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Friday, July 20, 2018

Vamps and Me!

I found these questions on this web site  run by Tasha Drake. I thought it seemed like fun, so here are my own answers. Writing them, I suddenly realised how much vampire stuff I have absorbed over the years, despite not thinking of myself as a vamp fan. 

Who’d have thought? 

Why do you love vampires? 

I am fascinated by the variety. When I was researching my children’s book, Monsters And Creatures Of The Night, I found vampires are not only the western variety. There are, for example, fish-eating vampires in Malaysia, and the story of the Japanese Vampire Cat! The folklore of the vampire fascinates me - and there are so many bits of folklore involved! 

Which vampire(s) brought you to the dark side? 
Dracula, of course. The classic novel! I found it much easier reading than I had expected, as it was all in letters and diary entries, and finished the novel in a single sitting. But I also read Carmilla in a single sitting. That may have been the first vampire story I read, when 
I was about twelve, as part of a horror anthology I found in the school library. 

TV,movie or books? Have a favourite vampire medium? 
Not really, but TV is where I found most of my vampire fiction. Forever Knight, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, for example. However, I have been reading and loving Barbara Hambly’s James Asher novels. They aren’t so much vampire fiction as scary stories with a vampire in them. 

All time favourite vampire? 

I’m very fond of Angel, from the Buffyverse. He is Terribly Tragic in Buffy, but when he got his own series there was a lot of humour, from it being clear that he can’t run his own private detective agency financially without some practical help to the episode in Season 5 when he was turned into a muppet and torn apart - not fatally - by a raging werewolf. But I’m also fond of Spike, the vampire who let everyone believe he was nicknamed that because of a nasty incident with a railway spike. It turned out that he had, in life, been an appallingly bad poet - a nerd! - of whom someone said they would rather be stabbed with a spike than have to listen to him. (And then, when he was turned, he wanted to take his Mum along to look after her...) Yes, I like vampire humour! 

Current favourite vampire?

Don Simon Ysidro, from Barbara Hambly’s James Asher series. He is a sixteenth century Spanish nobleman who came to England in the train of Phillip of Spain, when he married Queen Mary. In this universe, vampirism is a choice. You can only be turned if you want to be and are willing to trust the person who turns you with your soul during the process. Don Simon is a friend of James Asher, Oxford Professor and spy, and his doctor wife Lydia, at the turn of the 20th century. They feel guilty about accepting his help, because he has to be a many-times-over serial killer. However, he is a man of honour. He keeps his word. He works for the good guys. Oh, and he is in love with Lydia, which is probably why he keeps working with the Ashers... But Barbara Hambly is the first novelist I’ve read who has pointed out that, while vampires can love, the male ones can’t be the sex gods they are usually presented as because... well, dead. No blood circulation. Think about it.

All  time least favourite vampire?

Edward. Sorry, but I can’t see sparkling vamps, I just can’t! I managed to finish Twilight, but never bothered with the rest. 


Favourite vampire book?

There are a few, but off the top of my head, apart from the Asher series, there is Dan Simmons’ Children Of The Night, in which Dracula is the historical Vlad the Impaler, who wasn’t killed in that battle after all and whose vampirism is genetic, not undeadness. His family have an extra organ that allows them to regenerate their cells with the occasional cup of blood. After centuries of life he has turned his passion from war to business and is a multimillionaire. He has become bored with his descendants and concocted a plot to wipe out the lot of them... By the way, he has read Bram Stoker’s novel and thinks it’s rubbish!

Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula is great fun.  Dracula kills Van Helsing and marries Queen Victoria, so turning vampire becomes fashionable in England. Everyone’s doing it. Well, the upper crust, anyway, and let’s face it, the aristocratic class have ALWAYS been bloodsuckers! 

Favourite vampire movie?

Love At First Bite with George Hamilton. Dracula is kicked out of his castle by the Communist regime, which wants it as a training camp for athletes. He goes to America in pursuit of a fashion model he has fallen for through magazines... very funny film! 

Favourite vampire TV show?

Buffy, of course! A classic series. 

What trait does a vampire have to have for them to be a "real" vampire for you? (e.g. fangs, speed, strength, hopping, nocturnal etc)

Again, vampires are different in different countries. I like variety. Thee only thing I really can’t swallow is sparkling vampires. 

Do you create vampire content?

My one published novel, Wolfborn, was a werewolf fantasy. But there was a short story I wrote some years ago(published in Andromeda Spaceways), Bytepals. In it, vampires have gone on line and discover how to travel overseas as email attachments... I indicated that they bit nerdy teenagers and nobody noticed the difference...

Any unusual vampire lore you would like to share with us? 
Yes, I love the suggestion that vampires have a form of obsessive compulsive disorder which forces them to count things. (Remember Sesame Street’s vampire, the Count, who can’t stop counting? Bet you didn’t know that was real vampire lore!) People who might be at risk of becoming vampires after death were buried with a pile of seeds. These, it was thought, would keep them too busy counting to leave their graves. Tara Moss has fun with this idea in her YA fantasy novels. The heroine lives in a house with vampire boarders. She carries rice around with her and scatters it in front of the boarders whenever they confront her...


Hope you found my vamp thoughts of interest. Do you have any of your own? 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Cyril And Pat by Emily Gravett. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2018


Cyril is the only squirrel in Lake Park, and he’s very lonely. Until one day he meets Pat – Pat the big, grey . . . other squirrel. Cyril and Pat have lots of adventures and fun together and Cyril is so pleased he’s made a friend. But everyone is adamant that Cyril and Pat simply cannot be friends, and they soon reveal why: Pat, as the reader has known all along, is actually a RAT!
But Cyril’s life turns out to be a lot duller and quite a bit scarier without Pat by his side, and in the end the two friends learn that some things are more important than being the same, or listening to others.

A sweet rhyming tale about friendship between two friends of different species. They don't know this, of course. All Cyril knows is that Pat is a real joker, a brilliant sharer and comes up with the best games. And that's all that matters, until the other park inhabitants pressure to Cyril to end it. There is, of course, a moral about human friendships and not bowing to pressure. It is certainly something to discuss with the children with whom you read it.  
The art is delightful,  not only the main characters, but all the animals and the background, with its peaceful park and old buildings.
For children from about 3-5. Available from all good bookshops and the usual bookseller web sites.

Old Hat by Emily Gravett. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2018


Harbet wears a hat made for him by his Nana. It's warm and colourful and above all, comfortable. The only problem is,  it's "old hat" (I rather like the joke here, though adults are more likely to get it than children). It's just not fashionable and everyone is laughing at him for wearing it. So Harbet buys the latest hat - in his case, a sort of Carmen Miranda fruit style, which he can actually eat. It doesn't take long for that to go out of fashion, along with all the other new hats he tries. Finally, Harbet does something different - and unexpected...

The story has its moral, about being yourself and not joining in the latest fads, but the real charm, for me, was the art, which reminds me of Dr Seuss. In fact, Harbet is very much a Dr Seuss critter, and the others have Dr Seuss's over-the-top silliness.

Definitely a fun book to read with your pre-school or early years child, and I can see an early years teacher using this to make imaginative hats in class.

Buy it at your local good bookshop or from the usual online retailers. 

Monday, July 09, 2018

Piracy - Another Rant...

Yet again, I’ve visited a web site that pirates books that are in print, without asking permission of author or  publisher. The link to this one was sent to ASA members this morning. Most of these sites don’t have any contact emails, but oddly, this one does. And allows comments which I assume are moderated to make sure only the positive ones get through. 

It even has a “mission statement” that tells you they believe that “knowledge and information should be free to anyone around the globe.” Yeah, sure. As long as we can get away with not paying for it, and as long as nobody helps themselves to our hard work. 

It assures you that unlike other pirate web sites(of course, it doesn’t use the word “pirate”), you will actually get a download from them. Free! All I can say about that is that anyone who gets ripped off on those sites deserves it. 

“Oh, but I can’t afford it!” they cry. Have they ever heard of a library? Use a library, you get the books for free and the author gets lending right, win win, right? You don’t have to own them. And you can ask the library to get in a book they don’t have.

This one urges its readers to give their stolen books a “nice review” on Amazon, and buy the next one “when you can afford it”. How kind of them! 

People, these “free” books are illegal. You are breaking the law, just as much as if you shoplifted or broke into someone’s home. You are stealing someone else’s hard work. Every time you download a book from a site like this, that is one less royalty for the author. Very few people can make a living out of writing. Those who do are relying on it to put food on the table and pay the rent or the mortgage. “But I wouldn’t have bought it anyway!” you protest. What? You don’t think the book was worth paying for? Then why get it? “Those publishers are robbers! Why shouldn’t I?” Yeah, heard that one too. But publishers are businesses like any other. They can’t keep publishing if people don’t pay. That costs jobs. Think about it.

The thing is, there are a lot of authors and publishers out there offering freebies for a day or a week or whatever. These are legal. You’ll find them all over iBooks and Amazon. There is the Instafreebie app, which sends you an email daily with free books on it. These are offered by the authors, sometimes the first of a series to promote their new ones, and you are put on their mailing lists. They actually sign up for Instafreebie. A friend of mine has done that and also offers free short stories or first volumes in his newsletters. Baen Books offers quite a few free books in its e-book library, from its back list. These are temporary, for promotional purposes. 

See the difference? These are legal AND free. You can still do that nice review and buy their next book, or you don’t have to. But at least the author has given permission. I really don’t want to hear “But it’s promotion!” ever again, thank you, unless the promotion is decided by the author or the publisher. It’s their decision to make, nobody else’s. 

Right. Rant over, down from soapbox. Time to get back to my  TBR pile and reviews. I received two children’s picture books from Macmillan today. As of  next week, I will be doing a day a week as a volunteer at a primary school in Sunshine, and these books will go there as soon as reviewed. Watch this space!





All Of This Is True by Lygia Day Penaflor. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2018



MIRI loves the novel Undertow like it's a living being. So when she and her friends get the chance to meet the author, Fatima Ro, they plot a way to get closer to her. As for what happened with Jonah … Well, obviously none of that was Fatima's fault.

SOLEIL wants to be a writer herself one day. She can't believe it when Fatima asks them to hang out with her – and having Jonah there makes it even better.

PENNY is more than the party girl everyone thinks she is, and she's willing to share her darkest secrets with Fatima to prove it. But what will happen when Fatima finds out about Jonah? 



These days, YA fiction is huge. Some YA novelists get massive promotion for their debut novels (and, often enough, movie rights are acquired before the book even comes out!). It’s a phenomenon that doesn’t often happen in adult fiction, unless the book is controversial. 

And let’s face it, fandom has always been a strange thing. Fans idolise their favourite writers, sometimes even feel they own them. (Only this morning on Twitter I saw a thread by a huge-name children’s writer, in which her fans gushed over her. She deserved the praise, mind you, but still...)

So, what happens when you manage to get close to one of your heroes? 

Teenagers Miri, Soleil and Penny turn up at a local book signing by debut author Fatima Ro, towing their friend Jonah, with a careful plan to get her attention afterwards. They succeed and soon find themselves invited regularly to her home and confiding in her their deepest secrets, which she encourages, giving the girls advice, including urging Soleil to get closer to Jonah, who has a particularly unpleasant deep dark secret - one which has landed him in hospital after a bad beating. A beating he got after Fatima Ro’s New York Times bestselling second novel came out - the one with all four of them in it... 

This novel is well written and easy reading. It is written in the form of interviews, journal entries(published in an on line newspaper) and sample chapters from the novel-within-a-novel. I finished it quickly and found the premise fascinating. I picked up quite quickly what the unethical Fatima Ro wanted from the kids. And a fair way into the book, we found out why she wanted it. I understood why, however unethical her behaviour was.

I would, however, have liked to have at least one character I cared about. Possibly the only reasonably decent character in the novel was the journalist who was interviewing Miri and Penny, and the reader only gets to know him through his questions and the information he passes on to them. I wanted to feel sympathy for the girls for having been sucked in by the author, but, while their behaviour was believably teenage - “Wow, OMG, we’re hanging out with the author of this amazing book!” - it’s not sympathetic. Miri, who keeps denying anything was Fatima’s fault, has been enjoying the sense of power and recognition she got from starting a fan club/cult at their wealthy private school. Soleil is furious at having had her secrets exposed - which doesn’t stop her from taking advantage of the whole business by selling the rights to her journal to an online publication. Penny picks up what’s going on sooner than the others, but she is mainly upset because she was getting less attention from her heroine than the others, not because  she thought what Fatima was doing was wrong. And Jonah really only  appears as a character in that second novel, not in his own right. I won’t tell you his Dark Secret, because spoilers, but you will pick it up fairly quickly. 

 In all fairness, the author doesn’t cheat us. The clues are there if you read carefully. 

I do suspect that in real life, the girls’ wealthy parents, who can afford lawyers, would have been suing an author who wrote their daughters into a novel. And if they didn’t, Soleil, at least, would have been invited to turn her journal entries into a ghost-written tell-all book. 

Will teenage girls like it? Quite probably they will. They might not identify with the characters, but they have likely been reading and viewing similar stuff, with characters just as unsympathetic as these. If I still had a school library I would certainly have donated this and asked my book club girls for some opinions. 

Meanwhile, here are mine. A very readable book with plenty of “ouch!” moments in it, but I’d rather have read a story with characters I loved.





Saturday, July 07, 2018

Currently Re-reading... The Plum-Rain Scroll by Ruth Manley

Recently, I’ve been making a desperate attempt to clear away years and years of junk, piled up during my teaching and library and writing careers. It’s not easy, but apart from being able to see some of the floor again in my study and my lounge room, I’m occasionally rewarded with a discovery of something I had either forgotten I had or forgotten where it was.



A few days ago, I found something whose location I had long forgotten. It was my copy of Ruth Manley’s wonderful children’s novel, The Plum-Rain Scroll, which won the CBCA’s book of the year, in 1979, probably for Younger Readers. It’s the book you read when you’ve run out of volumes in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles Of Prydain, which it resembles in style, though it’s set in Japan rather than Wales. There are two volumes following, The Dragon Stone and The Peony Lantern. There were a few loose ends at the close of the final volume, but the author died without writing any more in this series, so what you read is what you get. Still, no cliffhangers!

You know how there are books that disappoint you when you reread them many years later? I’m pleased to say this isn’t one of them. I’m loving it all over again.

The young hero, Taro, lives with his eccentric Uncle Thunder and practical Aunt Piety, an amazing cook, at an inn in a magical version of Japan. They aren’t his real relatives, but they are a loving family. All I can say is that both Uncle and Aunt are more than they seem. It’s because of this and the evil Black Iris Lord, servant of the Death God, that Taro finds himself on the run with a weird and wacky group of comrades, as well as the Mikado’s brave and decent warrior nephew, Prince Hachi, Lord Eight-Thousand-Spears.

See what I mean about The Chronicles Of Prydain? But this is not plagiarism by any means. It introduces young readers to Japanese folklore, and my mouth waters at the food described. It's delightfully quirky stuff. Kids will love it - and so will you.

Anyway, I am going to finish this and hunt up my other volumes, which I'm pretty sure are on the shelves in my study. If you want them, you may have to find them on AbeBooks, but it’s well worth the effort!

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Of Awards And Changes

In the last few days there has been a lot of discussion on Twitter and elsewhere about the changed name of the former Laura Ingalls Wilder Award For children’s literature, which the  Association for Library Service To Children Board has renamed the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This was discussed and voted on at the American Library Association conference. Check out the link for the page, which has links to the thinking behind the decision. 




It was not a decision taken lightly. This is a highly regarded author whose work has been loved by generations of kids and it’s awarded to someone whose work, published in the US, has made a “significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature.” 

But her autobiographical books, over the series, showed racist attitudes. Not just a few lines in one book, such as the one that said there were no people in that area, apart from the settlers when there were plenty of Native Americans(“Terra nullius”, anyone?), a line for which she apologised and which she rewrote in the 1950s, but over the series. 

I will admit here that I haven’t read her books. I have read a couple of the Dr Dolittle books, which are considered huge children's classics and are also racist. An African prince is shown as stupid and lazy, insulted even by Dr Dolittle’s parrot and I am fairly sure I recall the n word being used. But if there is a Hugh Lofting Award, I haven’t heard of it. If there was and it was voted to change that name, I wouldn’t object. However, I wouldn’t stop my students or family members from reading them either, and I would buy them on request. I'd like to say the attitudes in Dr Dolittle are dated, but we know that isn't true. I would certainly discuss them with my young readers if they borrowed the books, but I wouldn't prevent them. Given how multicultural my school is, a regular United Nations, there would be plenty to discuss.




I don't believe it's censorship merely to remove a name that is not considered appropriate any more for an award that affects children now and that applies to any award, not just this one. This is my opinion, it may not be yours. Yet the word has been used of the decision, along with “political correctness run amok” - you know the routine, and some even nastier things have been said on Twitter - and along with those who merely said, “What a shame, I loved those books as a child!” there were plenty more,”Lefty! PC madness, etc.” by people I’m betting haven’t read the books any more than I have, and whose profiles are downright scary. One of them popped up with "What about Huckleberry Finn?" which, yes, has been banned for being racist and using the n word, but I doubt that person had read the book either, they just wanted to make a point(not sure what it was, since the book has been banned). I have read it and as far as I'm concerned, anyone who has read it and still thinks it's racist has completely missed Mark Twain's point. And there was an actor I was following and have admired since my teens because of a character he played in a show I loved, who - well, let's just say, after one comment he made I unfollowed him and after another I muted him. I am disappointed enough in him without having him spoil my viewings of the show, which I still adore. 

The ALA, which is connected with this, does an annual list of books that have been banned or challenged and urges people to do virtual readouts on line to protest censorship. I believe that Little House On The Prairie has been banned in some classrooms, so since it’s certainly on the ALA list they will be urging you to do a readout of it! That’s the point. Nobody is telling us not to read it - this is a bunch of librarians, for heaven’s sake! It just wasn’t thought appropriate to keep the name of the award, which has been changed to something more general, which won’t have to be changed again.

I will probably go off and read at least a couple of the books now, so I won't have been expressing my opinion too much about a series I haven't read. I just wanted to argue that it's not censorship.

I'll finish off with a mention of another two name changes in Victorian electorate. There have been some name changes here recently. One of them, which has been Melbourne Ports for a very long time, is now going to be Macnamara. While I'm fond of the name Melbourne Ports - it's my own electorate - which, let's face it, is fairly accurate - I'm kind of chuffed that it will now be named for Dame Annie Jean Macnamara, one of the heroines of Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science. my book on women in  science. I think they're changing the boundaries again, so that may be why.

The other change is more controversial, because there are no doubt already whinges of "Political correctness gone mad/run amok, etc." The electorate was called Batman, not after Bob Kane's Dark Knight, but after John Batman, the founder of Melbourne. I remember when I was growing up, we were taught to admire him. He said, "This will be the place for a village!" and lo, here we were in a magnificent city! How wonderful!


John Batman. State Library of Victoria


I learned more about him when I was researching my children's book Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly. For starters, he was a bounty hunter, the Boba Fett of his time. One of his captures was Matthew Brady, the "gentleman bushranger", in Tasmania, who was not very violent, had a lot of fans and was sent gifts and flowers when he was in prison. But hey, he was a bushranger and John Batman had a living to make. 

But that wasn't why the electorate name was changed. We all know already that he "bought" the site of Melbourne from the traditional owners for a few trinkets(as if the locals could sell their traditional land anyway, that's not how it works). What isn't widely known and certainly wasn't taught to us when I was in primary school was that he was involved in massacres of indigenous Australians in Tasmania. Ugh! What a creep! The new name for the electorate is Cooper, after William Cooper, an Aboriginal activist of the Yorta Yorta nation. 

Still, I guess there are a lot of famous people in history we wouldn't want to move next door to us. 

What do you think? Do you agree that sometimes you need to change names, or is it "political correctness run amok"? 





Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Alice at ACMI!

So, yesterday I met a friend from work in the city and after lunch at Young and Jackson's, we crossed the road to Federation Square to enjoy the Alice In Wonderland Exhibition at ACMI(Australian Centre for the Moving Image). I've been there for other exhibitions, though not recently. A few years ago I took two of my younger family members, Amelia and Dezzy, to see the ABBA exhibition, at their request. They had a ball, and I enjoyed it too, as I did the Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton exhibitions, but this one was special.



I have, of course, read both Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, both as a child and as an adult. I have them in ebook now, from Project Gutenberg. Rereading Alice made me remember how very Victorian it is. A lot of the jokes were aimed at kids of the time, who would have been rolling around laughing at his parodies of poems they had to read for school. But they were funny anyway, and I read those books when I was about Alice's age(seven) and loved them enough to call my very first doll Alice. Hey, I was a nerd even then - what can I tell you?





I went to Oxford many years ago, to meet a friend, Margaret, who got stuck in a meeting at work and couldn't make it, so as long as I was there, I went wandering through the streets of Oxford, where I discovered Christ Church College, where Alice Liddell's father worked and across the road from it, a gift shop, Alice's Old Sheep Shop, which was the very shop John Tenniel used for his illustration of the old sheep's shop in Through The Looking Glass.  It was one of the many historical sites in England that delighted me.

The books are funny and clever and over-the-top, with their very prim and proper Victorian child suddenly finding herself in a world that simply doesn't fit with the kind of world she knows. Somehow she ends up accepting both worlds, however absurd they are. The stories and the illustrations alike have fun with the politics and politicians of the time, but if you don't know this, it doesn't matter. Who would have thought a mathematician could create something so enchanting?

And the books have been enchanting the world since they first came out in 1865 and 1871, inspiring everything from art to film(the first one came out in 1903). When we entered the gallery for the exhibition, we were handed maps which were designed to be scanned and bring up a picture or a video on the various machines around the gallery. You got a character from the stories - my friend Jasna received one with the Queen of Hearts, I got the Cheshire Cat.

Inside, there were original pieces of Victoriana connected with Lewis Carroll, models from the various films, costumes and bits of the various films themselves. We sat down to watch a silent version made in about 1908, but they also put together scenes from many different versions. I remembered an animated version in which Sammy Davis Jr played the Cheshire Cat, but he also did a live action version in which he was the caterpillar. I think I spotted a snippet from a 1966 version of Through The Looking Glass in which Agnes Moorehead was the Red Queen, and there was a bit from the recent animated version in which Helena Bonham Carter was the Queen of Hearts, screaming for her missing tarts.

We went as a group into a room with a table meant to be the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. There were plates, cups and tea pots, which we were asked not to touch. There was something very planetarium about the place. As the lights went off, there was music and a landscape built up around us on the walls and then - the plain white plates and pots became beautiful colourful pieces of Victorian crockery, with cakes on the plates.

The final activity was in a room with stickers you had to cut up to represent the decoration on a playing card, and place on the blank part of your map. The stickers were various characters and body parts from the Alice books and we were invited to make them as silly as we pleased. Then you went over to a hole where you put your head, slotted in your card and had a photo taken. A few seconds later, you appeared, wearing your card, on a screen, dancing around as a gardener of the Queen of Hearts, painting the white roses red because she will have your head cut off if she sees the white roses!

Here is a photo I took. That's me on the right, in the front. I have no idea who the other lady is, sorry!





Afterwards, we went through a small souvenir shop. The prices were pretty phenomenal for everything. I managed to resist the catalogue, because I know how things are with catalogues and me. I buy them, I drool over them for a while, I stroke them and drool some more... then I put them away and never read them again. Last Christmas, I gave away my Van Gogh exhibition catalogue, because the friend who received it had missed out on getting a copy at the exhibition and I knew it was going to gather dust on my shelves.

Here is what I bought instead. It was horribly expensive, but I just couldn't leave without it - and it will be used. In fact, I used it this morning at breakfast. This was part of a limited edition created especially for the exhibition by T2, which charges outrageous prices for its tea, so no surprise. But it is beautiful! Don't you think? They had sold out all the cups and saucers, so I found something pretty, if not matching, to drink from this morning.



When I went to the cloak room to collect my stuff, while waiting for Jasna to emerge from the Ladies, I chatted with the cloak room lady, who was surprised to hear I'd been in that room with the cards. "That was a children's activity!" she said. I assured her there had been no one under about twenty in that room when I was there(and it is school holidays in Melbourne) and as if to prove my point, several other people arrived with their decorated cards!

We went to the lounge upstairs, where we ordered tea and something to nibble before heading our separate ways(after all that, I was joining another friend for dinner!)

A very enjoyable day, in all!














Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Swallow's Dance by Wendy Orr. Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 2018






I wonder if the first day of Learning is always like this - do the girls on the hill always feel the ground tremble under their feet?

Leira is about to start her initiation as a priestess when her world is turned upside down. A violent earthquake leaves her home - and her family - in pieces. And the goddess hasn't finished with the island yet.

With her family, Leira flees across the sea to Crete, expecting sanctuary. But a volcanic eruption throws the entire world into darkness. After the resulting tsunami, society descends into chaos; the status and privilege of being noble-born reduced to nothing. With her injured mother and elderly nurse, Leira has only the strength and resourcefulness within herself to find safety.



This is another of Wendy Orr's amazing stories set in ancient Greece. The first one, Dragonfly Song, was about bull dancing in ancient Crete, as seen from the viewpoint of a young girl who has become mute after seeing her foster mother carried off by raiders, and lives as a servant in the hall of her real mother, the Lady(high priestess) before volunteering to go to Crete as a bull dancer. Here's my interview with Wendy Orr about that, when she shows just how much she knows about this subject!


This novel is about the Thera explosion. In case you're unfamiliar with that, it was a huge volcanic explosion on the island of Santorini in about 1610 BCE. You can still go to the island and look into the crater. It erupted with the energy of several hundred atomic bombs. Fortunately, the inhabitants probably got away in time, though their homes were wiped out, so there would have been a lot of refugees. It may have had a major effect on not only Minoan civilization, but others; there are even theories about a connection with the Ten Plagues of Egypt.


There are still some remains, including a wonderful wall painting called "The saffron gatherers".

Public Domain.
In her introduction to the book, the author says she was inspired by this painting and I think the girl gathering crocus flowers above is her inspiration for Leira.

Unlike Aissa, heroine of Dragonfly Song, Leira lives happily and comfortably with her aristocratic priestly family until disaster strikes. Before the eruption, there is an earthquake. Her mother is a priestess under the Lady, high priestess of the Goddess, her father is the head of the small island's merchant fleet. She has two older brothers, one married and travelling with their father, the other a diplomat representing the family in Crete. Suddenly, she finds herself having to take responsibility for her mother and her elderly nurse; while her father did manage to get them away, then set off for a trading voyage, the people of Thera are considered unlucky. From wealth and comfort, they are now poor and homeless.

What I like about Leira is that she doesn't complain, she just gets on with  the challenge she has been given, and makes a good fist of it. Some people she meets are dreadful, others kind and compassionate.  Whoever they are, she deals with the life she has been given. And it isn't only Leira. Her father and his sailors spend weeks after the earthquake digging out people and property and looking after other survivors. There is no complaint, just doing what has to be done.

We have no way of knowing exactly how the Minoans lived, but I found this book 's interpretation of the evidence convincing. The young daughters of the priestly class gather crocus flowers and produce the precious saffron as a religious task. The volcano's rumbles are described as the Goddess belching. The culture is shown as a pleasant one, laid-back and comfortable; late in the book, Leira is shocked to see that other cities have, in desperation, resorted to human sacrifice, something that was never a part of her own culture when she was living at home. 

I found this an enjoyable trip to ancient Greece, which children from about nine upwards will also enjoy. It has fewer fantasy elements than Dragonfly Song - no snake singing or mental control of animals, just a dream that Leira's father has, which encourages him to take his family and fellow islanders away, and an omen or two, but the few fantastical elements are enough for this story. Like Dragonfly Song, it has large chunks of verse. It took me a while to get used to that in the first book, but I am comfortable with it now.

Highly recommended from mid-primary to early secondary school level.

How to buy:

You can buy it in paperback from Booktopia . I believe Booktopia, an Australian site, ships overseas.

Amazon Australia has it for Kindle, but you will have to wait till October to get it in hardcover from this site, either in Australia or the US. Book Depository has the paperback available now.  








Good Stuff Recently Picked Up On iBooks!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I have read it, but I gave my print copy to a bookloving younger family member, one I know will love it. (And by the way, another young family member, only nine years old, cuddled up with me yesterday to show me his new  copy of The Ruins Of Gorlan, by John Flanagan and we bonded over the Ranger’s Apprentice series and Percy Jackson. We’ve already bonded over Harry Potter.)

The Lace Weaver by debut Aussie author Lauren Chater. It’s historical fiction, which I love, set in Eastern Europe,and sounds intriguing. I wish her all the best with it!

Wouldn’t It be Deadly by D.E Ireland, which was recommended by a blogger I follow. It’s set in the world of Shaw’s Pygmalion, though it is part of a crime fiction - cosy? - series that has titles based on songs from My Fair Lady. It sounded like fun and I’ve started it and so far, it is fun. Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins solving mysteries? Intriguing! Not certain what Bernard Shaw would think of it, but I’m enjoying.

Ocean’s Justice by Demelza Carlton, whom I first discovered on Instafreebie. In which the Little Mermaid, having killed her prince, and disgusted at having been pushed into it, turns up on a raft in the Atlantic in the early 20th century... Just started this one.

The Miracle And Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis. I will read anything by this author! I’m halfway through, reading a tongue-in-cheek Poirot send-up.

A couple more cosies, which I cam’t resist when they are going free on iBooks. And some Simon Haynes novels, which I can’t keep up with, including Peace Force, the first of a new series, which sounds like a space opera adventure, but so far, reads more like a cross between the over the top humour of  Douglas Adams and Robert Sheckley.

Bath Tangle, by Georgette Heyer, which is havrn’t read before and was going cheap on iBooks.

Finally- for now- Simon Petrie’s Flight 404, which I have somewhere in print, but can’t find. It’s hard SF with a transgender heroine and still manages to be about family and the character. If you missed the Peggy Bright Books edition, here’s your chance!

So, what are YOU reading?

PS Return to this site and n Wednesday for my review of Wendy Orr’s new novel, Swallow’s Dance, set in the time of the Thera explosion.