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Monday, July 27, 2015

A Browse Through My Cyber Bookshelves

We all do it. You buy a book and start reading it and then get distracted, sometimes by Life, sometimes by another book toy. And that has become a lot more frequent since the WWW made it possible to just download the thing RIGHT NOW instead of waiting till you get to a bookshop. That's especially true of me - and now I have no more room for paper books on my bulging shelves, I think, "Just this one more ebook..."

So my cyber bookshelves are crammed with books I've read from cover to cover and the unfinished gems just waiting for me to return. So this evening I've opened up some of these neglected treasures. I've  read Robert E Howard's first sale to Weird Tales (he was only eighteen). A real eye opener about the pulp era! I'm a huge fan of this author, whose Conan stories and King Kull tales  I adore, as I do Bran Mac Morn and Red Sonia and ... Well, he pretty much invented swords and sorcery! So when I say that if I got his first story, "Spear And Fang", in my ASIM slush, I would have rejected it, trust me - it's terrible!  Probably I would have said no kindly, because it is so very obviously by a teenage boy, but rejected it anyway. It's so bad it's good.

Just as well he sent his first story to Weird Tales instead of ASIM, because he got better very quickly. In case you're interested, the anthology is called Shadow Kingdoms, volume 1 of a series featuring his early short fiction, in order of publication, but you can get some of his work free on Project Gutenberg; I have The Hour Of The Dragon, his only Conan novel from Gutenberg. I first read that in print as Conan The Conqueror, edited by Lin Carter. It's a nice vision of Conan in middle age, wincing as he finds there are some things he can't do quite as easily as he used to. He does some things well enough, though; there's a sweet young thing who fell in love with him at first sight as he rode his horse past her and now she is there to help him escape from the dungeon of the week. If you're a Conan fan, yes, it's Zenobia! If you aren't, yet, no further spoilers.

And ooh, I'd forgotten about another Gutenberg treasure, a collection of classic crime fiction by Rudyard Kipling, Wilkie Collins, even some Conan Doyle... Well, the Conan Doyle you can find easily enough elsewhere, but I'd never read the Kipling before, though it doesn't surprise me; he wrote a wide variety of stuff and I have some of his horror fiction both in print and ebook. It's great stuff. This collection is under The Lock And Key Library.

And oh, I have too long neglected some of the short fiction of the likes of Murray Leinster and Henry Kuttner, which came with the original covers of the SF magazines in which they appeared! I found those in Gutenberg too. Amazing how much of the early fiction of big name SF writers you can find in Gutenberg!

Well, I'd better get back and finish reading these gems...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Re-discovering Alison Goodman

I get a lot of ebooks, including anthologies, which tend to be cheap and feature my favourite writers. I was looking on my cyber bookshelves for Charles De Lint material (to my delight, I've just discovered that a lot more of his work has come out in ebook since I last looked) when I found the anthology Firebirds Rising, which I had bought and forgotten about, though I had started reading it. A great little anthology, by the way, with some big names in it, not surprising since the editor commissioned the stories. I can't recall the price and iBooks doesn't tell you once you've bought it, but I wouldn't have spent a lot of money on an anthology unless it was by one author I loved already; mostly, I use these to sample work by authors I'm not familiar with,  before buying their books.

When I selected the book on my shelves, it turned to the story I was reading when I last opened the book and it wasn't Charles De Lint's contribution, but Alison Goodman's.

Alison, for those who don't know her, is a Melbourne writer, who has done mostly fantasy and some crime fiction. When I first met her, she had done one novel, Singing The Dogstar Blues. We both had a book out that year - mine was my book on astronauts from Omnibus(just closed down, alas!). I couldn't resist travelling to Canberra, on invitation, to hear the announcement of the CBCA shortlist at the home of the Governor General. Neither of us made it on to the list, alas. That was the year when I was chatting with one of the judges, who said, "Oh, yes, an entertaining book, well written, kids will love it, but that's not one of our criteria." Their response to Alison's book, which I mentioned, was pretty much the same(with a shrug included).

We shared our disappointment. Alison thought she had missed out on the shortlist because her book was SF. I suggested that no, it wasn't that - they did occasionally put SF on the shortlist - - but that it was funny. They didn't, at the time, care for funny books. "Not enough psychological depth," I was told by a judge whom I won't name, but who was well known in children's fiction fandom. (When I pointed out that the very funny Hating Alison Ashley, fairly new at the time, had plenty of psychological depth, she said that yes, it was good, but it was a paperback!)

Anyway, I started reading this story in Firebirds Rising and suddenly realised that it was a direct sequel to Singing The Dogstar Blues! It has been such a long time since I read the book, I'd forgotten everything about it except that it was funny, it was set in a future Melbourne, at a future Melbourne University, that there was music involved and adventure. I don't have it any more, as I donated it to my library(probably gone by now, since the senior campus library was closed down), but I can always get the ebook now.

The short story started to bring it all back. The heroine, Joss, is a first year student at Melbourne Uni, specialising in music and hoping to watch important events in music history when she does some time travel. She has a partner/room mate, Mav, the only alien student on Earth, of the Chorian race, who are born as twins, who are connected telepathically all their lives, though Mav has lost his twin and is trying to connect with Joss instead. In this story, he wants to be connected with Joss when she has a "mating ritual", something she is not happy about. And there are troubles between the "comp" kids, genetically engineered through appropriate donations, and the "noncomp" who aren't, but who all seem to be wealthy enough not to need to be engineered for intelligence or physical ability, because they have plenty of money already, without having to work for it.

It was an unexpected treat and, on my first trip outside the house in a few days(I've been lying in the warm, recovering from a nasty cold since Thursday), to get some groceries, I settled down to read it over lunch in my local bakery.

An enjoyable read on a cold Melbourne winter day! Now to read the rest of the stories in the anthology...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Stella Prize Schools Program: A Guest Post By Bec Kavanagh

Welcome again to Bec, who answered some questions about the Stella Prize Schools Program the other day and who now has kindly written us a guest post about it. An award and program well worth supporting! Take it away, Bec.

Young adults need to read books about women and girls written by women and girls.

I can’t tell you the number of female author friends I have who have told me stories about changes they’ve had to make to their books to give them wider appeal. The suggestions range from using their initials instead of their first names on the cover (because a woman’s name won’t sell ‘boyish’ books) to changing the cover illustration to something more or less masculine depending on the perceived audience. I’ve also heard of boy characters being included to make sure boys stay engaged, or a love interest is added or emphasised because that’s what girls want. But what if they don’t? What if these prescriptive gender assumptions are in fact doing both boys and girls a great disservice by slamming shut the very important doorways into the lives of others that books offer?

The problem is not that women aren’t writing. It’s just that they’re not getting noticed. Or maybe it’s that they’re not getting noticed by enough people. Or maybe it’s that they’re not getting noticed in a way that affords them the same relevance as books written by male (generally white, often long dead) authors. There’s a whole other argument here about YA in general not getting taken seriously, but what if that’s just a further consequence of the gender bias found in the adult world of literature? If, as adults, we find that women’s stories are considered less relevant, less intelligent, less universal – and underrepresented in literary prizes and on the books pages – then it follows that that attitude is amplified in a category of writing dominated by women.

We need more books by Australian women on school booklists. We need more books by Australian women on school booklists because only by giving them more space can we truly begin to show what it is to be a girl growing up in Australia today. We need books by women living on farms, in cities, living corporate lifestyles, bohemian lifestyles or farming free-range cattle. We need books that show women with disabilities, Indigenous women, refugee women, women exploring their sexuality, women whose cultural background makes their experience different from other women. Why do we need them? Because young women from all kinds of backgrounds need to see themselves represented in literature, and they need to feel that their voices will be heard in the discussions about our future. We need them because it’s as important for young men to read stories about young women as it is for young women to read them about young men. Books are a conversation that sets the tone for our future, so let’s make sure everyone gets heard.

The Stella Prize Schools Program was established in 2014, and I’m lucky enough to have been on board from early on. I’ve seen schools begin really important conversations about the kinds of texts that they’re putting on booklists, and whose voices are being sidelined. And I’ve spoken to wonderful, inspiring young people who are passionate about change. I’ve had books recommended to me by young women who are deeply affected by something they’ve read. I’ve seen students set up clubs to create an open space where diverse stories can be shared. I’ve also had students tell me they feel ‘betrayed’ when gendered marketing has turned them away from a book. Change is happening, but that doesn’t mean we should stop. As the Stella Prize Schools Program pushes through its second year and on towards its third, I look forward to seeing more Australian women on booklists and in schools running talks and workshops. I look forward to running Professional Development sessions with more schools to make these changes happen. And I look forward to seeing a generation of girls and boys evolve who are not limited by their gender.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Stella Prize Schools Program - An Interview With Bec Kavanagh!

 Earlier this year, we had a wonderful guest speaker, Alice Pung, compliments of the Stella Prize Schools Program. I had spoken to Ambelin Kwaymullina at Continuum, the annual Melbourne SF convention, telling her about my disadvantaged school, and she let me know that the Stellas were setting up a schools program and might be willing to help us out with a guest speaker, something we can't afford ourselves. They were, bless them, and I invited the Schools Coordinator, Bec Kavanagh, to talk about the program here, because I think they're doing a fabulous job in promoting women's writing and getting children interested. Today I am posting some interview questions I sent Bec, along with her photo. Tomorrow there will be a guest post from Bec, with more details. Enjoy!

If you'd like to learn more about the Stella Prize Schools Program, follow this link: 



How did the Stella Prize Schools Program Begin?

The Stella Prize Schools Program was established to address the gender imbalance on school booklists and to start discussions about the way the unconscious gender bias impacts young readers. The Schools Program launched in Victoria in September 2014, and we launch this year in NSW on the 9th of September at the Sydney Story Factory.  
What  are some of the things Stella Prize Schools Program does? And what is your particular job?
The Stella Prize Schools Program is working to change the gender imbalance on booklists by offering support to teachers through free PDs, teachers’ notes and reading questions in our regularly updated Education Resource Kit, and to promote books by Australian women through discussions with schools and other educational bodies. I have worked with the Schools Program from its inception, creating the Education Resource Kit and leading school visits and professional development sessions in schools. 

How have schools responded to this program so far?

So far we’ve had incredibly positive feedback from schools – one teacher who took part in a free PD session commented that it ‘injected a lot of understanding and enthusiasm into the staff who attended’. The Schools Program certainly seems to be starting those incredibly important discussions about how and why particular books are studied more often than others, and the ways in which young people’s perceptions of themselves and the world are affected by the books they study.

Do you mostly work at girls' schools or equally at co-ed schools? 

I’ve run sessions at both co-ed schools and girls’ schools. We want to work with all schools (including boys’ schools), as gender bias is something that affects all young people.

What response do you get from boys? 

Primarily, the sessions I run are with staff, and I’ve had some really wonderful responses from male staff members about the changes they’d like to make in their classrooms. One comment that sticks with me came from a boy who attended the ‘Girls’ Books vs Boys’ Books’ session at the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2014. We were talking about gendered marketing, and the way covers are often designed specifically to appeal to either girls or boys. We showed the students a particular book, and asked if they would read it based on the cover. Many of the boys in the audience said ‘no’. We then described the contents of the book and went into more detail about the plot and the themes – many of the boys who had said ‘no’ at first changed their answer to ‘yes’. We asked the audience how they felt about being ‘shut out’ of a book by gendered marketing, and one of the boys responded, ‘I feel betrayed’. I thought that was the most succinct and powerful response. We’re betraying all young people by telling them that who they are – what stories they should be engaging with and even what they can achieve – is defined by their gender. 

It has often been said that girls will read anything, while boys prefer to read books with male characters - how true have you found this? (For the record, it hasn't been completely true at my school, where the main fans of Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials and even Tamora Pierce's novels, all with strong female leads, have been boys)

In my experience visiting schools and talking to teens about books, it’s a mixed bag. I think that teens aren’t actually bothered by whether the author or protagonist is the same gender as them or not. A more significant deciding factor is the way books are presented. The designs of many genre books are fairly gender neutral, but in realistic YA there is more of a boys books/girls books divide, which is largely derived from how they are marketed. That’s a real hurdle to consider when we’re encouraging teenagers to read widely.

Are you thinking of having a junior version of the Stella Prize at some stage, ie for books written for children and teens? 

Our current priority for the Schools Program is to continue lobbying for change on school curricula and promoting greater diversity in the range of books students are exposed to. We put a lot of work into our annually updated Education Kit to support teachers and enable them to address these issues in the classroom. But in the future, anything’s possible! 

Thank you, Bec, for your thoughtful answers to the questions! 

If you'd like to learn more about the Stella Prize Schools Program, follow this link:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Reading and Rereading Now

I'm carrying in my tote bag the new novel by Louis Sachar, Fuzzy Mud, this one aimed at younger readers - mid to late primary school. The heroine is in fifth grade and there is an issue with something mysterious a local lab is brewing. So far, quite readable. If I can get an hour or two to myself I should be able to finish it, then I'll share my thoughts with you.

Also carrying Blood Queen by Rhiannon Hart, which the author kindly sent me from England via Amazon. I've started it and I'll say at this point that you really do have to have read the others to understand what 's happening, so if you haven't, why not read them while you wait for my review? 

I've just picked up my battered copy of Harry Turtledove's AU Shakespeare novel, Ruled Britannia from the pile by my bed. I find it easier going than some of his other novels, as it's only seen from two viewpoints, Shakespeare and Spanish playwright and soldier Lope De Vega. As I said - battered. I've read it over and over!

And as I have my iPad in my tote bag, I've got hundreds more books in case I want a break from review copies! I'm rereading Dog Wizard by Barbara Hambly, the third in her Windrose Chronicles, which I seem to be enjoying more this time around. I'm being firm with myself and rereading this before I buy the newer Antryg Windrose novellas now available on iBooks. The author has self published quite a lot of ebook shorts and novellas set in her most popular universes, but so far these are the only ones I can find on iBooks and I'm not keen to go to Smashwords and offer up my card details, even if it does mean being able to read more Ben January adventures. I will just have to be patient. If you haven't yet discovered the delightful Antryg Windrose do get a copy of The Silent Tower - especially if Tom Baker is your favourite Doctor. Barbara Hambly is a Tom Baker Doctor fan girl and Antryg is Doctor 4, with cheap beads instead of a scarf! 

And I'm starting again with To Kill A Mockingbird, also on my iPad, before deciding if I am willing to take a chance on Go Set A Watchman, the "new" Harper Lee novel, written first but set twenty years later. I am not sure if I'm quite ready to see Atticus Finch as a racist and bigot who is fighting integration. I know he's based on the author's father, but Mr Lee STARTED as a racist and changed his mind while she was writing the book.

There have been some positive reviews, even by people who loved the first book, but others have just not been able to cope with it. I have been known to be unable to wait, especially now I can just hit the "buy" button on iBooks. And the thing about ebooks is that you can't give away any that you didn't enjoy.  So, again, being firm! 

There are some online pieces about the celebration in her home town, with public readings, parties and people costuming as Atticus! Go take a look, it's delightful. 

What do you think, readers? Are you planning to read it? Already reading? 

Monday, July 13, 2015

In The Skin Of A Monster by Kathryn Barker. Sydney: Allen And Unwin,2015

Three years ago, Alice's identical twin sister took a gun to school and shot seven people, including her boyfriend. Since then, the small outback town where they live hasn't been the same. Nobody has overcome their grief - least of all Alice, who wears the killer's face and has to cope with the anger of the others in the town. Then one day, after her return from time in therapy, Alice sees  on the road   a ghostly figure  she thinks must be her sister. Going after it, she finds she has swapped bodies and is now in a land of dreams - and nightmares. Everybody's nightmares... 

This could easily have been another YA contemporary tale of overcoming a truly horrible event, and it would have been good in its own right. But the author has gone a step further. She has taken us to where the dream versions of people from this world are wandering around, trying to survive among the monsters from people's dreams, including many versions of the killer who had taken away their children and friends, where a girl from this world needs to overcome her own inner monsters in a way not possible in the real world. 

This is a debut novel from a promising new writer. 

It's a fascinating premise and makes a very good piece of horror fiction as well as a psychological thriller. For what could be more terrifying than we can imagine ourselves? 

"Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland" will never be the same again! 

Available at all good bookshops from July 29!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Phyllis Wong And The Waking Of The Wizard by Geoffrey McSkimming.Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2015

Phyllis Wong is a magician, like her great-grandfather, Wallace Wong, a successful stage magician who disappeared in 1936. She lives with her father Harvey Wong and her fox terrier Daisy, in a building named for her ancestor, training herself as a conjuror. A basement full of Wallace's props and costumes helps, though she has a favourite shop. Her neighbours are a colourful assortment of characters, from a belly dancer to a police inspector.

In the last novel, Phyllis Wong And The Return Of The Conjuror, she discovered that Wallace Wong was still alive and well and travelling through time(or, rather, Time), in a process he calls Transiting - and that she, too, had the ability to do this. There's no TARDIS. If you have the ability you can do it, with the help of some stairs and an object from the Time you want to visit, and you can take a guest with you - in Phyllis's case, this is her friend Clement, a boy who loves over-the-top disguises and playing zombie fighter games online. If you don't have the ability, you can run up and down the stairs all you like and you'll just get tired.  That novel was about a lost play by Shakespeare and some suspiciously new but absolutely authentic First Folios being auctioned off in the present day. There was some time travel involved.

This novel involves more time travel, a Paris theatre in 1931, an evil ventriloquist and Myrddyn Emrys, aka Merlin. Wallace Wong does make an appearance but leaves the story early, hoping that his great grand-daughter will find Merlin, not only the greatest magician of all time, but the inventor of the TimePocket used by Wallace and Phyllis. As the story continues, it becomes vital that she does find Merlin or the world might just come to an end, not with a bang but with the Great Whimpering...

In some ways this series is very different from Geoffrey McSkimming's Cairo Jim Chronicles, in which an Indiana Jones-like archaeologist had adventures in various parts of the world, with his companions, a Shakespeare-quoting macaw and a telepathic camel who enjoyed reading western novels. There was even a kind of Marcus Brody in those novels. The heroes of this series are a young girl and her friend and the time is clearly now, with the Internet and mobile phones, while you never could tell when any individual story was set in Cairo Jim; a couple of them had mobile phones while in another of them a character remembers something that happened in 1910. 

But there is the same over-the-top whimsy, the same humour. Wallace Wong keeps making bizarre comparisons and, when Phyllis doesn't get them, exclaiming, "Oh, I know what I am meaning!"  And there is also a message; in Cairo Jim, the gentle message tended to be about countries that appropriated the cultural heritage of other countries, through their museums. In this one, interestingly, a message of sorts comes from the lips of the villain! He's right, but also wrong. Read it and find out what it is.

It's probably better if you have read at least one of the two earlier books, but it isn't necessary. I haven't read the first one. 

Recommended for good readers from about ten upwards. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Silly Book Of Weird And Wacky Words by Andy Seed, Ill. Scott Garrett.London:Bloomsbury, 2015

Really, English is a crazy language that has only become crazier over the centuries. Why not share the craziness with children? 

But with the interesting words and expressions you never knew have a long history(and well-known expressions we use daily that come from Shakespeare), this book has puns, riddles, jokes and tongue-twisters, enough to keep the little one in the back seat entertained till you "get there" or absorbed at lunchtime in the school library. 

And you get sucked in. Did you know what the word "griggling" means? I didn't! (It's an early word that means "collecting small apples" and not, as you might think, a way of saying "giggling" with your mouth full). I look forward to hearing some child say,"I think I'll get my Mum some daffadowndillies for her birthday." 

I love a book which teaches kids things without their noticing they're learning!


On Reviewing Books By Friends...Or Not

This morning I read a blog post at Writer Beware, about a woman who had been upset - very upset - when Amazon took down one of her reviews because the Amazon computer perceived her as having  a connection with the author whose book she was reviewing. She said that this wasn't the case, she was just a fan.

I hadn't been aware that this was an Amazon policy. That doesn't matter to me. I don't post reviews on Amazon. I have a few Kindle books in the app on my iPad; some were bought with a gift voucher I won in one of  many blog-based giveaways. The rest were downloaded during various authors' free promotional offers. I've never actually paid for an Amazon book. So I don't have much connection with them. I prefer iBooks, both for the layout and for the fact that they can be bought without having to give anyone my card details. Most of my reviews are on my own blog or on January Magazine, from books I received as review copies.

But it made me think. I can understand why this policy might be considered fair. But where I live, the writing community, like the general population, is small - very small. The children's writing community is even smaller. When I go to a publisher party or a conference, I know most of the people there. They may not all be personal friends, I don't get invited to their homes, but I will know them at least through social media, email, science fiction fandom or having known them before either of us had sold anything. George Ivanoff and Sean McMullen, for example, are folk I knew through fandom well before we sold our first stories(there are others!). I knew Paul Collins as my local second hand bookshop proprietor years before he became my publisher(though he was already publishing then). If, as someone suggested - very practically - on Writer Beware, there was a disclaimer with each review, it might be easier for me to put one on reviews of books by people I don't know than those I do!

I don't do the standard "I got this book in exchange for an honest review" statement. All my reviews are honest, including those of books I borrowed from the library or bought. If I hate a book, or even have too many concerns about it, I don't finish or review it. Life is too short.

Really, I'd rather not review books by friends, as is the policy of some people I know. Because...what if I don't like the book? I do say, "This worked for me, that didn't." Politely. Sometimes, a friend doesn't think that's quite good enough. One such friend badgered me to make my review more enthusiastic(she didn't say exactly that, but implied it). It did have a lot of good things about it, but also some things that I thought didn't work. She wanted a  five-star enthusiasm I couldn't give it. You can see the problem.

But when you know nearly everyone... What do you do?

So - do you think I should put disclaimers on my reviews? Any writers out there, what are your thoughts on this issue?

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Next Ford Street Event!

In case you missed this week's terrific event at Ford Street, there's another one coming up in two weeks. I can't go due to family commitments, but if you're in Melbourne and can go, do!

The guests this time will be Deborah Abela, Nicky Johnston and the delightful Archimede Fusillo, who alone is worth the price of admission, even if you haven't yet read any of his books(I have read several). I've heard him speak to kids - wow!

Oh, and here is what Paul had to say about the last session!

Apologies that our next An Evening With . . . is so close to our last event, but Deborah Abela said she'd be in town and available so I snapped her up. Teamed up with Archie Fusillo and Nicky Johnston we're set for another blockbuster.

We had a great night on the 6th. Gary Crew spoke to us about castaways and how his research led to writing Voicing the Dead while Judith Rossell also talked about her research and how it helped to create her award-winning novel, Withering-by-Sea.

Apart from our most excellent librarians/teachers and friends, we had a stellar cast of authors and illustrators present. They included Michael Pryor, Marc McBride, Adam Wallace, Jane Tanner, Claire Saxby, Vikki Petraitis, Mackenzie Oliphant, Mark Wilson, Robert Favretto, Leigh Hobbs, Meredith Costain, George Ivanoff, Andrew Plant, Michelle Hamer, Sue Bursztynski, Sunshine Herbert, Sean McMullen and Lucy Sussex.
Book early, guys, there really isn't much space! Go to their web site to check the details. It will be under the newsletters, I think. Paul sent me a copy of the flier, but yet again it came as a file I just can't reproduce properly here. One of these days I will get him to send a Word document...

Posts To Come - About The Stellas!

Bec Kavanagh, from the Stella For Schools program has written a great guest post which I will be posting as soon as she has also answered some interview questions I've just sent her.

This year, as you may know if you've been following this blog*, my lucky school had a visit from the amazing Alice Pung, compliments of the Stella For Schools program(which I heard about thanks to Ambelin Kwaymullina). By way of thanks, and because I thought you might enjoy it, I invited them to do a guest post or an interview, and just two days ago I finally received the guest post. And then ?i thought, what-the-heck, why not have both? Bec kindly agreed.

I'm reading my way through the books sent me by A&U and Bloomsbury - I need the humour of the Geoffrey McSkimming book to help me get through a chilling horror novel in the pile. I'm hoping to have at least one review up before I have to return to work, and long work days next week.

Watch this space!

*And if you're not following thus blog, why not scroll to the "join" button right now? Never miss a post again!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Impossible Knife Of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. Melbourne:Text, 2014. A sort-of Review

For the past five years Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq.
Now they are back in town where he grew up so Hayley can go to a proper school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.
Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over?

I have just finished reading this book, which I bought at Reading Matters Conference. It took me only a few hours ; I started it yesterday and finished just now, in between taking out my teenage niece and phoning a friend who needed cheering up. Fortunately, my niece is a fellow reader; after I'd bought her a copy of the latest James Dashner adventure, we went for afternoon tea and sat with our noses in our books until it was time to catch our bus. Just as well, because while I enjoyed our outing and her company, I had a hard time putting this book down. 
I really must take my hat off to Ms Anderson, who can do both contemporary fiction for young adults and historical YA fiction, such as Chains and Forge. I don't read adult contemporary fiction, but YA is so much more readable! 
And this one was. The girl's relationship with her father really brought home how it might feel to be the child of someone suffering post traumatic stress disorder. I have read that the author had a father who was suffering it after having seen the concentration camps at the end of World War II. (My own parents were camp survivors and while they didn't do any of the things described in this novel, it definitely affected their lives.) Hayley's father, a professional soldier, has been unable to hold down a job for long and has had nightmares after tours of duty in both Iran and Afghanistan; the author inserts a number of short scenes from the father's viewpoint to make this point. He and Hayley love each other, but the PTSD has made their lives difficult. 
A word about Finn. Honestly, I wish there had been a Finn in my life when I was at school! He is not merely good looking, he's warm and funny and matches Hayley's intelligence, he respects her and, above all, is kindhearted. He's not perfect - and he has his own troubles. But he is there for her when she needs him and in return she tries to be there for him. 
Despite the tragedies, there is plenty of humour. Finn and Hayley tell each other ridiculously exaggerated stories. Hayley's best friend Gracie describes Romeo and Juliet in a way that would havr made coffee explode from my nostrils if I'd been drinking any; I'll be sharing it with the English staff at my school, who will also enjoy it. 
This book is going into my library for the students to enjoy. 

Monday, July 06, 2015

An Evening At Ford Street Publishing

It's been a long time since Booktalkers ended at the Centre for Youth Literature. I've missed it. You would come to the State Library(before that there were three other venues - I went to all of them)and meet friends and make new friends, mostly teachers and librarians, as well as would-be librarians like Kevin Lee, a bank worker who loves children's books(he's now studying librarianship in line). You'd have nibbles and chat. Then you'd go into the ANZ Theatrette and listen to guest speakers, usually writers and sometimes publishers, and buy their books from the Little Bookroom stall. It happened four times a year, with a wonderful end of year event where publishers talked about what was coming out next year and you got a goodie bag of free books. 

That ended when someone decided that it was just too expensive, especially the food. So no more Booktalkers. They do still have the end of year event, though no free books and some of the "new books" promoted are old books that have been around for several years - perhaps a reprint? Anyway, it's still enjoyable and I go, but it's not the same. 

For the last few months, Ford Street Publishing has been running something very like Booktalkers at its Abbotsford office, only much smaller because the room is about the size of the average classroom. I haven't been able to go before, because I just don't want to go after dark to a place in the suburbs and wait for public transport afterwards, but my lovely publisher Paul Collins told me that this time a friend of mine who lives in my direction would be there, so I emailed him and he kindly agreed to drive me home.

And so I went and it was delightful. The speakers this month were Gary Crew, author of a lot of grim and scary books, and Judith Rossell, author of the delightful novel Withering-By-Sea, which was shortlisted in the Aurealises(yes! It was one of the books I read and loved) and is now shortlisted for the CBCA Awards(not that it will win, CBCA Awards, alas, tend to go to deadly serious books, not sure how this one got on the list!). 

Gary has written two picture books for Ford Street that I have read and reviewed here. He has a new Ford Street novel coming out, Voicing The Dead, based on the story of a boy who was adopted by a Torres Strait Islander tribe of headhunters in the 19th century and wrote a book about it when he finally got back to England. So his talk was about the theme of castaways in fiction over the centuries, only mentioning his book towards the end, in connection with what he had been saying. And very enjoyable it was too; so many other writers would have begun with their novel and just mentioned where they got the ideas. 

After intermission, filled with people drinking and nibbling, we heard Judith Rossell speak. I had spent some of the intermission buying a copy of her book and having her sign it for young Nicholas, a book club member and student at my school who simply adored it and asked when she was writing another book. Well, he asked if there was anything else of hers he could read(there isn't - it's her first novel, though she has wide experience as an illustrator), but will be delighted to hear there will be another book in the series, hopefully next year. She was surprised to hear that a boy had enjoyed it, but was pleased. Nicholas will also be pleased when I give it to him next week! 

She did talk about her book, but in a fascinating way. For those of us who think of the Victorian era as stuffy and behind the times, she pointed out the huge number of things that had been invented or first happened in the 1880s, when the novel is set(eg the typewriter, the lightbulb, the telephone, Coca Cola, words such as "dude") She also showed us a picture of a Victorian era hotel in the US which she used as the basis for her hotel in Withering-By-Sea. It burned down many years ago, but there are still photos of it, even a postcard showing it burning down!

On the way home, I shared a back seat with another friend of George's, Vicki Petraitis, whom I know vaguely through Sisters In Crime and who writes true crime, a wonderful chance to chat about that genre. 

On the whole, a very enjoyable evening and I do recommend these sessions for any YA/children's booklover in Melbourne. You can find out when they are by subscribing to the Ford Street newsletter.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Review Goodies From Bloomsbury And Allen And Unwin!

And here they are! I admit I've had the Angie Sage and Neil Gaiman books the longest, but be patient and you'll hear about them all. Most of them have come in the last few days. About a week ago, I heard from Geoffrey McSkimming, author of the Cairo Jim books and, most recently, the Phyllis Wong series, one of which I have read and enjoyed. He told me that the third book was out, in case I didn't know. I offered a review, of course, and did mention that he hadn't sent me the answers to the interview questions I had asked him a while back. Those were mostly about Cairo Jim, so it was a bit late now, but he promised that this time he would answer some questions about the current series, with a bit of Cairo Jim thrown in. I don't know if I have ever mentioned it here, but it was thanks to Geoffrey that I discovered the wonderful market of the NSW School Magazine, when he was speaking at a library conference I attended.

There are two humorous books from Bloomsbury which shouldn't take me too long to read, The Silly Book Of Weird And Wacky Words and Uncle Gobb And The Dread Shed. There's a brand new book by Louis Sachar, Fuzzy Mud. I've only read two others, Holes and one on the theme of bridge(and who would have thought that bridge would be as complex a game as chess?). Both are contemporary with a touch of fantasy, a style I like, so I'm looking forward to reading this one. 

When I emailed the lady doing publicity for Allen And Unwin to ask for the Phyllis Wong book, The Waking Of The Wizard, she told me that while she was about it, she would also send me The Skin Of A Monster, a debut novel by a Sydney writer, Kathryn Barker and, when available, the latest novels by Catherine Jinks and Garth Nix. I don't know the titles of those yet, but look forward to reading them. 

Finally, Rhiannon Hart, author of the Lharmell trilogy, sent me a copy of the final Lharmell novel, Blood Queen. It took a while getting here, but finally arrived today with the two from Allen And Unwin. I don't know if you've read the first two, but I thought them very good and have reviewed them on this site in case you want to take a look. Rhiannon has left Australia and is now living in London, which is a loss for Australian YA fiction, but hopefully there will be more for us to read in future. 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

On Rereading Mark Twain's The Prince And The Pauper


Yesterday morning I awoke to ABC Classical FM, which had a film composer theme. The particular piece they were playing was an Erich Korngold violin concerto. Now, Korngold, like other composers best known for their film music, did other stuff - and the other stuff sneaks in themes from their movies. In this case, the tune sounded very familiar to me, because I'm a huge fan of this particular composer, and of film music in general. (When my younger brother was growing up, he and I  played a lot of film scores together and discussed them, and he saved his pennies - literally! -  to buy the music of a new movie called Star Wars. He still has the vinyl double album, which is labelled The Star Wars, though these days he prefers to play the CD) 

I spent most of yesterday trying to remember where I had heard that tune before and in the end, the "once upon a time, did it happen or didn't it?" flavour told me. It was from the 1937 version of The Prince And The Pauper, in which the title roles were played by twins and Errol Flynn played the role of Miles Hendon, the returned soldier who helps the young prince, even though he doesn't believe him. There have been other versions of the movie since then, including one with Oliver Reed as a very attractive Miles, Charlton Heston as the King and a rather-too-old teenage Mark Lester as the boys, and the Disney version with the dashing Guy Williams as Miles and Aussie actor Sean Scully as the boys. There has even been, though I haven't seen it yet(the joys of YouTube will fix that), a TV serial, with some accurate early music, judging by the bits I heard on YouTube. But that score for the 1937 version has to be the best. 

For one thing, it inspired me to go and download the book from Project Gutenberg, since I couldn't find my paperback copy. And I'm rereading it and loving it all over again. While the idea is unlikely, all the author asks us to believe, in the first chapter, is that it could have happened. And he takes the trouble to make it possible for Tom Canty, the pauper, to be accepted as the prince, if one gone insane. He can read and write and knows some Latin, because there's a priest living in his building, one of those thrown out during the dissolution of the monasteries. Father Andrew has taught him. He's not even dirty because he has discovered he quite likes washing.  And he has been playing prince in his mind and with his friends for a long time, so has had some practice. 

I suspect if Mark Twain was alive today he would be considered something of a lefty. Reading novels like this one, Connecticut Yankee and Huckleberry Finn makes me think that he had a thing about the class system and hated slavery. He doesn't just work it into the storyline, he stops and argues about it during each novel. Two of these three novels are written in first person, but even this one, which isn't, tells you what the author thinks. 

I love the gentle humour in all of them, though this one is the gentlest of the three - dreadful things happen in the other two, REALLY dreadful things which I won't go into here. Read them. 

And read this one. It has inspired quite a lot of other stories, check out the cultural references in Wikipedia to start with. I personally think there's a touch of this theme in The Prisoner Of Zenda, though the hero is not a pauper, and that has its own inspirations, such as the movie Dave, in which the Rudolf Rassendyl character has to pose as the US President, who has collapsed suddenly. 

But read the Mark Twain book. Read it. I have seen someone on Goodreads give it a one star rating because they don't like that "Shakespeare language". But that's only the dialogue,the rest is not ye olde English, and even so, it's easy enough reading. I would say any child who reads well and enjoys historical adventure could handle it. I know I did. 

So read it and play some Korngold music while you read!

Just Borrowed From The Library...

These days I'm only borrowing occasionally, when I can actually get to the local library, but my local library is very good. It has an entire bay of speculative fiction. 

I remember when the new head honcho at the library merged everything together, all the SF, romance, mystery just being shoved in with the non-genre stuff, despite all the genre fans using the library. My mother loves crime fiction and when there was a crime section she used to browse her way through and choose her borrowings that way. When they shoved the mysteries in with the literary fiction, she stopped choosing her own books and made me do all the borrowing for her, which I'm doing till this day. Fortunately, the books do still have labels on them to let you know if they're mysteries, romance, etc., or I'd have to look it all up in the catalogue. I'm a librarian myself, but I have no patience to do that unless there's something specific I want. The place is too big to look it all up in the catalogue under "mystery", then write it down and hunt for individual books by author all over the place. 

I asked the staff, who said they had tried to explain to the new head librarian that their library users liked having separate sections, but she wouldn't listen. So they carefully sneaked genre books on to the "new books" display shelves, even if they weren't new. They didn't say that, but it was obvious. They suggested I send a letter to the head honcho, which I did - and regretted it... She phoned me at work and earbashed me for forty-five minutes or more about why she was right and I was wrong! I finally escaped from her; that was forty-five minutes of wasted work time I never got back. 

Anyway, these days, while you still don't get separate crime or romance sections, there is a bay just for spec fic again! I guess the spec fic fans must have made the most noise. Really, I do like to find new writers, not just the old favourites. I spotted some anthologies of Nebula winners, which I noted down for my next visit. There was a cute Connie Willis story about political correctness gone haywire in the school library, which I must get back to. 

But tonight, I have found a new - to me, anyway - book in Tanya Huff's series featuring Henry Fitzroy! Yay! I've only read a couple of the early books, but I know what they're about. In modern Canada, a woman detective who had to leave the police force because of her night blindness has found a partner who can do night things very well, but needs someone to do things for him in the daytime, being a vampire who's been around for a few hundred years. He is Henry VIII's son, who died in his teens(and yes, he was a real person, in case you haven't heard of him, who may have died of TB)and became a vampire from choice, after meeting a sweet young thing who had been around since the 1300s and only turned him very reluctantly, on his insistence. These days he is making a living as a novelist writing historical romance. He doesn't harm anyone - when he needs blood, he romances a woman or two and sips just a little blood from them in the middle of fabulous lovemaking! They never notice. 

I know the books are not everyone's cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoy them. I also like her Confederation series of space operas/military SF. There just aren't enough these days, with Lois McMaster Bujold mostly turning to fantasy(but not entirely!), ditto Elizabeth Moon. So when I find well-written space opera I grab it. Unfortunately, none of the Confederation series are in the library, so I may have to buy the ebooks. 

So, that's my library borrowing for this week! What's yours?

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Scarlet Rider by Lucy Sussex. Ticonderoga Pulications, 2015

Mel, an unemployed young woman not long out of university, is offered a job by a small press dedicated to women writers, especially women crime writers. They need her to do some research for them. They have a wonderful Victorian mystery novel set on the goldfields and first published as a serial in a small local newspaper. The problem is that the book was published anonymously. The publishers believe the author was a woman, but can't be sure and if the novel wasn't written by a woman, they can't publish it. It's up to Mel to find out, using the public library, old police files and her aunt's expertise in history and genealogy. While following the trail of the mysterious novelist, Mel must handle a lot of personal and family problems, not to mention some strange dreams and the uncomfortable feeling that she's being haunted, perhaps even possessed...

I read this book when it was first published by Tor, back in the 1990s. The original edition didn't do all that well, I believe, for reasons unconnected with its quality. Not in the US, anyway, though it received a Ditmar Award here. Apparently, it was hard to place on bookshop shelves, due to being cross-genre - fantasy, history and mystery.

There's a definite feel of reality about the research, not surprising with the author's academic background. It's slightly dated, of course, because while there is still plenty of research done by reading primary - physical - documents, there is also a lot you can do online, not available at the time when the novel was written. Also, Mel would have been spared a number of troubles if mobile phones had been as common in the 1990s as they are now.

 But this is not a story that can be updated much; it would lose a lot of the suspense and drama if Mel could simply Google something or pull out her mobile phone to make an emergency call instead of having to find a phone booth and the right change. It makes me think of Josephine Tey's Daughter Of Time, published back in the 50s, when the hero solves a mystery from his hospital bed, with some help from a researcher - in the 21st century, Inspector Grant would probably be carrying on with his paperwork with a borrowed laptop or iPad, but could also Google information about Richard III -  if he even bothered to do something not work related.

Mind you, there's the occasional oddity unconnected with the fact that this book was set in the 1990s, such as Mel saying of her recently deceased aunt, who was sixty-seven at the time of death,"She's had a good run." Mel may be young enough to think that, but the author wasn't! Very strange! 

It's great to see this wonderful novel back in print, and well done to Ticonderoga for not only publishing it, but giving it a much better cover than the Tor original. I can only hope that there will be an ebook edition at some stage, making it available around the world, but meanwhile, you can buy it from the publisher, Ticonderoga Publications, here or, if you're in Australia, ask your local bookshop to order it.