASS…THERE IS AN INCREDIBLE NON-CAT.

When I say “non-cat” I mean the cat is made entirely out of shadows. Because…SURPRISE. Mia can also manipulate shadows because she’s a Darkin. Not sure what this means? Be calm, my friend, neither does Mia. She really really wants to learn more about her powers which is another reason she’s at the Red Church. But she has an adorable animal companion, named Mister Kindly, (hey no judgment, she found him when she was only 10) who can talk and they have the most epic banter sessions. Mister Kindly is always there for Mia. Let’s just look past the fact he’s made of shadows. He is too precious, too pure.

9781250073020

4. THE BOOK HAS UNIQUE FORMATTING.

I really love this because it helps keep my attention! It has 2 gorgeously designed maps that made my map-loving heart sing. And it also features footnotes! The book is told by an “unknown narrator” who has a little running commentary on Mia’s life, put on the page via footnotes. Sometimes the footnotes add in extra details to the world building, and sometimes they just snarkily make fun of how terrible Mia’s luck is.

 

5. IT HAS SO MANY PLOT TWISTS!

Obviously I won’t share what, because you want the surprises. TRUST ME. But I was so thrilled with the finale plot twists, where people aren’t who they seem and surprises leap out of every corner to stab the characters, and also stab my feels. But who needs calmness while reading epic fantasy?! Not I. The plot of Nevernight will keep you glued to the page and entirely alert!

 

[buy here] 

YA at the BWF16

AuroraThere was a plethora of YA authors at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival.

I enjoyed hearing Meg Rosoff speak about Jonathan Unleashed (Bloomsbury). It’s a memorable story about a youngish man living in New York City with two dogs his brother has asked him to mind. He hates his job in advertising and is being pushed into marriage with his girlfriend who works for a bridal magazine. It’s not a YA novel although Jonathan acts like a boy for much of the book. It certainly did seem to reflect parts of Meg’s own life story and also reminded me of reading Graeme Simsion’s Rosie stories. This means I liked it very much!

It was also a delight to hear Maxine Beneba Clarke speak to secondary school students. She’s not a YA writer but her Foreign Soil and The Hate Race (Hachette) have garnered widespread praise. Maxine helped students appreciate poetry and her performance of several of her poems was breathtaking. I felt that these students were honoured to hear her and that she would make a powerful impression on their attitudes and writing.

WinterThere were other exciting YA and children’s writers I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to hear but I was involved in facilitating a panel of debut YA authors at Brisbane Square Library’s ‘Love YA!’ day. Mark Smith, a teacher and surfer from coastal Victoria, spoke about his post apocalyptic novel The Road to Winter, Queensland Sunshine Coast’s Elizabeth Kasmer shared her thoughtful look at identity, racism and aging in Becoming Aurora (which has a fascinating connection with a painting in the Qld Art Gallery) and celebrity Brisbane bookseller Christopher Currie spoke about his well written exploration of Clancy in a small Qld town in Clancy of the Undertow.Clancy

Their characters were all sixteen (or almost 16), a pivotal age for change; all the authors had interesting reasons for choosing their characters’ names (Finn, Aurora and Clancy); all incorporated sport in their novel (surfing, boxing, cricket); all showcased nature or a special place in their characters’ lives and, perhaps unusually in YA novels, all featured kindness either through their major or minor characters. These three authors were all a pleasure to interview. Seek out their books. Find them on social media.

Jay Kristoff was also riveting at ‘Love YA!’ (and had a very long signing queue!) where he spoke about Nevernight. He and Illuminae (Allen&Unwin) co-author Aime Kaufman were later treated to Argo’s musical performance of Illuminae back at the State Library’s stunning Red Box as the sun set over the Brisbane River. The space opera was composed and performed by Ben Heim and Connor D’Netto and included electrifying cello solos by Patrick Murphy, a cast of strings and voice-overs from the novel. It was a very sophisticated and atmospheric finale to my BWF16.

Argo
Illuminae by Argo

Getting published? Not a fantasy says Harper Voyager

Last week I posted about some good opportunities for aspiring writers who wanted to see their work published and also to achieve the far more elusive goal of actually getting paid for it.

While writing can be its own reward, sometimes it’s nice to see some value placed on your work by others too (and even more so when you could do with the cash to buy yet more books or perhaps a bigger set of bookshelves). When it comes to writing, I’m firmly with Stephen King who once said, “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

Want to get your writing talent out there and have a whole manuscript gathering dust? Since posting that blog, I’ve had another excellent opportunity brought to my attention. Anyone who writes fantasy and science-fiction can tell you it’s a particularly difficult area to get any way into. But a door has just opened: for the two weeks between October 1st and October 14th, and for the first time in a decade, Harper Voyager Books will be looking at unsolicited submissions.

Harper Voyager Books is the science fiction and fantasy imprint of publishing behemoth HarperCollins, and if you make it into their ranks, you would be in some exalted company. They currently publish such huge names as George R. R. Martin, Raymond E Feist, Sara Douglass and, my personal favourites, the always excellent Robin Hobb and my best new find of this year, Joe Abercrombie.

They recommend you have a good look at what sort of books they are already publishing to see if your work would be a good fit, but they are casting a deliberately broad net on this one.

“We’re seeking all kinds of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural. We’ve already been publishing digital originals from our existing Harper Voyager authors, and are thrilled to expand this wider to welcome new authors and voices to Harper Voyager. The growth of eReaders and e-books have created an exciting new opportunity that allows us to begin increasing the number and diversity of our speculative fiction list. And speculative fiction readers are the most savvy early adopters so we’re keen to provide our readers with the best ebooks possible.”

Manuscripts should be between 80,000 to 120,000 words and should be completed. For more information, see  and remember, it’s only open for 2 weeks.

Still on the fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk/YA/I have really got to stop with the genres already theme,  if you’re in Melbourne tonight, Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer is being launched.  It’s free to attend, but you need to let them know you are coming. Jay has already written an excellent series of posts on how to get from scribbling in your spare time to having three major publishers try to buy your debut offering, so there could be pearls of wisdom to be had if you can get there before one – or five – too many celebratory drinks have been had.

Dancing Up a Storm

Hello again! This is my first blog post in a bit as I have been busier than George R R Martin avoiding questions on when he’s finally going to finish the Game of Thrones series.

I spent most of last month working on a conference, getting married in Fiji and taking a short honeymoon on a boat in the Whitsundays, all of which were blessed with stunning weather and incredibly slow internet connections. (You try getting your email while anchored off the glorious blue and white of Whitehaven Beach. Or caring about getting your email when you have urgent swimming, snorkeling and reading in the boom-net to do.)

In the interest of my (and my new husband’s) sanity, I decided to take a month off blogging about books. But taking a month off blogging is not the same thing as taking a month off reading. I was well prepared and equipped. I loaded my e-reader with endless awesome texts, packed a few hard-copies into my luggage in case of power failure, and then came back from vacation to discover that Australia Post had been holding on to enough posted book parcels to necessitate thinking about purchasing (yet another) bookshelf. My to-read list doth runneth over, frankly, as does my “books I must post about” list.

Also running over is my poor credit card bill which, in addition to the cost of the honeymoon and reading material for it, has also just soaked up a bill for a book launch. And not just any booklaunch. Melbourne’s tallest man*, Jay Kristoff, will release his debut novel, Stormdancer, on Friday September 7. It’s a Japanese-inspired steampunk fantasy (Jay once described as “‘Free Willy’ meets ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ in Steampunk feudal Japan with a Rage Against the Machine soundtrack), the first installment of what will be the Lotus War trilogy and, as I was one of the lucky advance reviewers I can tell you, it’s very very good.

It’s got a glowing review from Patrick Rothfuss (who wrote the excellent Wise Man’s Fear). It’s garnered a hard-to-earn Kirkus Star and got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and was also their PW Pick of the Week. Most importantly, it kept me sane and happily entertained over a period of three days before getting married when fretting over details and guest-mishaps was causing most of my brain run “what-if” disaster videos on a loop and for that, I can not recommend it enough.**

According to Jay, everyone is welcome to come on the launch night but don’t expect much standing on ceremony.

“I’ll mumble my way through a half-assed speech and then will be totally happy to sign your books. We’ll have books on sale there on the night, but if you want to bring copies bought elsewhere, all good too.”

If you’d like to get your mitts on a signed copy, Jay will be signing books on Friday September 7th from 7.00 – 8.30pm at the Dymocks City Store on 234 Collins St in Melbourne. Everyone is welcome but I have it on good authority that people who feel like coming to the Afterparty following the launch will be particularly welcomed and even more so if they buy Jay a drink.

 

* I may be making this up.

**Also he’s absurdly tall and if you don’t buy his book he will come in the night, drink any decent bourbon you have in your drinks cabinet and then move all your most-used items to the top kitchen shelf where you can’t get at them.***

*** I am almost definitely making this up.

 

Melbourne vs everywhere

There’s nothing like getting a new phone or signing up to a new social network to get you thinking about your contact list. Looking over my burgeoning Google+ profile, I realised one thing: I know too many writers. And then I decided to amend that to “I know too many writers from Melbourne”.

And it’s not just showing up in the shiny new depths of Google+. Have a look at that blog-roll at the side of this page – there’s 6 recommended blogs, of which 4 are authors living in Melbourne.

  • Jay Kristoff – Literary Giant – based in Melbourne, his debut novel, Stormdancer (a Japanese Steampunk Fantasy) will be released in 2012. His blog has plenty of helpful information for first time writers from  what to do  on your first phone call to agent (now with sad kitten photo!) to his on-going series of posts on the history of steampunk.
  • Max Barry’s blog – Max is a Melbourne writer whose playful but scientific approach to satire is exemplified by the just-released Machine Man, a book which was written through his site with a page a day being published online. It took on feedback from readers as it grew, from what they liked and didn’t to what cover the book should have,  and it’s a fascinating experiment in writing as well as a damned good book. Buy it. Buy it now.
  • John Birmingham’s Cheeseburger Gothic – John Birmingham is an Australian writer who blips from writing fiction to non-fiction (including one of my favorites, a warts and all history of Sydney called Leviathan) to political and personal rants that amuse while they inform (unless you are Andrew Bolt).  This blog aggregates all his various writing (for the Brisbane Times, the ABC, and others) to one page, which is useful as he writes a lot. He’s not based in Melbourne, but then, he always seems to delight in breaking people’s expectations.
  • Patrick O’Duffy – Author, editor and e-publisher – Patrick is an editor and a writer who lives in Melbourne. His blog has both examples of his own short fiction and tips for writers, including excellent advice on the mechanics and nuances of writing and a large amount of musing about Batman (and often, posts that combine the two).
  • Wait Here For Further Instructions – Cam Rogers – from Cooktown, QLD, but based in Melbourne (seeing a theme here?) Cam can often be found in other places as well – he’s a novelist, a travel journalist and a photographer. His blog veers between serious and heartfelt thoughts on great acts of creativity, connecting with people and writing for a living to hilarious anecdotes that will make you laugh even as you wonder how the hell he is still alive. Often in the same post.
  • Writing Bar – blog of the Sydney Writers’ Centre – not in Melbourne! But also not a writer. None the less, this is a really useful blog for inspiration and information about writing, writing news and occasionally hilarious writing stuff they find on their travel through the web.

Now, I love Melbourne but I suspect I am maligning the creativity of the rest of the country by only have two links from outside of Victoria.  So, anyone have any suggestions for great Australian blogs by authors or about reading and writing that I should absolutely be keeping an eye on?

Please let me know in the comments, either here or on Boomerang’s Facebook* page when this post makes an appearance there.

 

* Is talking about Google+ on something that will come up on Facebook considered bad form? Like, bringing up your new partner and how great they are when you meet your ex, or talking about your new job in front of your old boss? Actually, if there is anyone out who wants a Google+ invite, feel free to drop me a comment and let me know. Because if I am going to be rude to Facebook, I may as well do it properly.

A Life in Words – Jay Kristoff on Getting Published

One day in Melbourne three years ago, Jay Kristoff decided to write a down a scene that was niggling him. Three years later, he’s about to become a published author. His first book, Stormdancer, which he describes as being set in a feudal steampunk Japan to a Rage Against the Machine soundtrack, is currently in a bid-counterbid shootout between two of the big American publishing houses.

You can expect to see it on the shelves in 2012,  and Jay – in between doing more writing and grinning a lot  – is taking notes on the process and happy to share them with other writers. His blog, Literary Giant (he is 6’7), details his adventures in getting stories from his brain to your bookshelf and has some invaluable advice to offer – including stats, graphs, links and a lot of laughs – in his own inimitable, irreverent and occasionally over-18’s kinda way. I caught up with him this week to get the story so far and some advice for aspiring writers.

Why did you decide to write and when did you start?

I decided to write because I wanted to do something constructive with my free time. I used to spend it playing video games and had sweet FA to show for it.

I started three years ago: I had a scene in my head, so I scribbled it down. Over eighteen months, it became my first novel. It was a half-arsed way to begin, and the book is flawed, but I wrote some scenes that made me realize I wasn’t Vogon-poetry awful. I loved the sense of purpose that writing gave me so I decided to do it “properly” with my next book.

What books inspire you?

Neuromancer, The Windup Girl, Across the Nightingale Floor, AKIRA. (Yes, I read comics. Call the Lit Police.) Which kinda makes it sound like Stormdancer is cyberpunk/dystopian, and it isn’t. But there are traces of the aesthetic and philosophy in there, and hey, look, two words that make me sound like an utter tosser…

What was the best and worst bit about writing? When you are not writing, do you sit in a beret in a garret drinking absinthe or what?

Best bits: When I write something good enough to make my wife cry. The woman didn’t even cry when ET died. So if she cries over my stuff, it must be the opposite of suck.

Worst bit: Rejection. Sending out something you love and watching it get curb-stomped, or worse, ignored. It happens to anyone trying to break into the industry. Repeatedly. But it never stops sucking.

When I’m not writing, I’m being a nerd (more so) or thrilling CG audiences on Guitar Hero (no, that is NOT the same as being a nerd). I did drink absinthe once, but it just made me want to go to the toilet.

You pitched to agents first – why agents instead of publishing houses?

Everything I read said you needed an agent to get published by a “Big House” in America. I figured, if was going to do this, I’d aim high. Having an advocate who knows the industry pitfalls is vital, and my agent (Matt Bialer at SJGA) and his assistant (Lindsay Ribar) are both awesome at what they do.

Plus, I get to begin sentences with the words “My agent…” when I’m trying to impress other tossers in absinthe bars.

What do you think is the main mistake people you can make when trying to get published?

I can’t really speak for anyone else, but I queried too soon. The manuscript was 98% there, but 2% is the difference between a real woman and the dude in “The Crying Game”.

I also made the mistake of sending to my “dream agents” first. That was my “argh” moment – realizing that all those great agents had read a sub-standard query. The only reason I landed one of those dream picks is that my e-query to SJGA got swallowed by the ether, and I re-queried later via snail mail (this time with a decent query letter and that extra 2% polish on the MS).

So yeah, I owe Lady Luck a foot massage.

What are you looking forward to most about seeing your manuscript published?

Just holding it in my hands. It will feel real then. This whole process has taken up so much of my life lately, and there have been so many disappointments. Being offered multiple deals after all those drop-kicks just feels surreal. I’m also getting happy pants thinking about working with an editor, and really making it sing. Stormdancer will be out early-mid 2012. We’re still considering offers, getting down to the business end now.

Any particular tips for aspiring Aussie writers?

It depends on what kind of writer you want to be. If you want to write 2,500 word sentences about a cup of Chamomile or win the Man Booker, I’ve got nothing. But if you want to maybe do this for a living one day, you probably shouldn’t think of yourself as Australian. Just think of yourself as a writer.

Know the market you’re aiming to sell in, know the titles that are selling in it. Don’t write to trends; this year’s Urban Fantasy is tomorrow’s Cyberpunk. Subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace. Read Miss Snark, Query Shark and Author!Author! Get onto the AWWC forums. Follow the agent’s submission guidelines. Read my blog. That’s a shameless plug, but my “13 steps to fun and profit(tm)” post is quite relevant. The query letter that scored me representation is also posted there.

Write every day. Every. Single. Day. No exceptions, no excuses.

And for the love of God, no vampires.