Saturday, 24 September 2016

Full Article: Why The Art of Reading Lives On


An abridged version of this article appears in Vertigo magazine

Glowing screens hazily illuminate the faces of fellow commuters around you as the train trundles through a tunnel. Their fingers languidly swipe the screens of their devices, with facial expressions which oscillate between indifference to trivial bemusement at the latest YouTube video to go viral, or a friend’s latest exclamations on what they’ve caught so far on ‘Pok√©mon Go’. In your hands you hold a seemingly humble object in this sea of smartphones and gadgets. It’s a good old paperback, which may look a little worn around the edges since you’ve read it that many times. But you can’t beat a classic, right?


In this increasingly digital age where the online world so often encroaches on the real one, it can seem a marvel that books continue to survive as a source of entertainment. Before Facebook and Netflix were around as means of procrastination and distractions from the banalities of everyday life, books were one of the primary outlets of escapism. Even today however, it seems they continue to hold their own against technological competitors for our attention.

As of July this year, 85 million physical books have been purchased around the globe – 4.3  million more than last year. A large proportion of this is printed fiction which can provide that next addictive read which will keep those pages turning well into the night. This is not to say that prose published digitally is not without its own advantages; though the ‘print versus ebook’ debate is a whole other story. Despite the closure of major physical bookstore chains such as Angus and Robertson and Borders in recent years, others are still making their mark on suburban communities in many Australian cities. A glimmer of hope remains that the home collections of bookworms will not fall into an antiquarian abyss, merely existing as museums of times gone by. Any voracious reader will tell you that books have the power to transcend time itself while remaining relevant in any era.  As the philosopher Thomas Carlyle eloquently expressed: “In books lies the soul of the whole Past Time; the articulate audible voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream”.

With this in mind, books can be understood as a reflection of our past, present, and future. Authors such as Charlotte Bronte and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote aptly of both the joys and malaise which came in hand with their own societal milieus. Reading books like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘The Great Gatsby’ hence provides the opportunity for us in the 21st Century to travel back and gain some understanding of the issues populations faced back then. Often, it’s easy to see that as people, we haven’t really changed that much. Though context certainly evolves, the nuances of human nature as illustrated through literature remain recognisable no matter when a reader sits down to read a book. We’re all sure to come across a hopeless romantic like Jay Gatsby at some point in our lives, or perhaps strive to have the wit and intellect of Elizabeth Bennett.

But it’s not just the ‘classics’ that deserve all the recognition. Books being published now also hold great insight into our world as we know it, which can then be appreciated by future generations. The 2016 Stella Prize winner, ‘The Natural Way of Things’ by Charlotte Wood for instance brings issues of misogyny and the portrayal of women in the media into harsh focus with a harrowing and heart-provoking tale. Thrillers like ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins are renowned for plots that keep readers guessing and twists that leave the plot reeling. Almost every book has a memorandum which you can learn something from, if you’re willing to delve deep enough. Pick any sci-fi novel like ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley or piece of speculative fiction and you’ll find a fascinating ‘prediction’ into what the future may look like in a hundred years’ time or more.

In any case, reading isn’t simply reserved for the highbrow literati of society. Anyone can discover that there’s something undeniably special about holding a book in your hands and entering another world with only the bounds of your imagination guiding the words as they leap off the page. Yet bookworms are ordinary people too, often with other diverse interests that reside in the digital world as well. Even I don’t always turn to a book when I want to relax or take a break from study. I too have binged TV series on Netflix, flicked through my social media feeds when I have a spare moment, and spent hours staring at my computer screen writing blog posts. As a generation, incorporating digital media into our lives is inevitable, and can provide us with a different kind of utility. Nonetheless, when I choose a book to read it’s not because I’m actively taking a stance against technology. Instead, it’s because I find that immersive reading can spark an entirely different sense of wonder which in that moment couldn’t be eclipsed by an alternative digital distraction.


Reaching the end of a chapter before your stop, you look up from the page and can’t help but notice a welcome anomaly in the carriage. Seated a few rows across is a fellow bookish traveller, their face lit up not by a screen but the simple pleasure of being totally engrossed in a good book. Just as you get up to leave, your eyes meet and you share a knowing smile. There’s a camaraderie to be felt, for you both know your next favourite read will never run out of battery or experience technical difficulties. It will still be able to stand proud on your bookshelf in the years to come, waiting patiently for the next time you’re willing to fall into its pages and experience the magic all over again.
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Sunday, 11 September 2016

Genie's Weekly News (52)


It's the last day of the uni holidays, and I write this after coming home from a very busy day at work - no surprise since it's 'Harry Potter release day'! It of course doesn't have quite the hype of another book being released, but I'll be happy to see how it compares anyway.

*Reading Right Now*

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*Previous Posts*
*Recommendation of the Week*

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ALL THE FEELS.  That is all.
Well, full review to come as well...


*From The Interwebs*

*Haul/Book Event Recaps*

It's been a very bookish week in general, with not one but two book events...and a TBR that has grown even larger in the meantime!

1. Hachette Christmas Roadshow


These publisher events are a great way to bring together booksellers, authors and those working to bring those stories into stores. It was great to see what new books will be coming up from Hachette for the rest of 2016 and 2017, plus those crime/thrillers in the goodie bag look especially intriguing!:
  • The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney (February 2017) - A psychological thriller with a house that holds secrets from the past.
  • Ragdoll by Daniel Cole (February 2017) - Gory crime, the first in a series.
  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (April 2017) - A retelling of the Lizzie Borden murders.


2. Rachael Craw Skype Event


Although all Aussie fans of the SPARK series would love to meet Rachael in person, this Skype event at Dymocks and hosted by Emily @UncoverAllure  was the next best thing! It was great to hear her thoughts on the series, and us fans got to ask some burning questions about what's happened in the series. She also shared some details about her next book, and I'm hooked already!



Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Review: Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle

30151298Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle
Released: 12th July 2016
Published by: Hachette Autralia
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 310
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Nineteen minutes and eleven seconds separated us at birth. On the official documentation, he is older . . . Although it really has nothing to do with age. What it really means is that I am, and have always been, second. 

Ben and Grace Walker are twins. Growing up in a sleepy coastal town it was inevitable they'd surf. Always close, they hung out more than most brothers and sisters, surfing together for hours as the sun melted into the sea. At seventeen, Ben is a rising surf star, the golden son and the boy all the girls fall in love with. Beside him, Grace feels like she is a mere reflection of his light. In their last year of school, the world beckons, full of possibility. For Grace, finishing exams and kissing Harley Matthews is just the beginning. Then, one day, the unthinkable.

The sun sets at noon and suddenly everything that was safe and predictable is lost. And everything unravels. Breathing Under Water is a lyrical and emotionally powerful novel about life, death and learning to breathe in between.
Thank you to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Sophie Hardcastle's debut novel is at once effortlessly melodic and powerful;a story of grief, healing and moving forward when the unthinkable occurs. This YA contemporary novel is a stand-out in #LoveOzYA, and definitely will hold its place as one of my top recommended reads of the year! 

I listen to the tumble of each white wash, feel the pull of the tides, the bubble of undercurrents, taste the salt and smell the foam. I imagine all the creatures that have lived and died in this blue body. 

Ben and Grace are twins growing up in a coastal town where being in the water is second nature. Both surfers, they compete together and bond over each other's successes, even if Ben is drifting further as a rising star. Hardcastle has captured this sibling dynamic in all its complexities, along with the very essence of the Walker family. Each and every character is well developed, their weaknesses and struggles depicted in a way which makes them both relatable and so real. With the aftermath of a tragedy to contend with, it was fascinating to see how everyone coped - by either acting out, retreating into a shell or simply being indifferent. What I love about this book is how it portrays the intensity of such strong emotions with a sensitivity and nuance that is completely fitting. There is no 'quick fix', and perhaps it seems that the stages of pain and anguish are necessary to finally reconcile with the past and move forward, more assured of your identity once more; even in the absence of somebody who will be missed. 

The night is so still the sea has turned to glass. As I dip my toes in the water, a wave kisses my ankles. I close my eyes as I wade through time and my mind starts to drift with the tides. During the day, we see ourselves relative to others. We know our place. But out here, cloaked in shadows, my place in the universe is impossible to define. I am stardust, yet I breathe.  

While there is a potential romance on the horizon for Grace, I was glad to note that it didn't in any way supersede the key themes of the novel. The young adults themselves in this book truly take the stage with all their escapades, mistakes, and navigation of the different relationships in their lives. From a tricky situation developing between best friends who seem to be drifting apart, to seeking an escape in the wrong places - I think teens will have a lot to take away from this book. Everyone had their own voice in this novel, and when set against such a beautifully described backdrop, this made for a read that I was completely ensconced in from beginning to end. 

Then I hear her, the ocean - singing. My body sways in purple sea currents, as her melody, a cradlesong, serenades me. I feel blood pulling in my chest like the tides and remember I am still alive. I exist

FINAL THOUGHTS

In all, Breathing Under Water blew me out of the water. Hardcastle deserves high praise for this debut which ebbs and flows with the intricacies of healing and coming up for air after being submerged in the depths of grief. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Review: The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman by Jackie French

The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman by Jackie French
Released: 1st August 2016
Published by: HarperCollins
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Source: Bought
Pages: 288
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
THE DIARY OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, GENTLEMAN is part comedy, part love story, the threads of Shakespeare's life drawn from his plays. Could the world's greatest writer truly put down his pen forever to become a gentleman?

He was a boy who escaped small town life to be the most acclaimed playwright of the land. A lover whose sonnets still sing 400 years later; a glover's apprentice who became a gentleman. But was he happy with his new riches? Who was the woman he truly loved?

The world knows the name of William Shakespeare. This book reveals the man - lover, son and poet. Based on new documentary evidence, as well as textual examination of his plays, this fascinating book gives a tantalising glimpse at what might have been: the other hands that helped craft those plays, the secrets that must ever be hidden but - just possibly - may now be told.Ages 12+

Who was this man who enraptured audiences with a single sentence? How did he come to dazzle with such wit and mastery of language? Why have his plays endured and been celebrated for generations?

Who was William Shakespeare?

These are the questions which Jackie French has done so well in attempting to answer with this novel. Told through a series of diary entries from 1615-1616, we are given a glimpse into the person who is perhaps the most prominent figure in the history of English literature. This book is a true eye-opener, one which definitely brings Shakespeare into a different light - not just as a name on a page, but a living being with an eventful story to tell.


Few men have had so many lives as I. I have been glove-maker, player, playwright, gentleman. I have played kings and ghosts. I have been a lover too, on the stage and off of it.

We tend to focus so much on his works, analysing each line of a play and delving into the motivation of its characters - but often skim over the life of the playwright himself. What I love about this work is that Jackie French has artfully woven in segments of Hamlet, and his sonnets for example, into a story which is personal and compelling. There is insight provided into how those famous lines and phrases came to be, through his own experiences and journey towards forging the future he truly wanted. Background into his childhood, first love and family settlement enrich this tale in a way which is accessible to teens, and anyone with an interest in what made this legendary individual so renowned.

But words can no more leave me than stars can sail from the sky. Words whisper wicked wit through dinner's gossip that Stratford's fools would blink at. words dance my firefly mind to blazes every night, come laughing at me in my dreams, tempting me like a mistress who powders her bosom white. I can no more live without my words than forgo my meat and bread.

The writing style itself lends well to the historical period which the book is set in, making everything more realistic. French has evoked Shaksepeare's voice with her own wordsmith artistry, where each page will draw you in and make you empathise with the characters. The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman is definitely an alluring portal into the past, told in a manner which couldn't be more fitting.

So many lives. So many words. Kings die, but words upon the page live after those who write them. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman is perfect for Jackie French fans who have read her other similar titles I Am Juliet and Ophelia: Queen of Denmark. It is a novel which reveals much about Shakespeare you probably didn't know, but will most certainly be fascinated by.


Saturday, 13 August 2016

Aussie YA Blog Hop! - A celebration of #LoveOzYA

Aussie YA Blog Hop Banner

The Aussie YA Bloggers are hosting this hop to showcase some of our favourite pieces of #LoveOzYA and why our local writer talent is pretty amazing. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence kicked off the festivities on Monday, and there will be more people's posts to check out at the end of this one. There will also be a twitter chat at 6pm this Sunday 14th August so stay tuned! Read on to find out about some of my personal top picks and feel free to share some of your own recommendations as well. 

1. What you love about Aussie YA


While it's always fun to read books set overseas and in any number of exotic locations, Aussie YA has its own merit in depicting the places which I know and can easily call to mind. Aside from the comfort of a familiar location, I've always found that books by Australian authors have a particular 'edge' to them. In a contemporary it might mean picking up on the nuances of current sociocultural issues, whereas in a thriller or dystopian it could be taking a whole new spin on a concept that is completely unique from the big international bestsellers which we hear about so often. To me Aussie YA is fresh, thought provoking and pushes the envelope to stand out from the crowd in the best possible way. 

2. Favourite Aussie YA Authors

Well this is going to be hard to narrow down, so let's just go with a list....
Next to the author are the books of theirs I've read and would definitely recommend!

  • Australian YA historical fiction at its finest...Jackie French - Too many books to list here - all of them are fantastic!
  • For cute contemporaries with the 'warm and fuzzies' that will make you smile...Tara Eglington - How to Keep A Boy From Kissing You/How to Convince a Boy to Kiss You/ My Best Friend is a Goddess
  • Challenging stereotypes and keeping it real...Sarah Ayoub - Hate is Such a Strong Word/The Yearbook Committee
  • Laugh-out-loud shenanigans - it's impossible to not love Josie...Gabrielle Tozer - The Intern/Faking It
  • Thrillers with tantalising twists and turns...Rebecca James - Beautiful Malice/Sweet Damage/Cooper Bartholomew is Dead
  • Essential reading about the dangers which lurk online...Fleur Ferris - Risk
  • Tackling sexist subcultures while being fierce, fiesty and feminist...Kirsty Eagar - Summer Skin
  • Take your pick from 1930's gangsters or a 10 year old psychopath (either way, you can't go wrong)...Justine Larbalestier - Razorhurst/My Sister Rosa
  • Fantastic futuristic novels that left me on the edge of my seat...Jessica Shirvington - Disruption/Corruption
  • Code-cracking, computer-hacking and SO MUCH SUSPENSE...Rose Foster - The Industry
  • 5 gold stars for both of these - out of this world...Amie Kaufman - co-author of The Starbound Trilogy/Illuminae
  • Super intense, and unlike *anything* I have ever read before...Kathryn Barker - In The Skin of a Monster
  • 'Unputdownable' is in this book's DNA... Rachael Craw - Spark/Stray/Shield

3. The Aussie YA book you grew up with

Aside from Jackie French novels which I've always adored, I also remember enjoying books from Ursula Dubosarsky. Even though The Word Spy was non fiction it was perfect for a budding word-nerd.

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4. Favourite Aussie YA book released in 2016

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Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

Refreshing, dynamic and it sure packs a punch. More thoughts on it and why you need to read it are here

5. Aussie YA debut you are looking forward to

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Yellow by Megan Jacobson
So many other Aussie bloggers have been singing this book's praises, and the hint of magical realism intrigues me...

6. Favourite Aussie YA series

The Rosie Black Chronicles by Lara Morgan
Perth 500 years into the future, with a strong female protagonist, all the action you need and twists at every corner. These books have been a favourite of mine for years now, and they're always something I can go back to if I'm in a reading slump. Equinox was so good I started and finished it on the same afternoon it came in the mail! 

7. Unexpected YA surprise


I went into In The Skin of a Monster not really knowing what to expect...and it surprised me in the best possible way. Surreal and moving. 

8. Aussie YA book you always recommend to others

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A Waltz for Matilda by Jackie French
I've mentioned how good this book is on many occasions here, but why not say it again? It's a beautiful story about coming of age, resilience and finding independence at the cusp of Australia's Federation.

9. An Aussie YA book on your TBR

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Shadows by Paula Weston
I've had this book on my shelf for far too long without it being read...maybe I just haven't been in a YA paranormal mood? Even so, I know I definitely want to read it one day - have any of you loved it and the series in general?

10. Recommend your favourite Aussie YA Bloggers!

Ummm...all of them! Honestly every blogger in this wonderful community of ours brings something special to the group and their passion for Aussie YA. Here are just a few:


And the list of amazing people goes on!