29 June 2015

Why I Like YA Fiction, Guest Post by Whitney McCarthy, QLD Secondary Teacher and Lover of the Written Word

As a secondary school teacher of English in Queensland, Australia, I'm engaged in a never-ending search for literature that manages to offer masterful examples of the narrative genre, while challenging students to act upon their social conscience.

In the beginning, this search had me reading an average of 10 Young Adult (YA) titles a month. I did this initially so that I could offer sound recommendations to my students and help them avoid the pitfalls of the many copy-cat texts which followed the vampire-werewolf-district-faction phenomena. Somewhere along the way I found I was enjoying these texts just as much as my students, and I'd like to share with you the reason I like YA fiction.

I believe the reticence of some teenagers today stems not from apathy or ignorance, but rather from the fact that the number and scope of the issues requiring their attention are overwhelming. It's for this reason that YA fiction, and dystopian fiction in particular (more about that later), has exploded in popularity over the last ten years. YA fiction provides adolescents and young adults with direction; if a young protagonist can overthrow a government, then they too can face the problems of their world.

In my opinion, the continual rise of YA fiction can also be attributed to the fact that protagonists give readers a voice. This is true of all protagonists, but as Graham F. Scott at Canadian Business says, YA fiction capitalises on the seemingly endless resource that is teenage angst. While this trivialises the causes of that angst, he has a point; adolescence hits us all with a wonderful cocktail of physical, emotional and social confusion, one which often requires help to understand and negotiate. Enter the army of adolescent protagonists whose brave life-choices, embarrassing love-lives and fierce battles for freedom provide the reader with one recurring message: It will get easier. Even better than the message itself, readers are clearly educated that nothing gets easier without effort, resilience and a clear sense of purpose.

I appreciate the ways in which protagonists work to overcome the challenges of a world usually thrust upon them by an older, wealthier or more well-armed society. My students appreciate that the perspective of an adolescent is valued, even privileged, rather than ignored. As a result, teaching and learning is improved because I can prepare teenagers for a world needing their attention, rather than assuming ignorance (not that I would!).

Parents should certainly engage with the books their children read; a frank discussion about a YA character and his/her actions might allay many of the fears we parents have about our children’s choices. It's worth noting that few YA titles present alcohol, drugs or teen pregnancy as the main issues facing adolescents. Driving and digital communication are still presented as pitfalls, but the issues which occupy the average YA protagonist’s mind are identity, freedom (intellectual and physical), tolerance and purpose. I find that reassuring.

As a genre, YA fiction should not be dismissed out of hand. A younger character voice is just as authentic, and their challenges just as real. Sure, there are some dreadful YA novels out there, but that’s true of any genre. My tip: befriend a teenage reader - they’ll steer you right, and will appreciate that you cared enough to ask.

I'll be back to Carpe Librum soon to share some of my favourite YA novels, but until then, you can have a sneak peak at some of my recommendations here.
Guest blogger, Whitney McCarthy

Whitney is the Head of English at Downlands College in Toowoomba, QLD and divides her time between school and her children, who spend more time dancing than at home.

She is currently working towards a Masters of Education (Literacy and Language learning) at University of Queensland.
24 June 2015

Review: The Pearl by John Steinbeck

The Pearl is the first book I've read by John Steinbeck, better known for Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.

I thought I'd start with something easy, and a parable of just under 100 pages seemed like a good place to start. I should also admit to being influenced by this stunning clothbound classic; I'm in love with these lately.

Kino is a hardworking pearl diver living a simple life, until he finds the pearl of a lifetime. Happy and content with his life before the pearl, he suddenly desires more than he has and is surrounded by greed and envy.

Kino's experience from the moment he discovers the pearl to the bitter end, is an example of how greed and evil can cloud your decisions, and the consequences when we fall victim to these desires.

I read that Steinbeck was inspired to write The Pearl based on a Mexican folktale, and it doesn't surprise me.

Readers who enjoyed The Alchemist will love the simple life lessons contained in The Pearl. I also think this parable is suitable for younger readers, from middle school right through to high school age.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
22 June 2015

Vanessa Skye vampire giveaway winners announced

Thanks to all those who entered the Vanessa Skye giveaway last week, entries closed at midnight on Friday 19th June. The giveaway included 1 signed copy and 3 ebook copies of Koven by Vanessa Skye.

Vanessa reviewed your entries (and bonus entries) and chose the winners based on your one word descriptions.

1st prize
Congratulations Alfred, you've won a signed copy of Koven for your description of a vampire as tortured.

Winners of an ebook copy of Koven are:
Elusive by Mary
Intriguing by Kate
Bloodthirsty by Sharon

Congratulations to the winners. You'll each receive an email from Vanessa Skye this week regarding the details of your win. Thanks again to all those who entered, and Carpe Librum!

20 June 2015

Review: The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell

The Sleeper and the Spindle is written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell, and first came to my attention when it was mentioned by Jen Campbell, author of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops

Jen is both author and bookseller, and I'm a subscriber of her book related videos on YouTube. In her October haul of books she mentioned she'd fallen in love with The Sleeper and the Spindle (click here for the original video) and I just had to check it out - literally, from the library.

Essentially this beautifully illustrated book is the re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty and Snow White fairytales, where Snow White has to save Sleeping Beauty, but not all is as it seems.

The illustrations are dark and elaborately drawn in black ink, with the occasional highlight in gold, giving this edition an almost illuminated feeling. You'll need to know at the outset that this is a very dark tale, there is an abundance of skulls in the illustrations, and in my opinion, The Sleeper and the Spindle is for the mature reader, not for young kids.

Now for the rating, but this time it's a little difficult. I adored the illustrations (4 stars) but for me the re-imagined fairytale fell short of my expectations (2 stars) so I guess my rating is in the middle somewhere.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
17 June 2015

Carpe Librum celebrates 10 year anniversary

Great news, this month I'm celebrating my 10 year blogiversary. When I started in June 2005, this blog was called My Four Bucks, and in August 2012 I changed the name to Carpe Librum (seize the book) and my URL to www.carpelibrum.net 

I started from humble beginnings with only a few hits per month, and clearly remember the excitement of my first book offer from an author. Since then, I've accepted a few but had to decline over 450+ individual requests emailed to me by authors and publicists. Now that my blog has grown, I receive monthly offers and opportunities via publisher catalogues, including; Simon & Schuster, Pan Macmillan & Picador, Allen & Unwin and Murdoch Books to name a few.

In the last 10 years I've published 576 posts, (most of them book reviews), given away 21 books and have almost reached the milestone of a million page views (I'm currently in the vicinity of 770,000). 

I've met some great authors along the way, participated in blog tours, read-alongs, blog hops and countless reading challenges and enjoyed every minute of it.

Thanks to all those who have supported me over the years, I enjoy my role as an Australian book blogger and look forward to many more entertaining reads, interviews and giveaways in the future.

12 June 2015

Review: The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

*Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer is a gripping and entertaining read, straddling both the thriller and crime genres equally.

Anna is a mother trying to come to terms with the disappearance of her young son Daniel, who disappeared one morning and hasn't been seen since. Every day she painstakingly preserves the last sign of him, footprints left in wet cement in front of her house, being poured the morning Daniel disappeared.

Anna's husband James left the front door open on the morning of Daniel's disappearance and their marriage is feeling the strain of the blame game.

We also hear from Detective John Marvel assigned to a different case, but whose investigations will cross over into Daniel's disappearance.

Anna is close to losing her mind with grief, and can't be sure if she is seeing visions or not. There is a subtle tint of the paranormal in The Shut Eye that is slight and well-handled and it added to my enjoyment of this mystery crime thriller.

The character's despair felt so real, and the mystery of the disappearance and other cases Marvel was investigating definitely kept the pace flying along.

This was going to be a five star rating for me until the end; there was one aspect of the ending I wasn't entirely satisfied with, although I - kind of - understand why the author chose to leave one of the cases open ended. We don't always get all the answers we want in life, but I was selfishly hoping for all the answers here.

Highly recommend The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer to readers who enjoy a good mystery, thriller or crime novel.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
09 June 2015

Guest post and giveaway from author Vanessa Skye: why we're fascinated by vampires

Author Vanessa Skye
So who isn’t fascinated by vampires, really? Even with the current domination by vampires in the romance novel category, the fascination remains, and we eagerly await the next incarnation of this genre.

I can’t tell you how many nights I lay awake as a teen and begged for a visit from a local vampire to rescue me from my life, take me away, turn me and make me immortal. Never happened though, dammit! Instead, I decided to create my own vampire world in Koven, and the ride was indeed fun.

So why are we, as humans, so fascinated by these mythical creatures?

Vampires are powerful. At one time or another in our lives, we have all felt quite powerless, whether we are being bullied at school or work, or we are feeling put upon or taken for granted by others. So, the idea of being a powerful vampire, with superhuman powers and abilities is pretty appealing. Not only would bullying be a problem of the past, but vengeance also becomes an easy option. People always want more power, so it’s unsurprising that we love our vampires.

Vampires are immortal, and who doesn’t want to live forever? Imagine all the changes you could witness in human history? Imagine what you could achieve without the shackles of mortality limiting your potential? Enough said really.

Vampires are sexy, and not because they are always portrayed as being good looking (because they don’t have enough going for them!). They are the perfect ‘bad boy’, offering that elusive mix of sensitivity and brute strength. They are the oppressors and the protectors in a single hot package. If a vampire loves you, you’d never have to feel unsafe again. And then there are the fangs. Long, elongated, penetrative. It’s doesn’t get much more phallic than that, does it?

Vampires are above the law. You can try to catch a vampire, but it’s unlikely to go well for you. Vampires have freedom, because they can act outside the law, and with caring about consequences or repercussions. 

My fascination with vampires started when I first read Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice.

I devoured the entire series in just days because Anne managed to capture all the frailties and sensitivities of these beings, and mix them with just the right amount of power and naughtiness. 

I loved it all. I loved Louis with his conscience. I loved Lestat in all his unashamed manipulations, indulgence and wickedness, plus his name “Lestat de Lioncourt”; I mean could there be a better name for a character in the entire history of the novel?

And Armand—so sexy. The Vampire Chronicles propelled vampires from being evil, bloodsucking minions of satan, to being these sexy, beautiful, sexually ambiguous, erotic Gods that all us sadly-mortal humans aspire to be.

This is the book that started the modern love of the vampire. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, while great, was published a century before this and had long since dropped off your average teenager’s reading list. Anne Rice brought sexy vampires to the apex of pop culture, and they haven’t left since.

We all love our naughty vampire gods!

(Entries closed midnight Friday 19th June 2015.)

Koven by
Vanessa Skye
Koven will be released in eBook and paperback on 11 June, so check it out or ask your local book store to order it in for you.

You can also check out Koven on Goodreads or find out more about Vanessa Skye’s crime fiction Edge of Darkness series at www.vanessa-skye.com

To celebrate the release of Koven, Vanessa’s debut crime fiction novel, The Enemy Inside, eBook will be only US99c for the month of June 2015! Get it here
04 June 2015

Review: Viva la Repartee - Clever Comebacks and Witty Retorts from History's Great Wits & Wordsmiths by Dr. Mardy Grothe

I always appreciate a witty comeback or clever retort and for that reason I picked up Viva la Repartee - Clever Comebacks and Witty Retorts from History's Great Wits & Wordsmiths by Dr. Mardy Grothe.

While I did enjoy some of the content, I was overwhelmingly frustrated by the fact that there was very little material post 1995, and the majority of examples were from actors and writers from decades ago, and an abundance of entries from Winston Churchill.

Now while Churchill has some of the best comebacks of all time, there was no current material to offset the time spent on silver screen actors and nation leaders from 50+ years ago.

Here are five of the best worth recording here:

From Page 30 
Outraged father says: "You think you can run this school any damn way you please, don't you?" In response, Educator Horace Dutton Taft replies: Your  manner is crude and your language vulgar, but you have somehow got the point.

From Page 33-34

I didn't know where the expression 'off the cuff' originated, and was fascinated to learn: it comes from the world of formal affairs in the 1930s, when tuxedo-clad dinner guests would jot brief notes on the cuffs of their sleeves during the meal in order to give the impression of speaking spontaneously later on when they were called upon to deliver a few after-dinner remarks. Such remarks were clearly not spontaneous, but as years passed the expression took on the meaning it has today.

From Page 186

As he got older, Churchill retained his sense of humor, despite many of the predictable problems associated with aging. When told by a friend that his fly was open, he suggested it was no big deal, saying with resigned acceptance: A dead bird does not leave its nest.

In summary, I'd recommend Viva la Repartee by Mardy Grothe as a coffee table book or a library selection, but don't expect to be 'wowed' on every page. The gems are sprinkled throughout.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
01 June 2015

Review: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides book coverThe Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (author of Middlesex and more recently The Marriage Plot) seems to have been around for ages, despite only being published in 1993.

The novel is set in 1970s Michigan, USA and centres around the Lisbon girls, who - we learn very early on - all commit suicide.

Their decline and ultimate demise is narrated in first person plural, which I found confusing in the beginning until I realised I wasn't just reading their story as witnessed by a teenage boy, but from the perspective of a group of boys.

Their curiosity about the Lisbon girls fills the pages, each of them having their own story to tell about one of the sisters. This fixation develops into a morbid fascination that never really leaves the boys in their later lives.

Despite the somewhat dark subject matter of teenage depression and suicide, Eugenides is somehow able to weave in plenty of humorous moments and amusing observations and his writing is a pleasure to consume.

The Virgin Suicides is a haunting but rewarding read, and I would definitely consider reading more from Eugenides in the future.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. This is the first book I can remember being narrated in first person plural (a new term for me), do you know of any others?