Category Archives: Reading

On the ending of the Otori

(copyright: Lian Hearn’s website; font: Beth’s handwriting.)

The Harsh Cry of the Heron is the final book in the Tales of the Otori series. The series wasn’t written exactly linearly. The original trilogy was written first, then Harsh Cry (a sequel, set sixteen years after the trilogy finishes) and finally Heaven’s Net (a prequel, beginning sixteen years prior to the opening of the trilogy, but ends at the very same moment that the trilogy opens).

Note: this post can be said to contain spoilers for the Tales of the Otori series.

Recently, I have been reading so many new books and authors, that returning to the Otori was like having a dream about someone that had passed away. The Otori tales really had finished for me after the trilogy. I didn’t particularly like the first book when I originally read it–I couldn’t see what my parents and sister saw it in. Then I studied it in school two years later; I finally got it. I saw what the pull and the attraction was.

I didn’t put the books down until I finished the entire trilogy. (I even wrote a beautiful essay about it. I particularly like the metaphor used.) But that was that and the story was done.

Coming back to it six, almost seven, years later was a different experience. I knew these characters so well. The events of the trilogy slowly came back to me, but I didn’t really need to remember any of them. It was a new book, but felt like an old one. I felt like I was reading a Melina Marchetta novel*.

* Melina Marchetta makes you feel like her characters are actually your friends. I read her book and I feel like these people are actually a part of my life. I know her books and her characters so well, they could be my own family.

I really didn’t know how the book was going to end. I kept changing my mind. I think when reading the trilogy, I knew there was more story. Everything was going to be okay because it had to be–there was a sequel!

But like all people, characters can not live forever.

There really was no other way to end the series. Loose ends would have remained untied if Takeo lived. It didn’t matter he secluded himself, and had resigned himself to painting the birds surrounding the temple forever. His family tore itself apart for him–his magical girls were lost to each other, one killing their newborn brother, the other saving her twin before death; his eldest girl marrying as was required politically for the country he built; his wife hating him for his secret life as part of the magical tribe. Within a few days, his family crumbled about him and he could not save them.

The ending happened so quickly. But then again, isn’t that how all endings happen?

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On the cover of An Abundance of Katherines

My friend Andrew (his awesome blog!) and I were talking about blogging last Wednesday, and I suspect he was trying to help me blog again, so we can up with the idea where we take a book we own, but haven’t read, and make up what the book should be based on the cover. A bit like the Huff Post article with the 6-year-old girl describing Animal Farm as “I think it’s about a donkey and a pig that do not like each other and they both live on a farm for animals. The same farm. It looks like it would be a funny book with a good really nice ending.”

My book this week is An Abundance of Katherines by the ever-talented John Green.

An Abundance of Katherines is based in the early 1920’s and starts with a group of women at a tea party. They wear fancy hats, large petticoat dresses and carry around umbrellas. Oh, and did I mention they are all named Katherine? Well, yes, it is the season for the name Katherine. As I was saying, the Katherines are drinking tea when suddenly, all the lights go out! They are plunged into darkness in the middle of the afternoon. It is very un-ladylike. But these Katherines do not lose their panties. Oh no, these Katherines decide to solve the mystery of the unnerving darkness. They get up to some hilarious hijinks including getting their bustles suck in window frames, losing their umbrellas and even having a very suitable, under-the-speed limit car chase. What will the Katherines get up to next? Will they solve the mystery of the daytime-night?

What An Abundance of Katherines is really about, as described on the blurb of the back cover…

19 Katherines and counting … When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a blood-thirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun – but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

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On The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

This week, I’ve discovered the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Considering it’s Pride & Prejudice’s 200th birthday this year, it’s quite apt that I found it. Quite honestly, it is amazing.

While I would not recommend watching them all in one go like I did, I do believe that you should watch them all. The actresses get on my nerves. I’m a little sick of them. But then, if you watch anything for long enough, the people will always begin to bug you. Like the book characters, they are over-the-top and soemtimes irritating and insufferable.

Despite this, the adaptation is quite good. It is definitely set in modern times (being a video blog, it would have to be), and the characters have been updated to suit. (Collins is a business man, Pemberley is a digital content company, Lydia parties and drinks in clubs–while still being quite silly.)

This is not my favourite part of the production though. I am particularly interested in how the related media interacts with the original story. Each of the characters have their own twitter accounts–which they use to interact with each other and fans of the show. Some have facebook, others have Pinterest and most have a tumblr. Some characters start their own video blogs, and we get to see the story that Lizzie isn’t apart of through their eyes.

It feels like a true transmedia event. (It feels very similar to how I want Shattered to be told.)

I think what works for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries is that their main networks at YouTube and Twitter. They have picked the ones that work for them and the story. LBD doesn’t try to do everything. And it makes LBD a better story for it.

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On reading Australian women in 2013

(Image taken from Australian Women Writers Challenge website.)

In 2012, something started called Australian Women Writers Challenge. I don’t know how I first heard of it, but it wasn’t something I had much interest in. My reading list was already huge (I had all the George R.R. Martin books on it for starters).

But as the end of the year approaches, I also start to look at my “life list” (or bucket list) and start to make a mini one for 2013. This is, of course, if we survive tomorrow.

Every year, I choose to participate in the Goodreads challenge where you select a number of books to read and aim to read that many in the year.

Last year I choose to read 24 and read twenty-four. This year, I pledged to read thirty, and I am currently on my 30th book. Next year, I am challenging myself to read thirty-six books.

And ten of those books will be by Australian women. The list is as follows, in no particular order:

  1. Obernewtyn – Isobelle Carmody
  2. All This Could End – Steph Bowe
  3. All I Ever Wanted – Vikki Wakefield
  4. Blossoms & Shadows – Lian Hearn
  5. Tide Lords series, book 1 – Jennifer Fallon
  6. The Puzzle Ring – Kate Forsyth
  7. Night Beach – Kirsty Eager
  8. A Miss Fisher novel – Kerry Greenwood
  9. Magic or Madness – Justine Larbalestier
  10. Snugglepot & Cuddlepie – May Gibbs

I also wanted to add Jane Higgins, who won the Text Prize with her novel The Bridge but is Kiwi, and some more Melina Marchetta, but sadly I don’t think she’s publishing next year. I got a little distracted with a couple of Australian men writers as well, so maybe next year is just reading Australian writers (whether they’re actually Australian or originally published by Australians). I also like the idea of reading a bunch of picture books. But at this point I think this list is enough to keep me going for the first three months.

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On The Night Circus

A review in one hundred words.

It’s difficult to describe a book that completely mesmerizes its reader with imagery–I wanted to join this circus and follow it across the world. Marco and Celia are trained by separate magicians from a young age to compete in a tournament of skill sometime in the future. The competition flourishes in the circus setting as Celia and Marco try to out do each other with living carousels, cloud mazes and (my favourite) ice gardens. An enchanting exploration of what the mind is capable of creating for both writer and reader. The most beautiful book, visually, I have ever read.

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On Froi of the Exiles

(A note: I’ve been waiting to post this until my Mum finished reading Froi. She reads my blog–hi Mum!–and I didn’t want to spoil it for her.)

I usually write reviews of no more than one hundred words. This is because while I read many books, I don’t really want to dissect them too much. I enjoy story, I enjoy style, but I don’t want to analyse something that I love in case it ruins the experience for me.

The problem with writing one hundred word reviews is that it doesn’t leave a lot of space to really get into a book.

Froi of the Exiles is one such book. I have written five lots of 100-word reviews and none of them really say what I want them to say. None of them really explain why I feel how I feel.

I read Froi for the second time this year. I was given an advanced copy last year and read it over two days. But I read it so fast, I missed so much. I forgot so much.

The emotions in this story are what holds it together. We met Froi in Finnikin of the Rock (book one of the Lumatere Chronicles), and he was a thief. He couldn’t speak any language, he spat in people’s faces, he was dirty and ragged; he had no home, no family and no love. Then Isaboe and Finnikin came along and took him home with them. Afterall, he had to be an exile. He was young enough that it made sense–a child locked out of their country by a curse with no family. What else would a child do but live on the streets?

Three years later, Froi has family. He lives with a lord and the lord’s family and farms in his land. He lives with Queen Isaboe of Lumatere and her king Finnikin, and trains in the Queen’s Guard. He speaks all the languages of the land. He’s been trained as an assassin and he’s a very good one at that.

So when the Queen sends him to Charyn to kill the king responsible for the murders of her royal parents and siblings when she was young, he goes without question. Afterall, he owes the Queen his life, and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for his Queen.

“Do what must be done.”

What happens when ‘what must be done’ breaks his word to his queen? Breaks his word to those he trusts with his life and trusts theirs to him? What happens when ‘what must be done’ breaks him in half where he belongs to all and none all at once?

Froi finds comfort in the insanity of the Princess of Charyn, of the boys with no skills wanting to protect her and in the family he didn’t know existed. Simultaneously, he finds comfort in knowing his home is two days away and that there are people there who love him.

Even after all that, it’s still quite difficult to describe what Froi’s story means to me. Froi of the Exiles, the book, builds on and enhances the world and characters created in Finnikin of the Rock, the book. I adored Finnikin of the Rock. But I’m irrevocably attached to Froi. The strength of the emotions that bind this story together make me sob at two in the morning. Froi believes he’s a Lumaterean–what if he’s not? He finds love, trust, family and friendship in both countries, yet an undercurrent of pain, betrayal and nostalgia plague the people. His heart belongs to those in Lumatere; his blood sings for those in Charyn. Can he choose? Can he survive belonging to both? A devastating story about finding out who you really are and if it is worth the journey.

Someday, I wish someone will write a review about my work with no meaning, a review that doesn’t really say anything, but just with raw emotion because there are no words. There is just the devestating look on one’s face when they think about the book that tears open a heart and lets it pour out on the floor. Well done, Ms Marchetta, well done.

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Review: Finnikin of the Rock

A review in one hundred words. (Written while in Africa, early September.)

What struck me reading Finnikin of the Rock this time was the sense of overwhelming love the Lumaterean people have for their royal family. Every single person loved the family as if they were their own parents and children. The stories they tell are about the royal family as if they were telling fairytales. I don’t know if any one country and every single citizen in that country has ever felt for its royalty as this fictional country does for theirs. It literally broke my heart to read, this time, understanding the love they have for those they have lost.

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#potterthonalong: Re-reading Harry Potter

This post is coming a little late. I had planned to post each week of the read-along, but alas, time, work and life got in the way. Anyway, this month, I re-read the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, with a group of lovely ladies.

The thing I noticed reading it this time was how Rowling deals with time. Time is not even throughout the book. A list is required to see this clearly:

  • Chapter one details one day – November 1, 1981.
  • Between chapter one ending and chapter two beginning, almost ten years pass.
  • Chapter two tell us about Dudley’s 11th birthday and the day at the zoo.
  • Chapter three, the chapter where Harry starts getting (or not getting, as the case may be) his Hogwarts letters, portrays events taking place across a week.
  • Chapter four and chapter five continue on from chapter three (the same day chapter three ended on, Harry’s birthday), and describe Harry’s birthday, Hagrid arriving to tell him he’s a wizard and shopping in Diagon Alley.
  • Chapter six chronicles the four and a half weeks between Harry returning to Privet Drive after his birthday (end of July) and when he has to get onto Platform Nine and Three-Quarters (early September).

And I think you get the picture. At the beginning of Chapter Seven (more than a third of the way through the book), we are only at the first day of school. In the next ten to eleven chapters, we need to get through the entire school year (which includes Quidditch matches, Halloween and the troll, Christmas, Hagrid’s dragon, exams, and Malfoy shenanigans) and fight Voldemort (after sliding through some plant, playing life-size wizard’s chess, drinking potions and chasing keys) AND return home to the Dursleys.

It makes sense, if you look at it from a ten months in the school year equals a chapter a month perspective. Only, it’s not exactly like that. And while I don’t disagree that we don’t want to hear about all of Harry’s boring days, you do have to note that the timing in relation to the placement in the book is a little funny.

While the eighth-time reader may notice this, it is often and usually invisible. Unless you’re specifically looking for timing vs book placement, the reader is too sucked into the story to care where in the year they are. A comment on Rowling’s superior writing skills.

Regardless of this observation, I thoroughly enjoyed the book once again. I can not fault Rowling’s imagination nor her sophisticated writing. The story pulls you along, and in a story, that’s really all you want. Pure escapism. That’s Harry Potter in two words.

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Review: Before I Go To Sleep

A review in one hundred words.

I read this book in two days. I admit, this is uncommon for me. It’s an easy to read book, but I would not say it is an easy book. The book portrays a woman with a peculiar type of amnesia: at the end of each day, when she sleeps, she forgets her entire day. Each day she needs to be reminded of everything she should know. Until she starts keeping a journal; she starts to discover the real story and it’s going to rip everything she knows (sorry, is told) apart. A beautifully written book with a heart-stopping conclusion.

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Sadness. (And reading about it.)

Yesterday, in the Weekend Australian Magazine, Matthew Reilly was interviewed about the death of his wife last December.

Earlier in the year, I read a book called “The Fault in our Stars” by John Green. It was about two kids who had cancer. It was really about the people that surround these kids and how they deal with cancer that is terminal.

I don’t make a habit of reading sad stories. In fact, I’m quite awful at it–I blubber and cry and feel a deep sadness for these people I don’t know.

The difference between reading a fiction story (“The Fault in our Stars”) compared to reading Matthew Reilly’s interview is simply that I feel a deeper loss by Reilly’s wife dying than reading about the loss of children in Green’s book. I feel more affected, to the core, by Reilly’s loss.

It could be that I’m compassionate (and I hope that I am). But I think it’s more to do with the fact that I feel like I ‘know’ Reilly. He is discussed in my household as “Matthew Reilly”. First and last name. But once we get into a good conversation, it’s just Matthew. I didn’t buy one of his original Contest books (it has to be noted that I was six when he published it), but I have some of the original Pan Macmillan covers that aren’t published anymore. I feel like I’ve been on this journey with him; as he writes his books, I buy them on the first day they’re released.

And now he has lost something. And I feel I have lost something with him.

I would argue that Peter Jackson has provided the best DVD experience ever. His Lord of the Rings films are cinematically amazing, but the DVDs with the extras just add to it. The Fellowship characters, after watching the extras several times, were friends. I felt like I had been on that journey with them as they created these beloved films. Elijah, Billy, Dom and Sean–household names and we know exactly who we’re talking about. (Although, now I have a cousin named Elijah, so we have needed to start clarifying.)

This is the problem with a ‘smaller’ world, thanks to technology. We “know” more people. Or at least we like to think that we do. Their achievements become our achievements–we praise them and boast for them and are generally happy. Their losses and sadnesses become our sadnesses and we grieve with them. We mourn with them and give condolences to complete strangers.

Why are those emotions more powerful for real life people than for the fictional characters we spend hours and hours with, getting to know and reading about?

Truth is stranger than fiction. Truth will always be a more compelling story because someone ‘real’ is attached to it. Truth encourages real emotions, not just emotions you feel while you’re in the fictionally story. It is more real because you know–even if you don’t consciously recognize it–that someone real is living this. This could actually happen to you.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

(The image at the top of the post has been cropped from the image “Silvana” by alesssurprise.)

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