Tick Tock, It’s Alternative Universe Time

For the category of A book that has a protagonist who is the opposite gender to you I read the first book in Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series, Mister Monday.

Mister Monday follows a boy, Arthur on his adventure in an alternate universe. He is suddenly thrust their after being heralded as the heir to The Will and after a deadly plague breaks our in his own reality. Neither of these universes are our own, however, Arthur’s home world is very similar to ours.

It was an interesting read. Interesting in terms of weird and I wasn’t really sure of what was going on.

I really really really wanted to like it.

Garth Nix is one of my favourite authors of all time and I hadn’t read this of his before and there are seven in the series so I was super excited that I may have found my next seven reads. I didn’t. I won’t be reading that others.

I just really didn’t like Arthur, or particularly care about what was going on with him. This book shoves you right in the action and I don’t think I got to know Arthur well enough to begin with in order for me to want to read more about him. I did love Suzy Blue, his girl side kick, but I’m not sure how much she is in the other novels.

What I find funny about fulfilling this category is that despite the fact that I have read over forty books so far this year, only four of them have male protagonists. That is partly due to the fact that I have read a lot of non fiction, though I think it mostly comes down to the fact that I read a lot of realistic YA fiction and these are mostly about girls. I don’t often read books with boys at the forefront because I don’t think like them. I often don’t get them. And even more often, i don’t care about them.

That’s why I love this challenge. It pushes you to read outside what you normally would. And sometimes you find things that you love.

Unfortunately in this case it was more of a case of discovering I came too late to this series and am now too old for it.

It’s not bad, it’s just not for me.

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A Question Not Worth Asking

I’ve decided to go on a bit of a graphic novel binge. And yes, I have been counting them on my 2018 Reading Challenge List, even though they only take less than an hour to read. Of course I have wondered whether I am really allowed to count them, as perhaps they are not proper books, but I decided I was as a I hate book snobs.

I’m sure you’ve met a book snob. They’re the ones who only read ‘real literature’ – prize winners and 19th Century novelists, books for adults. They’re also the ones who think YA is a genre and shun the Dymocks Popular 100 list and wouldn’t be caught dead buying a book in Big W. They’re nothing short of my worst nightmare.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say YA isn’t real writing I could probably have bought every YA book ever written by now. And it’s mad exponentially more annoying by the fact that the people who deride YA sing the praises of picture books and Pixar shorts, as if by adding an image you make it infinitely more high brow. It’s the same. It’s people writing for their audience. Just because I don’t fit the age demographic anymore doesn’t mean I don’t get to read it.

Length and diction should not be the sole criteria by which you judge the sophistication of a text. What about audience? And purpose? And enjoyment level of the reader? Charles Dickens is lauded, but by god reading through his dialect is a slog. The same goes for Shakespeare, a rant I have already had on this blog this year.

I think a question also surrounds the whole audiobook thing. Are they really books? Can you count that you have read them, when in actual fact, someone is reading to you? This is where my own book snobbishness lays. Of course, in the end they should be counted because narrative started in the oral form and who can argue with history?

I guess the question that does need to be asked is – Why does it matter what we read? It’s been edited. The sentences make sense. The punctuation is correct. Who cares if it’s a trashy romance or an oven manual, as long as it’s not some scribble over a snapchat.

The Flipside

Then there is the not so great fantasy.

  
I just don’t think I can do high fantasy anymore. And this isn’t even it in its most purest form because there are portals from the fantasy land to the world as we know it.

I must have like the first story in this series though, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, because I did by this sequel. Though it has been sitting in my shelf for about a year I think. And I won’t be buying the third in the trilogy to see how it all ends because I just don’t care.

Some of the concepts in this series are good. I like the resurrecting, and the mysterious far off land they introduced in this book, but overall there is just too much gore. And not enough explaining. I don’t get why the two different peoples are fighting so much, I don’t get why they want to take over earth, I don’t really see where it could be headed, there doesn’t seem to be a solution to the problem the author has posed. Or at least not one I want to read about.

What is good about these books though is that the love story is not the focus as it is in so much fantasy. It’s important, but more important are the ideas of hope and peace. But that is also one of the problems with the series. I don’t really care about the peace because I haven’t been given enough information/back story to care and so without romance, there is nothing tying me to the characters. I guess it’s just really hard to empathise with them. Perhaps because they are not human.

And that’s another problem with high fantasy, it’s mostly just doom and gloom and nobody gets what they want. Including the reader.

The Flipside

Then there is the not so great fantasy.

  
I just don’t think I can do high fantasy anymore. And this isn’t even it in its most purest form because there are portals from the fantasy land to the world as we know it.

I must have like the first story in this series though, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, because I did by this sequel. Though it has been sitting in my shelf for about a year I think. And I won’t be buying the third in the trilogy to see how it all ends because I just don’t care.

Some of the concepts in this series are good. I like the resurrecting, and the mysterious far off land they introduced in this book, but overall there is just too much gore. And not enough explaining. I don’t get why the two different peoples are fighting so much, I don’t get why they want to take over earth, I don’t really see where it could be headed, there doesn’t seem to be a solution to the problem the author has posed. Or at least not one I want to read about.

What is good about these books though is that the love story is not the focus as it is in so much fantasy. It’s important, but more important are the ideas of hope and peace. But that is also one of the problems with the series. I don’t really care about the peace because I haven’t been given enough information/back story to care and so without romance, there is nothing tying me to the characters. I guess it’s just really hard to empathise with them. Perhaps because they are not human.

And that’s another problem with high fantasy, it’s mostly just doom and gloom and nobody gets what they want. Including the reader.

Just another teen novel

18. A book published this year

While this isn’t your average teen novel, it is your average teen novel. YA fiction is so diverse these days that characters like these don’t really stand out. The setting makes a small difference, small town rural NSW, but my feeling is that change permeates all of society.

The main character is a lesbian and both her sidekicks are Asians. I don’t​ think that any of this actually matters in the scheme of things. It’s kind of like a diversity love triangle mixed bag sub plot. What actually matters in this novel is figuring out who you are without letting others aspirations for you cloud your judgement.

It is a pretty sad story. The dementia plot line is all too real, as is the one of patriarchal abandonment. Though perhaps that’s only because of my personal experiences. I cried a bit, which means it’s pretty well written, I’m not usually a crier. It also made me go

Ah, that’s so true 

In a lot of places as well.

 So maybe there is more of me in this novel than I realised.

I did have a conversation about censorship with this book at the centre. I honestly think though that adults like to cover their backs rather than offer teens the things they might need. And it’s funny how people are ready to ban things that don’t match their way of thinking. If it’s an alternative lifestyle, that is, not heterosexual, it must be going to lead someone astray. 

Reading Challenge 2017

Every year I complete a reading challenge. For the past three years this challenge has been set by my colleagues at work and is based on the Read Harder model.

Reading Harder means picking up books that you never normally would. It’s not about reading more in quantity, but makes you read more widely. Because we all know if I really had the choice I would just read YA non stop all year.

So this challenges gets you to read 50 different books that are each used to fill one category on the list.

Sometimes I plan what I am going to use for each category and other times I have to do a bit of tweaking to make the book I want to read fit. This year I think there is going to need to be a lot of planning as the categories are more specific than ever.

Category

Title

Author

1

A book based on a fairy tale

2

A Young Adult bestseller

3

A book set in your home state

4

A book translated into English

5

A book set in Europe

6

A book that’s becoming a movie this year

7

A book written by a celebrity

8

A book at least 100 years older than you

9

A book recommended by a family member

10

A book with a protagonist who has your occupation

11

A book that takes place during summer

12

A book with a blue cover

13

A dystopian novel

14

A book about a road trip

15

A book that takes place on an island

16

A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy

17

A book written by a local author

18

A book published this year

19

A book based on a true story

20

A book whose author has an X in their name

21

A ghost story

22

A book with a month in the title

23

A book by a female author

24

A book recommended by a librarian

25

A book that is a story within a story

26

A book with multiple authors

27

A book with a cat on the cover

28

A book by an author who uses a pseudonym

29

A book with a subtitle

30

A book from a non-human perspective

31

A steampunk novel

32

A book set in two different time periods

33

A book set in a hotel

34

A book that’s been mentioned in another book

35

A book from a genre you’ve never read before

36

A book with a synonym for chase in the title

37

A book by an indigenous author

38

A book of short stories

39

A book by your favourite author

40

The first book in a series

41

A book with more than 350 pages

42

A book about history or science

43

A prize winning book

44

A book by an author you’ve never read

45

A classic

46

A book of poems

47

A play

48

A book with an alliterative title

49

A book with a great first line.

50

A book you love – read it again!

The Flipside

Then there is the not so great fantasy.

  
I just don’t think I can do high fantasy anymore. And this isn’t even it in its most purest form because there are portals from the fantasy land to the world as we know it.

I must have like the first story in this series though, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, because I did by this sequel. Though it has been sitting in my shelf for about a year I think. And I won’t be buying the third in the trilogy to see how it all ends because I just don’t care.

Some of the concepts in this series are good. I like the resurrecting, and the mysterious far off land they introduced in this book, but overall there is just too much gore. And not enough explaining. I don’t get why the two different peoples are fighting so much, I don’t get why they want to take over earth, I don’t really see where it could be headed, there doesn’t seem to be a solution to the problem the author has posed. Or at least not one I want to read about.

What is good about these books though is that the love story is not the focus as it is in so much fantasy. It’s important, but more important are the ideas of hope and peace. But that is also one of the problems with the series. I don’t really care about the peace because I haven’t been given enough information/back story to care and so without romance, there is nothing tying me to the characters. I guess it’s just really hard to empathise with them. Perhaps because they are not human.

And that’s another problem with high fantasy, it’s mostly just doom and gloom and nobody gets what they want. Including the reader.

In case you didn’t know, Garth Nix is the greatest writer of all time

  

I could totally live in the Old Kingdom. Well, except for all the dead and demonic beings wandering around. 

The new cover art for The Old Kingdom books is not the best but really, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. So don’t go judging this one by its cover. They are too old school fantasy for my liking, I wish they’d stuck to the versions that were black with the symbols, but perhaps that was a different publisher.

This new novel comes after Clariel, and I think before Sabriel, but I am going to reread them all anyway, that is the power of Nix’s prose. It’s got all the best bits of fantasy; a little magic, a little romance, a very well thought out history and lore. And none of the bad bits; no overly long descriptions of scenery, no overly long journeying sequences and everything turns out right in the end.

Nothing I could write here though would do any of his novels justice. You just really, really, really have to read them.

I’d like a little less realistic with my fiction please.

I haven’t felt a lot like writing lately. Last year seemed to get away from me and this year is already a quarter over it’s all been a rush. And nobody really wants to hear about how crappy someone else’s work is or the sleep deprivation of a parent with a kid under two. So there’s been no real reason to write either.

But then last night I finished a book that I’m not sure whether I want to rant or rave about.

 

Sometime last year on Instagram some publisher asked which cover people liked best for a new book coming out in 2016. Well, this is that book and this is the cover I picked. When I saw it in the library I figured I may as well read it. 

The premise is fairly simple and cliche. Five kids forced together by adults to make the school yearbook. The Breakfast Club but without the 80’s styling. And with an Australian context.

  
Honestly, it’s a pretty good book. Told from the five different perspectives and close enough to my own experience (well, I was a teenager once who sat the HSC and I’ve been to Strathfield) that the familiarity of the story was endearing. It’s not a tear jerker, but each character is well rounded, more than your cut out high school stereotype, and you care about them and their stories because they seem so real and so like your own. But maybe not quite enough. 

The problem is that the ending is limp. There is this huge crescendo that seems to fall abruptly silent when so much more could have been done or said to actually make the message worthwhile. What gets me the most is that there is no justice. I guess that’s a lot like the real world but what hope is there for kids going through similar problems when they can’t even be resolved in a fantasy world? Isn’t that the point of literature! To hold a mirror up to society and say –

Take a look at yourselves world. Is this how you really want things to go down?

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book. It’s just that I was really disappointed the author didn’t take a stand. It didn’t have to be cheesy and all fable moralistic like, but it shouldn’t have let the world get away with what it did. 

As always I’m not reading to be reminded of what a horrible place the world is. And yes, I know realistic fiction is supposed to reflect the world as it is today. But I already know humans are sucky and the Internet is a giant beast untameable and insatiable. And I know that it probably can’t be fixed in the real world, short of a mass brainwash if the entire human population. So why can’t it be fixed in book world?

Is that too much to ask?

2. A Classic Romance

  
I didn’t even know this book was coming out! I just happened to be in a library when it arrived for cataloging and when I saw the words

Regency romance

I knew I had to read it.

I was going to read Gone With the Wind for this category, but seeing as we are less than two months away from the end of the year I didn’t really like my chances. I could also have used this book for the still unfilled colour and character title categories but it fits much better here.

It seems every blog post I. Telling you how great Garth Nix is, and this one is to be no different. He is just such an amazing author and every time he puts pen to paper he comes up with story gold. At the back of the novel he says this novel came out of a story he had written many years ago and put aside. I’m so glad he picked it back up again and tweaked it because it is just perfect. Well, maybe not perfect. I would have liked it longer, or as part of a series (I know this is scandalous for me as I am always bemoaning the fact that authors can’t seem to write stand alone novels anymore and always have to write trilogies, but I wish Nix would), because I love Truthful and just want to keep reading about her and her world.

This novel is exactly what it claims to be.

  
If Jane Austen was a fantasy author his could have been written by her.

It has all the best parts of Regency romance novels –

  • Young adventurous debutant ✔️
  • Mysterious but handsome gentleman ✔️
  • Hatred (or at least dislike) at first sight ✔️
  • Lots of mix ups and misunderstandings ✔️

All with the added benefit of magic. Simply perfect.
Coming up on my next blog: I’ve exhausted my supply of Garth Nix. On to other authors.