Search This Blog

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Murder On A Midsummer Night by Kerry Greenwood

Crow's Nest, Allen and Unwin, 2008

We all thought it would never happen - Phryne Fisher in 1929? The author said it was always going to be 1928, because that was the year she knew about. But sooner or later the year had to end, didn’t it? Phryne had crammed so much into the months between May and December 1928 that it was going to be impossible to move on and the chronology was looking distinctly strange. Still, when Murder in the Dark ended on New Year’s Eve, many of Kerry Greenwood’s fans, myself included, wondered if this was the proverbial It.

Fortunately, it wasn’t. It should be possible to cram another 17 adventures into 1929, if the author doesn’t get sick of it, before then.

I discovered Phryne Fisher after reading an article in the Melbourne Age. The heroine was beautiful, rich, smart, independent and zoomed around Melbourne in her fast red car. And she lived in St Kilda, not far from where I spent my childhood and still within walking distance of where I live now. The combination of Melbourne, history and mystery was perfect for me. They were fun, unlike some grim thrillers I’ve read. I became hooked - and the novels have become comfort reading which I read and re-read. These are what I think of as “whodunnits”, rather than “cosies” - you really CAN’T describe as a cosy something that speeds along as these do.

While standing in the signing queue for this one, I chatted with an elderly gentleman who told me that he could remember the 1930s, which were not too different from the 20s, and that these novels got it absolutely right. Nice to know, though the flavour of 1928 Melbourne always felt right to me.

In January 1929, Phryne Fisher, that rich and elegant private detective, is planning her birthday celebration, not another job, but a young junkshop and antique dealer has been found dead on St Kilda beach and his mother is positive it was murder, not suicide as the coroner has concluded. Time for Miss Fisher to check it out. She is also busy on a case centred around a recently-deceased old lady’s illegitimate child who might have inherited money from her, but needs to be found.

Bright young things, ouija boards, actors, Williamstown, Australian soldiers in wartime Palestine, a missing treasure - it’s all there,and more. We learn about furniture trends in the Melbourne of the 20s and meet a relative of Phryne’s friend, the Communist taxi driver Cec Yates.

As usual, there’s plenty of food and gorgeous clothes and it ends with a party. Kerry Greenwood loves her designer clothes and delicious food. She writes about both with enormous enjoyment and brings this enjoyment across to her readers.

I didn’t work out the killer, but even if I had, the story is such fun that I wouldn’t have cared. If you can re-read a mystery, as I do these, it must be good. And I started re-reading this one as soon as I’d finished it.

That says it all. Buy it. You won’t be disappointed.

Look What I Did!

I've just had the first advance copy of my new children's book, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, which is coming out from Ford Street Publishing in March. It's always exciting to get something published and the cover and illustrations that went with this one made it even more exciting.

I'd done an article on forensic science for the New South Wales School Magazine, on commission, but it would never have occurred to me to write a history of crime in Australia if I hadn't received an e-mail from Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing, asking me to write a book about "fifty infamous Australians" as a sort of companion volume to Meredith Costain's book Fifty Famous Australians. I was thrilled to be asked, though I begged for a better title, as "Fifty Infamous Australians" would end up on the reference shelves as research material for school assignments. Paul kindly changed the title for me (I'm useless at titles) and while it probably can be used for assignments, what with the bushrangers and such, not to mention the index, that's not what it's for. Children love gross stuff and funny stuff and they love it even more when it's true. I was going to choose, as well as the ones you had to put in, such as Ned Kelly, the grossest ones I could find.

I had Term 2 off, on long service leave, and had been hoping to spend the time writing a book, but Paul Collins was the only publisher obliging enough to offer me that chance. Everyone else responded with, "We don't do non-fiction" or "we have your details in our database, so go away. We'll Let You Know." Even better, he approached me, just as I was beginning to despair.

I started with a book of Australian ripping yarns and went on to lots of journalist books about modern crime in Australia, web sites and newspapers, both on-line archives and current ones. The current ones were good, because the entire Underbelly business was going on, trials were happening and one day I was having a coffee in an Elsternwick cafe when I spotted the story of Tony Mokbel's escape from Australia in the newspaper I was reading and got the idea for another chapter.

Oh, yes, that business of writing in cafes! We hear about it (especially in the case of J.K. Rowling), but it doesn't usually happen. But I ran out of hours on my dialup Internet account and the Presse cafe down the road has a wifi hotspot, so I found myself going there regularly and working on my book with endless pots of tea, muffins and Presse cafe lunches and you know what? It was great! I must write my next book over coffee and cake, at least on weekends.

Speaking of books over food, I had an interesting experience while on holiday in Central Australia. I was having dinner at the pub in the King's Canyon resort area when I got into a conversation with a grey nomad couple. I mentioned the book I was writing and gave as an example Caroline Grills, the kindly grandmother who poisoned her relatives with thallium in the 1940s and 50s. The wife said, "I met her." It turns out she was working at the hospital in Long Bay Jail when Caroline Grills was imprisoned there. She described the poisoner as "a sweet woman." That helped me with a sentence in the book where I mentionedthat the lady was liked both by staff and inmates at the prison. But what a small world! How much chance would you think there would be of such an encounter?

I knew someone would complain in a review that there were very few women in it, but while I picked out those I could, I found that most of the big-name female crooks in Australia in the past were madams. Someone has since suggested to me that probably the majority of female crooks didn't get caught.

Meanwhile, I put in Lola Montez (naughty rather than a crook), Mary Ann Bugg, the bushranger's wife who kept him alive, Bridget Hurford and Jean Lee (women who were hanged) and some baby farmers. And some modern women who did crazy things like hijacking a helicopter to rescue a boyfriend or helping a boyfriend escape jail or carry out cons.

I found some bizarre and downright silly stories to put into the "Did You Know" snippets that are part of a book like this. I learned a whole lot of stuff about crime in Australia that I would never have expected, or that I would have learned if I'd never been commissioned to write this book. That's the nice thing about writing non-fiction for children. If you're writing for adults, you're often an expert in a particular area and you write about that, and spend five years researching it in incredible detail. if you write for children, you can write about many different things and learn new stuff all the time and acquire new interests. Nowadays I'm reading news articles that would have been good in my book and thinking, "What a pity this didn't happen when I was writing it!"

Of course, when you're writing this sort of stuff, you have to be careful, because you can get sued and most publishers put a clause in the contract saying that you have to guarantee nobody is going to be upset by the book and if you get into trouble you're on your own. Previous history books I'd written had been set a long time ago. King Tut isn't going to sue you or send the boys around. So I worded carefully and I think Paul made sure the finished product was unlikely to get me into any trouble by re-checking the wording.

It's going to be a while before I can find out how this book will do, but I'm thrilled.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Some More Girlfriend Fiction

STEP UP AND DANCE, by Thalia Kalkipsakis, THE SWEET LIFE by Rebecca Lim, CASSIE by Barry Jonsberg: Girlfriend Fiction 6, 7 and 8. St Leonards, Allen and Unwin, 2008

Girlfriend Fiction has been coming out at an amazing rate over the last few months and has varied from the kind of novels that could be straight YA fiction, with no need for the hearts on the cover, to those that read more or less like standard teen romance, but better written than most. I have to say that so far, they’re doing well in my secondary school library, especially among ESL students who want to try something a little harder and closer to their age level than the ultra-thin children’s books they have been reading. I’ve had especially enthusiastic comments about My Life and Other Catastrophes and The Not Quite Perfect Boyfriend, which were both very funny.

None of the three books I’m reviewing this time is completely funny, but we’ll see how they go over with the students.

Step Up And Dance is the closest to standard teen romance of all the books in this series so far. The heroine, Saph, is a cheerleader for a professional basketball team and the boy in her life is a basketball player for another team, who goes to her school. Annoyed with him for what she believes is a practical joke, she plots revenge and it goes on and on throughout the book till, of course, all is sorted out and it turns out she had misunderstood his motives.

I hadn’t realised we even had cheerleaders in Australia, to be honest, but am always happy to learn something new. It certainly isn’t part of school culture here, but in this book the team is professional and the girl is the youngest member of a team of dancers which includes two boys.

There’s enough about the headaches of being a girl with an ethnic background to make some readers nod in agreement. Saph loves her fairly strict Greek father, but gets just a bit frustrated by the rules he makes about not staying out late and not accepting lifts from friends after dance practice. I suspect there is something here that comes from the author’s own teenage years. These days the strict ethnic parents are more likely to be African or Middle Eastern, but kids can still identify. I remember teaching Looking For Alibrandi to my ESL students and hearing one of them remark, “These Italians are so like Sudanese!”

In The Sweet Life, recently-orphaned Janey finds she has an aunt, working at the Australian Embassy in Rome, living with her daughter Federica (Freddy). Aunt Celia invites her to stay for the school holidays, but someone using the name Fellini is stalking her, first through her MySpace page, then on the mobile phone her aunt has lent her. Janey hasn’t had any boys in her life, and finds herself attracted to the Embassy’s young driver as well as to one of Freddy’s friends.

As for Freddy herself, it soon becomes clear to the reader, if not to Janey, that she doesn’t like having her newly-discovered cousin around; trouble follows.

At times I felt I was getting a guided tour of Rome, but I must admit it made me wish I could visit some of the places Janey sees in Rome and if I did, so should the readers. Possibly, they’ll be disappointed when there’s no last-page kiss, but it isn’t that type of book.

Barry Jonsberg has written on a wide variety of themes since his first novel, The Whole Business With Kiffo and the Pitbull. His first two books, about intelligent but over-the-top teenager Calma, were laugh-out-loud funny, but had sudden serious twists at the end. Ironbark dealt with a teenage boy who had a mental problem causing him to lash out suddenly, then not remember what he’d done. Dreamrider was a thriller with a mental issue and another twist at the end. Cassie is also about a serious issue. The title character is a quadriplegic with serious cerebral palsy, neither of which has stopped her from working hard at school and producing first-class work.Inside her problem body she is a normal teenager with a sense of humour. The novel’s issue is how to get all this across to her cousin, who has the embarrassing name of Holly Holley.

Holly is a girl with only one friend, the nerdy Amy, who’s more interested in mathematics than boys and clothes. Holly wants desperately to be a member of the in crowd and attract the attention of the good-looking if dumb Raph McDonald. When a chance to do both comes up, she resents having to share a house with Cassie and her mother, who have travelled down from Darwin after a marriage breakup, resents even Amy’s common-sense comments about the people she wants so badly to hang out with. The novel is about working out what’s important and who really cares about you. It’s about surfaces and what’s underneath. And because it’s written by Barry Jonsberg, however serious the theme, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Using humour, he manages to get across a serious issue.

There is an afterword which explains that Jonsberg, when he was teaching, had a quadriplegic student with cerebral palsy who is now studying Art at university and generally doing well.

It’s always interesting to read a book about young women by a man, but then, Barry Jonsberg was a teacher for many years and has his own children. This is my favourite of the three, but we’ll see which the kids at my school, at least, like best and I will enter a post about it when I know.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Loathing Lola comment

Whoops! The author has sent a comment that he has only a brother, not a sister. I can only plead that I'd been up since 6.00 a.m., at work all day and attending meetings before going to the State Library to hear him in Booktalkers. But my general comments on the book stand and I'm pleased William was happy with his review. It was well-deserved. He's gonna go far! :-)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

LOATHING LOLA By William Kostakis

Sydney, Pan Macmillan, 2008.

I didn’t get this book for reviewing. I bought it after hearing the author speak and, having read it, decided that it was worth a review. Quite apart from the fact that he’s a male writing about a teenage girl - something unusual - he’s a teenager himself, still living at home, telling his audience about playing jokes on his sister. I believe this young writer is going to go far in the world of YA fiction.

His heroine, Courtney Marlow, is an earnest, nerdy girl who wants to save the world and thinks her chance has arrived when she scores the chance to play the lead role in a TV reality show, Real Teens, in which a camera crew will follow her around at school and home and, it seems, build her up into a star. Courtney decides this is the perfect opportunity to be a good role model for teens watching the show and raise money for charity at the same time. Unfortunately, the show’s producers have different ideas. Very different ideas – and they don’t care who they hurt in carrying them out.

And who is the “phantom texter” who is sending her text message warnings about what to expect from them– warnings she finds are all too accurate? Then again, there are plenty of other things to worry about. Her divorced father hasn’t been keeping up payments for her outrageously expensive private school – one reason she took on the show with its large advance. His dippy second wife – the Lola of the title – wants fame and fortune of her own. Just how much is she prepared to do to get it? And can Courtney count on her best friend Katie, who also wants a share of the limelight?

The novel is deliciously over-the-top, very funny, though with a serious underlying theme. It has a host of outrageous characters and situations, but in the end, what counts is friendship and family and not having to destroy your integrity for money.

If William Kostakis is writing this well now, I look forward to seeing what else he can do.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

NAOMI AND ELY’S NO-KISS LIST By Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 22008

Naomi and Ely, two university students in New York city, have known each other since early childhood. They live in the same huge apartment block. At one point, her father had a brief affair with his (lesbian) mother and then left. Since then, Naomi has had to look after her mother, who hasn’t stopped grieving.

Beautiful Naomi can have almost any boy she wants and has had boyfriends (Bruce 1 and 2). The trouble is, the only boy she wants is Ely, the one she can’t have, because he’s gay - and not only gay, but promiscuous. So the two of them, to keep their friendship intact, have created a “no-kiss list” - a list of boys neither of them will kiss. When Ely breaks the rules and starts a relationship with Naomi’s current boyfriend, Bruce 2, he risks the friendship - and Naomi has to ask herself what she really wants and what is most important to her. Likewise, Ely has to decide whether he can keep his current lifestyle going or whether there is something more important to him now.

Cohn and Levithan wrote another book together, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which was set in the course of one night and had a similar style, though the main characters were heterosexual. It was seen alternatively from the title characters’ viewpoints.

This one has more viewpoints - Naomi, Ely, both Bruces, Gabriel the gorgeous doorman and some friends from universiity. Somehow, it works and the various strands pull together. The style is whimsical, the ending is positive and on the whole it’s a readable book, but heavens, how the characters swear! As in Nick and Norah, the book is filled with four-letter words. I have worked with teenagers for most of my career and, while they do use four-letter words a lot and look at you in surprise if you suggest they are swearing, they don’t do it that much. I don’t think it’s necesssary to write it into a book in the interests of “realism” and about half the swearing would have been plenty. You really can overdo it. It is, in my opinion, well and truly overdone in this novel.

Keep this one for the older teenagers in your life.

THE CHAOS CODE By Justin Richards. London: Faber and Faber, 2007

Computers that can create monsters in the real world, using the elements of water, fire, air and earth, ancient jungle ruins, a millionaire and his daughter who are more than they seem, Atlantis! It’s all here for teens who are waiting for their next fix of Anthony Horowitz, and very entertaining it is, too.

Fifteen year old Matt returns from boarding school for the summer to find that his mother, a high-flying computer consultant, is about to head off overseas on a special job and can’t take him along. He will have to go stay with his absent-minded archaeologist father.

When Dad isn’t home and the place has been ransacked, Matt takes a hint from a cryptic note his father had sent via a neighbour and goes to stay with his aunt Jane. Jane is a PA to millionaire Julius Venture, owner of a large estate near the village where Jane and her brother Arnold, Matt’s Dad, had grown up. Matt can’t understand why his aunt has warned him against getting too friendly with Venture’s strong, intelligent daughter Robin. Soon, however, there are other things to worry about. Matt’s father has been abducted because of his knowledge of a historical treasure that’s much, much more important than gold and jewels. Matt, Robin and Venture are off to South America, plunging into an adventure that could mean the end of the world as we know it, if they fail in their quest.

Richards, best known for his Dr Who novels, has become a writer of very good thrillers with a fantasy edge and this one doesn’t disappoint. There are, it’s true, a lot of scenes in which characters stop to discuss their situation and where someone gives a long explanation of the scientific reasons for what’s happening. These don’t really slow up the story too much, but never mistake this for science fiction – it’s fantasy! When Atlantis comes into the picture, it’s always going to be fantasy. I won’t go any further, because I couldn’t, with without giving away a couple of twists I admit I didn’t quite see coming.

The novel reads like a cross between Horowitz and Indiana Jones. Great fun!

Suitable for teens from about thirteen upwards.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Anonymous Comment on Alison Croggon

I got a comment from Anonymous, not on the book I have reviewed but on Alison Croggon. Sorry. I don't do personal. If I want to do political, I'll start another blog. This is a book and SF blog, with the occasional - very occasional! - divergence. And whether I agree or disagree, I just won't publish a comment that has nothing to do with the actual post. I don't care if you hate the book I'm reviewing, even if I love it, I'll still publish your comment, as long as it's relevant. Also, I'm more likely to publish a comment, on anything, if you give me your name. I have published a few anonymous comments because they were non-controversial, but not this sort of thing. if you feel strongly about it, this particular Anonymous, start your own blog.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Gift. First Book of Pellinor. By Alison Croggon

Camberwell, Vic.: Penguin, 2002

Alison Croggon is a poet. It shows, in the style of her writing and in the verses used as ballads and prophecies in this book.

The fourth Pellinor book has come out recently and I was sent a copy to review, but as I hadn’t read the others, I thought it might be better to go back and read the series from the start. As I can’t review this one for January Magazine, which only does recent publications, I thought it might be reasonable to put my thoughts about the earlier books on this site instead. After all, not everyone has read them.

I’m not crazy about most fantasy being published these days. I loathe the multi-volume sagas in which the long-lost heir or the Chosen One is chased by the minions of the Dark Lord. And I feel let down by SF writers who have changed over to fantasy, however well they write it.(Lois McMaster Bujold, for example, has lost this particular reader till she returns to science fiction.)

But young adult fantasy is different, perhaps because its intended audience is just discovering it. It tends to be more readable, even if it is about a Chosen One being chased by the minions of the Dark Lord. The Harry Potter series did very well, thank you!

Maerad, a slave in a northern community with a Saxon flavour, finds out that she has magical abilities, when Cadvan, a Bard, turns up in the barn and only she sees him. She escapes with him, taking her precious lyre, the only reminder of her early life. She learns that her mother was a Bard, one of a magically and musically gifted community who mostly run the towns around their Schools, doing the healing and the other things necessary to keep them running smoothly. But the Nameless One, a former Bard who went over to the Dark Arts centuries ago, is almost certainly on his way back, helped by sidekicks known as Hulls. The problem is, how do you convince the Bards of the Light to do something about it when they’re fighting among themselves and some of them can’t even keep their peasants happy any more?

Again, in this novel, we have a heroine who is a Chosen One being - yeah, chased by the minions of the Dark. The author is clearly a fan of Tolkien. Like Tolkien, she has an introduction which indicates that the story takes place on this planet in a time in the distant past, possibly on a continent that no longer exists. There was the equivalent of the Last Allaince between Elves and Men. There’s even a sort of Galadriel figure ruling over a forest kingdom. But I did find the Bardic politics intriguing. And Tolkien wasn’t cheeky enough to include a bibliography of non-existent books at the end.

I found this book very readable stuff, with characters worth caring about, and will be interested to read the rest of the series.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Melbourne Writers' Festival 2008

Good news. Melbourne has been declared a UNESCO "City of Literature." Nice to hear, if we can live up to it.

I have been going to the annual Writers' Festival for many years. This year, it has been moved from the cramped but cheerful Malthouse complex, where you could see people sitting around having food and drink and gloating over purchases while waiting for their next session, to the fancier but windswept Federation Square, where there's none of the ambience of the old place. If you have one session at the ACMI cinemas and another at BMW Edge, you have to cross the Square. There are eating places, but near the theatres there's nothing but people waiting politely in a queue for their session, sometimes down the stairs if it's a popular event.

Still, as a friend of mine on the committee says, you have to make space to extend the Festival. And perhaps by next year there will be some ambience.

But the last several years, there has been less and less that I want to see. When I started going, you could hear writers for children and teens speaking on weekends and in the evening. Now, it seems to be assumed that if you're not taking a school group to the Youth Days, you don't want to hear children's/YA writers. And even if you are taking kids, the session will be very different from the ones that used to be held for the benefit of adults who love this stuff.

Genre fiction, too. There used to be SF writers and crime writers. There haven't been any SF/F writers I can recall since China Mieville. I did once send a letter suggesting a panel of small press SF publishers(which is now the main way of publishing the genre in Australia, apart from the horrible fantasy sagas) but they didn't bother to reply. There is still the odd crime writer, mostly during the week, when I have to be at work, but not many.

You take what you can get and I have managed to find a few that were of mild interest, though I am seriously considering not going next year if there's no more of the kind of stuff I want to hear.

Last week I went to hear a panel by three journalists who have written books - quite interesting, but nothing in the way of books that I need on my shelves. The library will supply my needs in this area. The panel on Georgette Heyer was fun, mainly because I know nothing about her, only about some of her books. My friend Anne Devrell, who does know about Heyer, said she suspected the book involved was a PhD thesis - she was right, as it turned out.

Because there is very little on subjects that already interest me, I opt for things that sound like fun. I made the mistake of attending a panel called "Writing Love" under the impression it would be about romance writing. Big mistake. Three deadly serious writers and the resident philosopher from a university Economics Department (?)sat and discussed Life, the Universe and Everything and what is love anyway? A wasted $15 - I was very glad I had paid early bird rates!

The next panel was much better. The guest was Andrew Davies, who wrote those delightful Jane Austen adaptations for the BBC - a charming, funny man who had some fascinating things to say about why he had added scenes that were never in the novels. I decided to buy a ticket for his afternoon session on "What Women Want" (and was not disappointed - a hilarious panel by himself and two other writers made us all laugh). I got hold of a DVD copy of Pride and Prejudice, which I'd been meaning to buy anyway and had him sign the cover.

I had a choice of one more panel - should I go hear John Marsden, the only YA writer I knew of who was on during the weekend, but on a panel with others, and be tempted to buy Hamlet The Novel, or the panel on book reviewing? Oddly enough, I chose the book reviewing panel and am very glad I did. It was great fun. I am a reviewer myself, of course, and wanted to see what people who get paid for reviewing had to say. Two of them were fairly earnest and explained what they did and how they really hated writing bad reviews, honest (I believed them) but the third made us all laugh. First she asked if there were any writers, editors or publishers in the audience. I admitted to being a writer but added that I was also a reviewer, so it was okay. Then she tipped out the contents of her tote bag, which included some of the stuff she'd been sent to review - one utterly awful book, some proof copies which you had to be careful about reviewing because they were uncorrected and even one set of page proofs! She talked about some of her horror experiences and there were some doozies.

I was relieved; the last time I went to a panel on book reviewing, the whole panel ganged up on Bryce Courtenay, who was there on the panel with them, and it was in the newspapers next day, which probably sold more copies of Courtenay's books anyway, so ganging up on him was stupid and useless if they wanted the opposite. This panel was much gentler.

On my way out, I ran into a lady who had been given a ticket to the wrong panel and was too tired to be bothered telling her story yet again. We went out for coffee and she told me some shocking stuff about information she had gained during a radio interview she did and how hard it was to get anyone else to run the story.

Strange end to the day. One more panel tomorrow, with Mark Billingham on it. I would have liked to hear him speak on his own, but it was on during the day on a weekday. I want to hear about his work, because I know him best as one of the two dumb guards in Maid Marion and Her Merry Men and here he is as an international bestselling crime writer.

I am willing to attend panels with writers I don't know if the subject interests me, but I can only hope next year's mix will be better, with less of the arty-farty and more of the genre stuff.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

CROSSING THE LINE By Dianne Bates. Ford Street Publishing


Seventeen-year-old Sophie is intelligent, good at her studies and a fine poet. She’s also a self-harmer, who cuts herself when feeling stressed. And she has plenty about which to feel stressed. She has been fostered since early childhood, after losing first her neglectful mother, then her beloved aunt and uncle when they divorced. She has been with one foster-family after another, constantly changing schools and unable to make friends because she keeps moving.

Now it seems things will improve, since she has been allowed some independence and has started sharing a house with the likeable and kind-hearted Amy and Matt. She’s made friends at her new school and is hoping to finish her last year.

Will these be enough for a girl who feels a desperate need for family - especially a mother? A spell in a mental hospital introduces her to psychiatrist Helen Marshall, to whom she clings, mistaking treatment for affection.

Can her new friends help her? Will Matt’s affection be enough?

Sophie is a lucky girl, actually, to have friends as patient as Amy and Matt! There were times in the book when I felt like slapping her and telling her to get over it. The first-person narrative worked well, however, making it easier to understand what was going on in her head.

Self-harm has become known as the new anorexia among teenage girls. It has been estimated that one in ten girls in Australia is a self-harmer. Girls who feel they have no control over their lives may cut because that’s something they can control. Sophie does it as a form of release, or even a tribute, in the form of initials cut into her arm. It’s a major issue in this day and age and veteran Australian children’s and young adult writer Dianne Bates handles it well, in a readable and gripping book. The characters and storyline are believable. I believe this book will make it into classrooms, as there is a lot of material for discussion.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


John Johnson keeps losing his head - literally. And his feet (especially the small one, which doesn’t seem to fit and keeps falling off) and arms and legs. He is a detachable person - and not, as he discovers, the only one. In fact, that’s the problem. When John’s friend Crystal is kidnapped by men in vinyl suits and taken to an underground base in America, full of detachable people, he has to follow, while his parents think he’s on a school camp. He can’t afford to buy a plane ticket, but his genius friend Ravi designes a suitcase that will fit his bits and posts him to the U.S.

And that’s only the start of a story that becomes progressively sillier and funnier as it goes. It has the grossout factor that kids enjoy without ever becoming too disgusting. The characters are amusing (my favourite is the American pretzel-collector (among them is one shaped like Elvis and another like the Eiffel Tower) who helps John and Crystal). I did wonder how Ravi, who has a distinctly Indian accent, had a surname like Carter, but never mind. Suspend disbelief. The young readers won’t care.

Heath McKenzie’s delightful illustrations add to the story.

It’s aimed at boys between nine and twelve, but let the girls read it too - they’re just as likely to enjoy it.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Comment on Stride's Summer Review

Dear 12 and a 1/2 year-old who commented on my Stride's Summer review,

Yes, Stride's Summer is a great book, isn't it? Why don't you send a letter or e-mail to the author through the publishers, Allen and Unwin? I bet she'll be thrilled to hear that you enjoyed her book and will write back to you. No writer ever has a problem with hearing that someone enjoyed what they wrote.

Keep reading!

Sue Bursztynski

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Book and Me

When I took long service leave, I'd hoped to get a book to write while I was away from work. I had taken an extravagant twelve weeks, only a small part of which was to be spent travelling. At some stage I'll be grabbing my superannuation early and hoping to write full-time, so now was the time to establish a relationship with, perhaps, an education publisher or any publisher I've worked with or hoped to work with. I even had an idea, forensic science, which I'd just spent a lot of time researching for my article in the NSW School Magazine. Not that I wouldn't do whatever else was required.

One publisher after another was not interested. Great idea, forensics, but we're not doing non-fiction right now, it's not on our list of subjects, we're full for this year, try again in July...

And then, out of the blue, came an offer from the new Ford Street Publishing, run by Paul Collins, whom I have known since he was running a bookshop in St Kilda and who has published some of my short fiction. His partner, Meredith Costain, once did very well with a children's book about "Fifty famous Australians" but never got around to the infamous ones. Would I like to have a go?

Someone has offered me a book? I'd write it if they wanted a book about deep-fried squid!

So off I went, on-line, to the library, wherever I could find information about Aussies on the other side of the law - or illegal things going on in Australia, whoever did it. Fascinating stuff, from the Batavia mutiny to the cannibal convict Alexander Pearce, from the bushranger Matthew Brady to the Melbourne Gangland Wars. I found some funny stories, some bizarre stories, some sickening stories that had to be toned down for kids. I'm 39 down and 11 to go as I write this, although I also have to do a pile of "Did You Know...?" snippets. My favourite Did You Know is that until a few years ago, convicted criminals could claim all their guns, bullets, etc. on tax as a business expense!

This is my ninth book, hopefully not the last. It's a fascinating subject and I feel strange to be so near the end of the research process. Over the years, I have been working differently on each book. The first one, on monsters, was mostly researched at the State Library. Those were the early days of the Internet. My little Mac Classic 2 computer wouldn't take it. I used to travel a long way on the tram to an Internet cafe which actually was a cafe; you could buy coffee and cake while you went on-line. I did this once a week. It cost $12 an hour, but you got a discount ticket each time you went on, so I ended up paying only $6.

I also used the State Library for the second one, though I went on-line a bit more. I had to buy a few books on various sciences, because the book was on women scientists and I wasn't much of a scientist myself. Each book had a higher level of personal books and Internet research. My last book, Your Cat Could Be A Spy, had some books involved, but mostly for background to help me find more on-line. The CIA web site, where I found a lot of stuff about gadgets, was a lot more fun than the Australian equivalent, which was a public service web site.

I think I've been going about half-half with this one. Not everything is on-line. But you have to be careful with the books, because sometimes things have changed since they were published. For example, one of my criminals had hanged himself in jail since the book I was reading came out.

I ran out of dialup time for the month, so I have been visiting the local cafe, the Presse, which has wifi facilities, to send off my stories and do some more research. I don't usually do this, of course, because I;m at work during the week. I will miss it when I get back. There are so many regulars in here, so many others with their computers, doing what I'm doing, going on-line, checking their e-mail. One woman I spoke to yesterday has no Internet connection at home and can't get even dialup right now, because she has no landline phone!

They're really getting to know me at this place. I will have to go on weekends once I'm back at work.

The place is peaceful and I can get my work done better than at home, with the temptations of DVDs, CDs, the fridge and the kettle... I buy a pot of tea here and someone else makes it for me while I work and it lasts me till I'm finished.

And no telemarketers ringing me!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Trust Me! Published by Ford Street Publishing

Okay, I can't review this book, because I have a story in it. Still, I can't resist giving it a plug. It started life as an anthology of historical fiction, commissioned by an education publisher. The publisher and Paul Collins, who was editing, disagreed about enough things that he withdrew and decided to publish it himself, through his new company. Oddly, there are only three pieces left under "historical" - mine being one of them - but the theme of this anthology is "genre". That gives a wide variety of choices and there are stories under romance, crime, horror, fantasy, SF, humour, adventure, etc. It's a big, fat book, with about fifty contributors, mostly big-name Australian writers and artists, and as a teacher-librarian I think it will come in handy in classrooms, because you can choose a genre for whatever work you are doing with the kids. I've been reading the stories and enjoying so far.

Isobelle Carmody wrote the introduction, in which she gave my story a whole paragraph - nice!

My story, Countdown to Apollo 11, was one of the historicals. I had a lot of fun researching it; I went to the State Library and browsed through the newspapers of July 1969, to find out what people were concerned about, what things cost, what was on at the movies and the theatre, even what Star Trek episode was on just before the moon landing, because my hero was a Trek fan. The episode was "The Enterprise Incident", by the way. Most of it had to be left out, because I only had about 2000 words, but the story was better for it, and I know all that information, anyway. 1969 was a different world, wasn't it? No Internet, no mobile phones, no personal computers, in Australia TV was still black and white, not even answering machines on phones. I found an article about an anti-Vietnam rally outside the US consulate on July 4th and used one of the individual stories as the background for this one. One of my friends from work told me he remembered that rally and had been there.

So now I know I can do historical fiction if I want. Good to know for the future.

Anyway, conflict of interest or not, I do think this book is worth getting.

Monday, March 31, 2008

New YA fiction series begins!


When I began my first job as a teacher-librarian, in the 1980s, there were a lot of teen romances around, mostly American, some British. They were a sort of junior Mills and Boon. The girls loved them, of course, though to be honest, most of them weren’t very good. They were churned out like the junior horror novels of today and had one basic plot, with minor variations. High school Cinderella, after having to compete with the beautiful school witch, finally gets the school Prince Charming, or else the school Prince Charming turns out to be shallow and vain and Cinderella discovers she’s happier with the nice boy who has been her shoulder to cry on throughout the novel. The heroines were always, always middle class and white, of course.

In Australia around this time, a new teen romance series appeared, Dolly Fiction, which was actually written by some of the country’s top YA and children’s writers, though they wrote under pseudonyms. Consequently, the series was better-written than most of the other books of this genre. Alas, it didn’t last long. Possibly, the kids preferred their cotton candy literature. or maybe the writers had other things to do.

Now, though, we have a new series along the same lines, Girlfriend Fiction. I should add that if these don’t work out as teen romances, they will succeed as perfectly good YA novels. The romance elements are light and don’t overwhelm the stories. This may disappoint girls who have bought or borrowed them because of the hearts on the cover, but at least the books won’t fizzle out in favour of cotton candy romance. The well-known writers writing them are using their own names this time.

The first two have just come out and more are promised, one of them by Kate Constable, best known for her fantasy novels.

My Life and Other Catastrophes is written in the form of a diary - you know, the usual “my English teacher says we have to write a journal, so...” beginning. This diary is being typed up on computer, though, which plays an important role later in the novel. Kids like novels written in the form of diaries or letters, anyway - the “chapters” are nice and short.

Sixteen-year-old Erin’s life is a mess. Dad has left the family for reasons she can only guess (wrongly, as it turns out - very wrongly!). Mum has a new boyfriend Erin dislikes intensely - and worse, he’s a teacher at her school. Her little brother is making suspiciously large amounts of money, far more than you’d expect from a fourteen-year-old nerd. Erin is playing Mina Harker in the school’s musical version of Dracula, but her Jonathan is not her idea of “hot” and the potential boyfriend material playing Dracula, Brendan, seems more interested in her greenie friend Rami (who is currently not talking to her anyway).

Is Kid Brother (or Sucky Little Brother as she calls him) selling drugs? Is “Creepazoid”, Mum’s boyfriend, about to start a drug dealers’ turf war? What’s wrong with Brendan’s mother? Will the school witch, “Mandozer” actually win Australian Idol, as she’s been bragging?

All will be revealed in the course of this very funny story, which includes a laugh-out-loud local newspaper review of the school show that completely fails to notice there was a real police raid in the middle of it. And, yes, Erin gets the guy and is reconciled with Rami. This should be no secret.

The Indigo Girls is more serious in style. The story is told, in alternate chapters, by Zara and Tilly, two very different girls. Every year their families meet at Indigo, a bayside town with a camping ground. Summer is the only time the girls meet and they have very different lives in the meantime. Usually, they’re part of a threesome., but this year Mieke is going to be a few days late and Tilly and Zara wonder if the two of them will get along without her to keep the balance. Tilly is a nerd who’s going straight to university. Zara seems to have all the friends, but dreams of taking a trip around Australia alone after school.

Zara has become the victim of cell phone stalking. Since she broke up with her boyfriend under particularly nasty circumstances, she has been receiving obscene and threatening anonymous text messages. Because it is her policy never to share secrets - they break up friendships, she believes - she has kept it bottled up, not even telling her brother, Ivan. Zara is beautiful and popular, but has no real friends. Her parents aren’t talking to each other, for reasons we never find out, and her father isn’t talking to her, for reasons we do find out, but which aren’t her fault. She just can’t tell him, because it’s a secret.

Because of this, she wistfully admires Tilly’s close-knit family and Tilly herself for her strength and honesty, while Tilly admires Zara’s beauty and seeming confidence. She also fancies Ivan, briefly, though there is another boy in the story with whom she ends up.

Zara takes comfort in sneaking out to surf by night. It is a time when she can rejoice in the waves and having to do it by feel. Tilly asks to join her and the accident that follows makes both of them think about their lives.

Eventually, Zara discovers who is really sending her those text messages - not her ex, as assumed - and has another think about what friendship really is.

What about that cute - and intellectual - waiter at the golf club, Sawyer? Does he like Tilly for herself or just because she’s dressed like Zara at the time?

It’s a story that teen girls will enjoy, as long as they think of it as a story about friendship more than romance. It’s just a pity that Zara’s family is still "toxic’" at the end, though she does reconcile with Ivan, before being made welcome by Tilly’s family.

Oh, well, can’t have everything. Both books are suitable for girls in mid to late high school.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Books and Writing: SCBWI conference, Sydney (1)

Books and Writing: SCBWI conference, Sydney (1)

This is a link to Sherryl Clark's con report, a lot tighter-written than mine! Both types are good, so I thought I'd put in this link.

Sydney SCBWI Conference, February 23-24, 2008

This was the second conference in Australia of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Like last time, it was held at the Hughenden Hotel in Woollahra, a very expensive suburb of Sydney.

Last time, while I enjoyed the conference, it was rather illustrator-heavy, which was great for the illustrators, but I'm a writer. This time, the balance was a lot better, and those of us who scribble instead of paint, draw and do elaborate stuff on computer were introduced to the wonderful process of producing a picture story book, with the partnership between writer and artist.

And the difference in rooms! If you have read my report in my other blog, at, you'll know I had a bizarre experience in my room. I am used to sharing a dorm and a bathroom at youth hostels and at least I would have this room to myself. A shared bathroom was fine, especially as it was just across the hall.

I got there to find that my heavily discounted room was directly opposite the laundry, which did its washing late at night. The room's bed was a bunk whose lower level had a low roof (ouch!). There was a bent plug on the reading lamp, a non-working TV remote control, plenty of tea and coffee but no kettle (I got one on request - the staff were very kind and helpful - but then discovered there was only one power point and I had to unplug the TV and put the kettle on the floor to boil!). While at the conference this time, I walked past that room and the door was open on what looked like an office. Very wise! ☺

This time I booked well in advance and explained my problem from last time. I got a room which was unbelievably luxurious! The bed was big enough for four people to loll in (oddly enough, I got four towels…). My friend Edwina Harvey, who is a very good children's writer but wasn't coming this time, suggested a six-pack of Legolases when I told her about it on the phone. I tested the width by lying across the bed and found that my feet didn't go over the edge. Mm…

I chose the side of the bed which had a clock on it, because breakfast was served early at the Hughenden and I didn't want to miss it. No problem about bed lamps. There was not only a bed lamp, but also one on a stalk. And ceiling fans, which were much appreciated in the heat.

The TV was one of those huge flat-screen things. Pity there was not much on late at night, though I did lie in bed and watch the end of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." The bathroom was large and elegant, unlike the squashy things in modern hotels. And there were a couple of comfy chairs to curl up in if you didn't want to lie on the bed.

I decided to see if I could rustle up a room party at some stage, but when I suggested it to Meredith Costain, she said firmly, "No, Sue, this is NOT a con!" Oh, well. I might do it next time anyway, because it's fairer to the staff than hanging around in the dining area late at night, when they want to switch off and go home or to bed. And it needn't be the riotous affair it can be at a science fiction con. It can be just a few folk sitting, chatting over coffee, BYO cup. Goodness knows, the room parties I've hosted have been peaceful enough.

After I'd settled in, I wandered downstairs to see if there was anyone I knew, or anyone I could chat with anyway. There was a small group drinking wine and chatting in the dining area, which is open to the small foyer. They kindly invited me to join them, though I didn't know most of them. One of them was a US guest of honour, Ellen Hopkins, who writes YA novels in verse. That interested me because I can read verse novels to my literacy class. It's very hard to find material suitable for young men and women in their late teens who read at a low level. Verse novels are perfect, because they are simply worded and you can stop at the end of each poem. My students last year loved Steven Herrick's The Simple Gift. As it happened, she had read his work and had a lot of respect for him. I ended up buying two of her books.

Brian Caswell wandered past, though he wasn't staying for the conference. He was with Leonie Tyle, formerly of UQP, now working for Random House, who was going to be at the conference. He's working on another book in the science fiction series he began in the 1980s. I'll look forward to reading it, though, I have to say, nobody has borrowed them from my library for quite a while. I will have to promote them to the good readers.

I went back to my luxury room and stretched out happily on my king-sized bed to sleep. Next morning I woke up around 6.13 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. Still nothing much to watch on the giant TV, but I turned it on anyway and watched cartoons from bed while sipping tea. What's the fun in staying in a hotel if you can't do that?

Breakfast was a very nice buffet. My usual breakfast, at home, is fresh fruit and toast and a pot of tea – herbal during the week, regular or green tea on weekends, but while I couldn't resist a little of their fruit, I mostly piled my plate with scrambled eggs, grilled tomato and a hash brown, because I wouldn't have that at home. I drank brewed coffee, for the same reason.

The conference opened at 9.00 a.m. – definitely not a fannish event! A science fiction convention is run on the assumption that the members will have been partying till late at night and are sleeping in. Which is not to say that they don’t have early panels. I have done some myself, one on a Sunday morning, when you really wouldn't expect anyone to turn up, but that was a Harry Potter panel and it was the day after the release of the latest book in the series. We got a full hall.

The first day of the SCBWI conference was packed. There was one session after another and it was all so useful you really didn't want to miss any of it. It was broken up a little by morning and afternoon tea and lunch.

In the goody bags were a lot of leaflets for this and that book, a pen (but no stationery – I ended up writing my notes on the backs of leaflets and then finding a small supermarket where I could buy a notepad) and Dianne Bates's useful book about self-editing. Later in the conference, Dianne explained how, despite giving the book away, she actually managed to get money out of it, tax-wise, in a win-win situation.

Julie Romeis from Chronicle Books in the US gave a very interesting talk about trends in the US market and offered to look at stuff sent by conference attendees if we addressed it to her attention, with "SCBWI Conference, Sydney" on the envelope. She urged us to set trends rather than follow them, because this year's flavour-of-the-month might be gone by next year.

During morning tea, there was a launch of Meredith Costain's new book, Rosie And The Bunyip, which I bought for Amelia, my niece, who is about the right age to read it. I have given it to Amelia, who got stuck into it right away. Meredith made some of us go up and do bunyip noises. I didn't win, but what-the-heck, it was fun.

The next session was about agents. Rick Raftos admitted that it's hard to get one in Australia, mostly because there are too few for all the writers who want one. He suggested getting recommended by a Big Name Writer or a publisher. Sigh! Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. I did manage to get a newish agent in WA for a while, but she went out of business to concentrate on her own writing, and never found me any markets anyway. I tried so many agents, all of whose books were full, even one who actually bothered to write to me, saying, "I've read your books, I know you're a good writer, I just don’t have any space." Another agent who is a big name around the country was at least willing to consider me, but I had a lot of trouble finding her – she was nowhere to be found on the Web and a certain big-name writer who had promised to introduce me never replied when I followed up with an e-mail to him, or several e-mails. Needless to say I have never bought any more of his books.

I finally managed to find someone who could pass on my inquiry, but suggested I get a reference from a big name writer. I got one from Natalie Prior and one from Lucy Sussex, who was a commissioning editor for Hodder at one stage and had wanted them to buy a novel of mine, but hadn't been able to get me through. I managed to contact the agent, who at least agreed to look at the MS, but said no. I tried Cherry Weiner, an Aussie-born agent living in the US, who said anything she offered to publishers had to be LONG and part of a trilogy.

Finally, I decided that I'd just have to do my own work. I've sold enough books that publishers will at least look at anything I send, whatever their policy on manuscript submissions. It just means I have to spend time searching for markets and working out my own contracts and payments if I'm lucky enough to sell, instead of having someone to take care of it. All the same, I see red whenever some writer sits up on the dais gushing, "Oh, I couldn't possibly manage without my agent!"

Dianne Bates spoke very well about the business of writing, sort of like a briefer version of Bjo Trimble's talk on the subject at a con I attended years ago. What Dianne doesn't know about selling isn't worth knowing. To my surprise, I found that she knew what I do and asked me about the It's True! Series (dead, alas!).

After lunch, there were two wonderful panels on picture books. I don't write picture books, which require a skill I haven't mastered, so I put aside my notebook and enjoyed.

I did take notes on the YA fiction panel. Leonie Tyle, who has moved to Random House, is now only taking literary fiction. Alas, I don't write literary fiction, which is a shame, because Leonie is very good about reading her slush and only rejected one title I submitted to UQP because they didn't publish that kind of fiction. She actually rang me to talk about it. I had hoped that now I might have a chance, but I just don't write that kind of fiction. Pity.

I went out for a half –hour walk and returned to the launch of Felicity Pulman's new book, a Janna mystery. I've only read one of those, myself, but we had some fans in my school library and I have bought a copy for the library.

Saturday night was the conference dinner. I shared a table with Meredith and some others I didn't know. It was a pleasant evening and we sat outside, under cover. As there was no chance of a room party, I went up to the room about ten p.m. and rang Edwina, who was going to pick me up on Sunday and have something to eat before I went to the airport. We had a long natter.

Sunday brought some more fascinating panels, in one of which publishers talked about their discoveries and what they were looking for. I made a note of some potential markets which I have followed up with inquiries and intend to do properly during the holidays.

There was a panel on education publishing in which it was suggested that if you’re versatile you can have a good market there. This has certainly been true for Meredith and has been generally true in the past, though it's not as easy now. Meredith showed off something called Space Race, which would be great for reading to a literacy class, except that my students would consider it babyish. Of course, it's not aimed at them and I asked my question as a teacher and librarian, not as a writer: what was happening for students like mine, who are sixteen or seventeen and reading at Grade 2 level? It is terribly frustrating to be unable to find materials that really get the concept of "high interest/low reading level". Meredith said that mostly, education publishing is aimed at no higher than Year 8. She suggested that I make an appointment with an education publisher to talk about my needs in this area. I just might do that, and see if I can get a book or two out of it myself.

I had to leave early so I could have a little time with Edwina before heading for the airport. Really, I only missed one panel, which was the "two minute pitch." Fun, no doubt, but I could live without it. Edwina arrived shortly after 3.00 p.m. and we got a bus to Central Train Station, where we had a fast-food meal before I took the train to the airport.

All in all, it was an enjoyable and productive weekend and I will certainly go if there's another one.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

STRIDE’S SUMMER By Jenni Overend

Allen and Unwin, Crow’s Nest, NSW, 2007. 163 p.

It starts with a funeral - Stride’s father’s - and pouring rain.

Stride’s father Frank, a fisherman, had died at sea, leaving behind his wife and two children, Stride and his older sister Annie, and Ferd, a sulphur-crested cockatoo which Frank had raised from a chick, during his own childhood. Now Ferd becomes Stride’s constant companion and comfort as he coaxes the bird to recover from the loss of his master. Both boy and cockatoo make a new friend, Jess, who helps them both.

But things aren’t going to stay the same forever. What about Stride’s artist mother, who never really wanted to live outside the city? What about Gramps, his grandfather, who is now alone on the farm, with no one to help him? Will Stride lose his beloved home by the sea?

Stride needs to overcome his grief and sense of loss before he can go on with life. A bushfire forces him to learn about himself.

This is a gentle, easy-to-read story with a style reminiscent of Colin Thiele's. The author lives in the mountains, but she gives a convincing picture of life in a coastal town, surrounded by bush. You can feel the storms and the sea spray, smell the eucalyptus and see the pounding surf. Australia's on-going drought is also well-drawn.

The only quibble I have with it is that it reads like a story aimed at primary school children, but it becomes clear, before the end, that Stride is a teenager - to be honest, I’d assumed he was about twelve or thirteen at most. It might have worked better if he had been.

But it’s not a major issue - children don’t mind reading about characters a little older than themselves and this is a book I would give to children in late primary school.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Review: Teeth Marks By Rose Moxham

It starts with a bicycle crash. Nick, the crash victim, ends up on his back in the local hospital, remembering how it all happened, in flashback, and getting used to the strange variety of characters with whom he is sharing a ward.

When two boys from the city go to work on a farm for a few months, all they have in mind is a working holiday and a little money before starting university. Nick’s friend, Robbie, had grown up in the district and knows everyone. He also has a way with girls. Nick hasn’t, but when he meets Robbie’s childhood friend, Jude, who sings rockabilly and has two dogs, he is immediately attracted. The two start a relationship.

But Jude has a problem - one about which everyone in town knows but which nobody tells him. Jude is desperate to find someone who will be true to her and hopes that she can get commitment from Nick before confessing the problem to him.

So, what do you do when someone who might come down with a genetically-inherited medical condition which will leave them helpless and demented wants you to commit yourself to them and you’re only nineteen, far too young to be able to make such a serious decision? At the age of nineteen, thirty, when the illness might begin, seems a lifetime away. It certainly seems that way to Nick, who is a young nineteen and needs some growing up.

In the hospital ward, unable to move, he does some growing up and manages to find sympathy for people he would never have mixed with in his regular life., and, when he leaves, makes sure he does something to help some of them.

Despite the action-packed opening, it took me a while to get into the story. Most children and teenagers simply won’t take trouble over a book if it doesn’t capture their attention immediately. And there’s the question of this book’s intended audience - the main character is a boy, but to me it feels more like a girls’ book, about relationships and coming-of-age.

Still, it’s worth sticking with; in the end, it’s a gentle tale, sad but with a positive ending. And it isn’t the standard “coming-of-age” tale - the reader can wonder what he or she would do if they fell for someone who was going to lose their health and wanted you to look after them, ten years from now. It might just be an interesting topic for class discussion when, as is likely, this book is set on the school English syllabus.

Worth checking out.