Review: Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian

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I was completely swept away with the gorgeous novel that is Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian. It’s about mental health, grief, and growing — and it’s woven with self-depreciating humour and an Australian backdrop. An absolutely stellar novel that will pull heartstring and also probably punch your feels too. As a good book should.

The story centres around two narrators, Gideon and Ava. Both are struggling with anxiety and depression. Ava’s stems from the death of her best friend and Gideon was severely bullied in his old school. They meet while working at a kebab shop. Gideon is too anxious and shy to achieve his dreams, lost in poetry and avoiding being online. Ava’s grief is turning her life upside down with school expulsions and bad coping mechanisms that are leaving her dissatisfied and hollow. But maybe they could be good for each other. As friends. Or more?

The story is excellent and I can see why it won the Text Publishing Prize of 2016. It’s a stellar example of teen voice and experiences. It focuses on themes of mental health, which is so so important to talk about and I’m glad this book talked about it. It isn’t fluffy and it isn’t always fun, but it’s a story that feels like real life. I loved how it handled sensitive topics and really encouraged people to reach out and talk. I really felt like this book UNDERSTOOD what life is like with depression / anxiety. It’s so refreshing not to have it (a) romanticised, (b) cured by falling in love, or (c) belittled.

The book also has a refreshingly healthy outlook on getting help! Therapists are not evil! Medication can help! Talk to your parents! Romance will not save you!! Also it underlines that having mental health issues does NOT equal that you are a broken object. I can’t stress how important that is. Mental illness sufferers need help, support, and management to live life the best they can, but it doesn’t have to equate to “broken”. This is such a powerful and important message for readers everywhere.

The characters were winning little gems. Gideon is a soft squish and quite self-depreciatingly funny. He makes fun of himself, but the book didn’t make fun of his mental health issues. Which is an important distinction. He’s super anxious but working hard to rebuild himself after a really rough 4 years. Gideon and Ava end up writing letters because Gideon is offline and I loved that! Ava was really spiky and hurting, and I loved how complex she was! She and Gideon became friends first and then it spirals into more.

I also loved their amazing parents. Ava has a single father who’s super lovely and Gideon has two mums who are 100% there for him and fantastic.

The writing is super engaging and I didn’t want to put it down. I loved their voices! Ava is anti-nonsense and prickly and Gideon absolutely freaks out like a happy puppy dog when he kisses a girl. He’s so adorkable! He’s also into poetry which added a nice touch. And I loved how he wrote lists!

Beautiful Mess is definitely a beautiful (okay I couldn’t help myself) novel with important and powerful messages. It was bittersweet and funny and absolutely totally cute. The slow-burn romance was my favourite. Gideon made me laugh/cry simultaneously which is a feat so well done, sir. I am so pleased that this book exists!

Fantasy for Young Readers

Molly and PimMartine Murray is the acclaimed Australian writer of The Slightly True Story of Cedar B Hartley, the Henrietta series and, for older readers, How to Make a Bird. Her new book is Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars (Text Publishing).

Molly’s life is set in the real world but her story has fantastical elements, particularly because her mother is an uncommon woman who has created a home without straight walls and corners; cooks chocolate-and-cashew balls and black-eyed pea autumn stews; uses an earthy magic to heal, nurture and grow; and accidentally becomes a tree. Molly hides the truth from her best friend, Ellen, but confides in Pim, a boy she thinks is tough but who also recognises wonder. “Pim was like a walk in the woods at dusk: full of darkness and brightness both at once, he was restless and unfitting, pouncing on ideas and lifting them out of the dark.”

The writing is sensory and lyrical, with awe-inspiring imagery, especially about stars. The singular characters share the book’s themes of truth and showing your true self with its primary-aged readers.

MuseumAlice Hoffman writes for adults as well as children, with The Museum of Extraordinary Things and Practical Magic (also a movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock), but her latest children’s book, Nightbird (Simon & Schuster) has a similar tone and atmosphere to Molly and Pim.

12-year-old Twig’s mother has a mystical trait akin to that of Molly’s mother. They live in an old Massachusetts farmhouse with an apple orchard. Twig’s mother bakes apples, makes lavender honey butter and understands herbal remedies.Nightbird

Hoffman also uses star imagery. When Twig is not allowed to perform in a play she says, “ I just stored up my hurts, as if they were a tower made of fallen stars, invisible to most people, but brightly burning inside of me.”

Like Molly, Twig doesn’t feel she can reveal the truth about her family. The secret she hides is that her brother has wings but, unlike Molly’s nasty neighbours the Grimshaws, who want to cut down the fast-growing tree, the sisters who have moved into the cottage next-door to Twig’s become her confidantes.

Twig and her new friend Julia compare their favourite books and authors. These include Wuthering Heights and E. Nesbit. Twig sometimes feels like the White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, panicked if she’s late or her family secret is discovered.Five Children

These exceptional fantasies could be read individually or together. Their mystical, surreal touches transform the everyday into the wondrous.

YA Reading Matters

NonaI’m just back from Melbourne for the second time in a month. Despite busy May in the book world, this was my long-awaited chance to attend ‘Reading Matters’ conference, which is organised by the Centre for Youth Literature (CYL) and focuses on YA literature and storytelling. Presenters aimed their content at librarians and teacher librarians; and aspiring or other authors would also have benefited from the program. The overall theme of diversity is hot on the heels of a US movement.

Before the conference began, delegates were invited to the Text Publishing party where the winner of the 2015 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing was awarded to Kimberley Starr, author of The Book of Whispers. Her book sounds like an original historical fantasy set during the Crusades in a world of demons. I wonder if it will be a cross between Catherine Jinks’s Pagan stories and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy?

This is ShynessThe Text party was one of the weekend’s highlights, particularly because I met one of the Text Prize’s former winners, Leanne Hall. Her first YA novel, This is Shyness, is one of my all-time top three YA books. I can’t wait for her novel for younger readers, to be published in 2016.

The Reading Matters conference started with a panel of three teen readers, overtly selected for their physical diversity. Male rep, Chris, began by praising The Sky So Heavy, which was fantastic because author Claire Zorn had been incognito in the audience until then. He also clarified that ‘YA lit’ is a category, not a genre. There are genres such as speculative fiction and historical fiction within YA. The three panellists agreed that upcoming books should cut the romance – they’re over love triangles and insta-love/lust (instant attraction) and forget the suicide books. They simply don’t want to read them.

Authors on other panels didn’t necessarily agree about the teens’ views on romance although Will Kostakis was instructed by his editor of The First Third to write a big kiss scene. Will told us that he writes ‘awkwardness’ and ‘embarrassing’ well so that is where he took his scene. Will also wants his readers to experience the emotional side, rather than just the mechanics, of relationships.First Third

Along with other panellists, Will made some good points in a panel called ‘Hashtag Teen: Engaging teens and YA advocacy’. He turned a reluctant writing class around by running a whole lesson on Twitter. He also recommended  PTA (Penguin Teen Australia) where there’s a weekly chat. Authors such as Amie Kaufman (The Starbound trilogy) even drop in.

These Broken Stars

Hip-hop, today’s spoken poetry, raised its head unexpectedly and powerfully twice. Year 12 student, Jayden Pinn from Creative Rebellion Youth performed two lyrical, metaphorical, hard-hitting pieces. And founder of CRY, formerly illiterate Sudanese refugee and now awarded performance poet, Abe Nouk encouraged us to feel, not always think; say a prayer; deliver a service – smile; use a comma, not a full stop (don’t end, keep going); be kind and gracious; invest in people; and do not be afraid to reveal your insecurities to your pen. Abe credited hip-hop with changing his life.

Tom Taylor, Australian creator of the current Iron Man and other international comics urged us to recognise comics. His comic for young readers, The Deep, deserves a wide readership.

Clare Atkins made some important points in her sessions, particularly about consulting with someone from a different background or group you are writing about. She did this with an Aboriginal friend in Nona and Me . (See my review here.) Authors shouldn’t avoid writing about other ethnic groups if they consult respectfully.

On a Small Island‘Literary Landscapes’ was another of my favourite sessions because it took an interesting perspective by exploring the landscape behind books by Clare Atkins (Arnhem Land), Sean Williams and Kyle Hughes-Odgers.

Jaclyn Moriarty and Sean Williams’s debate on ‘Science Vs Magic’ was fresh, articulate and intelligent. Jaclyn challenged Sean with two wands but he retaliated with a laser. Jaclyn Moriarty is a lyrical speaker and delegates later mentioned that they ‘could listen to her all day’ – exactly what I was thinking. She and Sean had a feisty, ultimately gracious, battle.

Keynote international authors, Laurie Halse Anderson (The Impossible Knife of Memory) and Sally Gardner (I, Coriander; The Door That Led to Where) both had horrible childhoods. Laurie told us that she writes ‘Resilience Literature’ and explained that good stories teach you about the world; about falling down and how to get up.I Coriander

One of the most exciting parts of the conference was discovering authors hidden in the audience such as Melissa Keil (The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl), Claire Zorn (The Protected), Margo Lanagan (Red Spikes) and Karen Tayleur (Six).

Zac & Mia & Willow – YA for your soul

Here in SE Queensland, just before Christmas, an unusual thing happened. It began to rain. I’d almost forgotten the scent of a wet garden and the sensation of damp. It was perfect cosy reading weather.

Alas, the week before Christmas with a house full of family and several menus and trips away to plan for proved anything but conducive to curling up with a good book. Thus, I’ve had a short sabbatical from children’s texts over the holidays. However, one or two did manage to sneak in under the radar and just like Santa, they really delivered.

Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I saved this read, as I save my favourite parts of a roast dinner (the spuds) till last; knowing once I’d tasted it, it would be gobbled down fast. And it was. Counting by 7s is the story of twelve-year old Willow Chance who lives in Bakersfield, California and comes home from school one day to the news that her parents have been killed in a car accident.

This slap-in-the-face realisation is based on a real life occurrence of American author Holly Goldberg Sloan, as are many of the references in this novel. Willow’s loss is tragic but it is merely one of the inspired background colours used by Sloan to paint her story.

What follows is a journey of soul searching and discovery, not always by Willow; she is too pragmatic for that sort of thing. It’s a story about accepting different viewpoints, of moving on and allowing unexpected change to help you find ‘connectedness’ in life.

Holly Goldsberg SloanWillow could read as a prickly, hard to love character. Conversely, it could be easy to over sympathise with her plight. However, Sloan’s intelligent narrative is completely free of mawkishness. Her characters shine with pristine clarity and likeability.

I cannot fault this sophisticated tween / teen novel. Artful, moving, witty, and intensely humble. Sure, I cried in parts, but do not expect to be swept away by sentimentality. Willow, the higher thinking, twice-orphaned ‘problem’ everyone grows to cherish simply doesn’t allow it. Instead, she becomes the unexpected catalyst that sparks relationships and lives back to life. An astoundingly clarifying look at the complicated world of human relationships and emotions. Uplifting indeed and possibly better than roast potatoes.

Scholastic Australia May 2014

Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts

This is another YA read I’ve been hording. Once you read it, you will understand why. It’s almost too good to consume; over within minutes of starting. In other words, unputdownable.

Zac & MiaZac and Mia is not just a novel for young readers although A. J. Betts does a magnificent job of harnessing teenage nuances. With such broad appeal, Betts confidently tackles the despairingly familiar topic of cancer in young people. Zac and Mia however is not a maudlin account of people affected by cancer. It is a marvellous tapestry of conflicting emotions, characters fuelled by fear and love, confronting moments of self-discovery, and above all hope. Love and despair parry with equally matched determination between teenagers Zac and Mia with a rawness that makes you weep and humour that maintains a smile on your face as the tears fall.

A J BettsSimilar to John Green’s, A Fault in our Stars which I’ve yet to read so cannot make a direct comparison to, Zac and Mia is too splendid for words and a marvellous example of pure undiluted Aussie talent with one of the most endearing endings I’ve read, ever. Eloquent, ballsy, poignant, and beautifully told. A must read.

Text Publishing Australia July 2013

True, YA novels take on the tough stuff, unashamedly ramming readers head on into topics and themes often fraught with complicated innuendo, evolving emotions, damaged personalities and questionable social situations, but with writers like these doling out these tales with such sensitivity and sincerity, one can’t help but feel beautifully satisfied.

 

 

 

What I’m reading this Christmas: Jane Pearson, Text Publishing

 

 

This House of GriefThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Jane Pearson. You’re a senior editor at Text and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working on.

Text Publishing (based in Melbourne) is known for its adult list, as well as its YA/children’s books. Which do you work on?

I work right across the Text list: on YA and adult fiction and non-fiction. I love having that range. It keeps me on my toes.

You’re a senior editor. What does a senior editor do?Jane Pearson

I work with writers from the initial acquisition (in many but not all cases) right through the editorial process to arranging printing and delivery of the stock. Along the way there’s blurb writing, and working with the designer on the cover and with the publicity and marketing team who will get those copies out into the world. And did I mention reading? There’s lots of reading—I’m always in search of the next great author.

How did you get this job?

I’ve been at Text for seven years. I applied for an advertised position—I must have been lucky, or perhaps it was the shoes!

I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.Minnow

It’s hard to narrow it down but here goes. There’s the winner of the 2013 Text Prize, Diana Sweeney’s The Minnow, a gorgeous tale of a girl who has lost all her family in a flood and is putting her life back together in a very quirky and magical way. This book will always be among my favourites. And there’s the amazingly huge (it’s the size of a newspaper) A–Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard. It took him about twelve years to research and illustrate the most fascinating details of this gruesome part of Tasmania’s history, and it includes stacks of stuff that’s never been published before. The highlight of my year was working with Helen Garner on her latest book This House of Grief. It’s the saddest most harrowing story, and it’s told with such raw honesty and respect. And I just have to squeeze in one more: In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame, which she held back for posthumous publication because of all the people she knew it would offend. It’s brilliant Janet Frame and most deliciously scathing, and when the Frame estate decided it was time for publication, it landed on my desk. How lucky was that!

In the Memorial RoomThe Text Classics have brought exceptional out-of-print Australian and NZ books back into circulation. Do you have anything to do with these? If so, which? If not, which have you enjoyed reading?

I work on the Young Adult classics. It’s been great rereading some of the books I loved as a kid, like Ash Road by Ivan Southall, and discovering wonderful new old authors, like James Aldridge who wrote The True Story of Spit MacPhee. Choosing which books to include is just one stage in the process—there is often some curly detective work in tracking down the rights holder for books long out of print, and the search for an introducer. Chong Weng Ho’s covers for the YA Classics are inspired by illustrations used for the original covers or interiors. The True Story of Spit MacPhee is my favourite at the moment. Ask me next week and it may well be something else: Joan Phipson’s The Watcher in the Garden or Nadia Wheatley’s The House that Was Eureka.

What is different/special about Text?

For me it’s the people I work with. We’re a small company—we work hard, and we laugh and cry (and drink) together. And the view from the office balcony is spectacular.True Story of Spit McPhee

What are some awards Text has won that have particular significance for you?

Alyssa Brugman’s novel Alex as Well won the WA Premier’s YA Book of the Year this year. It’s a confronting transgender story about sexual identity and acceptance, with one of the most stop-you-in-your-tracks opening chapters I’ve ever read. It’s not one for the faint hearted, but it’s real and gutsy and super clever. Alex as Well is Alyssa’s first book with Text and her first book to win an award. So I’m extra proud of that.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry? My Brilliant Friend

Change is part of life and it’s certainly part of the book industry. But I think there’s a constant that will remain at the heart of the industry whatever twists and turns lie ahead, and that is that good books matter. We’ll always want to read good stories, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction, digital or print, literary works of art or trashy guilty pleasures.

And what are your must-reads over Christmas?

Academy streetMy picks for Christmas reading are Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. This is the first of four novels about the friendship between two women in 20th Century Naples. I guarantee you won’t be able to stop at one. Mary Costello’s Academy Street—I’ve been recommending this one to everyone since I read it earlier this year. It’s one to read slowly and savour—Mary Costello writes perfect sentences. And Well May We Say… The Speeches that Made Australia, edited by Sally Warhaft. I’ve been dipping in and out of this one since the advance copies arrived in the office and can’t wait to spend a few uninterrupted hours getting lost in it.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Jane. Well May We Say

 

 

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – Shifting through the Haze with Paula Weston

Paula WestonIt’s not that I’m not fond of paranormal spec-fiction; it’s just a genre that happens to feature much further down on my reading list – picture books dance all over them in fact. But when Queensland author, Paul Weston announced the release of her first YA novel, I was simultaneously intrigued and fascinated and then, pleasantly surprised.

Shadows, Book 1 in the Rephaim series, is a tale easy to warm to. Paula’s brisk and breezy writing style ensures a tight, zippy read. Her feisty characters, both human and non-human, imbue each page with snappy dialogue, witty innuendo, and believable outcomes. Exhilarating action is balanced beautifully with brief ‘shifts’ of reflection and pace that enables the reader to be fully drawn into Gaby Winters’ confused new world of Fallen Angels, Hellions and demons – The Rephaim. The course and cheeky interplay between Gaby and rogue, would-be saviour, Rafa, provides just enough romantic conjecture to stimulate ones carnal curiosities while the lightly seasoned scenery possesses a delicious sense of tropical Aussie atmosphere. I became so engrossed in Gaby’s pursuit of answers; about her brother Jude, and about her half-angel self that the end came all too soon.

And so I’ve been cunningly lured into the realm of the Rephaim. Looks like paranormal fiction has just moved further up my list.

HazeTo honour the spot I’ve reserved for the second instalment in the Rephaim series, Haze Book 2 due for release 22nd May, I have the author here herself to share a bit more about her paranormal fascination and, her obsession with the Foo Fighters.

Q Why paranormal spec-fiction? What is the attraction for writing this in genre?

A: I like the idea that there’s more to the world than we can see, and paranormal (and urban fantasy, magical realism etc.) stories provide plenty of scope to explore that in a contemporary setting. For me, it enhances the escapism to have a story with other-worldly elements set in a very recognisable world. There are endless ways to be creative with mythology and world building – and it’s a lot of fun!

Q Do you have favourites? If so list your favourite read of all time, holiday spot and season of the year and why.

A: I have a long list of favourite books across genres, but if we’re talking spec-fic particularly…The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, and – of course – The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.

My favourite holiday spot is Turin in Italy in autumn. It’s a beautiful city with amazing history and buildings, has incredible food and wine, gorgeous countryside nearby, friendly people, and it’s not as overrun with tourists as other major Italian cities. It’s in the Piedmont region (just like the Sanctuary in the Rephaim series).

Q Who / what inspired the characters in the Rephaim series?

A: The series started with an idea about a girl and guy with a complicated history that only he remembers. There was an attraction between them, but if he took advantage of that, he knew there would be serious ramifications if/when she got her memories back. I knew there were paranormal elements in how she lost her memory, and that the two of them were caught up in a bigger conflict. I’m also a huge fan of Joss Whedon (particularly his Buffy, Angel and Firefly series) and Eric Kripke (Supernatural), so it’s fair to say their writing and TV shows inspired me.

Q If you could ‘shift’ with anyone, who would you choose and where would you shift to?

A: I would shift with Murray (my husband) and visit our family around Australia. And then we’d go to Turin!

Q Before signing your two-book deal with Text Publishing, did you have all four books in the series clearly thought out in your mind, or already on paper?

A: Yes, I had roughly plotted out the four books (and had a rough draft of Haze, book 2). The lovely people at Text were aware there were four books in the series when I was offered the initial two-book contract. As a new writer, getting even a two-book contract was a pretty big deal. Text then made the offer for books 3 and 3 the week before Shadows was published, which was a huge moment for me.

Foo FightersQ How many times have you been to a Foo Fighters concert? How does their music, affect what you are working on?

A: I have been to two Foo Fighters concerts. Both were awesome, but my favourite was the River Stage concert the guys did at the Botanic Gardens after the Brisbane floods. It was a more intimate and chatty show and they played a lot of album tracks – it was a concert for hard-core fans. Loved it!

I don’t listen to music when I’m writing, but I do listen to the Foo Fighters when I’m driving and I find it gets the ideas flowing – particularly if I’ve struck a brick wall with a particular scene. There’s something about the heavier tracks that hits me in the chest and helps me find the mood for fight scenes – or finding Gaby’s voice when she needs to be resilient. But at the same time, the Foo Fighters’ acoustic, gentler tracks can also help me channel a more vulnerable voice.

Q What was the most despised thing you’ve ever found in your school lunchbox?

A: My mum used to make me cheese and jam sandwiches, which I really didn’t like. Now I eat brie and quince paste on ciabatta which is kind of the same thing…Turns out my mum was ahead of her time!

Q Do you think childhood happenings shape your adult writing voice and style? Have yours? Share one moment from your past which has direct bearing on your present.

A: Experiences in my teenage years have shaped how I approach stories, but I think reading hundreds of books over the years (then and since) nourished the storyteller in me, and helped me find my own voice and style. I was an often angry and rebellious teenager and I’ve definitely channelled some of that for Gaby’s voice in the Rephaim series. For reasons that become apparent through the series, Gaby often feels like an outsider and tends to deal with that through anger and sarcasm. I often felt like I didn’t fit in (as most teenagers do at some point) – I still do at times – so that voice is usually easy to find.

Q Tell us what we can expect from Book 2 and Paula Weston.

A: Haze (out 22 May), has more twists and turns and some answers. Readers can expect to learn more about the Rephaim (particularly the Outcasts), more about Gaby’s twin brother Jude, and more about Gaby’s past. There’s more action, more secrets revealed, and the Rephaim discover something that threatens all of them. And, of course, there are some interesting developments for Gaby and Rafa.

Both books published by Text Publishing – Haze Book 2 available from 22nd May 2012.

QUEEN OF THE NIGHT

Queen of the Night is the follow up book to Leanne Hall’s award winning, This is  Shyness.

The dark is dangerous. So is the past. So are your dreams.

For six months Nia—Wildgirl—has tried to forget Wolfboy, the mysterious boy she spent one night with in Shyness—the boy who said he’d call her back but didn’t.

But when Wolfboy calls her back, it’s not just about them. Wolfboy’s friend Paul is in trouble. He has fallen under the spell of the charismatic and manipulative Dr Gregory. On the rebound from love, he has been tempted over to the dark side by Dr Gregory who supplies him with drugs in exchange for information about Wolfboy.

Wildgirl also discovers that Wolfboy did call her back earlier, but someone has tried to keep them apart.

Queen of the Night takes the reader on a darkly tense journey as Wildgirl and Wolfboy race against time to save Paul from his dreams.

This is another beautifully written, unusual book with a magic all of its own and a surreal quality that draws the reader in. It explores relationships, the world’s fragility, and the vulnerability of love and the human spirit.

Leanne Hall takes us back into the world of Shyness where the sun doesn’t rise and dreams and reality are difficult to separate—but all of that might be about to change.

As a reader, I was drawn into the spell of this haunting but beautiful world and found myself wanting to know more about the characters in it. I’m hoping there will be a follow up book to Queen of the Night.

Queen of the Night is published by the Text Publishing Company and is available as both a paperback and an e-book.

 

STAY WITH ME – by Paul Griffin

Stay with me by Paul Griffin is one of those books that ‘stays with you’, long after you’ve turned the final page. There’s so much to think about. It’s a story of first love, but so much more.

Paul Griffin brings together an unlikely and lovable trio: a gifted student, a high school dropout with a talent for training dogs, and a pitbull dog named Boo.

15 year-old Mack is the new delivery guy at the place where Céce works. Anthony, Céce’s older brother has signed up for the army and encourages a relationship between the two teens, knowing that his sister will need someone while he’s gone.

Pretty soon Mack and Céce’s lives are permanently intertwined and it seems that nothing will be able to tear their love apart. But then something happens to rock their world and things can never be the same again.

Stay with me is about two teens discovering their real gifts and who they really are, and that some things can’t be changed no matter how much you want them to be.

Paul Griffin’s storytelling skills are gripping. He is a master of tension. Just when you think things will be okay for the main characters, he introduces something you think they can never recover from.

There are some pretty dark issues covered in this book yet it’s still full of hope and optimistic characters who temper the intensity of the darker moments.

Paul Griffin’s damaged teens are so realistically depicted that it was no surprise to me to discover that the author also works as a teacher, mostly with at-risk kids in high schools and juvenile detention centres.

There’s a great blend of characters in this book, and each one has been seamlessly developed so that they seem like real people and you feel and believe exactly what they’re going through.

Humour and humanity help build the tension as the stakes for both main characters just seem to get higher as the book moves on.

Stay with me is told from the POV of both main characters, Mack and Céce and this provides an intimate perspective for the reader. It also provides a realistic insight into the way teen boys and girls think so differently.

Beautiful use of language and  great characterisation draw you into the worlds of Mack and Céce.

The door opens, and this guy comes in, kind of tall, clean cut, definitely nice-looking, but there’s something wrong with him. He strikes me as both wounded and perhaps a little dangerous.

Stay with me is a gripping read for young adults, but I can see it also being enjoyed by much older readers.

Stay with me is published by The Text Publishing Company.

 

 

ALL I EVER WANTED

All I Ever Wanted is the debut novel of Vikki Wakefield.

Mim knows what she wants, and where she wants to go – anywhere but home, stuck in the suburbs with her mother who won’t get off the couch, and two brothers in prison. She’s set herself rules to live by, but she’s starting to break them.

All I Ever Wanted really resonated with the teen in me. As teens we have big dreams of the future beyond our existing lives, leaping into the adult world where we can escape the restrictions of home and anything seems possible.

Vikki Wakefield captures this teen feeling so authentically in her main character, Mim who others see as brave and fearless, but who has her own insecurities and dreams.

Mim lives in a household where drugs are bought and sold, where classmates are intimidated by her family’s reputation. She fights against her upbringing and everything her family seems to represent. Her new friend Kate comes from a completely opposite background but she doesn’t fit in either.

Kate describes it as being, “Like being stuck where everyone else fits, but you don’t.”

Mim makes life work by creating rules for herself that set her apart from the family she is being raised in.

RULE NUMBER ONE:

I will not turn out like my mother.

But Mim discovers that her rules might not be practical in the real world and that her family are not as black and white as they seem.

Mim has more power and control over her life than she realises. As Kate says, “You’re brave. You’re honest. You affect people….You’ve changed me already.”

I like the way Mim makes new friends but is able to expand her circle to include her old ones as well.

All I Ever Wanted is a powerful story told with reality and humour. Vikki Wakefield combines page turning tension with beautiful language and setting descriptions so vivid that the reader feels they are sitting in Mim’s bedroom, sharing her life.

The only corner that’s really mine has my bed, a three-legged bedside table and a dressing table with a mirrorless frame. I still have the Eiffel Tower quilt cover from my eleventh birthday and an original lava lamp that was Mum’s when she was a teenager. A World globe with a skewer stuck through it hangs above my bed by a strand of fishing line. The opposite corner is empty, but there’s a smoke blackened stain that flares up to the ceiling like a ghost, from when Tahnee and I set a toaster on fire after a night out. Only my bookcase stands new and tall, everything at right angles, each book in its place.

All I Ever Wanted is a gripping thriller with strands of first love and friendship deftly woven through it.

It brings change,  revelation and hope for main character, ‘almost seventeen-year-old’ Mim, and also for the reader.

All I Ever Wanted is published by Text Publishing

 

 

Win a Jessica Rudd book-pack

Jessica Rudd is hilarious. I’ve just finished giggling my way through her very clever second novel, Ruby Blues (due out Monday through Text Publishing at $29.95), and have a copy of it, and its predecessor, Campaign Ruby (see review below, $18.14 through Booku.com here), to give away to one of you.

I’ll be posting a Q&A with the 27-year-old author on Monday (check back to find out whether Jess has her eye on a political career and more).

Jessica will be touring the country to promote the new book, starting with this event at the National Library in Canberra on November 1.

To be in the running for the two-book prize (printed not ebook – though I read a PDF review copy of Ruby II and recommend reading both that way – they’re the sort of page turner that is perfectly suited to ereading), you’ll need to take to Twitter or Facebook. This is apt, because both platforms make highly amusing appearances in Jessica’s new book.

Visit facebook.com/ebookish, “like” it (it’s a great way to receive updates on blog posts here at Booku.com), and answer the question below in a post there.
Or follow @ebookish on Twitter, and address your tweet entry to @ebookish.

Just tell me which of the following hashtags you’d be more likely to use and why: #bringbackkev #getrealjulia or #jessruddforpm

You can enter as many times as you like between now and 3.30pm Monday (when I’ll be choosing a winner then heading to the post office with the prize), but the answer the judge (ie me) deems the wittiest, funniest or most surprising will win.

Last August, I reviewed Rudd’s debut novel, Campaign Ruby, for The Canberra Times. Here’s that text (add 14 months to the time references).

Poor Jessica Rudd.

A former lawyer and public relations consultant now living in China, the 26-year-old daughter of Kevin decided more than a year ago to write a novel. It would feature a young English woman who accidentally lands herself in the middle of an Australian election campaign – a campaign sparked by the ”swift and seamless” ousting of the fictional prime minister by his treasurer, Gabrielle Brennan. Ms Brennan is not a red-head, but she does quickly visit the Governor-General to ask for an early election. Her ex-boss, Hugh Patton, meanwhile, is deemed ”unlikely to serve under his challenger and successor”.

Canberra-born Rudd, who wrote the book 14 months ago, must’ve been mortified when Julia Gillard replaced her father as PM on June 24, only days before the inadvertently prophetic Campaign Ruby went to print and well after her deadline for making changes to the text.

Still, there can be no doubt the art-meets-life element of it all will help boost sales of this entertaining debut novel. Not that it needs any help. Rudd is a natural writer who has written a page-turning book that injects lots of fun and froth into the corridors of power.

”Imagine Bridget Jones on the campaign trail”, the publisher spruiks, and for once the comparison is apt. Accidental political adviser Ruby Stanhope is terribly Bridget. A Brit, she’s unlucky in love, lives alone in a Notting Hill apartment, drinks too much pinot noir, writes lists at every opportunity, and has a knack for landing herself in sticky situations (think flushing her boss’s voice recorder down the loo, locking herself out of her hotel room in a T-shirt and knickers, appearing in metropolitan dailies wearing only thongs and a belted beer singlet at a press conference, and attempting to vote in the election despite her lack of any Aussie credentials).

We meet investment banker Ruby in London as she’s opening an email the HR department has sent to sack her. One drunken night and an impulsive Qantas booking later, she’s on her way to Melbourne. Planning to drink more wine and visit family while holidaying, Ruby instead finds herself joining the campaign team of the Leader of the Opposition after a chance meeting with his badly dressed and over-worked chief of staff, Luke Harley.

What follows is a vivid (and, true-to-life, utterly exhausting) account of Ruby’s time on the campaign trail, written as only an insider could. There are 4am starts, outfit changes in taxis, flirtations with hot (but off-limits) television journalist Oscar Franklin, a debate, campaign launches, endless flights to catch, and, in Ruby’s case, an uncanny ability to make snap decisions on everything from policy to fashion that help her boss, and his party’s candidates in marginal seats, win voters’ hearts.

It’s tempting to look for traits of Rudd’s parents in her Leader of the Opposition, Max Masters, and his smart, supportive wife, Shelly. Surely there is an element of Jessica or her brothers in her depiction of their children (and their treatment by the media), too.

Speaking of which, Rudd does wrap a couple of serious messages into the essentially fluffy plot: on the importance of family; and on retaining integrity in the face of political pressures to do otherwise.

Meanwhile, the ambitious ”pretty boy” Oscar is as beguiling to the reader as he is to Ruby. He may or may not remind some Canberra readers of a journo or political staffer they’ve seen holding up the bar at the Kennedy Room or Holy Grail in Kingston on a Wednesday night. Will Ruby be able to resist his charms? Could she be the one to change his bad boy ways? Let’s just say that the romantic subplot to this novel is everything you’d expect from a pink paperback with a handbag, mobile phone and high heel on the cover.

Jessica Rudd has said she hopes this novel won’t be her last. It seems, then, that she is set to join the likes of Maggie Alderson, Anita Heiss and Melanie La’Brooy as a regular contributor to Australia’s contemporary commercial women’s fiction scene.
Here’s hoping.

Remember to check back on Monday to read uBookish’s Q&A with Jessica (you might also like to follow @jessrudd on Twitter).

THE APOTHECARY

A mysterious apothecary, a magic book, a missing scientist, an impossible plan

Just some of the hooks to be found in The Apothecary, Maile Meloy’s first venture into writing for young readers.

Maile is the award-winning author of short story collections Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It and Half in Love and novels, Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter, and her skills as a writer are clearly evident from the first page.

Straight away she draws the reader into the 1950s setting and introduces the strong-minded 14 year-old Janie and her closeknit, slightly quirky family.

Janie has just moved to London from LA and is feeling uncomfortable in her strange new school until she is given a homesickness remedy by the local apothecary.

But the apothecary, is no ordinary man and neither is his son, Benjamin who Janie quickly forms an attraction to. Their relationships is sensitively portrayed showing the times they live in and the tentativeness and insecurities of first love.

And after Benjamin’s father is kidnapped, and they are entrusted with the care of an ancient, magical book, the Pharmacopoeia, there’s little time for romance anyway. Especially not when there are Russian spies, traitor police officers and lives in danger.

The Apothecary is fast-paced but it also allows the reader time to engage with the characters and become immersed in their world. Janie is a strong and believable heroine and of course there are obstacles in the way of her feelings for Benjamin, including the gorgeous and disdainful Sarah Pennington who doesn’t miss an opportunity to belittle Janie.

In The Apothecary, Maile Meloy keeps raising the stakes for her main characters until it seems that victory is impossible.

But it’s hard to keep these characters down, and their ingenuity and determination bring them out of the pages and make them real for the reader. This book is full of magic and sparkle, spies, evil and global intrigue.

Ian Schoenherr’s amazing illustrations capture the world, the mystery and the mood of The Apothecary and bring the reader closer to the characters and the action.

The Apothecary is an exciting, well-researched adventure that readers will find hard to put down, no matter what genre they favour. It’s a book that can be enjoyed by readers aged 12 to adult.

As the Weekend Australian said of Maile Meloy. She is ‘A master of her craft.’

The Apothecary is published in Australia by The Text Publishing Company. Teachers’ Notes are available at http://textpublishing.com.au/static/files/assets/fffb5315/Apothecary_TeachersResource.pdf

 

MAILE MELOY ON WRITING & THE APOTHECARY

ABOUT MAILE MELOY

Today we bring to you a very candid interview with Maile Meloy, a wonderful writer and the author of a brilliant new YA adventure, The Apothecary.

How did you become a writer?

I read a lot, as a kid, and I wrote long letters to friends who lived far away.  I was an English major in college, and my friends were all going off to fancy consulting jobs or medical school, and I didn’t know how to do anything except read and write my native language.  My thesis advisor told me to try writing a short story, so I did, and it instantly felt like the thing I wanted to do.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

The middle of a novel or a story, when you know what it is but you don’t really know what happens next, and you’re along for the ride.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Certain moments when the first flush of enthusiasm has passed and you still haven’t quite figured the story out, and it’s like pushing a rock up a hill.

What were you in a past life (if anything) before you became a writer?

I wrote my first short story when I was twenty-one, but I had a lot of different jobs while I was learning how to write them: I was a river ranger in Utah, I worked on a political campaign in Montana, I taught in a bilingual grade school in Costa Rica, I worked in a health food store, I taught swimming lessons to the children of movie people, I read scripts for a production company, and I was a development assistant at Disney in Direct-to-Video Animation.

What are you working on at the moment?

A second Apothecary book, under terrifying pressure from the kids who read advance copies of The Apothecary, who want to know the exact date they will find out what happens to Janie and Benjamin next.

(So pleased to hear this, Maile. I was wondering the same thing.)

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Read all you can and write all you can.  Read lots of different kinds of books, and don’t worry about whether what you’re writing is any good or not.  Be bold.  You can always throw things away—and definitely don’t be afraid to do that, either.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

The books are all very different, set in different places, but they’re all about love and loss and the accident of birth, and what happens between people, especially when they encounter the unexpected turns life sends you.  That’s what’s most interesting to me.

How many books have you had published?

The Apothecary is my fifth, and my first for kids.  The previous books are two novels and two collections of short stories.

Anything else of interest you might like to tell our blog readers?

Ian Schoenherr did the beautiful illustrations, and he’s incredibly talented.  He really captured the texture and the fantastical element of the book, and because he has a wonderful realistic, technical drawing ability, the magical aspects feel real.  He was the perfect illustrator for it.

ABOUT THE APOTHECARY

What’s The Apothecary about?

It’s about a girl who has to move to London, leaving behind a life she loves, and about a boy who doesn’t want to be an apothecary like his father—he wants to become a spy.  When the boy’s father disappears, he leaves behind an ancient and powerful book, the Pharmacopoeia.  The kids have to learn who the apothecary really was and how to use the book’s transformative powers, so they can escape his enemies and prevent an impending nuclear disaster.

What age groups is it for?

The main characters are 14, and I thought of it as a book for teens when I was writing it.  A smart 9-year-old friend of mine had it read to her, and then re-read it herself at 10.  And my sister’s boyfriend just read it, and he’s 30.  That’s what I want: both the 9-year-olds and the 30-year-olds.

Why will kids like it?

It’s a spy novel with a magical element, but the magic is akin to science—it has to be learned.  It’s about independent kids figuring stuff out: they learn how to become invisible, and how to fly as birds.

Can you tell me about the main characters?

Janie Scott is smart and curious and sometimes insecure and stubborn: she’s a real girl.  Her parents are TV writers and they’re the funniest people she knows.  Benjamin Burrows is defiant and willing to stand up to authority, but sometimes frustratingly so.  Their personalities complement each other: even when they disagree, they make each other braver, and work better as a team.

Are there any teacher’s notes or associated activities with the book?

Yes, Text, the publisher, has a wonderfully thorough and inventive teacher’s guide, with questions and activities. http://textpublishing.com.au/static/files/assets/fffb5315/Apothecary_TeachersResource.pdf

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

It’s both sophisticated and wholesome: it deals with difficult problems in the real world, with accusations and suspicion and the fear of nuclear weapons, and the characters are smart, but they’re also 14 in 1952, and there’s an innocence to them.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The first draft.  I wrote it in six weeks and had no idea how I was going to get out of each scrape.  I felt like I was along for the ride.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The second draft: making the story and the puzzle-like plot all fit together and make sense.  It made my brain hurt.

Thanks for visiting, Maile. This afternoon, we’re reviewing The Apothecary here at Kids’ Book Capers. So make sure you drop back and find out more about this definite page turner.