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Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton coverJust noticed that I hadn’t cross posted this review here yet – whoops. This was written for Slacker Heroes and first posted there in April.

I’ve just finished (and loved) Sacrificial Magic and Beautiful Creatures so, given that this one also has spells and magic in it, it’s fair to say I’ve been in a witchy phase this year. Way more fun than vamps & weres.

Have just checked Goodreads and the sequel to Blood Magic (The Blood Keeper) should be out later this summer – fab. I’ll definitely be reading it.

Got any suggestions as to other spooky-dark stories I can try in the meantime? Let me know!

Here’s the review –

It’s been a month or so since I finished Blood Magic, and I keep being disappointed when I pick up my Kindle and remember that I’m reading something else now, that I’ve left that world and those characters. I’d say that’s a sign of a good book, wouldn’t you?

It’s the story of seventeen-year-old Silla, a girl whose hands are heavy with the rings her father gave her, one for every birthday since she turned nine. A father who committed suicide after killing her mother. Silla was the one who found their bodies, but she’s sure there’s more to the events than has been discovered. She’s looking for answers in the mysterious book that arrived after their death. A book of spells written in her father’s hand.

Silla’s not the only one whose parents had secrets. Nick, the long-limbed new boy, has memories he’d rather forget, but coming back to the town his mother grew up in is stirring up the past and linking him to Silla in improbable ways.

So, we’ve got magic, death and secrets straight from the start. Yum! I’m a sucker for some good ol’ runes and pentacles, and the spells and rituals in this were very satisfying, very cool. We also get crows cawing and circling and beautiful, tree-heavy graveyards. These images are recognisable and classic, but felt fresh and aren’t something I’ve read much of recently, outside of Stacia Kane’s Downside series (which is definitely for an older readership). It felt fresh for YA, and the writing is atmospheric and compelling.

The narration swaps between Silla and Nick and it drew me in really quickly. I loved the way Gratton describes Nick, “He was so gangly and tall. Like half-grown animals, when their paws are still too big, and their legs way too long, and you know they’re going to grow into it all eventually and be the handsomest thing you ever saw”. I think it sums up the gawkishness of teenage boys very well, and emphasises how these characters are nearly – but not quite – on the verge of adulthood. I don’t think Nick would really be that into me, since he goes for bird-thin, blood-covered, fucked up 17-year-old orphans and I am almost exactly the opposite, but I’d still be happy to help him with his homework. Silla’s a teenage drama student whose parents both died recently in a gruesome murder-suicide, so of course her chapters are a little over the top with purple prose, but it works. It’s authentic.

Silla and Nick fall for each other very quickly – that’s not a spoiler, since their feelings are clear from the start. At first the speed made me twitch – was this realistic? – until I remembered high school, and how emotions, friendships, love and hate really did move that fast. I don’t know how we managed to pack in so much drama between Double Maths, netball and French but believe me, we did. A whole social network could dissolve and reform in a day, and people were always dating someone else’s ex or crush or brother or something – who knows why, did we think there weren’t enough boys to go around or something? Anyway. I don’t think a teen audience or someone familiar with that would find the speed of the relationship or the intensity of their devotion hard to believe.

The power of the spells and the shadow hanging over these two grows stronger with every chapter and I raced through to the end, despite the novel’s length. I see from Tessa’s website that there’s a stand-alone companion novel coming out this year, and I’m already looking forward to reading it. Another sign of a good book. Pick it up, let me know what you think. And if you see a strange figure in a graveyard, just stay away from it, alright?

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Which Hunger Games character are you? Part II – the girls (Slacker Heroes post)

First published at Slacker Heroes.

I’m even more excited about the Hunger Games film now than I was last month. Since my invite to the premiere seems to have gotten lost in the post, I keep replaying the trailers and crying instead. It’s not that I’m sad, it’s just that the book makes me so goddamn emotional, and the same thing’s happening when I watch the preview clips.

I usually avoid movie adaptations, invariably preferring the novel, but something’s got me excited about this one and I think the fast-paced, life-or-death story will really work.  The stakes are high on every page of The Hunger Games, and Suzanne Collins made an art out of twisting the knife a little more with each sequel.

I never knew what was coming next, and I usually couldn’t even tell you what I wanted to happen – Katniss’s choices are heartwrenching, and I liked too many of the characters to choose who should get what they want. One thing’s certain – not everyone will get as far as Happily Ever After, and the film is going to be gripping throughout. Fingers crossed, anyway.

So, after last time’s ‘Which Hunger Games Boy are you?‘ quiz, are you ready for the girls’ turn? While the quiz is tongue in cheek, in truth,  the writing of every one of the female characters in this trilogy massively impressed me. Every one of them is strong in their own way, and that doesn’t meant they are all kick-ass or clever or morally admirable. Whether I’m cheering for the tributes or wincing at the ignorant vanity of the Capitol women, I always believed in that person’s character, motivation, history and right to be the way they are. Bravo.

1) What’s your hair like?

A) Shocking pink (today), artfully arranged with the utmost care. Appearances are extremely important.
B) Kept away from my face in a braid, the way my mother does it if ever I let her get close to me.
C) Thick, dark and girlish.

2. How’s your timekeeping?

A) I can’t bear to be late, and I expect the same high standards from everyone else.
B) I’m often late, after getting held up in the woods or trapped in trees. Who cares, anyway? We’ll all be dead soon.
C) Sometimes I get left behind because I’m so little and quiet, but I move so fast that I can always catch up.

3. It’s payday – let me take you out for a meal. What kind of dinner companion will you be?

A) I have superb table manners and I love to eat the finest delicacies of the Capitol. A little binge-purge behaviour means I can keep eating all night!
B) ‘My mother says I always eat like I’ll never see food again. And I said “I won’t unless I bring it home”. That shut her up.’
C) What, you mean I get a whole meal to myself? I’ve never had this much food before.

4. Guys describe you as

A) Maniacally terrifying.
B) Attractive but hard to reach.
C) Their musical kid sister.

Mostly As

You are Effie Trinket, relentlessly upbeat hostess of the reaping, there to applaud when the tributes are selected and then to escort them to the Capitol. You hope to improve the presentability of your charges, but are most often appalled by the behaviour of District 12′s ill-mannered tributes and their alcoholic mentor. You seem to wear a lot of wigs.

Mostly Bs

You are Katniss Everdeen, District 12′s female tribute. Your determination to survive has kept your family alive since the loss of your father, but can it help you survive the 74th Hunger Games? Your love life is about to get as much attention as your archery skills, much to your annoyance.

Mostly Cs

You are Rue, the tiny but speedy tribute from District 11. You are a valuable ally and loyal friend, and your enemies do wrong to underestimate you. You know a great deal about plants and nature, and you love music most of all.

 

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Which Hunger Games character are you? Part I – The boys (Slacker Heroes post)

Hunger Games Poster

First published at Slacker Heroes.

In the lead up to The Hunger Games movie release, here’s a fun quiz in place of a book review. Because everyone’s already read the book, right? Right? If not, you’d better hurry up because the film’s out next month and you’re going to want know what all the fuss is about.

I definitely recommend reading the series before you watch the film; no matter how good the adaptation is, it can’t be better than the novel. The story is high tension, dystopian YA that grabs you from the start and drags you through to the end so fast your hands are bleeding from turning the pages. That’s right, dystopian paper cuts. For reals.

Here’s the main premise –

The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.

This week, it’s time to find out which of the male characters is most like you. Next time, you’ll get to identify with one of the girls. Ready? Let’s get started. And may the odds be ever in your favour.

1. There is a squirrel in the trees. It may be your only source of food for months. Do you:

A) Drive it out of the trees using a tactic you perfected years ago, catch it in a homemade trap, then share it between two starving families.

B) Entice the animal down with a beautiful trail of sugar icing, leading from the base of the tree right into your perma-hot baker’s oven.

C) Not notice it because you’re still drunk from this morning. Who needs meat, when whiskey has all the carbs you need?

2. What do you look like?

A) Dark, lean and grey eyed. Admired by the ladies, but too busy hunting and brooding to hook up. Coal smudged, with twigs in your hair, which is strange since those woods are forbidden…

B) Floppy blond hair and kind blue eyes. Broad and stocky from your flour-hauling, dough-kneading days. Face red and puffy from crying. Occasionally on fire.

C) Woody Harrelson.

3. What would be your dream holiday?

A) An adventure holiday, orienteering-type thing, where you have to live for weeks on grubs and tubers and people are impressed when you drink your own pee. You would save the biggest grubs and send them to your family back home.

B) A trip to the English sea-side, with lots of tea shops and crumpets, lashings of double cream and long, romantic walks on the beach.

C) An all-inclusive trip with a 24 hour bar, where it’s totally acceptable to have vomit in your chest hair and fall over a lot.

Mostly As

You are Gale, loyal best friend with super sharp huntsman-smarts. Your devotion and rebel sensibilities add a sexy dash of derring-do to your woodsy get-up, even though you probably always smell of blood and coal.

Mostly Bs

You are Peeta, the baker’s son that the TV cameras love, selected to battle one of the girls you went to school with. Form no attachments because a maximum of one of you is getting out alive. No, stop smiling at her, don’t you, oh. Fine. Befriend the pretty girl you’re going to have to kill. Just don’t come crying to me when it turns out messy…

Mostly Cs

You are Haymitch, the drunked-up mentor, the only living Hunger Games victor from District 12. What did you do, breathe poisonous booze fumes at the other competitors? It’s up to you to bring this year’s tribute home. Remember, only one can survive, and it won’t be easy to choose if you’re already seeing double.

.

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Zoo City review

Zoo City Cover Lauren Beukes Angry Robot

How to enjoy book awards without having to actually write a novel

(A review of Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes)

There are three ways to gain pleasure from book awards (assuming that you are not one of the nominees yourself; if you are, congrats. Nice to see you here).

One is to have read all the books on the shortlist and therefore hold a valid opinion about which one is best. This never happens. Ever. Even the judges have to pull all-nighters skim-reading and pretend they’d read them ages ago.

Scenario Two is much more achievable: To have read at least one of the nominated books, and thus be allowed to hold forth, loudly, about how the one you bothered to buy should totally win the award in question (or, was such a pile of crap that it should never have been nominated).

Scenario Three is the nicest of all: To see a book you genuinely loved on the list, and for that book to actually win. That’s what happened to me when Zoo City won the Arthur C Clarke Award last year, and I got to feel smug and proud despite having had nothing to do with the book. You hear that? A way to feel smug and proud without having to do anything except read a book. Don’t tell me you’re not impressed by that.

Right now, with the nominee list for the 2012 Arthur C Clarke Award not yet announced, having an opinion about last year’s winner is the best you can do. So, get thee to a bookshop and swot up fast. Here are some of my favourite things about Beuke’s book.

1 The concept of being animalled. In Beuke’s world, criminals have a permanent reminder of their crime, an animal who is linked to them for life. The tether between person and animal is strong, and separation is unbearable. It’s a cool, visual conceit, and something that’s not vampires. (Or werewolves). Something original. Phew.

Now that those with a less than pristine past can be identified with just a glance, the animalled are quickly ostracised. Let’s face it, excluding people who are different is something humans have always been good at. The suburbs become gated communities, and the Zoo City of the title is slang for where the cons and their critters reside.

2 Urban grittiness. I like urban fantasy when it shows me streets that are real. Streets that have dirt and junkies on them, litter and blood. When she came out of prison with a Sloth on her shoulders, no one would rent Zinzi a place anywhere nice, and in fact she kinda liked the broken down tenement she found in the Zoo City ghetto. It was dirty, and crowded, and noisy – just like prison. The scenes in the downtown slums are easy to visualise and are always believable, uncomfortably so. The detail makes the magic and the noir elements feel very real.

3 Zinzi December. What a name, what a woman. Here’s a female lead, written by a female author, winning a SF prize in a year where everyone shouted a lot (a lot) about there being a lack of female SF authors these days. Zinzi is the kind of heroine I like – cynical, clever, with healthy disregard for authority. Her downward spiral is in the spotlight, not her love life. No, she’s not proud of what she’s done, or what she does now. And nor should she be. She stays away from the drugs these days, but is involved in some dodgy internet scams to pay the bills and has no legit alternatives to turn to instead.

4 The pop culture. Like the slums, Lauren gets this right. Remember I said there were no legit alternatives for Zinzi? Well, what if she uses her natural talent to help out some bad people, and earns enough to stop hustling for a while? People with animals also have a magical talent, a shavi, and Zinzi’s talent is finding lost things. Keys, love letters, toys, jewellery. She could find bigger stuff, yes, but she prefers to stick to the easy stuff. Less trouble that way. She advertises her services to find things people have lost, and attracts the attention of a pop mogul who’s lost his teen singer. She should know better than to get involved – the darkness surrounding the case is palpable – but the money and the armed heavies make it hard to walk away.

So she takes the job, to find a lost teen idol, a cookie-cutter cutie who is adored for her innocent image. She’s a beauty, an angel, a role model. And she needs to be found before the media discovers her disappearance and infers anything sordid. The gossip magazine culture and the fake saccharine pop stars are perfectly done, and excerpts from YouTube style web pages (complete with comments), song lyrics and tabloid columns are slipped neatly between the chapters.

Bonus Scenario Four: being able to say that none of this year’s list are as good as last year’s winner. Read this now and you still have a chance to enjoy this scenario.

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