Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

Title: The Dry

Author: Jane Harper

Page numbers: 352

Star rating: 5 stars out of 5

 

Fantastically written, utterly suspenseful, and worth every bit of the hype. I sped through this novel – I think it took me about 2 or 3 hours total. The secrets and lies within a small town is hardly a new trope, but the way that Jane Harper approaches it and the 2 mysteries at the centre of this incredible story is completely unique. My head swam with the possibilities of what could have happened to the Hadleys, and what could have happened to have kept Aaron Falk away from his home town for so long. The resolution to both these mysteries was stunning.

I’m a city girl at heart – I grew up in suburban Brisbane and have lived next to the ocean my entire life – but I feel like Jane Harper has completely captured the feel, the atmosphere, the very character of small town country Australia and what it’s like to be part of a tiny rural community. I also marvel at her ability to write something that was so suspenseful from the very first sentence. Would that I had one tenth of her talent. I cannot wait to read the next book in the Aaron Falk series and suggest you run to your local bookshop and buy this one immediately.

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New Year, and Why Resolutions are Pointless

It’s a new year, and so many of us fall into that old trap of making resolutions and trying to believe that this year, somehow, we’ll magically gain the ability to create an entirely new persona that will somehow make us more happy and satisfied with where we are in our lives. It’s ridiculous, and yet so seductive.

This feeling probably lasts until the second week of January, whereby you’ve given up the fad diet and you’ve only been once to the gym you just signed up for, and you know you’re not actually going to read any of the non-fiction or self improvement books you’ve wishlisted on Amazon.

I try really hard to create goals for myself instead. For the past decade, I’ve made it a goal to go to at least one location, whether in Australia or overseas, that I haven’t been before. I’ve managed to uphold that goal every year since 2008, which I’m pretty proud of.

This year, I’ve also made it a goal to write more. I would love to produce more fiction – whether it’s short stories, poetry, a novella, or a full blown novel, I just want to create a body of work that I can be proud of. I’ve started so many ideas that I’ve never actually finished. The only way I’m going to improve is to push myself. The aim is for one completed work per month. We’re only a week into the year yet, so we’ll see how that goes.

I also want to find a new job. A job where I can feel motivated and challenged, and which pays enough where I don’t have to live pay cheque to pay cheque. More creative, more fulfilling. Everyone seems to make this kind of goal at the beginning of a new year, but it’s an important one. I need to be more motivated when it comes to how I conduct job search and how I apply.

Finally, I want to take more risks. I want to push myself beyond my comfort zones – I’d like to explore my local area more, get involved in more activities. Maybe kayaking, geocaching, a book club, something. I’ve got so much planned this year already – I’m going to see Aladdin again, I’m going to Supanova, I’ve got a trip to Norway planned for August. All those things are in my comfort zone though, so I’ll need to push myself.

What are your goals for this year? This time next January, what would you like to have achieved?

Book Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Author: Leslye Walton

Page Numbers: 301

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is as the title promises – both strange and beautiful. Ava is the narrator, beginning with her grandmother’s birth and subsequent immigration with her parents and 3 siblings to the US at the turn of the century. What follows is a sorrowful tale where Ava’s grandmother and great aunts and uncle are all incredibly unlucky in both love and life, and Ava’s grandmother vows never to let love pierce her heart again.

Ava’s mother also learns the same lesson at a young age; a brief encounter with her young love results in the birth of twins. Strange, silent Henry, and Ava, a girl born with the feathered wings of a bird. Ava and her brother are kept separate from the outside world, sequestered in the family home on the hill, where Ava watches the world go by. Her story is one of isolation; her grandmother and her mother are both steadfast in their resolve to not let love in, lest it hurt too much, and so Ava and her brother grow up with attention but not so much in the way of affection. Her only friend is the neighbour’s daughter, who dares her to try to fly, in more ways than one. As the years pass, Ava grows close with the brother of her friend, and the three of them venture out into the world to participate in normal teenage events. It’s on one of these outings that Ava stumbles across a man who will change her life in horrible, unspeakable ways.

The story of Ava and her unusual family is beautifully told, using lyrical prose and gorgeous descriptions. The ending is left ambiguous; you’re uncertain as to the exact events, but left with a sense of hope, that perhaps her life will no longer be so sorrowful. Ava and her mother both learn lessons about love and the futility of holding on to things you shouldn’t for far too long. Overall, it’s a beautiful, magical tale that will stay with you long after you’ve finished

Beach run

At dusk, a boy and his dog run on the beach at low tide.

A cool gentle breeze ruffles hair and fur as they fly over damp sand, huge beaming grins erupting on both their faces.

‘C’mon, girl!’ the boy calls over his shoulder. ‘Let’s go!’

The dog bounds up beside him, her ears flapping, her legs moving in perfect unison. She cannot remember ever having more fun than this, in this wonderful moment with her boy.

The early morning sunlight glistens on the blue sea like diamonds, and the salty scent of  water and weed fills their nostrils. The beach seems to flow on forever in one continuous sandy stretch – both boy and dog long to reach its end, to find out what lies at the tip of the boundary of both their worlds. But, nature has made them fallible.

The boy stops, out of breath, and rests his hands on his knees. The dog comes to a rolling stop at his feet.

‘Sorry, girl,’ he says, as he gently scrubs at her ears. She peers up at him, panting, her pink tongue flapping out of her face.

‘I just don’t have as much energy as you.’

After a brief moment of rest, the boy turns back to the dog.

‘What do you think, girl? Race you home?’

Tail wagging, with the boy’s laughter splitting the sky behind her, the dog races away back towards the beach’s entrance, water lapping at her paws.

As always, she’s the first one home.

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Book title: Artemis

Author: Andy Weir

Page Numbers: 384

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

I really enjoyed this one, but I wasn’t utterly blown away like I was with the Martian.

The world building was interesting and well done, although I would have liked it to have been expanded a bit more. I really enjoyed learning about how the first and only city on the Moon worked, and the unique culture that was developing as a result. I liked the idea that the Kenyans were responsible for the first city on the Moon because of their proximity to the equator – I just thought that the overall feel of the city could have been more African than American. Just as with the Martian, I found the science mostly fascinating – particularly the medical issues that people on the Moon face, such as having to return to Earth when pregnant, because fetuses can’t properly develop in the womb on the Moon (heh) or that you can’t move to the Moon before the age of 12, or it may permanently affect your growth and development. I wasn’t overly fond of all the welding stuff, and some of Jazz’s dialogue doesn’t really sound much like how women actually think or speak.

I did miss the humour and the wonderful characterisation from the last book though. Jazz just wasn’t as likeable as Mark Watney. Mark was utterly adorable, and every page sang with his personality and his wonderful sense of humour. Jazz was tough, mean, and kinda bitchy. Her sense of humour felt more… 12 year old boy. She didn’t seem to form relationships with people easily, and her methods of making a living were shady at best. I did enjoy Jazz’s email-based friendship with Kelvin, and her growing relationship with Svoboda. Her moral compass was shaky but generally seemed pointed in the right direction.

Overall, the book was well-written and interesting, but I feel like it was lacking something vital that would have made it a 5 star read.

Book Review: Lost Boy by Christina Henry

Title: Lost Boy

Author: Christina Henry

Page Numbers: 318

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I loved reading this story. It ties in so well with J M Barrie’s classic kids lit masterpiece. The idea of Peter Pan as a cruel, malevolent being – a true sociopath, really – was fascinating, as was the gradual realisation of the identity of the narrator, and his horrible fate. I was hooked (heh heh) from the very first sentence.

The Neverland island setting was at once magical and malign. Fantastic beings and creepy monsters mixed with pirates, sandy beaches, lagoons, and hollowed out trees to create a landscape that is both familiar and alien. The characters were also brilliantly rendered. I adored the narrator, and how he regained his humanity through his brotherly love of 5 year old Charlie and strong, steadfast Sal. The plot was cleverly done and well executed, and my heart broke for them all at the end.

After the glorious retelling of Alice and now this story, I will definitely read anything Christina Henry writes.

Summer breezes, beachy days

I adore this time of year. Not just because of Christmas, though I love that too. But because summer is back. I love beach dresses and sunglasses, and the act of packing a bag with a towel, a $5 note for ice cream, and a bottle of sunscreen, and just wandering aimlessly down to the ocean for a leisurely dip. It’s refreshing, both physically and spiritually – after just an hour spent in the sea, I feel as if my cares and worries have been cleansed, and I emerge from the ocean sparkly clean and vibrantly new.

I have lived along the seaside my entire life, but since moving to a little sand island just north of Brisbane 16 years ago, I’ve fallen more in love with the beach and everything it embodies. The colours are fantastic – the bottle greens, the vibrant turquoise water that we are lucky enough to experience this far north of the city, the deep blues, and the creamy white sand. I also love the animals – the sea birds, of course, but the turtles and the dolphins. Everything seems at once playful and relaxed, which is just the way I like it. I feel as if I could spend every day by the water’s edge and never tire of it, though my skin might.

The Gentle Last Song

At dusk, the breeze

blows gently through leaves

and the sun shines light orange

in a pale blue sky.

 

Everything is gentle, calm.

Even the birds; singing one last sweet song

before the great flutter of wings taking flight

seeking

a safe place to roost for the night.

 

The sun is at once more and less

than it might be at noon.

The sky at once bigger and bluer

and yet stiller,

as if waiting for the onset of millions

of tiny pinpricks of light

and the pale rocky face of the moon

that keeps sentry over all

sleeping things.

 

Dusk is the gentle last song of day,

the last orange burst of flame,

before night tenderly

snuffs it out.

Byron Bay and the Long Weekend Getaway

Last weekend, I took a Saturday off work and made the 3 hour journey south from Brisbane to Byron Bay. For those who’ve never been or never heard of it, it’s a famous beach side town in northern New South Wales held fondly in the hearts of surfers world over.

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Having never been before, I still had an expectation of what I’d find when I got there. You assume it’ll be laid back, pretty, and full of people with relaxed views of the world and tough views on people who care nothing for the planet or the environment. I think I can safely say I was right.

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The local community is a strong force in Byron. Everyone is concerned with the impact that tourists are having on the beautiful local beaches, the cleaniness and busyness of the town’s picturesque streets, and the unsavouryness of some of the people who holiday there. There have been arguments put forward about a bed tax, and then counter-arguments about the fact that the money never goes back into the local community and they see little to no benefit from it. It’s a quandary all areas high in tourist numbers face, and one we’re only going to hear more about in the future.

I think my favourite things about the area are the lighthouse and its extraordinary views, the adorable rock wallabies, the vegan restaurant called The Beet and it’s amazing menu, and the relaxed, surfy vibe that permeates the entire town. Who wouldn’t want to live there? And that’s 80% of Bryon’s problem.

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Retold Fairytales – For love of the genre

Retold fairytales are one of my absolute favourite genres when it comes to books (and what I write!). There is something innately special about the reworking of beloved old folktales like East of the Sun, West of the Moon or Sleeping Beauty, and the thousands of creatively expressed stories that result. It’s a very personal thing, I think, the way an author decides to retell a fairytale and the new worlds they design around familiar characters.

One of the key aspects of retold fairytales lies in originality. I know, it seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but if you are taking a story that has been an intrinsic part of storytelling and popular culture for centuries, you need to add a new twist, a shot of creative universe building, to make the story fresh, new, and interesting. You’ve got to have Cinderella fighting her own battles and standing up to her wicked stepmother; you’ve got to have Jasmine weaving her own magic carpets and becoming sultan in her own right; you’ve got to have a cyborg Belle downloading books into her brain direct from the source and travelling the countryside, reading to children. Breaking the mould and seeing characters you’ve adored your whole life in amazing new situations is what makes the trope so noteworthy. And I think it’s why we keep revisiting the old stories we’re so familiar with; there are just so many amazing possibilities.

Here are a few of my favourite retold fairytales and  their brilliant authors:

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier.

This story centres around the old Six Swan fairytale, where six men are turned into swans and their sister has to weave six shirts made of nettles in order to free them. Juliet Marillier sets her beautiful story in ancient Ireland, a land already doused in magic and the supernatural, and creates something truly stunning. Sorcha is brave and steadfast in her task, despite the awful circumstances that surround her, and the ending is well worth the pain and suffering she goes through. I have always thought that her brothers took what she went through for granted though.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley is the Queen of the retold fairytale genre; Beauty is the best example of why she’d held the crown for so long. The beauty in this story is awkward and falls short of the looks her sisters have, but she does have personality. The decision she makes to travel to the castle is one of love and sacrifice, and the relationship she has with the Beast is one that grows and develops over time. It’s ultimately a beautiful story, with a likeable heroine and intelligent storytelling.

A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J Maas

Sarah J Maas is a YA author I’ve been enjoying a lot lately. Her books are massive, epic tomes with strong, kickass female protagonists. This series starts off with a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and they keep getting better from there.

Alice by Christina Henry

Alice in Wonderland isn’t technically a fairytale, but I couldn’t leave this little gem off the list. Alice is set in a dark, strange land, where people are cruel and merciless. You won’t find whimsy here; instead, you find Alice locked in an asylum, triggered by the brutal death of a friend after a trip to a forbidden part of town years before. Hatter  is a man with his own problems; imprisoned after losing his mind, Hatter falls for Alice and helps her on her journey through Wonderland. It’s disturbing and twisted, but also full of adventure, wonder, love, and heroism.

The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

The Woodcutter is a melting pot of fairytales. Set in a realm where the fairytales we’ve grown up with are all true, the Woodcutter is the keeper of the peace between the Twelve Kingdoms. When Cinderella is murdered, the Woodkeeper must find who killed her before others meet the same grisly end. The world is rich and vibrant, and full of amazing stories from around the world.

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

Another Beauty and the Beast retelling, beautifully rendered. Again, this one was set in ancient Ireland. Caitrin is a scribe, intelligent and skilled, and she’s on the run from deplorable family members when she seeks work at Anulan’s castle. He has spent years isolated from the outside world due to a physical deformity and some supernatural goings on, and Caitrin quickly forms a bond with him. The atmosphere is appropriately gloomy, and the love story powerful, yet understated.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Have you ever wondered what happens to the children who disappear into fairytale worlds and yet come back at the end? This deceptively short book delves into what those children have to deal with once they’re back home, with one of the main characters providing a boarding school to help them cope. It’s gorgeously written and imagined, with whole new worlds (both fantastically whimsical and terrifyingly dark) opened up. If you’ve ever wanted to fall into Wonderland, open a wardrobe into Narnia, or run through a brick wall to Platform 9 and 3/4, this is the book for you.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Based on Russian folktales, this glorious book is dark and magical. It evokes a wintery feel, where you feel the impulse to set in a comfy chair by the fireside, blanket in your lap, while you read into the wee hours. Vasilisa loves the tales her nurse tells her by the fire – particularly that of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon who appears in the night to steal souls. Vasilisa‘s father’s new wife is a devoutly Christian woman who refuses to adhere to the old ways, and so crops begin to fail and misfortune stalks the village. It’s up to Vasilisa to protect her home and her family, while everyone else turns away.

Do you have a favourite retold fairytale? I would love to find new recommendations!