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Monday, August 30, 2010

BURNT SNOW (The Book of the Witch) By Van Badham

Sophie Morgan and her family have just moved from Sydney to the New South Wales coastal town of Yarrindi. Yarrindi has a lot of secrets among its teen population – but so do the Morgans. When Sophie begins to be attracted to local “bad boy” Brody Meine, a lot of people warn her to stay away, including her own mother, and not entirely because he’s a bad boy….
What is Goth girl Ashley Ventwood’s secret – and how does she seem to know Sophie’s mother? What about the giant crow hovering everywhere Sophie goes? And the horrific events that happen every time she gets close to Brody?

With all the teen paranormal novels out now, this one should do well. I can’t make too many comments on it without spoilers, but the kids will love it, especially the girls who have been reading all those novels featuring vampires, werewolves, faeries, daemons, angels and so on. While reading it, I couldn’t help thinking of what a friend said of Buffy The Vampire Slayer while it was on: “All those demons and vampires and the world coming to an end and it’s, ‘You stole my boyfriend!’ ” That happens a lot in this one. Teenagers will be teenagers, even in the middle of over-the-top events and Sophie, no matter what happens to her, is very worried about who hates her and whether she will look good for Brody at the party. Very believable!
Recommended for girls fourteen upwards.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Kim Stanley Robinson at the Melbourne Writers' Festival

Okay, I know. Kim Stanley Robinson is in town for Aussiecon 4. I will get to hear him speak next weekend. But it has been such a very long time since I have seen a spec fic writer at the Melbourne Writers' Festival and I was desperate to attend something. So I bought a ticket yesterday when I turned up in hopes of finding something to my liking. There was nothing much. I did go to hear a couple of guys talk about their books - one who writes novels based on true stories and one who has written a non-fiction book about his time in the undertaker industry. It wasn't my usual cup of tea, but as a writer of non-fiction who feels the need to tell a story for my young readers, I thought I might enjoy it - and I did, though not enough to buy these guys' books. The only crime fiction session yesterday was in the morning, before I got to town.

So you can imagine how delighted I was to see that an Aussiecon guest of honour would be at the writers' festival. I went to buy a ticket immediately. I hoped I might also see some folk I knew (in the end, I only saw Lucy Sussex, who was conducting the interview, and Tim Richards, who can't make it to the con because he's going overseas).

The panel took place in the BMW Edge theatre, which is a lovely light and airy space overlooking the river. It's also the biggest auditorium in the Fed Square complex. The auditorium was far from full, but I thought:never mind, he'll have plenty of folk to hear him next week!

I found Mr Robinson fascinating. He spoke about his books and why he wrote them as he had. His most recent, which I bought yesterday, is about Galileo being taken to the moons of Jupiter by time-travellers. The author was fascinated by Galileo, about whom no one, he said, had ever written a novel, and by history in general.

He told us about his Mars books, which were written because of his love of the Californian landscape. He also pointed out that the Martian landscape has a similarity to our outback.

I felt like applauding when he mentioned that he wasn't crazy about cyberpunk because it's so pessimistic (and for some political reasons). I remember when I read my first cyberpunk novel and thought, "If that's what the future is going to be like, I don't want to be there!"

It was great to see a spec fic writer at that festival. They haven't, as far as I can recall, had one in a very long time. I'm guessing they wouldn't have this time either, if he hadn't already been in town for the con. I can remember the year they had Ben Bova and Robert Jordan at the same time. Their political opinions were very different and we certainly heard all about it!

Another year, they had China Mieville, who certainly seemed to think a lot of himself. When he was rude about Tolkien's work, I thought: "Mate, if people are still reading YOUR books fifty years from now, you can be pleased with yourself!"

It would be so good if we can have some more next year, but unless there's a con going, I suspect not.

The thing I really miss about the days I used to go to ten sessions at the festival is the children's writers who used to have evening and weekend sessions. Last year, they did have John Marsden on the weekend, but that was it. Ursula Dubosarsky was doing a session today, but as a word-lover, not as a children's writer. Someone, in all these years, seems to have decided no one but kids wants to hear these writers speak, so has put all their sessions during the day, for schools.

It's pretty frustrating if you're a teacher-librarian-children's-writer and can't go during the day. I mean, yes, I took my class last year to hear Andy Griffiths, but it was one session and the way they speak to kids is very different from the way they'd speak at an evening session.

I'm taking my book club to the next Teenage Booktalkers next term. They'll enjoy that.

As for the Melbourne Writers' Festival, I have given up the ten-session bookings and just turn up and see what's going. It's more fun that way.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

LITTLE PARADISE By Gabrielle Wang. Camberwell, Penguin, 2010.

Mirabel (Lei An) is a Chinese girl in wartime Melbourne. Her family has been in Australia since the gold rushes, but they are still Chinese, in culture and lifestyle, and her father is a strong supporter of the Nationalist government back home.

When Chinese soldier Jin Jing (JJ) arrives from Shanghai, Mirabel knows she is in love. When JJ is posted back to China, Mirabel follows – and so does adventure...

It’s strange to think that this wartime adventure-romance is based on the true story of the author’s parents. It is very visual: Melbourne during the 1940s, filled with American soldiers, Shanghai in the middle of a civil war, the life of Melbourne’s Chinese community sixty years ago… If no one turns this into a television mini-series, I will be very disappointed.

It’s written in Gabrielle Wang’s usual gentle style and will be very readable stuff for girls from about fourteen upwards. Her heroine would be a good, strong role model, even if she wasn’t based on a real person. The language is not difficult and even medium readers can handle it.

Get it for your teenage girls who enjoy historical fiction.

THE CARDTURNER By Louis Sachar. London: Bloomsbury, 2010

This is the most recent young adult novel from Louis Sachar, author of a large number of books for children and teens, including the delightfully quirky Holes, which became a Disney movie. Like Holes, this one has fantasy elements – just a touch, but fantasy all the same. It’s also quirky, but those are about the only elements the books have in common.

Alton has a rich uncle, Lester Trapp. Grumpy as he is, Lester has to be sucked up to, because he is – well, rich, and Alton’s family is deep in debt.

When Lester goes blind, he needs someone to be his cardturner, to enable him to continue playing bridge, a game in which he is a genius. Alton doesn’t know anything about bridge, but as far as Lester is concerned, that is all the better – he won’t argue!

Taking on the job of cardturner, Alton learns, not only about bridge, a game as complex as chess, but the answers to some mysteries in his family history.

It’s a very readable and quirky tale, with humour and sadness mixed, although I have to say that I found the bridge references confusing, despite the author’s clever device to make it easier. Early in the novel, when he is just starting to get the hang of bridge, Alton says that when he was studying Moby Dick at school, he lost track of what was happening when there was detailed description of life aboard a ship. To make things easier on his readers, he says that every time there’s a complicated bridge description, he will put in a picture of a whale; if you want to, you can skip the detailed description and just read the summary at the end. That’s a good idea, but in the end, if you don’t understand the object of the game, the simplified bits are no easier to understand than the complicated ones.

I found myself skimming over much of the bridge description and just concentrating on the characters and story outline. Those were worth reading the book for. And it’s interesting, anyway, to learn just how complex this game is. Who would have thought it?

It’s touching to see the relationship develop between the boy and his great-uncle Trapp, the back-story in the novel and Alton’s own discovery of just what he can do.

Recommended for very good readers.

THE LIFE OF A TEENAGE BODY-SNATCHER By Doug MacLeod. Camberwell, Penguin Australia, 2010.

The year is 1828. Any doctor who wants to be able to dissect corpses has to rely on the body-snatchers – or resurrectionists, as they call themselves.

Thomas Timewell, the “teenage body-snatcher” of the title, is busy digging up his grandfather, who had wanted to donate his body to science, but been denied, when he encounters his first resurrectionist, known to him only as Plenitude (the body-snatchers give themselves names based on positive nouns). Before he knows it, he is escaping Plenitude’s enemies, being chased by a tattooed woman, blackmailed, bashed over the head and being followed by the Grim Reaper.

Meanwhile, he has to deal with his mother’s laudanum habit, his mother’s friend’s wish to paint him in the nude and go along with his mother and her friends to hear the latest work by an incredibly awful novelist.

If you enjoy Richard Harland’s steampunk tales, you’ll probably like this over-the-top black comedy, which is carefully written in the style of the time in which it is set. It has elements of melodrama, quite deliberate. If you’re giving it to a teenager, it’s intended for teens from about fifteen upwards. Slightly younger readers might also enjoy it, but they will have to be very good readers to pick up all the jokes.

The novel is great fun, so if you just want to read it for your own pleasure, why not? Let the kids get their own copies!

Monday, August 09, 2010

H.I.V.E: Rogue. By Mark Walden. London: Bloomsbury, 2010

At the end of H.I.V.E: Dreadnought, Otto Malpense was left in the hands of the enemies of G.L.O.V.E, international organization of super-villains. In this series, which began with H.I.V.E: Higher Institute of Villainous Education, there are villains and villains. There are the good guy villains and the bad guy villains. G.L.O.V.E represented the good guy villains who just wanted to go around in snazzy black clothes, stroking white cats and making lots of money – but because, in the end, they were villains, there was politicking and backstabbing going on even among them – the cause of some of the drama in later novels of the series.

Otto, who can interface physically with any computer, appears to have gone rogue. He’s now working for the bad guys, and has been involved in some assassinations. Even his school principal, Max Nero, that Dumbledore of the villain world, is ruefully considering ordering his death. Of course, his schoolmates aren’t willing to let that happen – and they have talents of their own…

The first novel in the series presented a sort of Hogwarts for villains. Young potential super-villains were taught how to manipulate the world for their own gain, using their various talents. There was even a sort of Neville Longbottom character, whose genius with plants ended up creating a giant mutant plant that nearly ate the school. It was very funny and there were references to spy movies as well, except that the cat we usually see sitting in the villain’s lap was one of the teachers, trapped in a cat’s body, her jewelled collar used to communicate.

All the novels so far have been entertaining, but they’ve become serious. Characters learn things about their backgrounds they would rather not have known. Characters die. This one has a lot of martial arts in it, as Otto’s friend Wing and Wing’s mentor, the ninja-style woman Raven, go in search of him and encounter enemies galore. It’s certainly exciting – but it’s much grimmer than the original novel and this should be taken into account. There is one more in the series; I can only hope that it doesn’t end in quite the bloodbath that I suspect will happen. There are too many likable characters I’d prefer to see survive!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Page Proof Time!

I've just received the page proofs for Wolfborn! This is pretty much what my book will look like when it comes out. Well, the layout will, anyway. I don't have it bound with a cover, as reviewers sometimes get. It's finally feeling as if it's really, really happening! And after getting my copy of The Worlds Next Door, an anthology of children's spec fic stories published by Fablecroft Press, and finding I'd left one error, I'm going to be a LOT more careful. The editor, Sarah Hazelton, has warned me this is it - my last chance to fix anything before it goes to the printers. She says it's gone to a proofreader, which is good, but I'm taking no chances. And I have found some sentences that don't make sense - well, perhaps I missed them with all the "track changes" lines going here, there and everywhere.

It's all very exciting. The book will be 289 pages long, more than I had expected, if not exactly thick as a brick. That's just a nice length.

And Alice at Dymock's is organising a book signing for me on December 12th. My first as an individual! If I can't sell lots of copies to passers-by at Christmas, when can I?

Stand by for more!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

School Book Club and Me

I've tried this before. It never worked. But this year, apart from the usual suspects, we have a strongly-bookloving bunch of Year 7 girls. They consider it cool to hang out in the library and talk to the library teacher about books and reading. One of them even agreed with me that Twilight wasn't particularly scary as vampire books went and asked for Dracula. I couldn't give it to her right away, because it was already out. Her friend had it! :-)

So as they were coming anyway, I revived the Book Club idea. I have around ten enthusiastic young readers who turn up on Wednesday to do book things. Mostly, so far, it's been browsing through new books and choosing from book displays, but this week we actually sat around and talked about books they - and I - had read and I let them know that Edwina Harvey, author of The Whale's Tale, was coming to town and would be speaking to them. Young Willis, who has already written me a superb essay for English - a Year 8 kid! - had read it and spoke enthusiastically about the book. Selena, his classmate, borrowed it. Willis was borrrowing the four-novel volume of Hitch-hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and I told the others about that. I promised Willis I would buy Volumes 5 and 6 if he wanted me to, though I personally hate the fifth novel and the sixth is by the author of Artemis Fowl (they had heard of him!).Thando of 8B wanted to tell the others about a fabulous book she had read called Ten Things I Hate About Me (someone else borrowed that on her recommendation). Her friend Paige wanted to know about Jane Eyre, which she had picked up from the display area. I felt able to explain the concept of Gothic romance - the young woman who goes as a governess (live-in schoolteacher, I explained)to a country home and falls in love with the boss, who has a Deep Dark Secret. I told them I had bought it because I wanted somewhere for Twilight readers to go when they had finished the series. Paige borrowed it. When I saw her yesterday she was quite enthusiastic so far.

I considered it a huge achievement last year when I got Jacinta to read and enjoy two books after she had refused to read even one, and it was - but we do have to look after the good readers too. They're the ones who actually turn up in the library, willingly.

Current plans are to take them to Teen Booktalkers next term, if I can get permission.