Archive by Author

Review: ‘Apocalypse Now Now’ by Charlie Human

27 Oct

now

Rating: ★★★★☆

Set in Cape Town, ‘Apocalypse Now Now’ follows the story of sixteen-year-old Baxter Zevcenko, the enterprising kingpin of pornography-peddling schoolyard business The Spider. When his girlfriend Esme goes missing he discovers a secret supernatural underworld and, with the help of a grizzly bounty hunter sidekick, must try to avoid gang wars, his meddling younger brother, being devoured by giant crows – and an apocalypse or two.

The title comes from a common South Africanism relating to the amount of time to elapse before an event occurs. In the near future; not happening presently but to happen shortly. Continue reading

Learning How to Decipher Elvish Does Not Actually Take an Entishly Long Time!

17 Oct

Picture courtesy of superstevied.

Gi suilon! Êl síla erin lû e-govaned vîn.

Did you know that the languages were the first thing that Tolkien created for his mythical universe? According to the author, his stories grew out of his languages as he creates races to speak the tongues he had constructed. Quenya (high-elven) was the first, and most complete, of these languages, the other being Sindarin (grey-elven).

Elvish is strongly influenced by Finnish and Welsh, but is surprisingly easy to learn how to use! It also looks particularly nice in a gift card with a dozen freshly baked loaves of Lembas Bread.

Using the examples of ‘Robert’ and ‘Lynne’, Star Chamber gives us a step-by-step instruction on learning the language of elves — and writing with it — in under ten minutes. They also provide a handy alphabet key  if, like me, you want to cheat your way through this linguistics course. Continue reading

Abandonment Issues

15 Oct
My Eldest Daughter, Suzanne with Milk and Book by Carl Larsson, 1904.

My Eldest Daughter, Suzanne with Milk and Book by Carl Larsson, 1904.

What are your thoughts on leaving a novel unfinished? Some of you, I’m sure, will persevere through the most plot-holed purple prose imaginable. Others will have hard and fast rules — preferring to stop after the first page, or abandoning a book on the third chapter if they’re not really feeling it.

Apparently the rule for what page to abandon a book is 100 minus your age. For me, this means calling it quits on page 77. But I feel like the reasoning behind this rule is a bit morbid. Does it mean that as you get older, your days are numbered and you have less time to waste on bad books?!

The Copybot has a little tip for knowing when to call it quits:

You probably didn’t know this, but there’s an instinct to abandoning a book. Sort of like foraging for food. Except you are foraging for information. You are following a scent. An information scent.

And if while reading a book you lose that scent, you should stop and move onto something else.

Goodreads has a great infographic on the psychology of abandonment and it’s pretty interesting reading.

Screen Shot 2013-10-12 at 20.15.11

What is it about a book that makes you put it down? These readers give reasons like “slow, boring”, “weak writing” and “when an author is committed to doing something I hate”. All valid points. However, I would never quit reading a book because I thought it was “immoral”, or “I didn’t like the main character”! ‘Lolita’, anyone?

Screen Shot 2013-10-12 at 20.04.56

I’m actually guilty of abandoning 3/5 of the most begun-but-not-finished classics… and that’s only because I returned to ‘Lord of the Rings’ after the movies came out. However, there’s still time for me to go back and finish the rest!

I have read some truly awful books in my life. And I have started some truly amazing ones, never to finish them.

Sometimes, driven by the thrill of the conquest, I’ll feel like I’ve invested too much time to give up. And what if I miss something important?! There are potentially life-changing words in every abandoned book. Other times, I’ll just lose interest and put the book aside.

There isn’t really a consensus for what makes me read on to the final page!

What about you?

Books Are My Bag

13 Oct

Books Are My Bag is a UK campaign to celebrate bookshops. For many people, bookshops conjure fond images of book readings, in-store cafes and delight at the discovery of a new author. In fact, 56% of all book buying decisions are made by bookshop customers, and high street bookshops (both chains and independents) still account for almost 40% of books bought by consumers! Yet, many high street bookshops are under threat, especially from online retailers.

I suppose these bags are good reminders to people to buy more books. After all – orange is the most impulsive colour! However, there are certainly more stylish solutions out there if you want to show off your inner bookworm.

Continue reading

An evening with David Levithan at Waterstones Piccadilly, the Place Where I Work Now (I Work At That Place)

3 Oct
Photo by Selma.

Photo by Salma.

David Levithan is the best-selling US author of over 15 books for young adults, including ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ (upon which the twee film starring Michael Cera was based). Last night he appeared in conversation with fellow author Phil Earle, discussing his career and new novel ‘Every Day’. The event took place at Waterstones Piccadilly – where I now work as a bookseller.

(Did I mention that I work at Waterstones Piccadilly now? I work at Waterstones Piccadilly now.)

The two writers were super likeable, making jokes about ‘The Hunger Games’, fellow writers and Justin Bieber, and obliging their fans by staying to sign books at the end of the event. They even coordinating their checked shirts and blue jeans! I think I saw Patrick Ness in the audience as well, dressed in a similar attire, so I guess it’s the required uniform for male YA authors attending London book events.

The two hour event just breezed by, helped in part by the elderly woman sitting in the front row who provided much comic relief. The discussion and Q&A were bookended by chapter readings from ‘Every Day’ and ‘Two Boys Kissing’; both passages were really effecting and beautiful and I could tell immediately that Levithan is going to be one of my new favourite writers.

levithan2Earle and Levithan talked a little about his method, his penchant for blasting Tegan & Sara when writing, and his day job. It’s refreshing to hear of a best-selling author who still works a 9-to-5 and writes on the weekends!

I found the discussions of the politics surrounding queer identities in YA fiction particularly interesting. Some of Levithan’s books aren’t named too subtly, but he does this intentionally so that the young gay boy who sees ‘Two Boys Kissing’ in the library knows it’s there. Maybe he doesn’t check it out, but just seeing it on the shelf could give him the strength he needs to get through the day. I think that’s a nice sentiment.

levithan1

On the other hand, ‘Every Day’ has a vague and ambiguous title, but I suspect that pertains to the vague and ambiguous protagonist. He says he wrote the novel with two questions in mind:

  1. Who would you be if you had no body?
  2. You fall in love with the person from the last question. Can you?

A, the protagonist, is a genderless being who wakes up each day in a different host body. It’s a pretty neat concept. Almost all of the discourse in the novel is about gender, and there’s even a secondary transgender character in the book which is pretty spectacular. And it’s not just a one off! Even in ‘Lover’s Dictionary’ the gender of the lover is never specified.

It seems Levithan likes experimenting with style like this. In ‘Two Boys Kissing’, narrative is delivered from a chorus of last- and next-generation gay men. In ‘Lover’s Dictionary’, chapters were improvised from words picked at random from a dictionary. Levithan is also no stranger to collaboration either, having worked with a handful of other authors during his career.

According to Levithan, he realised he was a writer in the third grade when he felt disproportionately pleased with himself to have one of his characters “scamper” through a hotel lobby in one of his many chase scenes. I’m glad he’s still writing all these years later. He’s an important voice, not only for the queer community, but for anyone who likes plain old good fiction.

Five of the Best Literary Dogs in Fiction

11 Sep

Meg Rosoff has just written her list of the best literary dogs in fiction for The Telegraph — but it is in no way definitive so obviously I had to make my own. Here it is.

1. Friend — ‘FRIEND’S BEST MAN’ by Jonathan Carroll

Friend is from Carroll’s story ‘FRIEND’S BEST MAN’, winner of a World Fantasy Award. It’s about a man who saves his beloved dog from being run over by a train, but in doing so loses one of his legs. In hospital he meets a dying girl who can read his dog’s mind.

This apocalyptic tale of friendship found in ‘The Panic Hand‘, Jonathan Carroll’s superb collection of short stories.

small

2. Chiquitito-Brown — ‘A Dog So Small‘ by Philippa Pearce

This is one of those books that you read as a child and it stays with you for the rest of your life. Ben Blewitt really, really wants a dog. His grandfather promises him one for his birthday, and Ben “had picked and chosen the biggest and best from the dog books in the Public Library”, but when his birthday rolls around he finds out that it is to be a woollen cross-stitch of a dog instead.

The woolwork chihuahua in the picture becomes Chiquitito-Brown, “a dog so small you can only see it with your eyes shut.” Pop-eyed, pinky-fawn with pointy ears, this imaginary companion is bold, resolute and brave in the world of Ben’s imagination.

I think this is an amazing children’s story. Not just because of the extremely effecting relationship between Ben and Chiquitito, but because it’s so rare to have a cast full of flawed, human characters in Middle School fiction.

Someone’s scanned the whole book and you can read it here.

Special mention in the chihuahua category goes to Sebastian in ‘A Little Dog Like You‘.

checkers

3. Checkers — ‘Checkers‘ by John Marsden

This is some bleeeeak YA fiction by Australian author John Marsden. The title character is a loveable black-and-white dog that shares a special bond with its owner, a nameless teenage girl who narrates the story as a voluntary inpatient of a mental ward. Through the use of diary fiction and flash-back, we find out what happened to the girl — and what happened to Checkers.

Special mention in the surprise! dead-dog category goes to ‘The Gathering‘.

4. Snitter — ‘The Plague Dogs‘ by Richard Adams

For those of you not in the know, ‘The Plague Dogs’ is about two dogs, Rowf and Snitter, who escape an animal testing facility. They wander the English Lake District and with the help of a fox with a heavy accent, try to live like wild things. Oh, and they’re guilty of manslaughter and possibly carrying the bubonic plague.

Snitter had a human owner once, which colours his experiences. Both canines are victims of medical testing, but Snitter’s interpretation of the world is slightly more skewed than Rowf’s due to a lobotomy. The open wound from the terrier’s surgery has been covered with a dressing, leaving him with something resembling a jaunty cap.

Unlike ‘Watership Down‘, ‘Plague Dogs’ is neither marvellous nor charming. But Adams’ gift for storytelling means that this isn’t a totally depressing read (see: ‘Checkers’, above) and there are plenty of moments of beauty, insight and humour. And the ending is different to the cartoon version!

sirius

5. Sirius Black — ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban‘ by JK Rowling

Yeah, I’m mentioning Harry Potter again. Don’t you get it by now? “ALWAYS.”

Review: ‘Family Likeness’ by Caitlin Davies

7 Sep

likeness

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I’ve never really understood the appeal of the genealogy story. With multi-generational texts like ‘Middlesex’ and ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, I find myself wanting to skip to the now far more often than a good English Literature graduate should. I don’t know if it’s a fault of my immersion in the Instagram Generation – where we’re constantly trying to capture and hold the present like an overflowing bag, worried lest we let a single fleeting moment slip away without capturing it forever in the sepia tones of permanence – or whether I’m just not a fan of grandparent sex. Either way, this was not the book for me.

Family Likeness’ is Caitlin Davies’ fifth novel. It follows the story of Muriel Grey, the daughter of a white Englishwoman and an African American soldier stationed in England during the war. Muriel is raised in a children’s home during the 1950’s and much, if not all, of the story centres around her and her daughter’s later efforts to uncover the truth about her lineage. Continue reading

Literary Recipes: Lembas Bread from ‘Lord of the Rings’

2 Sep

20130825_011007

Lembas, or “journey-bread”, is a special bread made by the elves, also called “waybread” in the common speech. Lembas is a closely guarded secret, and only on rare occasions is it given to non-elves. Galadriel gives a large store of lembas to the fellowship of the ring upon its departure from Lothlórien. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee subsist on it through the majority of their journey from there into Mordor. Like other products of the elves, it is offensive to evil creatures; Gollum outright refuses to eat it, even when starved.

Melian, the queen of Doriath, originally held this recipe. Later it was passed to Galadriel and other elves. The recipe I use is adapted from Everything is Poetry.

Ingredients.

  • 1/4 cup of sour cream
  • 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • 2 cups of wholemeal flour
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 110g of cold butter
  • optional: mallorn leaves or substitute

Method.

1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (gas mark 6).

2

2.  Zest your lemons as best you can. I thought this was the hardest step (i.e. my knuckles thought this was the hardest step).

1a

3.  Mix together the flour, lemon zest, and baking powder.

4.  Add the butter in chunks and rub it all together.

5.  In a separate bowl, mix together the sour cream, lemon juice, and honey.

1

6.  Dump the wet mixture into the floury one, and mix it up into a doughy ball. It should be nice and squishable but not too sticky ’cause you’re gonna need to roll it out.

7.  Put it in the fridge for at least an hour (or skip this step if you’re impatient, like me).

3

8.  Roll the mixture out about 1cm thick and cut it into squares however big/small you want. Hint: smaller ones are easier to wrap in leaves if you’re going to present them all elf-like!

9.  Bake for 15-17 minutes, until they’re nice and golden brown. Check them regularly though after like 10 minutes, because they go from nice to burnt pretty quick.

10.  Optional: consume while playing The Lord of the Rings drinking game.

According to Tolkien himself, “The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf wrappings”. I ate mine with salad:

4

10 Published Fanfiction Books That Aren’t Terrible

31 Aug

fanfiction

If you didn’t know, fanfiction refers to works by fans of television shows, movies, books etc. that use the source material’s storylines, characters or world to create a new work of fiction. It’s a generally overlooked sub-genre in literature – and perhaps rightly so. According to The Guardian:

Fanfic is seen as the lowest point we’ve reached in the history of culture – it’s crass, sycophantic, celebrity-obsessed, naive, badly written, derivative, consumerist, unoriginal – anti-original.

Fanfiction comprises one third of all content about books online. But you might not know that many, many works of fanfiction have actually become published novels or even entire series in their own right. I’m not talking about books like ‘The Hours’, or ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’, or even ‘Ulysses’. These are derivative works but not really fanfic. Books like ‘Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters’ or ‘Android Karenina’ don’t really fit the bill either, as they contain most of the original source text.

Good fanfic should take an author’s fictional universe and tell us something completely different. Here are 10 examples that you should definitely check out before dismissing fanfiction entirely. Continue reading

A to Z Bookish Survey

29 Aug

I found this A to Z Bookish Survey on theprettybooks and thought I’d give it a try.

Author you’ve read the most books from
According to Goodreads it’s a tie between Louis Lowry (on account of her Anastasia Krupnik series and the brilliant dystopian masterpiece of YA fiction that is ‘The Giver’; C S Lewis, because of the Narnia chronicles and an unfulfilling reading of ‘Mere Christianity’; and Anne Rice, because I gorged myself on her vampire stories in high school. J K Rowling coming in closely behind these three, though! Having just ordered her secret new detective fiction into the bookshop, she might catch up pretty soon.

Best Sequel Ever
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy has to be one of the best offerings to an already established fictional universe. Other than that, ‘The Vampire Lestat’ was a billion times better than ‘Interview With a Vampire’.

IMG_0759

Currently Reading
‘Fairytales for Wilde Girls’, ‘The Descent of Woman’, ‘On Writing’, ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ (not pictured), ‘Acorn’, ‘Family Likeness’, and the collected tales of Winnie-the-Pooh (not pictured).

Continue reading