Book Club Pick: June 2017

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Book Details:

Title: Illuminae

Author: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Series: The Illuminae Files series

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Alfred A. Knoff

First Published: 2015

Pages: 599

Publisher’s Description:

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again!

BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Review:

The novel is set in the year 2575 and focuses on seventeen-year-old Kady Grant and her ex-boyfriend Ezra Mason.

Kady and Ezra are two high school students living on Kerenza. After their plant is attacked the two teens make it out aboard two rescue ships. Kady is onboard the Hypatia and Ezra on the Alexander.

The stakes are high – the Lincoln, an enemy warship is in hot pursuit; the AI on the Hypatia appears to be controlling the ship; the crew onboard the Copernicus are infected by a virus and have launched escape pods towards the Alexander.

At 599 pages Illuminae may appear as a big book. This may intimidate some reluctant readers, but just as one should not judge a book by its cover, one should not judge it by its size.

The novel is written in found footage or epistolary style, in that it is made up of a collection of classified documents that have been retrieved by hacking. This includes emails, transcripts, reports, classified files, instant chat messages, diagrams and artwork. Many of the pages have only have a few words and there are a few blank pages, so it is quite quick to read once you get use to the style.

It is a very visual book.

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There is a lot of violence present in the novel but it is not overly graphic. Coarse language in the ‘documents’ has been blocked out with black, although it possible to guess the swear words by the size of the black and the context in which it appears.

The sequel Gemina was released in October 2016 and the third book Obsidio is due out early next year.

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Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B Entertainment, announced in November 2015 that they had secured the film rights.

I saw Amie Kaufman, co-author of the Illuminae, recently at All Day YA at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Click here to read my recap on the event.

Links:

Amie Kaufman

Amie Kaufman Official Website

Amie Kaufman on Facebook

Amie Kaufman on Twitter

Amie Kaufman on Instagram

Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff Official Website

Jay Kristoff on Facebook

Jay Kristoff on Twitter

Jay Kristoff on Instagram

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

This past weekend I flew to Sydney for All Day YA, a special young adult literature event, held as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. It was hosted on Saturday 27th May at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta.

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There were 10 events. Although there were two events being run simultaneously in the two theatres, so it was only possible to attend five events. There was an all day pass for $50, which allowed guests to choose 5 events.

In the courtyard there were food trucks, games, a photo booth and an author signing table.

I started my morning with a panel on Australian Young Adult Fiction, Love OZ YA Anthology: Begin, End, Begin, featuring Danielle Binks, Amie Kaufman, Will Kostakis, Jaclyn Moriarty and Gabrielle Tozer.

#LoveOzYA started as a hashtag in response to a lack of awareness surrounding Australian young adult fiction and to celebrate it.

Binks edited an anthology of short stories by 10 Australian YA authors. Kaufman, Kostakis, Moriarty and Tozer all contributed stories. I have yet to read this anthology but my public library has copies so it is on my list.

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Next up was Keeping Company: Characters Across a Series moderated by book vlogger Catriona Feeney (Little Book Owl) with James Bradley, Amie Kaufman, Garth Nix and Lynette Noni.

When discussing side characters Kaufman gave the analogy as them being like seasoning. They can add flavour to your main character and story but be careful because they can also overpower and spoil the whole meal (story).

Kaufman pointed out that if you live in the Illuminae world you have a 32 percent chance of survival. She also revealed that the third book in the series is like an Avengers movie, where everyone from the first two books comes together.

When discussing the notion that YA is lesser than adult fiction Nix pointed out that it is “called young adult not old children”. YA is not adult fiction dumbed down!

Bradley explained that good writing comes when you go somewhere dangerous and take risks. Nix said if you can find the emotional truth in a story, everything else will work.

Noni said to ensure that a character is engaging across a series you need to make them real. She also said that her characters take over the story and she is constantly fighting them as she writes.

Nix said that he does not know very much about his characters when he starts and he learns about them as the story progresses. In a nice gesture Nix gave out copies of his books to audience members who asked questions and he also brought Frogkisser character cards that he gave out at the signing.

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After lunch I attended a panel More Than Meets the Eye: Diversity in YA Fiction moderated by journalist and author Sarah Ayoub with Australian authors Randa Abdel-Fattah, Erin Gough and Will Kostakis.

At first Ayoub was a little nervous, but of all the panels I felt she was the most prepared moderator with really insightful questions.

Abdel-Fattah, an Australian Muslim of Palestinian and Egyptian parents, talked about how identity is fluid and that it is she who defines herself – one day she may be listening to Palestinian music and the next day watching something very Australian on TV.

There was plenty of humour thanks to Gough and Kostakis. Gough quipped “I don’t wake up and look in the mirror and say ‘Hey, look, it’s Gay Erin’ … okay sometimes I do.” She later joked “did you know my parents are straight”.

Kostakis also said that we all have stories but we are often told our stories and experiences do not have value. He also gave a simple piece of writing advice – if you are ever stuck with a story idea just take your life and ask what if?

Abdel-Fattah said when writing it is important to be aware of power relations. She explained that she would never presume to write a story about the Aboriginal stolen generation. That is not her story to tell.

Gough encouraged writers to talk to people and do research to better represent diversity.

When asked for diverse book recommendations Kostakis recommends “anything by Sara Farizan”; Gough recommends Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward and Pink by Lili Wilkinson; Ayoub recommends Bro by Helen Chebatte.

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Defying Expectations: How Do Female Writers Defy Stereotypes moderated by Bev Kavanagh with J.C. Burke, Amie Kaufman and Mariko Tamaki.

Kaufman opened the panel by reading two emails from her ‘jerks’ folder. One gave her advice on genres other than sci-fi, which would be better suited to her female sensibilities and the other suggesting that Jay Kristoff is the sole author of the Illuminae series and that her name is only there because of her New York Times best-seller status.

This led to a discussion of being female and writing in genres that are traditionally male dominated, such as science fiction. Burke also discussed writing in the traditional male dominated genre of crime fiction and being the second female to win the Ned Kelly award and the first young adult title win.

Kaufman also talked about flipping the gender of characters during the editing process to avoid subconscious gender bias / stereotypes.

When discussing sexist criticism female writers receive Tamaki said “I’m not less authoritative, you have a problem with my authority.”

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I ended the day with TeenCon moderated by author Will Kostakis.

As the audience entered the doors to the theatre we were given free copies of books. I was given Cath Crowley’s 2016 novel Words in the Deep Blue. This is Crowley’s sixth book and I look forward to reading it. Click here to read my past book club pick post for Graffiti Moon.

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Representatives from eight publishing houses presented some recent and upcoming YA titles to get excited about.

Kostakis also played a game of heads or tails with book packs for the last one standing. Audience members also had a chance to win books by competing against the publishers in a ‘Reworking the Classics’ competition – think Harry Potter with more diversity and The Hunger Games series where President Snow is Donald Trump and Katniss is Hillary Clinton.

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Also on during the day were Writing in Verse: Sarah Crossan in ConversationExpressing Herself: The Brilliant Life of Rupi KaurMariko Tamaki Talks the TalkTalking Tough Topics with Jennifer Niven; and Fresh Voices from Western Sydney: A Showcase of Real Talk.

Book Club Pick: May 2017

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Book Details:

Title: Bugs

Author: Whiti Hereaka

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: New Zealand

Publisher: Huia Publishers

First Published: 2013

Pages: 242

Publisher’s Description:

Meets Bugs: smart, sarcastic, sixteen and stuck in a small town without a driver’s licence.

Bugs has been best mates with Jez forever; they’re always been Jez and Bugs, Bugs and Jez. That is until Stone Cold, the new girl arrives in town. The year was already going to be a challenge without adding spoilt, bitchy Stone Cold to the mix. Why would anyone want to be mates with her?

But things are never as they seem on the surface – not the picture-perfect postcard views of Taupo, not the drama-queen antics of Stone Cold, not the quiet brooding of Jez. Not even Bugs.

Now, as the future closes in, each will struggle with expectations: either trying to live up to them or trying to live them down.

Review:

The central character and narrator is Bugs, a sixteen-year-old Māori girl that has aspirations to study law at university.

Bugs’ best friend is Jez. Both are children of solo mothers. Bugs’ mother is hard working and works double shifts as a cleaner at a hotel to provide a better life for Bugs. Jez’s mother on the other hand can be neglectful and has had a succession of dead-end boyfriends, including some who have been abusive to Jez.

It has always been just Bugs and Jez that is until Charmaine arrives in town. Jez quickly takes a shine to Charmaine and Bugs becomes her friend by default. Although if it wasn’t for Jez Bugs wouldn’t want anything to do with Charmaine, whom she nicknames Stone Cold. She thinks of her as spoilt and does not like how Charmaine does not appreciate how privileged she is.

The novel is set in Taupo, New Zealand. I grew up in Taupo and this is the first novel I have read set in the small town I grew up in. I felt a strong connection to it. The author named the street my parents have two businesses on, the geothermal area behind my primary school was referenced, I had eaten in the airplane above the McDonald’s playground and I had walked many of the same streets the characters walked.

This coming-of-age story tackles the issues of Māori achievement in the education system, cultural identity, domestic violence, alcohol and drug use, and doing what or going against what society expects of you.

A word of warning the novel features strong language and sexual references (nothing explicit).

Links:

Whiti Hereaka Official Blog

Whiti Hereaka on Facebook

Whiti Hereaka on Twitter

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Book Club Pick: April 2017

ThirteenReasonsWhy

Book Details:

Title: Thirteen reasons why

Author: Jay Asher

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Penguin Group

First Published: 2008

Pages: 288

Publisher’s Description:

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decide to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and he follows her recorded words throughout town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

Review:

Thirteen Reasons Why (stylised as Th1rteen R3eason Why) follows shy high school teenager Clay Jensen.

Clay has received a box of with seven cassette tapes. Upon listening to them he learns that they were recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate, workmate at the local cinema, and his crush, who recently committed suicide.

Hannah instructs the listener that there are thirteen reasons as to why she decided to take her own life – and if they received these tapes their ‘name will pop up’.

Clay is the ninth person to receive the tapes and when he is finished he must mail them on. The novel opens with Clay posting the tapes and then cuts back to the day before, one hour after school, when Clay opens that box that will change his outlook on life.

The rest of the novel follows Clay as he travels around his small town with a Walkman and a map Hannah left with starred locations, as he listens to her final words.

The novel has a dual narrative with transcripts of Hannah’s tape recordings italicised amongst Clay’s first person narrative.

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It reads very much like a thriller with the reader learning about Hannah’s pain along with Clay. There is the suspense that one has to listen to the tapes and send them to the next person otherwise all tapes will be released publicly.

As well tackling the tough issue of teen suicide the novel addresses rape, bullying, gossip, peer pressure, underage drinking, and survivor’s guilt.

On the Thirteen Reasons Why website readers can listen to Hannah’s tapes.

In 2016, a 10th Anniversary Edition entitled Th1rteen R3asons Why: A Novel was released. It featured a new introduction by Asher, the novel’s original ending, reproductions from Asher’s notebook that he used while writing, deleted moments, the synopsis he sent to publishers and a reading guide.

In 2011, Universal Studios purchased the rights to the novel with the intention to develop it into feature film starring Selena Gomez as Hannah. In 2015 it was announced that Netflix was developing the novel as a series with Gomez serving as an executive producer.

The series 13 Reasons Why went onto Netflix on March 31.

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Links:

Jay Asher Official Blog

Jay Asher on Facebook

Jay Asher on Twitter

Jay Asher on Instagram

 

ThirteenReasonsWhy.com

Thirteen Reasons Why on Facebook

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

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This month’s book club pick is Rachel Cohn and David Levithan‘s 2006 novel Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. A film adaptation was released in 2008 directed by Peter Sollett.

The film follows a group of teenagers over 24 hours in New York City.

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We first meet Nick O’Leary portrayed by Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) in his Hoboken, New Jersey bedroom. Nick still clad in his sleepwear is leaving an awkward post-break up message on his ex-girlfriend Tris’ phone.

Next we go to Sacred Heart, an all girls school, where Tris (Alexis Dziena) has one of Nick’ mix CDs entitled ‘The Road to Closure: Vol. 12’. After Tris dumps it in the bin Norah (Kat Dennings) is quick to retrieve it. She clearly has a connection to this mysterious musio Nick.

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Nick (Michael Cera)

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Nick’s ex Tris (Alexis Dziena)

Back at Nick’s, his gay bandmates Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron) have arrived to pick up mopey Nick for a gig that night. Nick is the bass player in an queercore punk band ‘The Jerk-Offs.’

At the gig Tris turns up with new beau Gary (Zachary Booth). After Tris mocks Norah for not having boyfriend Norah asks Nick, unaware who he is, to be her boyfriend for five minutes. This is different to the novel where it is Nick who asks Norah.

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Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Norah (Kat Dennings) and Nick (Michael Cera)

Norah’s best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) is getting increasingly more drunk. Norah just wants to take Caroline home. Nick’s bandmates hoping that Norah can get Tris off his mind offer to take Caroline home, so Nick and Norah can spend the time getting to know each other better while searching for elusive indie band Where’s Fluffy’s secret show.

Unfortunately Thom, Dev and their new beefy friend (Richard B. Wright) lose Caroline. Nick and Norah must join the search for Caroline, and find out what they want from each other.

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Dev (Rafi Gavron), Lethario (Jonathan B. Wright) and Thom (Aaron Yoo)

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Nick (Michael Cera), Caroline (Ari Graynor) and Norah (Kat Dennings)

Part of the magic of the novel is the dual narrative – Cohn writing chapters from Norah’s perspective and Levithan from Nick’s. This magic is lost in translating the book to film.

Cera and Dennings have good chemistry together and thanks to witty dialogue the film is a little bit better than your average teen-rom com but overall it does not offer anything new or special.

Book Club Pick: March 2017

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Book Details:

Title: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Author: Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

First Published: 2006

Pages: 183

Publisher’s Description:

Nick’s just seen the girl who dumped him walk in with a new guy. What else can he do but ask the strange girl next to him to be his new girlfriend for the next five minute?

Norah would do anything to avoid conversation with the not not-friend girl who dumped Nick . . . and to get over the Evil Ex whom Norah never really dumped. What else can she do but answer Nick’s question by making out with him?

With one electric, unexpected kiss, the five-minute couple of Nick and Norah set off on an unchartered adventure called the “first date” that will turn into an infinite night of falling in and out (and in and out, and maybe in and out) of love. Theirs is a first date of music, laughter, heartache, confusion, passion, taxi driver wisdom, and a jacket named Salvatore. And of course a killer soundtrack.

As Nick and Norah wander through the middle-of-the-night mystic maze of Manhattan, they share the kind of night you want to never end, where every minute counts and every moment flickers between love and disaster.

Review:

Nick O’Leary, the straight bass player in queercore punk band, is playing at a club in downtown Manhattan when he spots his ex-girlfriend Tris with a new guy. So he asks a random girl dressed in an oversize flannel sitting nearby to be his five minute girlfriend. The random girl, Norah Silverberg, surprises him by kissing him.

Little does Nick know that Norah and Tris attend the same school, and they are not on friendly terms.

This five minute date turns into an late night adventure around New York City, which includes a Subway ride, visits to a Russian eatery, a Korean grocery store and an encounter with a Playboy Bunny bouncer.

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Map of Manhattan in the front of book

It is the first collaboration novel from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Cohn writes the chapters from Noah’s perspective and Levithan writes the chapters from Nick’s point of view.

Cohn and Levithan went on to co-write Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List (2007), Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (2010), The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily (2016). Further collaborations are in the works.

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A word of warning this book does feature quite a lot of coarse language and sexual references.

A feature film was released it 2008 directed by Peter Sollett and starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings as Nick and Norah.

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Click here to read my review David Levithan’s solo novel Boy Meets Boy.

Links:

David Levithan Official Website

David Levithan on Facebook

David Levithan on Twitter

 

Rachel Cohn Official Website

Rachel Cohn on Facebook

Rachel Cohn on Twitter

Rachel Cohn on Instagram

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

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This month’s book club pick is James Dashner‘s 2009 novel The Maze Runner. A film adaptation directed by Wes Ball was released in 2014.

The film opens in pitch blackness. Amongst the shadows we can see a young man traveling upwards in a metal elevator cage. He is breathing deeply and the sounds of the metal elevator are clanging. The sound design and visuals in this opening provide a strong start to the film.

The young man in the elevator is sixteen-year-old Thomas, portrayed by Dylan O’Brien (MTV’s Teen Wolf).

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Thomas (Dylan O’Brien)

Thomas has no memory and soon learns that he is part of a group of teen boys that have been sent to live in this artificial environment known as ‘The Glade’ (shot on location in a lush and green Louisiana).

Alby (Aml Ameen) leads this group of boys with his right hand man Newt (Game of Thrones’ Thomas Brodie-Sangster). It is Brodie-Sangster that has the difficult task as an actor to deliver the backstory. This exposition does slow the pace at the beginning of the film.

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Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and Alby (Aml Ameen)

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Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster)

From Newt and Thomas’ buddy Chuck (Blake Cooper) we learn that each boy in the community has his own role that he does in order to keep the society functioning. The boys’ ultimate goal is to solve a maze built beyond huge grey stone walls that are over a hundred feet high. Each night the entrance to the maze closes protecting the boys from the Grievers, a horrific monster that is a mix of metal and flesh that can bite, sting and kill.

The Runners, who are lead by Minho (Ki Hong Lee) run through the maze mapping it out.

Everything changes when a mysterious girl, Teresa (Skins‘ Kaya Scodelario), arrives in the elevator car. The boys were not expecting another delivery for another month – the pattern in the Glade. Teresa is the first girl to arrive and she will be the last.

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Teresa (Kaya Scodelario)

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Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and Thomas (Dylan O’Brien)

Teresa and Thomas are somehow connected to the mystery of the Glade. The group will need to work together in order to escape the maze.

They have an obstacle in the form of Gally (Will Poulter, from We’re the Millers) who clashes with Thomas from day 1.

The true villain is Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) the head of the mysterious organisation that has trapped these boys in this artificial world. Clarkson brings a presence of authority in her very limited screen time.

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Gally (Will Poulter)

First time feature director Wes Ball does a good job at encapsulating the spirit of Dashner’s novel. There are some changes, some which work for the better. For example, there is no telepathic communication between Thomas and Teresa – that would have been cheesy!

There is an open-ending, which sets it up for the sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, which was released in 2015. The third film Maze Runner: The Death Cure is due for release in 2018.