lizabelle: (Old coat new book)
You may remember that I really loved Pip Harry's update of the traditional boarding school story, I'll Tell You Mine, which I reviewed a few months ago. At that point it was only really available in Australia, but it is now out as a Kobo ebook, meaning it's available worldwide. So if my review piqued your interest, check out the link.

If you're not ready to buy it yet, goodreads is also hosting a giveaway of the book: click here to win a copy of I'll Tell You Mine.

While I'm here, Nina D'Aleo's The Last City is currently available for free at Amazon UK, Amazon US and the Apple Store.

I don't know anything about the author, but the blurb sounds great, so I have downloaded and will report back.

Here's the blurb:

"Scorpia – the last city of Aquais – where the Ar Antarians rule, the machine-breeds serve and in between a multitude of races and species eke out an existence somewhere between the ever-blazing city lights and the endless darkness of the underside.

As a spate of murders and abductions grip the city, new recruit Silho Brabel is sent to the Oscuri Trackers, an elite military squad commanded by the notorious Copernicus Kane. But Silho has a terrible secret and must fight to hide her strange abilities and monstrous heritage."
lizabelle: (Book and sea)
If I close my eyes I can imagine crashing. I see it in slow motion, like a crash-test dummy reconstruction where I'm the dummy. The Laser swerving across the road to hit a brick wall - the one near the sports grounds at the back of Seaforth - yellow bonnet crumpling, metal screeching, indicator lights exploding and spraying orange glass. My neck whiplashes forward, the windscreen shatters and the car presses in around me like a cocoon. Tight, tight, tighter, the warmest hug in the world.

It scares me. I don't want to do it. But sometimes I think it's the only way I'll be able to turn off what's in my head.

(From chapter 2 of Raw Blue.)

Carly is living a half-life, working dead hours in a restaurant so she can surf during the day, and generally trying to get by without being noticed. Surfing is the only way she knows to be happy, because it allows her to forget the awful thing that happened to her - the thing she refuses to talk about, but which permeates every aspect of her existence.

Despite her best efforts, Carly becomes pulled into the lives of others, most notably a lonely woman in the flat above, an oddball kid and an attractive surfer with a mysterious past of his own.

The thing about hiding from your trauma is that it doesn't go anywhere. It stays in your head, taking up more and more space, becoming more and more impermeable, until inevitably you crash into it. In Raw Blue, the reader can see the crash coming from chapter one, but the narrative is so compelling, so exquisitely, quietly painful, that (to adopt a cliché) it's impossible to look away.

Because Carly's narrative, filled as it is with the minutiae of a life unlived, is hugely compelling. Her uncertainties and fears (what will happen if she does this? How will someone react if she puts a foot wrong?) are exaggerated versions of those faced by many of us as we navigate the world on a daily basis. She is smart but vulnerable and dedicated to being invulnerable, constantly prepared to forestall the next bad thing that might happen to her.

From Carly's viewpoint even her escape (surfing) is fraught with tension. Take the line-up of surfers, with its internal politics and suspicion of outsiders, women and children. The chaos of the ocean despite Coastalwatch's best efforts at prediction. Carly's attempts to stay under the radar, which are continually thwarted by the attentions, well-intentioned or not, of her fellow surfers. However hard she tries, she can't avoid bumping up against other people and her own past.

As a first novel, Raw Blue is seriously impressive - and I haven't even mentioned a lot of the things I liked about it, so I'll just list them briefly here: the setting (Sydney's Northern Beaches), the taut, compelling writing, the understated anger (so understated that you get the impression even Carly doesn't realise it's there) in the narrative voice, the way what was done to Carly is dealt with, the very lovely (and yet imperfect) Ryan, Eagar's obvious love for the ocean. This is the first of Kirsty Eagar's books that I've read, and I will be on the lookout for more.

Version I read: Catnip Books paperback won in a competition held by Shelleyrae of Book'd Out. The book is available in Australia, the UK and I believe also in the USA.
To learn more about Kirsty Eagar, check out her website.
lizabelle: (Default)
Boarding schools. They have captured my imagination ever since, aged seven, I was heartbroken to be told by my mum that I couldn't go to St Clare's because it didn't exist.

Part of me likes to think that somewhere in the Bernese Oberland the Chalet School is going strong, still churning out trilingual girls who become teachers and then marry doctors. And that on the Cornish coast, Rebecca Mason is still practising her tennis while the other girls learn to surf.

One of the reasons I initially fell in love with the Harry Potter books was because of the way JK Rowling plays with the boarding school trope. Hogwarts is basically an old-fashioned boarding school that happens to teach magic, and Rowling sticks to the academic year structure throughout the books (although oh, how I missed the school setting in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

In I'll Tell You Mine, Pip Harry brings the boarding school trope bang up to date and into the southern hemisphere. Fifteen-year-old Kate Elliot has done something terrible: so terrible that her family is shunting her off to the local boarding school so they don't have to deal with her. As you would expect, she is not happy about this, and things don't get any better when she finds herself sharing a dormitory with the in-crowd and another girl who's as much of an outcast as herself.

Kate is a goth -- which, at school, makes her a freak. Worse than this, boarding school also presents a major obstacle to socialising with her friends, fellow goth Annie and musician Nate. Obviously, Kate isn't going to take all this lying down...

I loved Kate as a character, even if sometimes I wanted to shake her. She's sad and snarky and vulnerable -- and completely believable at every turn. And as we gradually learn more about the events leading up to her banishment, we realise that no one person is to blame.

I think that might be my favourite aspect of the novel. Pip Harry writes all the characters sensitively; even the people who initially seem to lead charmed lives are flawed and they all do bad or stupid things, but as a reader I could always understand why they did them. The progression of the relationship between Kate and her mother is truly touching, and I speak as someone who had a torrid relationship with her own mother in her teens. Nothing is straightforward, and this novel reflects that perfectly.

Kate's voice comes through very strongly right from the first page -- but despite the teenage diction that peppers the pages, the writing feels very precise, as if every word has earned its place. Similarly, Kate's family history feels fully realised, but there's no superfluous information. Everything she tells us is for a reason. One of the more beautiful moments of the book -- Kate's memory of a family holiday, in which, "Liv was too young to have a go [at surfing] on her own but Dad chucked her on the front of his wide Mal and pulled her up to her feet. She was screaming with excitement when she crested down the front of the wave with Dad's hand clutching at the back of her bathers." -- is principally there for contrast. "That was a highlight." The rest of the holiday is memorable, not for its good moments, but for its failures and for what Kate learned about her parents' marriage.

To return to the boarding school setting, I loved that the school remained a character until the end. Sometimes with YA literature it feels as if the author can't wait to get the characters away from the constraints of school, but here, Pip Harry uses every aspect of boarding school life to broaden the story. And despite Kate's mixed feelings about it, I've added Norris Grammar to my mental list of "schools I would like to have known". Which is about the best compliment I can pay the book, really.

Version I read: University of Queensland Press paperback from Kinokuniya Sydney. Also available online at
Pip Harry blogs at
lizabelle: (Book and sea)
My second book for the Australian Women Writers challenge was Margo Lanagan's Sea Hearts, published internationally as The Brides of Rollrock Island. I'm afraid this isn't going to be so much a review as an "I adored this book and please everyone read it" post, but I will link to a couple of other reviews to compensate.

I knew I was in for a treat from the opening pages of this book, when I found myself highlighting passages because I loved the evocative writing so much. Like this: "The sea was grey with white dabs of temper all over it; the sky hung full of ragged strips of cloud." I do enjoy a book that really makes me relish the language as I read.

But it takes more than inventive writing to make me fall in love. Lanagan quickly sets an elegiac mood with the opening chapter, which takes us into an island world in which a group of boys roams the shore looking for "sea hearts" to appease their mothers, watched bitterly by the old witch, Misskaella.

We soon learn that Misskaella, an abused, disregarded girl with a strange affinity for the local seal population, has found a terrible way of gaining agency in the community.

But the story isn't just about one deprived woman's need for agency; it is also about what happens when the men in a community reject real, human relationships in favour of other, more passive ones in which their partners have no agency. It's about the implications for that community, for the rejected women and the men themselves, for the children born of the various unions, and for "the mams" brought from the sea and prevented from returning.

It's a beautiful, thought-provoking, heartbreaking book, and I would love as many people as possible to read it. I just wish I could articulate why more clearly.

A couple more reviews that do the book better justice than I can: from Sean the Bookonaut and Krissy Kneen.

Edition I read: Kindle ebook. Margo Lanagan blogs at Among Amid While.
lizabelle: (Default)
In my first read for the Australian Women Writers 2012 challenge, I picked up a book I've been meaning to read for a while: Equilibrium, by Meredith Shayne.

I don't often read romance, so I'm not terribly familiar with the conventions of the genre, but I very much enjoyed this story. Small-town New South Wales seems like the perfect place for veterinarian Michael to escape his demons - especially when he meets ex-policeman Ryan Mitchell, who is steady, kind and gorgeous. But when a family crisis hits, so do Michael's demons, and suddenly it looks as if he might lose everything, past, present and future.

Shayne has a knack for creating realistically flawed yet sympathetic characters. A possible exception to this is Ryan, who seems to have no flaws at all - but as he's my dream steady, supportive male character, I can't really complain about that! The supporting cast are briefly but believably drawn, particularly Michael's sister and best friend.

The writing is solid throughout - quietly evocative without ever feeling showy. I liked the slow build of the romance, and I thought the sex was well done; I often cringe away from sex scenes in books, but there was no need for that here.

The ending didn't quite work for me, in that it felt slightly rushed. Part of that is a function of the format of the story, in which the action is divided across twelve months. But I felt a little more attention could have been given to wrapping things up. I gather there is a novella sequel to the story, which I'll be looking out for in the next few months; I'd happily read much more about these characters!

Summary: An excellent, satisfying read for anyone who likes m/m romance. I will definitely look out for more from Meredith Shayne in future.
Edition I read: Kindle ebook. The paperback version is available from Dreamspinner Press, where you can also read an excerpt from the book.
lizabelle: (Default)
I've been quiet here because I've been 1) busy and 2) trying to figure out what to do with this journal. The upshot is that I really do love books and talking about books, so I'm going to keep that up when I can. Hopefully more frequently than I have been doing recently. :)

I am also taking up the 2012 Australian Women Writers challenge. Many people will be aware of recent publicity surrounding the imbalance between male and female reviewers and authors of books reviewed in major publications worldwide (if that's passed you by until now, start here). In Australia, a movement has gradually been building to combat the difficulties faced by women writers in many aspects of the literary world. The Stella Prize is one such initiative to have broken ground recently (see my own post on the subject here); the Australian Women Writers challenge is another.

The challenge "hopes to help counteract the gender bias in reviewing and social media newsfeeds that has continued throughout 2011 by actively promoting the reading and reviewing of a wide range of contemporary Australian women’s writing."

I'm going for the Franklin-fantastic level (read 10 and review at least 4 books, including at least one substantial review).

One of the great pleasures of moving to Australia, for me, has been discovering the depth and beauty of its literature. I'm looking forward to building on that over the next few months, with a particular focus on women writers. I have a fair few books in mind at the moment, and I may as well list them here, for my own convenience. I'll be focusing on new books, but may also use the challenge as an opportunity to catch up on a couple of classics.

List under here )

Those are off the top of my head, so I'll keep adding others to this list as they occur. I'd be happy to hear suggestions from others, as well!

If you are interested in the challenge as a whole, more information is here.


lizabelle: (Default)

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