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Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Children’s Writers(And St Patrick’s Day)

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This week’s Book Blogger Hop asks for your favourite children’s writer. It’s obviously aimed at people who don’t read much in this area. Hah! Children’s book blog, right? Teacher librarian? Children’s writer myself?  Children’s books are what I do. Impossible to answer this question with one. So... Let’s talk about several! 

As it’s St Patrick’s Day, I thought I might celebrate with a post about a few Irish writers I’ve read. Please forgive me if I’ve gone light on the women, but I’m sticking to writers I have read. I might add one or two books set in Ireland. 

One of these days I am going to visit Ireland, umbrella in hand, as I hear the reason why it’s so green is that it’s raining so often. An Irish couple I met once, who were tourists, told me that that particular year, it had not been raining about forty days(sort of Biblical in reverse!). It fascinates me, with its folklore and history. I believe it was never taken over by the Romans, among other things. Its patron saint, Patrick, whose day this is, wasn’t actually Irish. He appears in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists Of Avalon as a grumpy, unpleasant Bishop called Patricius, but definitely meant to be St Patrick.There are still arguments over the meaning of “he drove the snakes out of Ireland” - was it actual reptiles or did it mean pagans? 

On to the books and writers. I’ve read John Boyne’s The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, which became a huge hit and a film, about a boy whose father is in charge of a concentration camp. Despite all that, I’m afraid my response is “meh.” I much prefer Morris Gleitzman’s Once series, which I would love to see made into movies. 

Eoin Colfer is the author of the delightful Artemis Fowl series. Artemis Fowl is an Irish boy, the son of a wealthy  crime family. His father really doesn’t want to get involved in crime and has disappeared at the beginning of the first book. Artemis needs the money to get his father back and, unlike him, is a criminal genius. He decides to kidnap a fairy, Holly, who is a member of the elite fairy organisation LepRecon. She is, in fact, a female, fairy James Bond. A very funny series and I loved the whole idea of the fairies being technologically advanced beyond humans. There was a centaur Q, Foaly, who designed the stuff and a dwarf who made tunnels via huge farts... 

If you haven’t read C.S Lewis, shame on you! I confess to having first read the Narnia books as an adult, but I read his SF trilogy first: Out Of The Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Those weren’t children’s books, but,  like Narnia, were about Christianity. I preferred Tolkien, who was also religious, but didn’t shove it down your throat. However, I suspect I wouldn’t have noticed the religious elements in the Narnia books if I’d read them as a child. Perhaps I might, even then, have been uncomfortable with the hints of racism. But no doubt a classic series. If you’ve seen the TV series, by the way, you might have noticed Tom Baker in The Silver Chair as Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle, a member of a pessimistic race(he is regarded by his fellow Marsh Wiggles as rather too cheerful). Another cast member was the late Patsy Byrne, who went on to play Nursie in Blackadder.   

I faithfully promise to start reading Derek Landy, whose Skulduggery Pleasant series was, at one stage, so popular in my school library! But I haven’t yet, so on to the next. 

Another popular series my students love, by an Irish writer, is Michael Scott’s The Secrets of The Immortal Nicholas Flamel. I’ve only got around to reading the first book in the series, The Alchemyst. It was a long time ago, but as I recall, Nicholas Flamel(remember him? Mentioned in Harry Potter?), creator of the Philosopher’s Stone, is still around. So is John Dee, Elizabeth I’s astrologer. In this book he is the villain. It’s seen, of course, through the eyes of some kids who have to help Nicholas Flamel stop the baddie. Again, read it years ago. I really must go back and read the lot. 

Darren Shan(actual name O’Shaughnessy) is the author of a series of children’s vampire novels. I’ve only read the first, Cirque Du Freak, in which a boy agrees to go with a vampire running the title circus to save his friend. The friend actually wants to be a vampire, but the vampire concerned refuses to turn him, considering him disgusting. The kids at my school loved this series. I had trouble keeping them on the shelves. 

You might not think of the playwright Oscar Wilde as a children’s writer, but he did write a series of fairytales. They were pretty sad and very Victorian in flavour, but hey, they count! I bet you have heard of “The Happy Prince” or “The Selfish Giant” at least? No? Go and read them. There are some beautifully illustrated editions. His mother Jane was an Irish nationalist and wrote for newspapers under a pen name. And by the way, she was a folkorist. 

I love the poetry of William Butler Yeats - magical stuff! Did you know he also edited a collection of Irish fairytales? Here is a cover from it. Pretty, isn't it|? I have a copy, though with a different cover.

As I’ve run out of Irish children’s writers and I’ve read and promised you at least a couple of books set in Ireland - by women - here they are.

Most books by Juliet Marillier - the Sevenwaters series, Heart’s Blood and the Blackthorn and Grimm trilogy. Great stuff and you’ll find plenty of posts here about them all. 

Anna Ciddor’s Night Of The Fifth Moon, set in pagan Ireland, and Prisoner Of Quentaris, not actually set in Ireland, but featuring leprechauns, who absolutely never wish you “top of the morning!” or hide pots of gold but are shown as a sort of mediaeval heroic Irish society in miniature.  

And there you are, and happy St Patrick’s Day! If you’ve enjoyed this post, share it. 

Got any favourites yourself?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Just Finished Reading...Kindred by Octavia E Butler

People had been talking about this author and this book, so I decided it was about time to give it a try. So I downloaded it from iBooks. Big mistake to start this before bedtime. I was up reading till 4.00 am!

Kindred tells the story of Dana, an African American writer working on her first novel, who finds herself becoming dizzy one afternoon and suddenly appearing in early 19th century Maryland, which is definitely not a safe place for anyone with a black skin - especially for an educated person with a black skin. She timeslips back and forth, saving the life of a white ancestor, Rufus, each time he is in mortal danger. It’s usually his own fault, but she has little choice. She is simply whisked from her own time to his every time the idiot is in danger - and getting home is a painful process. But she has to do it, at least until he fathers her great something grandmother, or run the risk of never being born.

A fascinating timeslip story. Usually in timeslip tales, the character will take over the body of an ancestor. In this case, she simply arrives, physically, in time to save her ancestor, more than once. In fact, she takes her husband along the second time, because he’s holding her.

It’s not SF, of course, it’s fantasy. We never do find out how all this is happening, only what the rules are for getting back. Or why it happens when it does. And because the book was written in the 1970s, the "present day" is the 1970s and there are things we can do now, such as go online to research, that Dana and her husband can't. I wonder what a film or TV mini-series would do with the setting? Would it be updated? It's fun to speculate!

However, the important thing in this story is the characters - Dana, her white husband Kevin, who has to pose as her master in the past, the boy/young man she has to save - what do you do when you have to help someone you don’t much like? When you don’t know when you’ll be dragged back into the past? What happens when you’ve spent months or even years in the past and you’re back in your own time? Can you adjust?

There are other issues, but spoilers! Just read it. And read this Wikipedia entry about the author. Fascinating life! A true working class heroine - and reading it made me think that Dana’s life is just a bit inspired by her own background. Like Dana, Octavia had a Mum who wanted her to do a secretarial course and did a lot of dull jobs that let her get on with the writing late at night. A wise choice! If she’d become a teacher, say, she just wouldn’t have had the time or energy for writing as much as she did.

Now, excuse me, I have to find some more Butler to read. Any recommendations from Butler fans out there?

Friday, March 09, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Do You Enjoy Retellings Of, or Sequels To, Classic Novels

Well, this question is about books, reading and stories. And yes, I do. If I didn’t, my reading choices would be much more limited. Broadening it to “classic stories” lets me include Shakespeare. There are so very many books and films inspired by Shakespeare. Romeo And Juliet turns up everywhere, but an example is West Side Story, in which the feuding Montagues and Capulets become two street gangs, the Jets(Montagues) and the Sharks(Capulets) and who wouldn’t love the film version with the aerial shots of the dancers in the streets of New York?

Kurosawa did at least two films based on Shakespeare, Throne Of Blood(Macbeth) and Ran(King Lear). Shakespeare translates to Japan!

American rom-com She’s The Man takes Twelfth Night to a high school soccer team. That one is great fun, and I have used it with my Year 8 English classes.

 I have to confess, I have an unfinished YA novel inspired by Much Ado About Nothing. Benedick and the other soldiers are a high school boys’ footy team. Must finish!

And if the Japanese film industry borrowed from English language classics, the Americans returned the compliment with The Magnificent Seven borrowed from Japanese classic The Seven Samurai, not to mention The Hidden Fortress providing inspiration for Star Wars.

You probably know that Clueless was a Hollywood version of Jane Austen’s Emma, both the original and the film hugely entertaining. And I loved Bride And Prejudice, which took Austen’s original to modern India, the Bennets becoming the Bakshis and dancing around the streets, singing, Bollywood style. Amazing how well it translated.

But let’s go to books. Sophie Masson, Kate Forsyth and Juliet Marillier, all of whom live in Australia, by the way, are wonderful fairytale re-tellers. Juliet Marillier has done quite a few, for example the Sevenwaters series beginning with Daughter Of The Forest, which sets “The Six Swans” in mediaeval Ireland, Heart’s Blood which also sets “Beauty And The Beast” in mediaeval Ireland.

Kate Forsyth has done a wonderful version of Rapunzel, Bitter Greens, in which the witch is an Italian courtesan who once modelled for Titian. Her historical novel The Beast’s Garden, takes a Grimm fairytale, “The Singing, Springing Lark” to Nazi Germany. It’s a sort of “Beauty and The Beast” story. A fabulous book! I loved it. And in case you hadn’t noticed she likes fairytales, there is The Wild Girl, about the girl next door to the Grimms. She told them a large chunk of the folk tales they wrote down and married one of them. Another favourite.

Sophie Masson has done a lot in this area, but I’ll discuss two of her fairytale re-tellings. Moonlight And Ashes, which I have reviewed on this blog, is a very enjoyable version of  “Ashenputtel”, the Grimm version of “Cinderella”. It’s set in the 19th century, with steam trains and newspapers. Hunter’s Moon is set in the same universe as Moonlight And Ashes. It’s “Snow White” with the father being the owner of a chain of department stores. The mirror is The Mirror, a newspaper which annoys the stepmother by proclaiming Bianca/Snow White the Fairest, an annual thing. It certainly worked for me.

Sophie Masson has also edited a series of fairytale and mythology re-tellings published by Christmas Press. They’re gorgeously illustrated, written by some of Australia’s top children’s writers, plus at least one from outside Australia, Adele Geras, who re-told “Beauty And The Beast” and “Bluebeard”. I should add that when I got my Year 7 kids to do a fractured fairytale I read them “Bluebeard”, which gave one student an idea for, not a fractured fairytale, but a version of his own, told by Bluebeard, and dear me, it was a chilling piece! It was totally publishable, in my opinion. I hope it will turn up at least in the school anthology.

Look, there are heaps of amazing re-tellings and sequels, but that will do me for now.

Do you have any favourites?

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Compulsory International Women's Day Post: Some Women Writers From My Bedside Table

It's nearly March 8 - gotta post about International Women's Day! Only once was I working at a girls' school at this time of year. I remember they got the kids to choose a woman from their national background(it was a multicultural school, like the one I have worked at for the last 20 years). One girl had a German background and didn't fancy Marlene Dietrich, as her teacher suggested, so when she came to do her research in the library, I suggested Hildegard of Bingen, "the sibyl of the Rhine", a 12th century abbess who composed gorgeous music we still hear, did science stuff, wrote at least one play that I know of and terrified the Princes of the Church. The girl liked that one and chose her. On the special day, we all went down to Richmond Town Hall, where the girls got up and talked about their chosen heroines. It was fun!

Sunshine does Harmony Day, but not IWD.

So, thinking of this post, I decided to just pull a few women writers from the pile by my bedside. Some I have read over and over.  Others I'm still checking out.

Left to right: The Eagle Of The Ninth Chronicles, by Rosemary Sutcliff. Actually, there are only the original trilogy in this book - The Eagle Of The Ninth, The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers. There is another one, Frontier Wolf, which is set between Silver Branch and Lantern Bearers. It must have been written later. These are classic children's books by one of the greatest children's historical novelists of the 20th century. The young hero of the first book, Marcus Flavius Aquila, goes on a quest to find out what happened to his father's legion - and their Eagle standard. He ends up settling in Britain and the rest of the series is about his descendants. You know who they are, even when they no longer have the Roman name, because there is this flawed emerald ring being passed down through the generations.

Semi-hidden behind that is Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, which made a helluva movie, about black women mathematicians behind the early space program. It's not a novel, it's non-fiction. A wonderful book!

Next, Angela Carter's short story collection, The Bloody Chamber. The title story is based on Bluebeard, set in Brittany, but not in the Middle Ages! She also wrote Company Of Wolves, her take on Little Red Riding Hood. That was also a film, which I vaguely remember had Angela Lansbury as the grandmother.

Next to it is Den Of Wolves, the third in the Blackthorn and Grim trilogy. In it, we finally find out who Grim really was before being thrown into that prison where he first met Blackthorn, the heroine, and we find out why the elven lord is looking after her. And I have to say, it was a beautiful trilogy from a lady who can make fairytales sing!

Lying next to Eagle is a book you will have to take my word for, as it hasn't got a dustjacket. It's Annemarie Selinko's Desiree. I have to admit I know very little about the author, apart from this Wikipedia entry. She did write other books and a couple were turned into films, yes, but nothing in English. This niovel became a film with Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando. It's a delight! The heroine was a real person, though from what I have read of the real Desiree Clary, who was a very strange woman, I think I prefer the one in the novel. The novel covers the time from her becoming engaged to Napoleon till she becomes Queen of Sweden, with her husband, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte as king. It's in the form of a diary and is - utterly charming! Read it if it's still available!

Five Historical Feasts is written by historian, keen cook and SF author Gillian Polack, with some connected short stories at the end. It tells of all the work that went into researching, designing and testing the food for five historical banquets held at Canberra's annual science fiction convention, Conflux. It's a fun read, especially as I have been to one of those banquets, the Regency one, when it was repeated a few years ago. There are recipes interspersed with the story of the work done for the banquets. I think you might still be able to get a copy at Australian SF conventions, but be quick - Gillian tells me they are unlikely to reprint, due to copyright matters on the art.

My copy of Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan novel Cetaganda is almost falling apart from reading and rereading, but I can't help it - every time I finish I just have to promise myself a reread to cheer myself up for having finished it! Miles gets to solve a mystery while on the planet Cetaganda for a royal funeral, and we finally see what it's like. The inhabitants specialise in genetic engineering and women are in charge of the planet's gene banks.

Well, there are a few books by women that have delighted me! What about you?

Friday, March 02, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Do You Use A Mouse?

...And what’s on it?

Dear me, another strange question and not strictly book-related. I could answer in one word: no. But this is a blog post, so I’ll waffle a bit.

The first computer I used, at work, was a little Apple 2C. It didn’t use a mouse, so no mouse pad needed. It was almost as bad as PC computers in that you had to give commands, and remember what they were. There was no hard drive; you had to slot a floppy disk with the software into an external drive. I had an extra disk drive for my writing, because otherwise you’d have to slot in the disk for the program, take it out and put in your other disk... I vaguely recall reading an essay by Italian-Jewish writer Primo Levi comparing a computer to the Golem; you put something in its mouth, it comes to life. Remove it and it’s dead. A magical description of the kind of computers we had in those days!

By the time I got my first computer, a 2E, it had a hard drive and no commands - much easier to use, but you now needed a mouse. I had a fabulous-looking mouse mat that had a 3D Star Trek image on it. Only problem was, the coarse texture made it harder to use. I gave it away to a fellow Trek fan; I’m pretty sure I did warn them that it was more decorative than useful.

Companies used to give out promotional mouse mats and I did use those at work, where there were desktop computers. The kids had a lot of trouble with the library computers because there were no supplied mouse mats(they would have gone in no time if I’d left some out), so I often suggested they use their diaries or exercise books as mouse mats. Those worked as well as anything.

My current laptop just doesn’t need a mouse, though I could get one. Neither does my iPad. So, no mouse mats, but I do have one I found recently, with an Isaac Asimov robot on it.

There! A book reference! :-) And post complete, about a very odd topic. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Just Finished Rereading...Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr

I got this for reviewing from Allen and Unwin ages ago. In the end, I did an interview with the author instead. Since then, it has been shortlisted for the CBCA Awards and won a Prime Minister’s Award. Both are well deserved. A reread made me appreciate this even more.

At the time, my entire fascination  for Minoan bull dancing came from Mary Renault’s classic The King Must Die. That was about Theseus and a wonderful book it was! I’ve read it over and over and had to buy it in ebook because ebooks don’t fall apart.

But it was very different from this novel. The heroine, Aissa, is the daughter of the Lady of a small Greek island during the Minoan era. Her mother panicked when she was born with an extra thumb on each hand - not perfect! - and, after her husband cut off the thumbs to save the child and drowned, ordered her to be killed by the midwife. Instead, she was brought up first by a family that had lost its child, then as a kitchen drudge when her adoptive family were carried off by raiders. At thirteen, she goes to Crete as a bull dancer, trained to do acrobatics with the sacred bulls. So far, nobody taken as a tribute has ever returned from Crete...

The fantastical elements are wonderful, as Aissa finds that, despite her elective mutism, she can “call” everything from dragonflies to bulls and even, in one scene, humans.

But the story is believable. The author knows about the behaviour of bulls, having lived on a dairy farm for twenty years - and about acrobatics and children. Mary Renault’s Theseus is eighteen and has already fought in battles and been a king. He manages to be a very good bull dancer because he is small, agile and light. And that’s fine. I have seen an adult trainer from Australia’s Flying Fruit Fly (children’s) Circus as a very athletic Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

But I’m betting he started early. Some years ago, we had a Circus program at my school, to teach kids to do some simple acrobatics, then perform for the school. The students were all young, Years 7 and 8. None of them had ever done anything like it before. Yet within a few weeks they were doing amazing things! Young bodies are more flexible than older ones; it’s not for nothing that Olympic “women’s” gymnastic teams are made up of little girls.

Wendy also feels that as a sacred activity, the bull dance would be more than just entertainment. It’s an act of worship. It doesn’t happen every week, only once a season, in connection with a religious ritual. The trainers try to keep you alive by training you as best they can, and anyone not likely to make it as a bull dancer is weeded out and sent to be a palace slave. But there is to be no cheating. When Aissa saves a dancer by calling the bull in her mind, the Mother(Queen and High priestess) is furious. And unlike in The King Must Die, in which every team has its own bull, in this one, the bull is sacrificed at the end of the bull dance. There are herd bulls, but the fastest children are sent out to capture a wild one for the dance.  And, as the knowledgeable author says, sometimes the wild ones are less dangerous than the tame bulls, which know what to expect.

I think I enjoyed the book more this time than the first. I appreciated the large chunks of verse that seemed odd the first time. I cared about the characters.

I’m very glad that I no have this in ebook. I think I’m going to need it. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Hardcovers - With Or Without Covers?

This week’s blog post theme in the Book Blogger hop asks, “Do you read your hardcovers with or without the dust jacket on?”

Goodness, what an odd question! Not really something I would normally spend an entire blog post on, but not a bad idea to muse on hardcovers in general. It’s more of an issue in the US, I suspect, where they publish a lot of hardcovers. Nothing of mine has ever been published in hardcover except one overseas edition of Your Cat Could Be A Spy and it didn’t have a dust jacket. Most books here start off in paperback and stay there. Most hardcovers with dust jackets are non fiction or adult books. Most children’s hardcovers don’t have a dust jacket.

Looking through some of the replies on other blogs, I haven’t yet seen one that keeps the cover on, for fear of damaging it. Some like the look of a hardcover on the shelves.

I’m a librarian. Dust jackets are there to protect the book. If you buy it for a library, you cover it in plastic - problem solved! And most hardcovers I read are borrowed from my local library. In fact, I’m reading one now, Barbara Hambly’s Drinking Gourd, the latest Ben January historical whodunnit. I just had to lug it with me, because I’m enjoying it so much, but I don’t often do this. Too heavy!

So, question answered and now - why buy a hardcover in the first place? They are more expensive - as a librarian, I have only ever bought them when kids were reading the series and they were on the CBCA shortlist. Some publishers, I’m quite sure, publish them that way around the time when the shortlist is announced so that you have to buy them! With a budget as tiny as mine, you try to get the best value out of it.

They are heavy. I can’t carry one around with me when I travel. Imagine being in the middle of an exciting story and having to leave it at home. And school kids also find it hard to take hardcovers home in their school bags.

They take up more space on the shelves. A bookworm like me needs to cram as many books as possible on the shelves.

BUT... they are more attractive. You can create special editions more easily than in paperback.

They are easier to read while eating. You can put your book down, open to your page, instead of having to hold it up with one hand and eat with the other. Or you can put it open on a book stand, like mine.

And they last! I have a tendency to read and reread favourites. My paperback copy of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather is just about to fall apart. I can cover it, which will help, but the pages will still fall out if I’m not careful. I do have it in ebook, but it’s sad!

So, those are some of my thoughts on hardcovers. I do have some on my shelves because they were on special at the time, or I got them for reviewing, but not many. And I’m largely moving to ebook, which I can carry in my tote bag by the hundred!

What do you think? Hardcover or paperback? Or both? 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Girls Who Save The World!

What with the amazing young woman, Emma Gonzalez, and her friends, taking action against the gun lobby, and Malala Yousoufzai only a few years ago, standing up to oppression, I couldn’t help thinking about some world-saving girls in the YA fiction I mostly read. 

See, while contemporary fiction is still quite often about family and friends and whether or not to trust the cute bad boy, fantasy and science fiction, especially dystopian, needs someone to literally save the world and the someone is usually a girl. 

There are so many, I can’t name them all, and you’ll notice that one of these I have mentioned, The Hate U Give, is a contemporary, and the world the heroine saves is not literally the world, but her courage inspires more than her own community.

So, off the top of my head, here are a few books I have read whose main characters are inspirational world-saving young women! There are more, plenty more, but these are books I have read in recent years.

Let’s start with the obvious one, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Katniss lives in poverty in the poorest District of her world, which is what’s left of the United States, with her mother and sister. Each year two “tributes”are chosen by lot from each District to go to the Capitol and take part in the violent TV reality show, the Hunger Games. Only one can survive. Anyone who gets on that train to the Capitol will be wined and dined and dressed in designer clothes... and has about a one in 24 chance of coming home. Alliances are formed, but in the end, even your fellow tribute from home either has to kill you or die. Katniss is strong and athletic and can us3 a bow because she has been sneaking out into the forest to get game that will help her support her family. When her little sister’s name is pulled out, she offers to go in her place. There is something of the story of Theseus here, but no prince/princess to help. Katniss is brave and unselfish and by the end of the trilogy she has - yes, saved the world. The evil isn’t only on one side and Katniss refuses to let herself be used for rebel propaganda when she knows what even the supposed good guys on her side are doing. 

Lyra Belacqua in the His Dark Materials trilogy is younger than Katniss, about twelve or thirteen. She lives in an alternative universe where everyone has an external soul, a “daemon”, in the form of an animal. She starts off in Oxford, at the University, where she has been raised. She could have gone on playing and being a child. But there is more going on in this world than it seems and Lyra finds herself involved in a war, one where those who seem to be the good guys aren’t necessarily good, and where some villainous characters end up being good. And yes, Lyra saves the world. Read it, if you haven’t. 

Hermione Granger In the Harry Potter series may not be the Chosen One, but it is her brains and quick thinking that help save the wizarding world. True, she isn’t the only one and, let’s face it, Harry is the Chosen One for a reason. But without her, Harry would very likely have been dead well before the  end of The Deathly Hallows. It’s nice to know that you don’t have to be physically tough to save the world. 

Young witch Tiffany Aching is the heroine of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld children’s series. She does, admittedly, cause some of the problems she then has to solve,  but still... in the first book she goes to Fairyland to rescue her little brother, stolen by the Fairy Queen, and, while she’s about it, also saves Roland, the local Baron’s son. And she does it p, with the help of tiny blue men called  Nac Mac Feegles and a heavy frying pan. She develops and grows up as the series goes on. In the third book, Wintersmith, she really does have to save the world - well, her own world, anyway. And it was her fault that the Wintersmith, the spirit of winter, was making her area freezing cold, to impress her. She danced with him during an autumn ceremony when told not to move. But having done this, she gets on with saving her family and the rest of the community. She is such a delightful character! You might or might not like her if you knew her in real life, but if you needed looking after by the village witch, you’d be glad to have Tiffany on your side.

Starr Carter, in The Hate U Give, is a member of a small African American community, mostly poverty stricken, though I’d have to say her family is close to being middle class. They don’t have a swimming pool, though relatives do, but they seem to manage okay on Dad’s grocery store earnings and Mum’s job as a nurse. They must be, as somehow the parents manage to scrape together enough money to send the kids to an expensive private school. Starr does, like Alice Pung’s and Fiona Wood’s heroines(In Laurinda and Cloudwish), feel embarrassed at being unable to invite anyone over. But Starr has guts. One night she is in a car with a childhood friend. They are pulled up by a policeman for a minor issue and her friend is shot dead. And the policeman gets all the sympathy on TV!  This isn’t the first time she has seen a friend die; the first time was due to a drive-by shooting. She is definitely suffering PTSD. But when somebody has to go on TV to tell the real story, she gets on with it. She is terrified, but does it anyway. 

World-saving girl! 

Next: Aussie author Jaclyn Moriarty’s Madeleine Tully, the heroine of the Colours Of Madeleine trilogy. Madeleine lives with her mother in Cambridge, England, sharing home schooling with a couple of other teens. She is exchanging letters, through cracks in space, with Elliot, a cute boy in another universe. In his world, the Kingdom of Cello, colours - or, rather, Colours, can do weird things, including kill you. The weather is all over the place. You might have midsummer one day and snow the next. And most of the royal family is missing. He absolutely is not supposed to be communicating with our world, but he is hoping to find his father who, like the royal family, has gone missing. And people who come from the Kingdom of Cello to our world forget who they are. Some scary things are happening in Cello. Most of the trilogy is spent with Madeleine and Elliot trying to find the missing people; there is a deadline because the portals will only open at a set time and place. I will avoid spoilers here, but Madeleine and Elliot save the world - his world. 

Two short mentions of other books by Australian writers: The Twinmaker trilogy by Sean Williams shows what might happen in a world where Star Trek’s replicator and transporter are a part of everyday life - and it’s nightmarish! And the world is wiped out, but... a girl called Clair saves it. No  explanation here because spoilers, sweetie! Just get the three books. Jump, Crash and Fall. I think the US titles might be different, but find them, a truly amazing set of adventures of a world-saving girl. Like other world-savers, she doesn’t set out to do it, but does it anyway.

Garth Nix’s Sabriel is a girl at boarding school. She’s also, like her father, a Necromancer. Not the kind of evil necromancer who kills people to use their life energy for magic, but one whose job is to stop them from returning to the world of the living from the land of the dead, which is on the other side of a wall. She uses a set of bells to help her. Actually, it’s sort of steampunk and has a flavour of original era Dr Who. Anyway - world-saving girl! I’m afraid I have got behind in this series, must reread the original trilogy and then get on with the rest. 

What other world-saving young women can you think of? 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Me And My Favourite Characters

This week’s starter is a question about whether we ever act like our favourite book characters. That has to be a one-word answer: no.

But as it’s a post starter, I will instead talk about characters with whom I identify or whom I admire.

As a child, it was Jo March from Little Women. I was a girl who didn’t see why boys should have all the fun, and I wrote. In my case, it was on the beach rather than in the attic(we didn’t have one! We lived in a flat, though one not far from the beach).

And because I was reading Enid Blyton as well as American classics and Greek mythology, I identified also with George, the tomboyish girl in the Famous Five stories. I thought her cool! And she was the one with the dog, Timmy - what was not to like?

In Greek mythology, I liked Atalanta, the huntress and only female member of the Argo crew. I would have loved to go on that adventure.

The years went by. I found other characters to charm me. Young Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird was a passionate reader like me. And that wonderful scene where she starts school and the teacher is annoyed because she can read already - my favourite scene! In fact, I read it in the Banned Books Week virtual readout on YouTube one year. Here’s the link! Sorry, no American accent, but hopefully you’ll enjoy it anyway. I remember in my first year of teaching doing that scene with my Year 9 English class. I started off the lesson with, “Who remembers their first day of school?” I wasn’t expecting the response I got. The first student to put up her hand said, “Yes, I ran away because my teacher was black.” That in its turn led to a babble of racist comments. I stopped it quick smart by turning on the worst offenders, all from the British Isles, getting indignant “Heys!”.

 “Whingeing Poms!” to the English boy. “Stupid Irish!” to the Irish-born offender. Another child, Welsh in background, said, “Well, at least nobody ever said anything about the Welsh...” I grinned. “Do you want to know what the English said about the Welsh?” She didn’t. So, that little scene from Mockingbird ended up with quite an interesting discussion about racism, after the racist sneers were over, though unrelated to the passage; a teacher has to grab any opportunity for a lesson, even if it doesn’t relate to the original lesson plan. I should add that they never did that again and we got on fine.

Lord Of The Rings has a number of characters I would love to know in person. Sam the gardener and cook takes ordinary, simple activities and makes them special. Who can forget his offering to make fish and chips for Gollum? Turning a newly-caught rabbit into a gourmet feast with a few simple herbs? Healing the Shire with his planting after the War of the Ring?

I think if I had read the book as a child I would have wanted to be Éowyn. In some ways, I still do, though if I had been Éowyn as an adult, I probably would have dropped the crush on Aragorn a lot earlier. I might have been disappointed, as a child, by her giving up the warrior thing to become a healer, but nowadays I think, “Hey, she killed the Witch King of Angmar! What could she do to top that? And when the war is over, what better way is there than to heal?” Even her husband, Faramir, never really wanted to fight, he did it because it was the only way to protect his people. He was a historian by preference. (And also a favourite character of mine!)

In Harry Potter, I do admire Hermione, without whom, let’s face it, the wizarding world would probably have lost its Chosen One very early!

But I relate to Ron. He is the truly Non Chosen one who  represents - Us! He is the Xander of the HP series. He does get his moment of glory in the first book, playing the deadly chess game in the underground chamber leading to the Philosopher’s Stone. Mostly, though, he is just there while Harry and Hermione get on with things, being, mostly, the comic relief. That would be me if I was in that world. He is very much an Everyman.

There are plenty more, but I’ll finish with a more recent character I’m fond of, Cath from Rainbow Rowell’s YA novel Fangirl. I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction and what little I do read is children’s or YA. This is one of them. Cath is a media fan writer, as I used to be. She is writing under a pen name on line, as most fan writers do these days, and, unlike in my day, is read by thousands of people. Cath is working on a novel she must finish before it becomes just “alternative universe” when last book of the original series comes out. At the same time, she has all the problems of a kid starting university and worries about her father who seriously needs looking after! And Cath can write, not just fan fiction. I liked the fact that the author never sent her up for writing this sort of stuff. In fact,
I believe that people are already writing Fangirl fan fiction and Rainbow Rowell is delighted. And I am very fond of Cath!

Do you have any characters you relate to? 

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Aurealis Awards Shortlist 2017!

So, here are this year’s shortlisted books for the Aurealis Awards! For my non-Australian readers, this is the annual Australian spec fic award. They are judged, not voted - I was a judge a few years ago, a fascinating experience. Our equivalent of the Hugos are the Ditmar Awards and a couple of states have their own awards, the Tin Ducks in Western Australia and the Chronos Awards here in Victoria.  

Congratulations to all those on the list. I admit that I’ve only read the short stories from the LoveOzYA anthology, but I see that Allen and Unwin has republished “Singing My Sister Down” as part of a collection of stories by Margo Lanagan. That one is a classic, but I have to say it’s not a story I could bring myself to read again, not because it’s a bad story - it’s amazing! That’s the whole problem. Too sad for me. It’s the same reason why I am not sure I can read Dan Simmons horror fiction again. He makes you care about his characters and then kills them off! 

But Margo Lanagan is a wonderful writer, so don’t let me put you off. 

I seem there are two short stories from my old stamping ground, Andromeda Spaceways. Best of luck! 

I’ve finally downloaded Gap Year In Ghost Town, which the author has been promoting non stop on Twitter. I just didn’t get around to it till now - anything Michael Pryor writes is likely to be great fun!
Anyway, check out this list and let me know if you’ve read any of them and what you thought. 

How to Bee, Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, Jaclyn Moriarty (Allen & Unwin)
The Shop at Hoopers Bend, Emily Rodda (HarperCollins Australia)
The Exile, Jo Sandhu (Penguin Random House Australia)
Accidental Heroes, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)
Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend (Hachette Australia)

Action Tank, Mike Barry (Mike Barry Was Here)
Changing Ways book 3, Justin Randall (Gestalt)
Dungzilla, James Foley (Fremantle Press)
Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts, Craig Phillips (Allen & Unwin)
Home Time, Campbell Whyte (Penguin Random House Australia)
Tintinnabula, Margo Lanagan & Rovina Cai (ill.) (Little Hare)

“One Small Step”, Amie Kaufman (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
“I Can See the Ending”, Will Kostakis (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
“Competition Entry #349”, Jaclyn Moriarty (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
“First Casualty” Michael Pryor (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
Girl Reporter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Book Smugglers)
“Oona Underground”, Lili Wilkinson (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“Reef”, Kat Clay (SQ Mag 31, IFWG Publishing Australia)
“Outside, a Drifter”, Lisa L Hannett (Looming Low, Dim Shores)
“Angel Hair”, Deborah Sheldon (Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, IFWG Publishing Australia)
“The Endless Below”, Alfie Simpson (Breach Issue #02)
“Old Growth”, J Ashley Smith (SQ Mag 31, IFWG Publishing Australia)
“On the Line”, J Ashley Smith (Midnight Echo 12, Australasian Horror Writers Association)
The Mailman, Jeremy Bates (Ghillinnein Books)
Hope and Walker, Andrew Cull (Vermillion Press)
“Grind”, Michael Grey (Pacific Monsters, Fox Spirit Books)
“The Stairwell”, Chris Mason (Below The Stairs – Tales from the Cellar, Things In The Well)
“No Good Deed”, Angela Slatter (New Fears 1, Titan Books)
“Furtherest”, Kaaron Warren (Dark Screams Volume 7, Cemetery Dance)
“Hamelin’s Graves”, Freya Marske (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #69)
“The Curse is Come Upon Me, Cried”, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Please Look After This Angel & Other Winged Stories, self-published)
“The Little Mermaid, in Passing”, Angela Slatter (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 22 Issue 1)
“Duplicity”, J Ashley Smith (Dimension6 #11)
“The Rainmaker Goddess, Hallowed Shaz”, Marlee Jane Ward (Feminartsy)
“Oona Underground”, Lili Wilkinson (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia).
The Book Club, Alan Baxter (PS Publishing)
“Remnants”, Nathan Burrage (Dimension6 #11, Coer de Lion)
“The Cunning Woman’s Daughter”, Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins (The Silver Well, Ticonderoga Publications)
In Shadows We Fall, Devin Madson (self-published)
“Braid”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 24 Issue 1)
Humanity for Beginners, Faith Mudge (Less Than Three Press)
“The Missing Years”, Lyn Battersby (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #66)
“A Little Faith”, Aiki Flinthart (Like a Woman, Mirren Hogan)
“Cards and Steel Hearts”, Pamela Jeffs (Lawless Lands: Tales from the Weird Frontier, Falstaff Books)
“One Small Step”, Amie Kaufman (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
“Conversations with an Armoury” Garth Nix (Infinity Wars, Solaris)
“Hurk + Dav”, Alfie Simpson (Breach Issue #01)

“This Silent Sea”, Stephanie Gunn (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 24 Issue 6)
“I Can See the Ending”, Will Kostakis (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
“The Wandering Library”, DK Mok (Ecopunk!, Ticonderoga Publications)
“Island Green”, Shauna O’Meara (Ecopunk!, Ticonderoga Publications)
Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)
Girl Reporter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Book Smugglers)
The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales, Peter M Ball (Brain Jar Press)
The Silver Well, Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins (Ticonderoga Publications)
Beneath the Floating City, Donna Maree Hanson (self-published)
Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
Please Look After This Angel & Other Winged Stories, Tansy Rayner Roberts (self-published)
Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, Deborah Sheldon (IFWG Publishing Australia)
Midnight Echo #12, Shane Jiraiya Cummings & Anthony Ferguson (eds.) (Australasian Horror Writers Association)
The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2015, Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene (eds.) (Ticonderoga Publications)
Dimension6: Annual Collection 2017, Keith Stevenson (ed.) (coeur de lion publishing)
Infinity Wars, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Rebellion/Solaris)
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 11, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Rebellion/Solaris)

In The Dark Spaces, Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)
Ida, Alison Evans (Echo, Bonnier Publishing Australia)
Frogkisser!, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)
This Mortal Coil, Emily Suvada (Puffin UK)
Psynode, Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure)
The Undercurrent, Paula Weston (Text Publishing)

Aletheia, J S Breukelaar (Crystal Lake Publishing)
Who’s Afraid Too?, Maria Lewis (Hachette Australia)
Soon, Lois Murphy (Transit Lounge)

Crossroads of Canopy, Thoraiya Dyer (Tor Books)
Gwen, Goldie Goldbloom (Fremantle Press)
Cassandra, Kathryn Gossow (Odyssey Books)
Godsgrave, Jay Kristoff (HarperCollins Publishers)
Gap Year In Ghost Town, Michael Pryor (Allen & Unwin)
Wellside, Robin Shortt (Candlemark & Gleam)

Closing Down, Sally Abbott (Hachette Australia)
Terra Nullius, Claire G Coleman (Hachette Australia)
Year of the Orphan, Daniel Findlay (Penguin Random House Australia)
An Uncertain Grace, Krissy Kneen (Text Publishing)
From the Wreck, Jane Rawson (Transit Lounge)
Lotus Blue, Cat Sparks (Skyhorse)