Z for Zachariah - Robert C O'Brien

I read Cormac McCarthy's book The Road a few weeks ago and it reminded me of a YA book I read last summer: Z for Zachariah by Robert C O'Brien. The author died while writing the last chapter and his family finished the story and published it in 1973. 

Z for Zachariah is part of the non-ambitious and very modest "25 Best YA Fantasy Novels of All Time" list (here) which I found one day googling. I immediately tracked down and bought the book as the very obedient and book-obsessed person that I am. 


The book is written as the journal of teenager Ann Burden, who ends up living by herself in the family farm after *something nuclear* happened and everyone disappeared (as in end-of-the-world-they-all-died disappeared). She fares pretty well for the last woman on Earth in her little valley with its microclimate (hence why she survived and the others didn't)  growing her own vegetables, taking the water from the only river fit to drink, taking goods from the local supermarket, etc.
Until one day (drum roll), she sees someone arriving in her valley. A man. 

So all the hopelessly romantic people can stop 'awww' right now since nothing romantic happens between the last woman and the last man on Earth. On the contrary actually, it isn't anywhere near joyful or optimistic.


This book has a cool pacifist-environment-friendly vibe which I like. And it is the type of books where the hidden feminist in you screams *yay* for the heroine kicking some man butt (admit it, you read the Hunger Games and thought "Yeah, who's the man, now?"). Though I did find the story a little too black-and-white at times with nice-Ann and evil-Mr Loomis (because that's his name). But the idea is definitely interesting and the writing is nice.
*And the end is really really cool but I can't tell you why*

The cool thing, which is in The Road too, is that you don't really know what happens or how it happened,  you just see those characters going on as if there was such a thing as hope in their situation.
Which I find personally very inspiring.


No and Me book launch - Delphine de Vigan

Hello everyone!

Just a quick announcement for Londoners:
French writer Delphine de Vigan will come to the French Institute in South Kensington for the book lauch of YA book "No and Me" on Wednesday 7th of April at 7.30pm.

No and Me follows the path of a precocious thirteen year-old girl called Lou. With an IQ of 160, Lou observes people, collects words, devours encyclopedias, and conducts experiments. One day she meets No, a young, withdrawn homeless girl, barely older than herself. Struck by the injustice of No's situation, Lou sets out to help her, departing on a humanitarian endeavour in the idealist hope that everyone will find their place in the world.


Debate between Delphine de Vigan and translator Agn├Ęs Catherine Poirier

All infos here

How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff

I was a bit early at my screening at the BFI so I decided to browse through the second hand books before the entrance. I obviously bought five *sigh*. One of them was Meg Rosoff's debut How I Live Now. I'm a total sucker for cute covers with pink flowers and butterflies so I hardly even read the summary at the back. I only registered the critic by Mark Haddon (who wrote the amazingly beautiful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time *which you should read* *now*) saying "Magical and utterly faultless". 

What else do you actually need to buy a second hand book? 



Nothing at all, especially because this book is, as said, magical and utterly faultless. Seriously.

Since I hadn't read properly the back cover, I was anticipating this forbidden love story kind of plot. But there is so much more to this story that it should constitute a genre in itself.

      So 15-year-old New Yorker Daisy is the typical anorexic with family issues teenager. In an attempt to get her out of the way *cough* make her change air, she is sent to her deceased mother's sister in England. Little does she know that this trip will alter her life forever. 

      She meets her strangely gifted cousins: they read people's mind, can talk to animals and sense when things are going to happen. She learns to live in a farm where you eat what you grow and grow what you eat. She falls in love with her cousin Edmond, hence the forbidden love story. She gradually starts to belong somewhere somehow.

      But this peaceful situation is threatened by a war. An unknown and unexplicable war against causeless and faceless enemies. With her Aunt gone, the children/teenagers have to rely on themselves and their gifts to survive and find each other.


I can hardly explain how and why I loved this book: 
Was it the surprise of reading a profound analysis of war in a YA romance story? 
Was it the supernatural aspect of some characters that is described as normal and where no other explanation is given?
Was it the relationship between characters?
Was it the peculiar love story?
Was it the tone? The style? 

      All of this, and probably much more. Some Fantasy books over-rationalise the fantastic elements in their story, they give it a mythology, a history, a complete biological analysis, whereas sometimes it's just superfluous. 
      It makes me think of David Almond's incredible book Skellig, where the character of Skellig is present throughout the story, and no explanation of his alienness is ever given. And this is what gives the charm to the story. Same here. Like Daisy, you discover these children's peculiarity and learn to love them for it without trying to understand.
      The war context is the perfect background. This is why the "utterly faultless" critic comes in. This book is a whole, you read it from beginning to end with the same curiosity, passion and interest.
It is a definite must-read.

Shifters series - Rachel Vincent

Following my previous post, I am going to talk about another series written by Rachel Vincent, the Shifters series. After reading My Soul to Take, I wanted to read more books by Rachel Vincent and discovered the story of Faythe Sanders, werecat (shape-shifter changing in a wild cat) with the worst badass attitude you can possibly find. 
       I have just finished the fifth book in the series (for all the books, their titles in the order, go here to Rachel Vincent's website) which was published last week and I am avidly waiting for the next one!

       When the story begins, Faythe is a regular University student with a tiny hairy secret: she is a shape-shifter and shifts into a beautiful black were-cat. She is very strong compared to humans and also among her fellow werecats. The werecats are organised in small communities with a territory to control, each community is called a Pride and is ruled by an Alpha. There are two different types of werecats: the ones who were born werecats and the one who became werecats through infection, the Strays.

       The demographics of the species make female werecats a rarity, which makes them most praised and respected by werecats in general. Female werecats are even more popular when they are the daughter of an Alpha. Which is exactly what Faythe is. Which is exactly what she doesn't want to be.
       Tabbies, as are called the female werecats, are supposed to stay at home and raise the future generations. Faythe is having none of that, and she fights all these preconceived notions book after book to be respected as a rightful member of her Pride and not just as the Uterus of her Pride.



       Needless to say that I love these books. I simply adore the story, the characters and the mythology created by Rachel Vincent. Each werecat has a very developped personality and you end up just wanting to be living in this environment with these people, no matter how horrible it is to Faythe.
       The female characters are all very interesting, because they live in this very patriarchal society but each female werecat defines herself in a very different way depending on her situation (and this is seen throughout all the books). It is a very nice way to present women role in society and how they fight to get out of their pre-designated roles.

       What about the mythology? I just love it. Everything makes sense (which is not the case in all books where somehow vampires manage to procreate with venom, and yes I am looking at you Edward Cullen), the shifts are well described and the fact that in her novels, werewolves don't exist is a fun twist to the genre. From book three or four you will discover new species and novelties for the werecats, which is quite interesting to discover.

       I am advising this book (I would do much more than that but then that would probably be illegal) for you to read, if you are a fan of Sookie Stackhouse and the Horror Fantasy genre in general, but also if you're not, because the romance (oh yes there is plenty romance and shirtless men for you if that's what you are secretly thinking about, don't even start denying it) and the power struggles are all too real without the hairy part.


Sidhe tradition - Maggie Stiefvater and Rachel Vincent

Have you ever noticed how some fantasy characters (from heroic fantasy to horror fantasy) look eerily similar whereas they are never considered alike? When I look at the description of an Elf, a Vampire or a Faerie/Fairy, I read tall, light, eternal, strong/dangerous, beautiful characters. For me, they are the same characters. Not because I can't make a difference between fangs and wings (because, quite surprisingly, I can), but because their origin is for me the same. Beauty, Strength, Longevity, ... are all an ideal for the Western culture (maybe also for others, but I wouldn't want to presume). Some variations exist of course between characters (especially between Vampires on one side and Elves and Fairies on the other, those last two sharing many a similarity), and some variations even exist for the same species depending on the writers and the mythology they've created.


Courtesy of this blog.


And I am actually writing all these insipid things for a reason !

I started writing an article on the Soul Screamers series written by Rachel Vincent when I received from my beloved Amazon the two last published books written by Maggie Stiefvater (the author of Shiver on which I made an article and who became one of my favorite fantasy writers), and it turns out they are using the same Irish myth of the Sidhe in those two series. Obviously, the books couldn't be more different in characters, style or use of the mythology, but I thought I should write a common article nonetheless.

The figure of the Sidhe is close to the likes of Fairies and Elves, being a powerful, and obviously supernatural, species. They are known to live either in an invisible parallel world (mythology used by Rachel Vincent) or underground in fairy mounds (mythology which inspired Maggie Stiefvater though it remains mysterious as to where they live exactly). 
Many interpretations exist to explain the very existence of the Sidhe, they can be seen as gods/godesses, spirits of the nature or ancestors. Vincent and Stiefvater don't specify exactly what they are (between spirits of the nature and gods).


(Oh! Spoiler Alert by the way!)


In Rachel Vincent's books, the main character Kaylee Cavanaugh is an actual Sidhe. And more particularly a Bean Sidhe (or Banshee) who is a female spirit seen as an Omen of Death. She screams (not the "I've just met Miley Cyrus" scream, but more the "I'm screaming and screeching and making noises I never thought a human body could ever make" scream) when people are about to die, hence the Omen of Death. From there on, Kaylee discovers who she truly is in the first book, My Soul to Take, and ensue many an adventure with Rippers (real ones, seriously) and other creatures of the Netherworld (because that's what it's called) in the second book, My Soul to Save.

In Maggie Stiefvater's books on the other hand, one of her main character is a Sidhe or a supernatural being and the other is a human which has something irresistible to Sidhes. Even though the story and the characters are the same, Stiefvater changes focus between her books: the first one, Lament, centres around Deirdre (Dee) and Luke, the second one, Ballad, around James and Nuala. The Sidhes and Faeries (there are different types of Sidhes in the global population of Faeries) in Maggie Stiefvater's books are very dangerous creatures for the humans in general, and those having an ability which attracts Faeries in particular. 

I personally liked both stories. The Rachel Vincent books centre around themes like frienship, romance, and the mythology is very interesting, especially when it comes to Rippers. The third book, My Soul to Keep, will be out on the 1st of June 2010.
Maggie Stiefvater is, as always, extremely funny (the second book of the series, Ballad, is hilarious!), she has an incredible way of writing and her mythology about Faeries is very cool and frightening!


Kiss me Deadly
Another reason why I am linking those two others is because in July 2010 (soooon!) an anthology of short stories on young paranormal romance will be published with a short story from both writers. It will be called Kiss me Deadly. For the line-up of authors, check out Maggie's blog.


FYI: As of June 2009, Rachel Vincent has put online the prequel of the Soul Screamers series, "My Soul to Lose", in the form of a free downloadable ebook. This is how I got hooked up: I found her name in Amazon's "Customers who bought this item [Charlaine Harris] also bought" and went to check out her website and read the prequel, which I loved. So don't hesitate if you just want to check out the story without buying the book.

Charlaine Harris in London !


Okay so I haven't been writing in a while *sorry*. And I do have two articles on the front burner for the record. 

I am just writing a quick note to say that last Tuesday, Charlaine Harris (the incredible writer behind the Sookie Stackhouse series for the ignorants among you) was in London at the Prince Charles Cinema in collaboration with Waterstones for a Q&A with her fans and book signings. We had a promotion clip of the second season of True blood too, but as most of  the other girls in the audience, I had already seen it! As you can see she signed my book (and I am not the headless dude in the back but the one in very sober and discreet pink and purple).

One word after this night: she is fantastic! When you look at her - and I don't mean to be disrespectful to people over 60 - you just think she's a sweet grandmother that you will gladly help out crossing the street. She has a sweet accent from the South (of the US that is) which just brings you to hot Louisiana with a glass of lemonade on the side. 
But if anything, she is one kick ass grandmother! She is extraordinarily funny and energetic (you should have heard her tease the swooning girls in the audience with "well I actually touched Alexander Skarsgard"!). She was very humble, close and available to everyone (yes, I know, it usually helps on a promotional tour, but still). 
Interesting info on this event: Vampire stories are owned by women writers, they are owned by female readers (only 5 guys or so in the audience), and they all vote for Eric !
(Eric being the hot blond vampire played by Alexander Skarsgard who is the on/off boyfriend of Sookie)

Writing
Charlaine has been writing for 27 years, and she became known worldwide by pratically everyone just a few years ago with the Sookie Stackhouse series, which were then transformed in the hit HBO TV show True Blood which made the story available to even more people. After a fan in the audience asked how she could manage to maintain this level of consistency in her writing for nearly three decades, Charlaine explained that it hasn't been easy being a woman writer for all these years, and that getting published was a hard task especially a few decades ago when fantasy and horror weren't popular nor mainstream genres at all. She had to fight her way to the top and stay there through hard work.

Sookie
  • She started talking about her career and how she started writing the Sookie Stackhouse series. Can you believe now that it took two years to sell? Incredible. 
  • Someone asked a question on the Sookie/Twilight similarities and Charlaine just took the higher road saying "I'm not going to say anything incredible on it, I have never met Stephenie Meyer and she has always said she has never read any vampire novels", in any case, it can be seen just by looking at when the books were published.
  • Someone asked about Bubba "I laughed for a week when I read that": Charlaine explained that somehow, it seemed like the logical explanation to everything, and she has fun identifying werewolves and vampires around her.
  • She also explained that putting "Dead" in each titled started to become a pain at book eleven !
  • She explained laughing that people where she lives never read her books but watched the show telling her "it's great, but we know you didn't write any of those sex scenes"... Poor things, they'd be surprised!

Anyways, book 9 of the series ("Dead and gone") was published in 2009 and book 10 ("Dead in the family") is being published in a few months time. Charlaine didn't write just Sookie Stackhouse, and made a Harper Connelly series and a Lily Bard "Shakespeare"'s series which I will get started on reading soon and other books and novels.
For a list of the books in the order, check the Wikipedia page.



SPOILER ALERT ON FUTURE BOOKS!!

Charlaine revealed a few things about books ten and eleven of the Sookie Stackhouse series (her present contract goes to book thirteen, she doesn't know after), there will be faeries, there will be a half-elf, Quinn will make an appearance, we still won't know with whom Sookie will end up.
Charlaine promised repeatedly that Sookie will never be turned into a vampire.