Tag Archives: YA

The Demon’s Surrender, by Sarah Rees Brennan

On Saturday, I read a book. I read, and read. I begged my daughter to let me read instead of being Mission Control to her game of Super Sisters, I did the occasional household chore and then ran back to my book straight after. I ate lunch while reading. I left my family to their own devices, went and lay on my bed and read until I was done.

This, needless to say, is a rare event in our household. Once upon a time, reading all Saturday afternoon was a normal thing for me, but that was before I became a mother of two. My reading is usually snatched in ten minute intervals, between larger and more immediate demands on my time.

But this was The Demon’s Surrender.

When my honey lifted an eyebrow at my complete immersion in the book, I said firmly, “I have been waiting for this book for FOURTEEN MONTHS” and he nodded gravely and left me to it. Wonderful man.

I review books all the time, and I was expecting to be able to review this one sensibly, but it turns out I have no ability to distance myself enough from my sheer crazy fan love of this series to be thoughtful and articulate. I’m more – “wheeee, all the right people in the tree, K – I – S – S – I – N -G!” because, baby, all my ships came home to roost, every single one of them.

Brennan has created a very fast-paced, entertaining series of YA urban fantasy with an elegantly simple magical system at its centre (you’re either part of the Goblin Market, or you’re a Magician, and by the way? Demons are scary), and a whole lot of horrible, angsty things happening to cute, witty people with knives. Like if Buffy was British, but better.

She has also done some extremely clever things, sneaked in amongst all the distracting banter and hot boys taking their shirts off. At first look, constructing a trilogy in which each volume has a different point of view character, sounds nuts. But in fact, it was the perfect choice for this story. With each point of view change, we get different ways of seeing the various characters, and the world looks slightly different. It’s a way to delve into different corners of the story, quite intensely. The danger of course is that if you don’t like one protagonist, you aren’t likely to wait around for the next book to come out. There are plenty of readers who didn’t engage with Nick, the teenage sociopath who narrated The Demon’s Lexicon, and plenty more who objected to the shift of POV to Mae, a girl with pink hair who has kissed more than one boy, in The Demon’s Covenant. There were even some who were concerned to hear that Sin, a minor character in both those books, was lined up to narrate Book Three.

Ahem. Some spoilers abound below. But I am quite restrained, honest.
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Uncommon Criminals, by Ally Carter

There are two very important points about heist stories which are reiterated throughout this second volume of the ‘Heist Society’ series. Firstly, heist stories are about family, usually the kind of family which is assembled from a group of misfits rather than actual blood relatives. This allows them to be stories about love and trust, even as the protagonists themselves are deeply untrustworthy. Secondly, heist stories are usually all about the boys.

What I really like about Carter’s books, apart from her being the author of some of the best fun, escapist (and yet smart) YA stories since Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries, is that she takes stories that are normally all about men, and gives them to girls instead. The Gallagher Girls took the world of James Bond, the Bourne Identity, etc. and asked the question, where would those spies send their daughters to school? The Heist Society series likewise asks about the youngest generation of a traditionally male occupation, but this time it’s the con men, jewel thieves and catburglars whose kids are having their own adventures.

From The Italian Job to Ocean’s Eleven, and even TV series Hustle, heist stories generally are about a team of guys, with maybe one token woman (who is hot). Ally Carter’s Heist Society isn’t quite as girl-centric a story as the Gallagher Girls, but she has a great, complex heroine as her protagonist, and deals very well with the moral ambiguities of the criminal life, as well as indulging in the very appealing idea of your family and your team being stronger than the sum of its parts.

I very much liked the antagonist set up in this story, a woman of a different generation who knows all of Kat’s family secrets and all the cons in the book – and the way that she and Kat used each other’s assumptions and preconceptions against each other. It’s a very entertaining dance, and one tinged with potential heartbreak every step of the way, as Kat moves out from the shadow of her family, determined to bring down this ghost from her uncles’ past.

Also, this one is about emeralds. Got to love a pair of sparkly, incredibly valuable, possibly cursed emeralds.

There was frustratingly little progress in the main romance of this series – though I was intrigued to see Carter bring back the elements of what looked like yet another love triangle, only to throw her hands up and pretty much admit that there’s only one horse in this race. Which is absolutely true, and JUST FINE thank you, and could they please get on with it? Sigh. One of these days I will actually wait until a series is finished before I start reading it…

No, I won’t.

The only trouble with all of Ally Carter’s books is after waiting ages for the latest volume to be released, I read them so fast that they barely touch the sides. Still, it’s lovely to have some books for teenage girls which are fluffy, witty and action-packed, without in any way being about princesses.

Heroes, Villains and Thylacines

The Shattering, by Karen Healey
Thyla, by Kate Gordon
Will Supervillains Be On The Final? Vol. One, by Naomi Novik & Yishan Li

I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I want to lately, but I have made some great YA discoveries.

Guardian of the Dead, by Karen Healey, was one of the most interesting YA debut novels last year, with its mixture of serial killer horror and Maori mythology, featuring contemporary New Zealand teenagers with both snark and substance. I was delighted to receive an early copy of Karen Healey’s follow up novel, The Shattering – so much so that I took it as my in flight entertainment for the Aurealis Awards weekend, at which Guardian of the Dead ended up winning Best Novel!

Set in an idyllic New Zealand tourist town, this book has a very simple premise at the heart of it – teenagers uncovering supernatural wrongdoings – but it becomes something far more crunchy and intriguing thanks to the complex, diverse protagonists and Healey’s sensitive handling of some pretty major issues, including teen suicide, grief response, mental health, bullying and coming out to your parents. The absolute heart of the novel is the friendship between the three main characters, who all bond over the shared grief of losing an elder brother to suicide, and decide to investigate whether there is a more sinister reason behind their loss. I loved each of these characters deeply and enjoyed how flawed they are as well as how strong. I also *adored* the fact that, while there is romance here, the novel took a very pragmatic attitude towards teenage love stories, and that the central triad (two girls and a boy) was about as far from a love triangle as it is possible to get.

Original, fast paced and richly detailed, The Shattering is a powerful second novel from a writer whose narrative choices are never dull.

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Clockwork, Rocks and a Tragicomic

I’ve finally kicked up a gear or two in my reading this month! Enough that I am way behind on my book blogging, in any case. So here’s a mass post to catch up on three books I finished recently: gaslamp fantasy YA The Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, epic political fantasy The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke, and ‘tragicomic’ memoir Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

The Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices Book One), by Cassandra Clare

I enjoyed Clare’s first Shadowhunters trilogy, as a fun Buffy-style YA paranormal, though it didn’t rank among my absolute favourites because I wasn’t all that attached to either character in her central supercouple, and none of the far-more-interesting supporting characters got nearly enough page time for my taste.

The first book of this new trilogy, though, set back in the Victorian era of her same world, has absolutely knocked my socks off. Tessa is a touch too modern to feel like the Bronte-esque heroine she is obviously modelled after, as indeed are all the characters (the feel is more like that of a suave, postmodern TV adaption of a Victorian fantasy tale, than one which actually belongs in that era) but I didn’t care because it was just so delicious from beginning to end.

Fans of Gail Carriger will really enjoy this story of warlocks, shapechangers and magical secret societies. Tessa is an orphan girl with attitude, coping with more tragedy, betrayal and terror than Jane Eyre on a bad day, and somehow managing to keep her chin up. Will and Jem, two teenage boys who embody Clare’s fascination with deep, loyal more-than-family friendships, are both quite fascinating despite holding their mysteries close to their chest.

As with Clare’s earlier work, it’s the dialogue that really makes this a captivating page turner of a read, though the added bonus of really appealing protagonists this time around has made this a series I will be hanging out for, instead of merely adding to the reading pile if I have time.

The Last Stormlord (Watergivers Book One), by Glenda Larke

This is the kind of book which reminds me why I started loving fantasy in the first place. Glenda has created a stark, vivid and utterly convincing world which is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Her desert people live in cities that descend down slopes and cliff faces, and the society is (understandably) obsessed with water, which is the only currency. We see these gorgeous, harsh and cruel cities through many different perspectives: the rainlords who form the social elite because of their powers to manipulate water magically, and their proximity to the throne; and also the waterless, who barely survive on the fringes of society.

Everything hinges on the abilities of the Stormlords to lift and desalinate water from the faraway oceans, and to bring it over the cities in controlled storms. But there have been no new Stormlords for generations, and those few hopefuls have had “mysterious” accidents befall them. The only remaining Stormlord is old and sick and weak… and there is no one to replace him when he finally wears out. These are desperate times, and the lack of water leads to awful political decisions, civil unrest and, ultimately, to war. And all this before we even get to the end of Book 1!

Court politics, tangled societal rules, gender issues, romance, art and scimitars. How could I not like this book? It’s a measure of how much I did like it that I was able to get past the extremely gruesome death of a toddler early on in the story – for what should be fairly obvious reasons, death or cruelties visited upon babies and small children is one of my absolute pet hates in any kind of fiction, and something I just find myself unable to deal with. This one was rough, and still haunts me, but the story and the writing are both good and clever and crunchy enough to get me past that. I’m saving Book 2 (the one I share two shortlists with, in the Aurealis & Ditmar awards) for the plane, the one time I know I will have several of spare reading hours!

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

And moving into entirely different territory… This is a marvelous, awful, incredibly powerful graphic memoir (as opposed to graphic novel) of the artist/writer’s childhood, and particularly her relationship with her father, who died suddenly (and, she believes, intentionally) when she was twenty, shortly after she came out to her family as a lesbian, learned of her father’s own closeted homosexuality, and supported her mother in asking for a divorce. There’s an intensity to this book that comes from the layers and layers of meaning through each panel – often the illustration completely belies the text, or shows a different interpretation of reality. This means that you really get the sense that you are dredging through someone’s memories, circling round and round instead of following a single narrative line.

We are often told facts or details more than once, but each time it happens we understand more about the narrator and her family, and so we feel like we have been pulled deeper into the story. Bechdel exposes herself regularly as an unreliable narrator, but also pulls no punches in detailing her own perceived flaws or those of her parents – the three of them often feel like the only real characters in the story, or the only ones that she feels she can be honest and revealing about. Bechdel’s brothers, for instance, are only lightly sketched.

Most of all, this is a story about books – and it’s particularly interesting to me in light of several conversations this year on the topic of ‘books within books’ – Jo Walton’s Among Others, which I still haven’t got to, sparked off many of these, inviting comparisons with that classic book about reading books, Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. Listening to Farah Mendlesohn on the recent Coode St podcast, I was reminded in a sudden startlement that Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire and Hemlock is also a book about reading books, and was fascinated by Farah’s assertion that every book cited in that book contributes to a deeper understanding of what is going on in the story. I didn’t need an excuse to go back and reread one of my favourite novels of all time, but now I am bursting to do so.

But yes, Fun Home is a book about books – I find it really revealing that Bechdel barely mentions her interest in art, but the whole story is wrapped up in her halting beginnings as a writer. We see her progression as a diarist, under the critical eye of both parents, and there is a whole meta conversation about herself as narrator, and how early she began to weave ambiguity and misinformation into her text. Likewise, she examines her father’s letters, from his courtship of her mother as well as to Bechdel herself when she was at college, for clues as to his personality and his secrets. Bechdel discovers her sexual orientation through books, and we are treated to her reading list and her thoughts on several of the works which most affected her, through the narrative. Wound into the story also are the books she shared (sometimes with delight, sometimes with exasperation) with her father, an English teacher and (she felt) frustrated student of literature. After learning to fear, despise and be critical of Bechdel’s father for so much of the story, it is quite stunningly effective to show how he and his daughter, who seemed barely capable of having a conversation together, bonded so deeply over literature. Bechdel’s mother is an altogether less deeply realised character (as with her brothers, it seems likely that Bechdel was holding back here, only feeling completely free to write about herself and her late father) but we also see her portrayed through her intersections literature, the masters degree she regularly disappeared into and the amateur dramatics that seemed to consume so much of her attention.

Fun Home is a difficult, confronting read at times, but is a spectacularly realised memoir, and I was deeply affected by the artwork. Bechdel has copied in old letters and sketched new versions of real photographs, and you can see in her depictions of her family home in particular that she was using this book to capture and honour so many memories, from the deep and dark to the absurd. It’s a masterpiece, and the kind of book you need to reference when people start saying dumb things about how comic books are shallow, or just for kids, or only about superheroes.

Happy Birthday Galactic Suburbia! (Episode 27 Show Notes)

There’s a new episode up! Grab it from iTunes, by direct download or stream it on the site.

Cake Warning: Do Not Listen To This Podcast Without Cake


In which there is cake, cake and more cake – we discuss the year that was Galactic Suburbia One, authorial in crowds, gender bias, and announce our exciting new project.

Terri made a gorgeous Galactic Suburbia cake and explained it very prettily.


The First Rule about the YA Mafia is that you don’t talk about the YA Mafia
Holly Black
Justine Larbalestier
Gwenda Bond
Karen Healey
John Scalzi
Ally Carter
The conversation is starting to turn into something else, which is more about the power writers do/do not have to help or hinder each other’s careers.
Sarah Rees Brennan

Discussion on gender bias at Midnight Echo.

Tiptree Book Club begins with Maureen McHugh’s “Useless Things”

Announcing Galactic Chat.

Competition: tell us your favourite moment of GS from the last year and win a book. Do they get to nominate which one they want to win??
Glitter Rose – signed by Marianne de Pierres, limited print run hard copy
Bold as Love, Gwyneth Jones
Siren Beat/Roadkill by Tansy!!

What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alex: Darkship Thieves, Sarah Hoyt; Betrayer of Worlds, Larry Niven and Edward M Lerner (to be reviewed at Dreams and Speculation)
Tansy: Running Through Corridors, Robert Shearman & Toby Hadoke
Alisa: TED Talks and general update

Pet Subject
What has been a highlight of the year for us?
Has it been what we expected?
Have we achieved what we wanted to achieve? (What did we want to achieve?)

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Girls in Spaceships, with a side order of robots please

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about YA science fiction – and the lack thereof. As YA fantasy took the noughties by storm, a regular refrain I heard was, but what about the science fiction?

It turned up from time to time, of course, and there have been some wildly successful examples: Scott Westerfeld’s dystopian Uglies series, Suzanne Collins’ the Hunger Games trilogy, and zombie thriller Feed by Mira Grant. Then there have been the steampunls stylings of Westerfeld (again), Richard Harland and Cassandra Clare. Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi have both written books for teens.

But… there just haven’t been enough spaceships. To be precise, not enough girls on spaceships. With robots.

Science fiction as a whole has been in a bit of a slump. More specifically, science fiction written by women has been shrinking at a rate of knots – it’s still around, but whenever publishers put out less of something, diversity is usually the first thing to suffer. A wave of spaceships and robots in YA could be just what the doctor ordered, sparking off a renaissance in the larger genre similar to what has happened with the development of urban fantasy and paranormal romance.

There’s a myth that girls aren’t interested in science fiction. It’s far more likely that this idea has come about because, in fact, science fiction has not always been that interested in girls. This post about “hard SF now with girl cooties” was very nicely timed, and those books have gone straight on to my To Read list.

Science fiction has been around a really long time. It needs new ideas, new blood and new waves in order to revitalise itself on a regular basis. The thing that still hasn’t been done to death, in fact has hardly really got started (yet) is the science fiction for and about teenage girls.

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Strong Books Make Strong Girls

The title from this post is quoted from one of the comments in the threads over at Bitch Magazine – which I think is the best evidence I can give that it’s not all hysteria and piling-on. There’s some marvellous discussion and some really thoughtful posts over there, even if it’s slowly being lost among the noise as more and more people join the conversation.

It’s always disappointing when you’re in the middle of a conversation that to you seems quite robust and interesting, and the people around you suddenly start complaining that it’s too noisy, and asking questions like ‘why is this even important?’ and ‘why are you so angry?’ It reminds me of how many people dismissed RaceFail as a lot of people shouting at each other and getting everything wrong on both sides, and that it hadn’t achieved anything, while the group of people who had been all inspired and had their brains turned inside out and were making exciting plans to make the world better all blinked and went, “Excuse me?”

Conversations, sometimes, are noisy. Especially for those who came in late. So for those of you who did, here are some of the blog responses to the Bitch Magazine Thing.

In short: a magazine recommended some books. A couple of these books raised red flags with commenters – I believe roughly one commenter per book, though we were told there were also some emails. Three books were removed from the recommendation list for not being feminist enough, different reasons each time. And the internet went crazy.

Except it didn’t go that crazy. A lot of things were said, and many of those things were very important. It’s not about censorship, entirely, though that word is being flung around a lot (mostly by people who are saying ‘it’s not actually censorship’). But it is about the misrepresentation of books, about taking a single scene or excerpt and placing a really powerful and negative interpretation on that scene. No books have been banned, and yet, as Maureen Johnson pointed out, this is exactly HOW books get banned. This is the process, and the mindset that lets that happen.

So here we are, typing our brains out, defending books, because that is what we do. If Bitch Magazine had chosen not to recommend a few books that would have been fine, but because they recommended the books and then took that recommendation away, their reasons for doing so take on this huge weight, and it’s distressing to see that people will in fact walk away from the conversation believing that Tender Morsels is a book about rape as revenge (hint: it’s not) and Sisters Red is a book about rape culture (I haven’t read it, though I plan to, but many people have been distressed by this characterisation of the book as there is no rape in it) and Living Dead Girl as “torture porn” (again, I haven’t read it, but several commenters were very upset by this characterisation of the book).

This is a very roundabout way of saying that I have gathered some links of blog posts on the matter by a variety of smart people! It really is worth going back to read the comments on the original Bitch list because there are some marvellous ones – Penni Russon, Paolo Bacigalupi wrote two of my favourites, but there are also some excellent contributions from writers, readers, librarians and rape survivors. On the other hand, they are past 200 posts now and some of them are on the flaily or the ‘what are you all on about’ side, so I understand people choosing to give that a miss. [worth noting for those of you who take a deep breath before reading comments that they allow anonymous commenting and there isn’t a lot of moderation going on, though they are trying their best to jump in when threads turn antagonistic or abusive]

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Linkington Manor

Random Alex and I joined Jonathan Strahan for an Australia Day podcast on Wednesday. We discussed the nature of Australian identity, the discomfort of patriotism and colonial guilt, the relationship of people to landscape, cultural cringe and trying to overcome decades of assumption that Everything British is Better, and managed somehow to tie all of that into speculative fiction, and the concept of an Australian literary voice. We talked about how some parts of the genre more easily/comfortably convey their Australian origins (deep space opera, for example, or otherworld fantasy) but managed to come up with some examples that did. We also got a bit squeeful about some upcoming Australian spec fic for 2011. Probably left lots out (I even forgot about my books until Alex mentioned them, duh!) but we did our best.

One thing that really interested me was that we all had childhoods where we felt isolated from the rest of Australia – one in Perth, one in Darwin, one in Hobart. It’s an oddity about Australia that there are so many overlapping ‘us and them’ attitudes to geography. No wonder it’s hard to pin down the Australian Voice!

Mostly, of course, we just talked! If you enjoy Galactic Suburbia you might enjoy giving it a listen.

Malinda Lo, author of Ash and Huntress, talks here about the lack of diversity in YA book covers. She puts forward quite a moderate view, but some very eye opening points about books in general. I was fascinated to hear that the lesbian aspect of the storyline of Ash was entirely invisible on the UK cover, and that this invisibility may have improved her sales, when that was what I perceived as the main selling point. It was certainly why I picked up the book. Lesbian Cinderella retelling!

Sarah Rees Brennan writes marvellously about the limitations some books put on their awesomeness, and how more modern attitudes towards sexuality, disability, race, etc. can reduce those limitations. I always enjoy what Sarah has to say, and she often conceals quite devastating cleverness behind banter and mockery. In particular, I’ve appreciated her regular discussion on Twitter about the comments she receives/hears about her characters, and how gendered that can be – where male characters are adored for their perfections and imperfections quite equally, and female characters are often despised for both. It’s particularly indicative when she compares the comments she receives about the sexual/romantic attitudes of her male and female protagonists (so far in her published novels she has one of each) and how hard readers find it to forgive a girl hero who kisses more than one boy.

Finally, a comprehensive post on the biggest mistakes authors make when querying agents.