Monday, March 9, 2020

Alex


Alex, Tessa Duder
A YA novel set before cellphones that still packs plenty of punch today!  I've had a copy of this novel for a long time, and been meaning to read it.  Once I got into it, I welcomed the opportunity to settle into a swimming story.  It's different, and it's compelling.  I appreciated it being set in New Zealand and I enjoyed finding it easy to read.  I wouldn't rank it as a marvel of wordsmithery or life-changing read for me, but I value that it's a unique contribution to YA lit.

We Hunt the Flame


We Hunt the Flame, Hafsah Faizal

Press: We Hunt the Flame to be set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, We Hunt the Flame is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.  

Until the time of posting, it didn't occur to me that reading a retelling of Mulan alongside this was an interesting coincidence / non-coincidence -- both are ancient and feature strong women disguised as men, being awesome.  Buuuut...this one is fantasy, way less about romance, and more quest-driven.  Though there are some formulaic aspects -- reluctant allies, desperately-sought ancient artifacts, to name two -- a new place and voice made it well-worth my time.  I would have delighted in more banter and humour, but overall, enjoyed it.  If that sounds like just what the doctor ordered, you should get on it. 

Friday, March 6, 2020

A YA Mulan Retelling



The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan, Sherry Thomas
Before I start with this one, I'm likely stating the obvious, but will point out that the Mulan tale originates from a folk song called "The Ballad of Mulan" from the North Wei Dynasty (386 AD - 557 AD). So while it was popularised by Disney, this story has been around for centuries.  With this in mind, I approached The Magnolia Sword, not as a re-frame of a Disney movie, but as a retelling of an ancient legend...with a BA heroine!  Which is to say: I approached it eagerly.

Bullet-time...
  • I was not disappointed.  The Magnolia Sword is enriched by in-depth historical world-building and strengthened by positioning the love interests in a vastly different way to the Disney film. While I struggled to hold the entire host of soldiers introduced as distinct and different individuals, I relished more comprehensive characterisations for Hua Mulan's family, opposition and friends.
  • Sensuality is kept at a simmer, but that the love story is epic -- an excellent combination for my sensibilities.  
  • I relish reading action scenes featuring highly proficient females, and Thomas' fights are well-written with excellent mental staging.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed this iteration of this figure.  She's a great lead -- introspective, but also sometimes silly and young, which also makes her hopeful.  She's remorseful yet bold, disciplined and resilient...I could go on! She's a protag I want to spend time with!
  • You can check out Thomas' end notes on how she came to tell this story, here. (If you haven't heard of Sherry Thomas, don't be fooled into presuming her name suggests a lack of authority on China.)

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Rainfall


Rainfall, Ella West

Rainfall is a tightly plotted little noir, drenched with kiwiana and gentle humour. Ella West captures vulnerability in both character and township with sparse prose and punchy imagery, and even weaves in an eager smoocher!  

Some further notes:
  • The high-speed romance has some predictable elements, but these are easy to forgive due to a West's emphasis on character over appearance and a prevailing sense of authenticity. It's also a great match for me in terms of tastefulness.
  • At times I felt frustrated by the protag's choices, but when I'd pause and consider her age, I thought, "Yeah, this is en pointe -- I'd be frustrated with real people acting this way, and it's likely they would."
  • The motif-rich world-build is solid. In addition to making a great contribution towards capturing a real place, Rainfall supplies relevant and worthy commentary on mining as an issue within that world.
  • There's a brilliance in the eeriness invoked by simple details, making this an excellent introduction to the thriller genre for younger readers.  The foreshadowing is also smashing.
Easy to read, this gave me a satisfaction similar to my feelings after watching Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I suspect advanced readers, who've already devoured The Hunger Games and other high body count narratives, may miss the beauty in the nuance for this one, but those gradually working up into more challenging titles, who've not yet ventured into violent or graphic realms, should find a pleasing level of action here.  Highly recommend.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

I'M BACK and Five FAQs at 5!

So, last year I mentioned I'm still here.

Last. year.

I know.  Rude.

But I'm BACK!

A lot has happened since then, and I mentioned the aforementioned silence had cause (naturally), and that I'd explain more.

Well...we're moving!  And changing things up a fair bit.

After living in Dunedin for 20 years (me), and for all of our children's lives, and almost all of Haki's, we're leaving the city I love so much.  So, this is not an in-city move.

Where?  Well, almost the opposite end of this fair land of ours.  We're bound for Whangarei!

We're already en route to our new Northland home, where we'll be for at least a year.  We've made a slow migration of it, taking in some of our favourite places and people on the way (though there's never enough time for all the good).

I don't have a lot of details about our destination and plans beyond that...except that we're leaning into a sense of peaceful uncertainty; we feel it's right that we move, though many surrounding particulars are still being illuminated.


  
Five Frequently Asked Questions at 5:00
  1. So what about your reviews? I rely on you for book and movie recs and you have really failed to deliver for QUITE some time, I hope this means the reviews are back on.  You're right, I really have failed to deliver.  The good news: I've been keeping notes during the online quiet, though I wasn't posting.  I cannot promise the full reviews they might have been if my life had been less topsy-turvy, but I will get them up here and you will have QUITE the list to work through.
  2. Why Whangarei? It feels right.  Nope, it's not the call of a job, and it's not because we've bought land...yet (to both!).  We have been offered a great opportunity to house-sit for a year on a lifestyle property caring for three dogs, a cat and a little orchard.  This is a dream come true for our children, and we want their childhood to be enriched with things that make them happy and help them grow -- this decision has been guided by that, as much as a shared feeling it was time for change.  Also: Haki and I have felt an inexplicable call to try out Whangarei  for some time.  This is our chance.  We know very few people and know the area even less.  It's our next great adventure (read: we have no idea what's going to happen).
  3. What has been going on for the past few months?  Readers' Digest version, please.  Well, four major things have happened for us.  1) We started house-sitting as a way to travel for less and broaden our girls' experiences...and help other people at the same time.  We worked together on farms, visited beautiful spots (like Milford Sound), and spent a lot of time at the beach.  The girls snuggled kune kune, bottle-fed lambs, played with puppies, threw hay, rode on trailers pulled by their parents driving quad-bikes, kayaked, dug for cockles, went on many walks, and played a lot of fetch.  It's been a family-centred time...and an investment in our house-sitting portfolio.  Our experiences gave us both memories, and some house-sitting street cred.  Thanks to the owners who took time to post reviews after our stays, we have been able to secure more and more house-sits...including a year-long one at the other end of the country. 2) Haki had to leave his job.  He's been riding through a storm with his mental health for a while, but it reached a tumultuous crescendo towards the end of last year, and we agreed no more sleep-overs and therefore, no more of that job; we are done with years of sleeping apart.  So Haki resigned.  We also spent some time in psychologist appointments together working through Haki's anxiety and our way forward as a family.  This was really valuable (and brave of Haki).  3) Haki's (Dunedin-based) mother, who's been battling and winning against breast cancer, got a mammogram that came up clear.  These three things have all churned in our cauldron of change and contributed to the spell we're casting, and led to 4) All the packing an cleaning.  When we weren't traveling and house-sitting together, this was my life.  Much of the past few months has been that and more of that.  I really don't enjoy moving AT ALL and I am still coming down from how cranky I was.  I'm sorry...everyone.
  4. What's happening with your writing?  Well, I have an agent now.  Frances Plumpton is pitching one of my unpublished novels for me, and representing my work overall.  When the topsy turvy began I decided it was time to agent up.  I'm still entering comps, writing stories, and working at it, but life has definitely come first for the last 4-5 months.  Thank you to everyone who has read my self-published stuff or checked the blog for posts, even when none were coming, you're such sweeties!
  5. What is going on with the girls!?  Over the past few years, I've shared less and less about our kids here because I want them to have more privacy.  I then felt that babe and little kid material was fair game, but now they're older it isn't my story to tell.  But I will say: the girls are 6 (Mia), 8 (Ivy) and 10 (Esky), they are mostly excited about our move...but plenty sad to leave loved ones behind.  We are still home-schooling.  It's given us all this flexibility to uproot and travel and house-sit and explore and do things however the heck we want.  I don't foresee this changing for us anytime soon.  It's okay if you don't do it, it's not for everyone.
Thank you for being here.  I hope you'll stick around.

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