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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Student Poet ... Another happy dance!

Today, young Dylan told me that he had won the secondary section of the Kororoit Creek poetry competion. It's a local thing, connected with the area where I work and he goes to school. I don't recall who gave me the competition posters, but I put it up on the library door and hoped someone might enter.

And it was this Year 7 boy. I don't teach him(yet. Maybe next year?) but he's a regular lunchtime library patron. A bit of a nerd, but he doesn't borrow much, because he reads books from home. He's been reading the Obernewtyn series by Isobelle Carmody, and after five books, he's ready for a break. Perhaps I can recruit him for Book Club next year.

Tomorrow he is having his photo taken, possibly for the local paper.

Anyway, it isn't the first time one of our kids has won a writing competition. One boy won a place in a writing workshop with Anthony Horowitz, his hero. The poor boy froze, however, as people do in the presence of their heroes.

Then there was Kayla, who won the Year 9 section of the annual Write Across Victoria competition. I went to see her pick up her prize at the Wheeler Centre, in th last day of school before the summer holidays. I remember that night, when it was pouring and I was thankful for the Principal's gift of a taxi voucher. I took lots of photos, as did her proud father!

Hopefully, we'll have another joyous experience of this kind next year! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

An Evening Of Classics...Prince Valiant

I have a confession to make: I have had this DVD for ages and only just got around to watching it. The last time I saw it was on late-night TV. 

It has quite a cast: Robert Wagner(best known for some later TV shows), Janet Leigh(who had a tendency to play golden-haired medieval heroines), Debra Paget(who went on to play Hebrew maiden Lilia in The Ten Commandments a couple of years later and got to play a Native American girl in Broken Arrow), with Sterling Hayden as Sir Gawain and a smoothly evil James Mason, who played a lot more villains than good guys. The music is by Franz Waxman and very familiar - I'm sure I've heard it recently. 

I can't resist having a giggle, though. The story is set during the reign of an elderly King Arthur, but the castles are Norman and the women's costumes are more Hollywood glamour than mediaeval. Most of the actors are American, and, Viking or Briton, the characters speak American English, something that was common in films made at this time. James Mason spoke with his own accent, of course, but he was the villain. Villains in those days did tend to be British.

The tournament was fifteenth century, but the knights jousted without much armour and Val, knocked off his horse, staggered to his feet, not much hurt. Actually, not hurt at all. 

And those Vikings! The evil ones go mostly bare-chested, the good ones(Valiant's people) cover up a bit more, but both varieties wear those horned helmets we used to believe Viking warriors wore before later discoveries were made. 

I'm watching a late scene now. Val is fighting the evil Sir Brack with his father's singing sword, and, by gum, the sword is singing a Franz Waxman tune! 

One more thing: the name of the fictional Norse kingdom from which Val comes is Skandia. I wouldn't be surprised to find this is where John Flanagan got his own Skandia, the Norse equivalent in the world of The Ranger's Apprentice. 

Why not? Flanagan's England equivalent has the name of a town in New South Wales! 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

On Tears Of Joy!

Oh, joy! On my way into work(still on the train)I have received an email from the literacy co-ordinater, Janis. "This will make you smile. Great!"

And it did. It was the results from my literacy students' on-demand tests. All of them have improved, one of them vastly. Mind you, the girl who had not been attending many classes could have done even better if she had, but never mind. She has improved by a couple of year levels.

My real pleasure is the boy who supposedly went backwards last time. He's gone up four reading levels. I thought so. He's been reading a proper novel. Not a thick one, but a novel, not the high-interest-low-reading-level books we use.

I'm shedding tears of joy.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On Blogger And Comments

Hi, would-be commenters!

Google in its wisdom has rejigged Blogger's layout. I can no longer open my dashboard, scroll down from my list of blogs(I have two of my own and another one I set up for the purpose of using a no-longer-available free ebook service to ebook my students' posts. But it gets hits, so I've left it up.) and read the blogs I follow. It's all separate now, no more dashboard at all.

I don't know how it's affected comments, because they used to be there on the dashboard next to the blog concerned. You have to click into the "comments" link now. I did do a fiddle yesterday, changing my readers thing from "Google accounts" to "Registered users" in case people without a Google profile had been trying to comment, but that may have nothing to do with the fact that one regular commenter has not turned up this weekend. Or it may, so for now I've put it back to "Google accounts".

If you're reading this, I'd appreciate a comment on this post, so I can see if I'm doing something wrong, or if I just haven't had comments. For now, Google profiles only, then I'll try "Registered users" again.


Okay, since writing the above I have broadened my comments option again. You can now comment from a different account, just not anonymously. 

Slush Grumbles...From My Newest Slushpile

I dropped out of the ASIM cohort about a year ago, but I'm still reading slush. I've been very strict on what I send through to the next round. Even a story I think is almost publishable doesn't go through. Almost publishable still isn't publishable. And the rules have become stricter since my time. The score, I am told, has to be around 3, which doesn't make sense to me, since the very best stories we've had in the past received a score of 4. It means all three readers have to give it 1, something I rarely do - very rarely. If you're going to give it a 2, which is a very good score, you might as well reject it outright and let the author find another market without waiting. But I give most of my passes 2 anyway, in hopes that what I was told was not the case or it has changed again.

But this isn't often an issue for me. Most of the slush I receive has been unpublishable, no ifs, no buts. And this morning I received a story that was not only unpublishable in general, it was not even speculative fiction. I had to read all 7208 words to discover this. I wish teachers of creative writing would explain more often to their students that they need to check their markets, instead of simply throwing their seeds to the wind and hoping that one of the markets on the long list given them will buy their magnum opus. I have the sinking feeling that the teachers actually advise them to submit widely, and let the market decide. Hey, I do this voluntarily. I don't even get a free copy! This is my precious time and I resent getting someone's creative writing exercise.

I also wish that more authors would do their research. I remember a story whose author thought a tsunami was a big wind, perhaps a synonym for "hurricane".

This one had not researched a certain type of animal and got it completely wrong. It wasn't even something obscure, but something pretty well known, which I bet turns up in trivia quizzes.

Look, people can get physics wrong in space stories, but physics is complicated - and one story I had in my issue of ASIM did get a bit of physics wrong; he knew about it, but hoped we wouldn't notice, because he liked it as it was. I made him rewrite, though only a bit, just enough to get it right.

But a basic bit of natural history that could be looked up on line? Come on, now!

And then there was the story that looked as if it was plucked from the middle of a novel and probably was. I had no idea what it was about. Four thousand words later I had finished the story and still didn't know what I'd read. I hated to say no to a local author, but it was just not readable, let alone publishable. The only story I let through  today was American. I thought it just might be publishable, a nice bit of humour to slip between the deadly serious pieces bound to turn up.

It was the first story I have not rejected in about the last twenty-five I have been sent. And no, I'm not over-picky, I just don't want to make the next reader have to read rubbish and then the author gets it thrown back anyway. Better for everyone to have it rejected right away. 

I'm still dreaming, every time I open a file, that this will be next year's Ditmar or Hugo winner. Really!

November 26: On This Day!

1476: A battle is won by Vlad the Impaler, better known to us as the real Dracula, making him ruler of Wallachia for the third time. 

1789: Thanksgiving becomes a national holiday in the U.S., under George Washington. Apparently, before that there was just a harvest festival at the time.

1922: Howard Carter and his sponsor Lord Carnarvon enter the tomb of King Tut. Imagine, Tutankhamon wasn't even a major Pharaoh and his tomb was crammed with amazing riches. Of course, if he'd been buried in a pyramid, the tomb would have been robbed and cleared out long ago. In any case, it inspired a lot of terrible horror movies and fiction. By the way, some years ago at my school, we had a student whose great grandfather had been with Howard Carter at that tomb, a chemist, I think. He said the family had been trying to get back a photo of great grandad and Carter from the museum in Cairo. Meanwhile, he kept hunting through our books and on line for any possible photos of his ancestor - and found one, at last, in a children's book about the discovery. 

This day has some author birthdays I simply have to celebrate, and here they are: 

1909: Eugene Ionesco, author of some truly over-the-top absurdist  plays. Two of the best-known were Rhinoceros, in which everyone in town is turning into a rhinocerosI believe that was a comment on Nazism - and The Bald Soprano(I had to read that in high school French as La Cantatrice Chauve.

1919: Frederik Pohl. Famous science fiction writer. If you've never heard of him, you just aren't a fan! He lived well into the days of the Internet and I believe he did a fanzine, which made him eligible for the best fan writer category of the Hugos. 

1922: The wonderful cartoonist  Charles Schulz, without whose genius we would never have had Peanuts, no Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder or Snoopy! And the world would be a much poorer place. 

And, for the kids, on this day in 1972 was born James Dashner, author of the Maze Runner series and The Eye Of Minds(forget which series that is, but it was a nice bit of fiction about being in a virtual reality world). Teenagers just love it all. Boys and girls alike borrow his books from my library. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

What I'm Reading And Rereading

Over on the Tor website, they're having a reread of Dune. I thought I might join in. I have it in ebook now, because I really don't want to stuff up my battered - and signed - paperback. I got it autographed when the author was visiting Melbourne. He had been a guest of honour at Swancon, an annual Perth convention, and was travelling around. That was at Space Age bookshop(long gone, alas!) which often hosted Swancon guests after they'd done their official gigs. Frank Herbert had a beard at the tine and looked like Santa Claus(and was just as jolly). I haven't read the rest of the series, but if you've read and loved Tolkien, you'll enjoy this - and it's the ONLY book of which I will say that. There are no Elves or Dwarves or immortal Dark Lords, but the world building is every bit as complex, the characters as fascinating, the adventure breathtaking. It's a believable universe, with good reason. I asked whether he had done his research first or begun writing and done it along the way - it's the way I do things, because otherwise my story never gets written. Other writers say the same - Robert Silverberg said so at a Worldcon I attended. But Mr Herbert snapped, "I didn't write a word till I'd researched everything!"

It is deservedly a classic.

I've bought and started reading - in ebook - Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers Of London, which is a crime fantasy novel, first in a series. So far, it's a hoot! The hero is a police officer who wants to do all the thief taking stuff and has found himself stuck with the paperwork section of the force, so that real cops can do the thief taking. In the first scene he has encountered a ghost who witnessed a murder. How do you use that information, for goodness' sake? Ben Aaronovitch is a Dr Who writer, among other things. I did hear him talking about it on the radio, but have only just bought it. The style reminds me oddly of Neil Gaiman at his quirkiest.

I've just finished rereading Kerry Greenwood's Electra, an enjoyable book. It's fantasy, with gods and the Erinyes, scary vengeful beings sent to punish a matricide. Mind you, strictly speaking, Orestes isn't a matricide. Electra is his mother, having been raped by her mother's lover. Clytemnestra is his grandmother, who has been posing as his mother, and he knows that. But if he has always thought of her as his mother, maybe he sees it as matricide. Anyway, Kerry Greenwood has fun rejigging Greek mythology. As usual.

I downloaded The Golden Apples Of The Sun, a Ray Bradbury anthology, because it had the story "A Sound Of Thunder" - that famous story where a time traveller steps on a butterfly in prehistoric times and everything changes in his own time - because there was some discussion of making it an English text at my school. I can always read some more Bradbury. I'm so glad he finally agreed to having his books in ebook, before he died. He was not a fan of the Internet. 

And then there are all those books I need to finish. All those on my TBR pile...

See you back here soon! 

Monday, November 14, 2016

When An Agatha Christie Novel Is Meh...

Last week I popped into Dymock's  to buy a gift voucher and simply couldn't resist picking up a couple  of Agatha Christies. I haven't read them all, and probably won't. It means that now and then I can indulge in a "new" murder mystery by the Queen of Crime.

One of the two was The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side, a Miss Marple story, set in her later years. She's been a little old lady since we've known her - but she does get older. And the world around her changes. She is a bit sad about that, but understands that life is like that. And she's sharp as ever, as everyone in St Mary Mead knows well. In this one, she's annoyed at being unable to garden any more, with a gardener who doesn't work much and does it his way when he does, and stuck with a live-in carer who treats her patronisingly, like a child with dementia. She has to be polite because the woman's wages are being paid by her ever-generous nephew, the bestselling writer Raymond West. 

None of this gets in the way of her being able to solve the mystery of a local murder at Gossington Hall, site of The Body In The Library, now owned by a glamorous Hollywood star and her director husband. 

I enjoyed it. Miss Marple understands human nature, and that helps her solve her mysteries. Plus she knows people she can call on for their expertise - but she only needs them when she already has a theory. I suspect if she ever met Poirot, with his "little grey cells", she would be polite but not think much of his ways, while he would underestimate her. 

The other book I bought was a Poirot novel, Hickory Dickory Dock. I quite liked the beginning - Miss Lemon, that pearl of a secretary, who never makes typoes, has made three in a simple letter. She is worried about her sister - hey, Miss Lemon has a sister! The sister, Mrs Hubbard(known as Ma or Mum to her students) is running a student hostel for an over-the-top - almost caricature - Greek woman. Things have gone missing, things that don't belong together and it all makes no sense. Poirot decides to check it out and sure enough, there's a murder. Then another... I sometimes think I'd run a mile if I saw Poirot coming, although, to be fair, he usually isn't called in till the murder has already happened. Well, in Murder On The Orient Express it happened while he was travelling, but there was a build up.

But that was a classic. This one ... meh. Not her best. And while I was aware of her racism and classism, it really showed in this book. It's not a KKK type of racism, just the casual kind of her era and her class. The African student is played for comic relief. It's not spoilerish to say he isn't even taken seriously enough by the author to be a possible murderer; there's no way the reader would think so! And here was I thinking that the beauty of a Christie tale was that the killer could be anyone, from the gruff Colonel to the sweet young thing(who turns out to be not so sweet). He's just dumb. He does  provide an important clue, but it's not at all because of his "little grey cells". He hasn't got any, except in the physical sense. 

I suppose it says something about English attitudes of the time that people who aren't English speakers are referred to in these novels as "foreigners" even on their home soil, when the English character is the one who is the foreigner! 

Fortunately, Poirot thinks it's hilarious. 

Still, I'm not sure I'll be rereading this one. Not for some time, anyway. A disappointment, alas!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Writing Modern Faeries: A Guest Post From Hazel West


Today's guest author is Hazel West. Hazel is the author of many, many novels of historical fantasy and fiction. Her latest books, however, are urban fantasy, with Faeries and fast cars. You might enjoy them if you like the Wicked Lovely novels of Melissa Marr.

Currently, Hazel is doing a blog tour for Book 2 of this series, but before her guest post, why not take a look at the blurbs for both books? 

In an Ireland that mixes high kings, faeries, and modern warriors who drive fast cars, Ciran, a descendant from the famous warrior Fionn Mac Cool, bands together with a company of young warriors to go on a quest to recover their missing family members who were captured on patrol by the Goblins during a shaky peace between the two kingdoms. Ciran and his companions must figure out not only how they are going to rescue the prisoners, but how they are going to complete their mission without killing each other. This first book in the new urban fantasy series by Hazel West is a story of brotherhood and friendship against all odds, that mixes the ancient Irish legends with a modern setting for an action-packed read.

Following up where Blood Ties left off, Ciran and company face not only a possible Faerie rebellion in the works, but getting their High King married off. The adventures of the modern day Fianna continues in this exciting sequel with hints of the legend of Tam Lin.  

Without further ado, here's Hazel to tell you all about An Earthly King!

Since the Modern Tales of Na Fianna series is set in a world that is slightly neo-medieval and has a mixture of modern things and ancient things, I had a lot of decisions to make when crafting the world. One of which was how to portray the Faeries and the Fae courts, which is what the plotline of Book Two An Earthly King is based upon.

I have read a lot of Faerie books and a lot of times I noticed that whether they’re fantasy, urban fantasy, or historical fantasy, they all seem to keep the Fae pretty traditional. I kind of wanted to take a different approach with that. Obviously the Fae are an ancient race, but why can’t they keep up with the times? 

When I introduced the Goblin race in Book One I kept them sort of off the grid, mainly because they are living at the very northern point of Ireland where in this world, they have few resources for electricity and whatnot but yet they still had their preferred transportation method, motorcycles and wear their leathers and biker boots. When I got to thinking about how to portray the Fae courts in Book Two I kind of went the same rout and made them sort of somewhere in between. Yes, when they are in their own realm, there is little to no need of modern conveniences, but that doesn’t mean they can’t drive a car or use a mobile phone. 

Probably my favorite part of writing this series is the fact I get to take what I want from traditional folklore and blend it into a modern setting. In this case, I kept quite a lot of traditional Faerie lore but at the same time, I changed a few things here and there to sort of fit better into a world more like ours. Why can’t Faerie princes wear Armani, after all? That also led to the BPAFF organization (Bureau of Protection Against Fair Folk) who are sort of the human/Fae liaisons. They deal with Faerie related crimes but also help to keep the peace between the humans and the Courts.

One of the main story lines in An Earthly King is that it’s based a little off of the Ballad of Tam Lin, which I even reference in the story, because, of course, Tam Lin would be a historical account to them. That meant a good part of the story focused on the Faerie ride on Samhain’s Eve and the Wild Hunt and how you win someone back from the Fae. It’s one of my favorite stories ever because it has so much traditional lore crammed into it, and it was really fun to sit down and actually deconstruct the story, looking for clues throughout it and figuring out why Janet did what she did. Like meeting the Faeries at a crossroad, or waiting until the strike of midnight and wearing a green cloak. 

Then of course, I also did research into how to ward against Faeries and there is a plethora of knowledge on that from the traditional iron and rowan, to pure silver and running water. I even researched traditional ‘Seeing’ potions and found an actual recipe from the 1600s. 

As a long time fan of Faerie lore I have been having a blast on researching this series, and I can’t wait for you guys to see what happens in the next one!

Thanks for sharing, Hazel! If you think Modern Tales Of Na Fianna might be just right for you, here are the links below. 

(And since she mentions Tam Lin, here's a link to a wonderful Tam Lin web site I discovered some time ago. It has the words to the ballad, the story outline and plenty more  information about it.)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Back From The YABBAs 2016

Yet again the YABBAs(Young Australian Best Book Awards) were held somewhere I couldn't get to by public transport, but this time, I had a lift, from my friend George Ivanoff, who had a shortlisted book. I would have loved to take my students, but the one time I was able to take them, I could only take my Year 10 book club members because they were the only ones who could meet me at the station. You have to be early and that would have meant going to work, picking up the younger students and going out again. We barely made it to the city on time for the Melbourne Writers' Fesrival this year, let alone travelling out to somewhere far off. That year, it was at Trinity Grammar, which we could reach by tram, although it was still a long way off. But really, it's not meant for Year 10 students and they looked like Gullivers in Lilliput. Still, they had a good time and one of them even made it into a video on the web site. I told them that time, "I'm signing. Meet me back here in an hour," and they went around to get autographs from their favourite writers. Then we all went back to the city and had lunch together.

This time the event was held at St Thomas More Primary School in Hadfield. The kids were utterly adorable cherubs, as primary kids tend to be - well, not all, but for an event like this you only choose kids who will enjoy it.

There was a nicely set up library, with pictures of the authors on top of the shelves. The library was run by a library technician, who had been involved in setting up the event for the day and wore a YABBA t-shirt. When the session was over, I donated a copy of Crime Time to the school library. I'd brought some copies in hopes of asking the booksellers to put them on their stall, but there wasn't time. The booksellers didn't arrive till after morning tea, because the first session filled the hall with chairs. The school put together a delightful performance with little ones reading poems about the books, singing a song and others in a costume parade, dressed as characters from various books. Very sweet! The illustrators did the usual "Mr Squiggle" act, inviting kids to come up and do a doodle, to be turned into a cartoon. The awards were presented - as usual, Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton won the junior section, for The 65 Storey Treehouse. The two of them did an act to amuse the kids, including Andy pretend-kicking Terry, who had promised to do the speech and burbled, before saying, "Thank you."

Two prizes were won by Aaron Blaby, who couldn't be there. Also not there was Morris Gleitzman, who was overseas, but his wonderful book Soon won the YABBA for older readers. 

I had wanted to buy a copy of the new Treehouse book for a book club member, Priyanka, who was having a birthday, but the new one was sold out, as was the Treehouse diary, so I figured she would settle for an earlier one, if signed (She did. When I gave it to her at her party today, she hugged it in delight).

It was going to be hard to get it signed, though. The queue was so long that I gave up and went to lunch - and at that, I was signing for quite a while after the others went, because kids who had had their Treehouse books signed came over to me before I could get up and leave myself! I mostly signed the official autograph cards, but also gave away mini-posters and bookmarks. And those kids who had helped out with the day came up to get their t-shirts signed! One young man tried to persuade me to sign his school cap. I didn't think his teachers would be happy and I wasn't sucked in by, "Oh, my teacher says it's okay." But he did settle for a signed mini-poster.

When I finally was ready to go to lunch, poor Andy and Terry were still signing, with a mile-long queue. I left anyway and thought they might come soon, but as George told me he needed to go, to drop off his daughter at gymnastics, I returned to the hall, where they were still busy. Someone explained to the kids at the front of the line that I had to go and they courteously waved me ahead of them, so I could get Priyanka's book signed, "Happy birthday, Priyanka!" from Andy and a drawing from Terry.

On the whole, a pleasant day and the school was lovely. They fed us three times - the start of the day, morning tea and lunch - and treated us as welcome guests. The kids had a great time and so did I, especially as, when I was leaving the hall with my signed book, a small girl ran up and hugged me. Nice!

Thanks, YABBA committee, for inviting me, and thanks, school, for hosting us all!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Mikhail Strogoff - The Launch!

                Sophie launches!

If you wish to buy this book, you will still find some copies  on the imprint website, but hurry! It's a limited edition of which they have sold about three quarters. 

Last night I went to a much-belated launch for the Jules Verne novel Mikhail Strogoff, newly translated by Stephanie Smee, illustrated by David Allan and published by Christmas Press. It's unusual to have a Christmas Press event in Melbourne, as Sophie Masson lives in northern NSW, but she was in town for a small press publisher conference and thought she might as well do it here.

And what a lovely place she chose, too! The Alliance Francaise de Melbourne is in a beautiful 19th century building in St Kilda, right across the road from where I lived as a small child. 

See the grey flats? I lived there!

I admired the light and airiness inside, the cream-coloured high-ceilinged rooms. Apparently, it was restored by a modern architect, who was there last night.

There were a lot of people chattering in French before the launch began. Not all of them were native French speakers, some just felt like speaking it. I was asked a number of times if I spoke it and had to explain that while I had studied it till second year of uni, I had forgotten a lot. I can read it without trouble, but you have to speak slowly if you want me to understand. A lady I was speaking to told me, "Well, I'm a professional translator and even I sometimes have to say, 'Can you repeat that?' "

Alas, the translator was stuck in Sydney with a bung back and the illustrator also couldn't be there, but Sophie held up the side for everyone. She was introduced by the head of the AF, a gentleman called Gilbert Ducass, who bought two copies of the book later and got Sophie to sign the introduction, which she had written. 

For those of you who don't know, Mikhail Strogoff is hugely popular in France, where it has never been out of print, and regarded as Verne's masterwork. It has been translated into English twice before, but poorly, and in the Victorian era. Sophie Masson, who read it five times in a row as a child, in the original French, was determined to give it a good translation. 

One thing she said was that Christmas Press is currently in negotiations with Puffin in the UK for the rights. If it works, a whole lot of children will be able to read this translation. Fingers crossed! 

Afterwards, I went to dinner with Sophie and a Russian reader called Anna Popova(pronounced Papova) who lives in Melbourne but comes from Perm, the setting of part of the book. She said that Verne was huge in Russia. He got the geographical details absolutely right, despite never having been in Russia. 

We went to Topolino's, a very popular pizza/pasta restaurant. I just had a small basic Margherita pizza, as it was getting late; my stomach wouldn't have held more. Sophie had a Bolognese, which she said was very good, a compliment from her - Sophie Masson is an amazing cook, judging by her food blog. It was a pleasant meal and chat. Anna and I saw Sophie on to her tram to the city and went to catch our own tram, as she lives on the same tram line as me. I got home quite late, but I don't regret the lengthy day. It was worth it! 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Just Finished Reading... The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt

The time: 1963. The place: Dead River Farm in the American South. 

The people: Pip, an African American orphan, whose only possession is his beloved copy of Great Expecations, given to him by his schoolteacher  mother, who named him for the hero of that book. Pip has been brought there by a Mr Zachery, who needs someone to read to his bedridden wife. The Zacherys are decent enough people, but their son Erwin is a prominent member of the local Ku Klux Klan - and he's crazy. 

Hannah, a beautiful young Native American girl, is the cook. She has been mute for some time, with good reason, as we discover. 

Jack Morrow, the hypnotist of the title, is an Irishman currently teaching at the local university, where he has been experimenting with helping servicemen to overcome their PTSD. He has strange eyes that scare people, but which help him in his work. He has been using his hypnotism for good, though he has a theatrical flair due to his parents, who did it as stage acts in their youth.  However, while teaching Pip and Hannah, he realises that there are some nasty things going on in the area, that there are colleagues who are in the Klan.

 This is the era of the Civil Rights movement. Things are happening that the Klan don't like at all. Martin Luther King is appearing on television, making his historic "I have a dream," speech. No, the Klan don't like it at all. They have plans...

The characters are people the reader can care about. The story is strong. I admit, I almost felt sorry for the crazy Erwin Zachery, who is used, first by the U.S. Army when in Vietnam, then by the Ku Klux Klan. But then, he has been strange since childhood and his actions in Vietnam got him thrown out of the army. 

I did wonder if it is really possible to use hypnotism in quite the way Jack does, since at times he sounds like Obi-Wan Kenobi murmuring, "These aren't the droids you're looking for... We can go about our business." But given that he has those strange eyes that are a part of his system, which he calls the Gift, I suspect this is a fantastical element, not intended to be taken as a real-life thing. I can't back this up, because spoilers, but I do think it's just a tiny element of fantasy. 

The book has been marketed as YA, but it might fit better in the category of "New Adult" or even adult. 

Whatever you call it, it's well worth a read.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Downloaded This Week... Some New Goodies!

Last night I impulsively downloaded Dr Zhivago. I'd been curious to read it for a long time and the film was on TV, so... There were a number of translations on offer. I suppose I should have looked online to see if there were any recommended ones, but what's the point of impulse if you then think about it? I bought the one which, to be honest, took up the least space on my iPad, then did a bit of reading about the author, Boris Pasternak, and learned that his childhood home was filled with famous composers, such as Rachmaninoff and Scriabin and authors such as Tolstoy, who was a personal friend of the family. His Dad was a painter, his Mum a concert pianist. So there was this very Bohemian flavour about the place, although they were a rich family.  

He was a poet and translator - that saved his life when Stalin was doing purges later in his life - he'd translated some poems by a favourite of Stalin's and that lovely dictator had his name crossed off the list. 

But he wasn't appreciated too much in the USSR till long after his death. When he won the Nobel Prize for Dr Zhivago, he was pressured into turning it down. I believe his son collected it many years later, well  after his death. 

Another thing : the novel is semi-autobiographical. I've only read the first couple of pages, but that will make it all the more fascinating for me. 

I've also bought 1066 Turned Upside Down, an anthology of stories about what if things had gone differently when William the Conqueror came to England. I read a bit about it on the English Historical Writers blog and it sounded interesting - as you probably know from my ramblings, I simply adore alternative history. And it was very reasonably priced. I've only read the first story so far. Still, it should be good.

The Hypnotist, a YA novel by Laurence Anholt, was in a box of books that was delivered to my school by the lovely Sun Bookshop for display. It's set in the 60s in the South and has issues of racism. I didn't want to take it home when it didn't belong to me, so I bought the ebook. I think this will be a very readable book. 

Another book in the box was The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillonan Australian book set in a refugee detention centre. I try to read as much local stuff as I can, anyway, and this one may well end up on the CBCA Notables or even short list. It's a good idea to read them before the short list hovers on the horizon and not have to catch up in the last minute on a pile of books you haven't read. 

So, that's my recent reading pile. What's yours?