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BOOK LOVE: The Hunger Games trilogy

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

This mega-selling trilogy is down as YA fiction (as is Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, another of my Book Loves), but I definitely want to read more if this is where YA is at these days. I refrained from this series for a while as I thought the premise sounded pretty macabre. And it is, but after a few recommendations from trusted reader friends, I shook off my reservations and I’m glad I did. From the first chapter, I was completely absorbed in Katniss Everdeen’s journey. I’ve obviously got a thing for dystopian fiction – I love their vivid re-imagined worlds, the fast-paced action, and the exploration of control and subversion. I’m obviously not alone. Why do these stories appeal to so many people, and teenagers in particular? Perhaps it is because there is obvious and terrible injustice in the real world as to how powerful people control and manipulate others, and in these books there is an opportunity of redress by an everyday, ordinary person. The story of Katniss Everdeen might belong to a fantastical world, but I found one of its strongest themes was that there is hope to be found even in the most powerless, grotesque and overwhelming situations.

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BOOK LOVE: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing.

They didn’t understand that once love – the deliria – blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love. (laurenoliverbooks.com)

My second dystopian pick of the week, after The Handmaid’s Tale! Delirium is marketed as Young Adult fiction, but I’m not sure that does it justice – although the cream of ‘YA’ fiction seems pretty mainstream nowadays. Oliver’s writing style is candid, straightforward and engaging. She has put everything into this book: a unique vision, beautiful writing, brilliant characters, and exciting action at a heady pace. I couldn’t put it down, and the ending made me teary. The great news is that Delirium is the first of a trilogy, so I’m going to find Pandemonium, the second instalment, as soon as I can. I’ve also heard recently that Delirium is to be made into a film. Hopefully this will take Lauren Oliver’s book to another level, which it absolutely deserves.

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Helplessness and people power

Last night, one of the last images I saw before I went to bed was of a terrified Chinese toddler being held at knifepoint in the street by her father. The horror of that situation was not distilled by the frozen photo, the detached computer screen, or the fact I could flick away when I chose. Horrendous fear and suffering were transmitted in an instant.

I hadn’t searched this out. I wasn’t planning to read the news at that point. But it broke its boundaries and affected me. As did the Four Corners story this week, which I found out about thanks to twitter. I’m grateful I didn’t have to watch that footage, because I know it would still be haunting me. The photographs I did see were enough.

No one has taught me how to deal with these moments. I have had to teach myself, because, quite frankly, they have brought me to my knees at times. And the way I have come to terms with this is by becoming a more conscious guardian of my emotions, knowing when I can take action and when there is nothing I can do. From what I could gather (the article wasn’t clear), the little Chinese girl was rescued. Twelve hours later, the news has moved on, and I can’t even find it on the same site. I’m pretty sure I won’t ever know what happened to them.

However, with the push to ban live exports, there were at least petitions to sign. Where once upon a time I would have felt this was a fairly unremarkable gesture, I don’t any more, because of the emergence of a few amazing, energetic sites that have recorded some brilliant, measurable breakthroughs as a result of people power. Sites like Avaaz.org and getup.org.au (who ran a live exports petition), and organisations like the Wilderness Society (who send you the results of their actions) are doing a great job of bringing some critical issues to our attention. And despite the desperate, depressing news they bring to my door, they make me feel that there is something small but very important that I can do. They wouldn’t exist unless we were all choosing to add our names to causes we believe in. This weekend my family will be going to climate change rally in Perth on Sunday (there are also rallies in Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney), thanks to the information and reminders from GetUp. Our voices might be small, but they all count, and I’m buoyed by the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

GUEST BLOG: FLEUR MCDONALD, author of Blue Skies and Red Dust

I’m very excited to introduce Fleur McDonald, a fellow West Australian, as my guest blogger today. Fleur has written two brilliant books, Red Dust and Blue Skies, and is currently busy working on a third, called Purple Roads. Please check out her fantastic website and blog at www.fleurmcdonald.com. Over to Fleur: 

I love thunderstorms. To me they represent unbridled power and helplessness all in one. The power they produce, we humans can’t harness, which makes us at the mercy of the storm, therefore the power/helplessness.

Thunderstorms always seem – well on the coast, anyway, to be in layers. First of all there is the high, white strips of cloud that streak, in wisps, across the sky. As the storm starts to stream in over the hill, huge indigo coloured rollers make us stop and watch. I’m often unable to tear my eyes away from what is about to happen. Lastly, and this does really only seem to happen on the coast, the cold, scuddy, murky grey clouds seem to come up from the sea and lay across the menacing clouds, giving the storm three sections.

And then as these clouds roll through, we wait. The sky darkens, the atmosphere, the humans and stock all tense in anticipation.

At the first crack of thunder we all jump, even though it’s expected, the lightning sheets across the sky or forks and hits the ground. Again we hold our breath, watching for fires, but when the rains start, we laugh and lift our faces to the heavens. No fires, nothing destructive, just life-giving rain.

Creating a book is much like this, believe it or not! The book holds the all the power and, as the writer, I feel helpless, until the setting and characters emerge and introduce themselves to me. It starts in layers, the first one being the setting, like the high clouds, it doesn’t do much, but it creates the atmosphere. For me, as both a reader and a writer, I want to be immersed in the place that the story is being told. I want to breathe the air my characters are and see the things they do.

The second layer is the plot. The very thing that gives the book the control to draw the reader in.

The third layer is the characters. They are what makes the book – who they are, how does their setting effect them, make them the people they are and have the relationships they have. Now my issue is getting it all to mesh together, weaving the suspense and action into normal peoples lives. It takes time and it can be frustrating, but as it all comes together, then comes the anticipation – what is going to happen next, we’re all waiting…

Bang! A thunder clap – or a pivotal point in the book.

Lightning strike – gasp, hold your breath! Is there going to be a ‘fire’?

Then the rain is the ending, we’re happy to see it because now we know what is going to happen, why it did and how we got to the finish line.

So to me, writing a book is a lot like a thunderstorm; a rollercoaster of emotion, plots, characters and settings. Although sometimes frustrating,  I love every minute of it!

I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for visiting, Fleur!

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Finally, perhaps an end to whaling

breaching whale

My passion for the sea and marine life meant I was thrilled on Friday, when the Australian government announced they would press ahead with legal action to try to stop whaling in the Antarctic. It’s been a long time coming, but hopefully this will prove to be a true step towards change. Of course, the real celebration will come when whaling actually ends for good.