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Thursday, June 30, 2011

A POCKETFUL OF EYES By Lili Wilkinson. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2011

Bee is spending her summer holidays working in the taxidermy department of the Melbourne Museum of Natural History before beginning Year 12. She has enough problems on her plate, what with her best friend running off with her boyfriend and her geeky mother bringing home a new boyfriend of her own from the Dungeons and Dragons group, when her grumpy boss is found dead in the Museum’s Red Rotunda one morning. The police say it’s suicide, but Bee hasn’t been reading lots of crime fiction from Trixie Belden to PD James for nothing. Can she and the cute but exasperating Toby solve the mystery with nothing but their logic, a few clues and asking “WWPD?” (what would Poirot do?)?

You do need to suspend disbelief before you can enjoy the usual over-the-top Wilkinson humour in this one. How likely is it that the police would declare suicide before so much as moving the body from the museum? What about forensic samples? Why are there no police officers asking questions? Also, Bee and Toby seem to get away with an awful lot of nicking important clues from suspects’ offices without anyone wondering where the documents have disappeared, let alone saying, “Hang on, weren’t those pesky kids here five minutes ago?”. But belief is worth suspending.

I think it’s a bit premature to be comparing this author to Agatha Christie, as the back cover blurb does, but it’s still a very entertaining romp through the halls of crime fiction, with red herrings, winks and nods to various writers and I have to admit that, while there were a lot of clues – or, rather, Clues – leaping around yelling, “Hey! Hey! Clue! Look!” at the reader, I didn’t see the rather Poirot-ish conclusion coming.

It was worth reading for the heroine’s personal life alone. With a house full of D and D, a mother who’s on the Playstation duelling Darth Vader and a Celestial Badger in her mother’s life, who can blame her for fleeing into the world of logic and reality? At the same time, her mother is quite lovable and there is no doubt of her affection for Bee. There are definite coming-of-age elements in the novel.

Girls will get a chuckle out of this. I did.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Web and historical research

Isn't the Internet WONDERFUL? Not only do I get to keep this blog and not have to rely on someone else publishing my reviews, but I can look up stuff. Lots of stuff! I'm beginning to research the year 1964 and when I went on Google Videos, there were all these videos of the Beatles performing in Melbourne in 1964! The Beatles interviewed! There wasn't as much of what I wanted about the 1967 Referendum, just a couple of reminiscences and one bit of silent footage of Gough Whitlam making a speech, with text telling you what he'd said. But it's very exciting being able to just go on-line and find stuff. There are newspaper archives on-line, but I'll be going to the State Library for that part of the research, because they take ages to load and I'm not quite sure, yet, what I want to find. I'll be looking up prices and what was on at the movies and on TV and what was on the letters pages and the headlines. The Web is great if there's something specific you want, but if you just want to wander around the year 1964 - or 1967 - the good old-fashioned microfilm and the State Library is best.

Roll on the holidays!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Selena Wang's thoughts on Graffiti Moon

Guest blogger Selena has been helping me to read the books on this year's CBCA short list. Here are her thoughts on Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon:

The best thing about this book is how the author put this amazing story in one night.
Graffiti Moon is a lovely and interesting book, and I enjoyed every page of it. I never thought I would enjoy a romance story, but I loved this one very much. When the author talks about Shadow’s painting, it’s as if I can see it with own eyes; the author made Lucy’s glass work so interesting, now I just want to try them myself.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Getting hooked on small press

I've just come back from another con with another small press collection - this time, Ticonderoga Press's More Scary Kisses. I bought several small-press books at Swancon, others at Aussiecon 4 - locally published volumes of short stories by some terrific writers. I've been getting hooked on these anthologies. There's something wonderful about opening a crisp new collection of stories which are a mix of big-name writers and others I have either just discovered or have read only in other small-press books and magazines. I'm becoming a big fan of, among others, Thoraiya Dyer, whose beautiful stories have appeared in our own Andromeda Spaceways (one in the new issue, which I've just received) and Stephen Dedman, whose collection Never Seen By Waking Eyes has a lot of my favourite stories and some I missed when they first came out. I've delighted over the collection of New Ceres stories, New Ceres Nights, and Dirk Flinthart's New Ceres novella Angel Rising (Ninja! Nuns!) and those delightful Agog collections. I have a stack of them by my bed, waiting their turn to be opened and loved.

One of the stories in More Scary Kisses, "The Sword Of Darcy", was submitted to ASIM. I got it in slush and thought it was a hoot. It got as far as the slushpool, but alas, nobody took it before it dropped off the list. It's just not possible to take every delightful story in the pool - there are only so many we can publish and each issue has to have balance. So i was glad to see it had found a home and enjoyed the re-read as much as I did the first time around.

The big publishers don't do a lot of anthologies and, with some exceptions, the few they do tend to be either re-prints or stuff by big-name writers. It's possible to experiment more in small press and those people published in it can eventually put together a collection of their own and - who knows? - sell something book-length to a big publisher.

Meanwhile, we can all enjoy. I'm off to curl up with More Scary Kisses.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

In the midst of the con - Continuum 7

I missed the Friday night, because I spend Friday evenings with my family, but turned up bright and early on Saturday. One of my Sunday panels had been brought forward to Saturday, so I was doing my reading at 2.20 and panels on trilogies and YA fiction back to back at 5.00 and 6.00 pm. This meant that some folk who had expected to hear about "Dark Disney" found they were in the room where a panel was discussing the oddities of the trilogy/series - and, I believe, some turned up for trilogies this morning only to find it was about Dark Disney. It meant I could sleep in a bit this morning.

I met some friends and made the acquaintance of some people I hadn't met. There was the very nice Crisetta MacLeod, who was running the trilogies panel and said she'd read and reviewed my novel for Aurealis Express (still can't find the review and might have to ask her to send me a link). Richard Harland was with us and George Ivanoff. I was probably the only writer on the panel who hadn't yet been asked for a sequel to my novel. We discussed some of the difficulties of the series novel, not only because of the problems they make for readers and librarians, but the problems they make for writers who might already have planned them out and then not get to write them. After this, Richard and I whisked across to a smaller room to do a panel on YA fiction in Australia, with two eastern suburbs secondary teachers. A bunch of us went out to dinner, one of the pleasures of going to conventions.

This morning I got in on time for an event at 11.00 am, the launch of Lucy Sussex's reprint anthology, which of course I bought, because although I've probably read many of the stories over the year, I haven't read them all and it's handy to have them together. Emily, one of the con committee who sings, dressed up as a sort of Dolly Parton character to sing a country and western version of Waltzing Matilda. She's a member of a band and is looking up stuff about a certain female bushranger. I told her about Mary Anne Bugg,, of whom she hadn't heard, and showed her the chapter in my book.

At noon, Dave Freer gave his GoH speech. Such a nice man and I really think his books sound worth reading - haven't read anything yet, but will pursue it. He and his wife live on Flinders Island, which sounds a peaceful place if you can make a iving without having to go to the mainland daily, because there's one ferry a week.

Five of us went to lunch together and again, the company was good, though I'm afraid I have rather lost my taste for Asian cuisine in the last few years and two days in a row is a bit much. I do still go once a month with Nova Mob to a quite nice place in Chinatown, where they have some vegetarian options and of course, everyone eats sushi. Still - tomorrow I'm taking my lunch with me and maybe just going somewhere, perhaps a food court, where I can get a smoothie to drink with it.

More when it's over.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Billionaire's Curse by Richard Newsome

It's fast-moving and funny and a clear case of a writer wanting modern kids to be able to enjoy the kind of adventure he got to read as a child. There are a lot of them now. There's plenty to be said for those old adventure stories, so if current writers can do them too, good on them.

I'm still two-thirds of the way through, so I'll keep the main comments for the review, but so far - what a hoot! Villains, kids running around trying to find a stolen diamond, the boy who's suddenly the richest kid in the world and finding himself a target for murder. Can he and his friends find the missing treasure? Can he solve the mystery before the villains succeed in killing him?

I'm betting the answer to those questions is yes! It always was in Enid Blyton. But then, Julian, Ann, Dick, George and Timmy the dog were never in any real danger, were they? Not in the books I remember reading.

I can't wait to read the sequel, which is waiting on my to-be-read pile.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

CBCA short list 2011: GRAFFITI MOON By Cath Crowley. Pan Macmillan, 2010

I'm making my way through the short-listed books as I can get hold of them. My own opinions are just those: my own. You needn't agree with them. If you've been following this blog, you'll know that I have already reviewed Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood. My opinion on that one hasn't changed: it was an enjoyable book with a lot going for it, but a number of things that made me say, "Ouch!" such as the notion that a real-life school would, a. give the important job of organising the school dance as a punishment and, b. more importantly, in case someone writes to tell me that their school did it, so there, that a real school would then allow this dance to be unsupervised by teachers, putting itself at great risk of being sued if anything went wrong, as it does in this novel.

Now, on to my comments on the lovely Graffiti Moon.

I really should have read this some time ago, as I got it for reviewing, but was distracted by this and that and suddenly I had a million more review copies piling up. Now I've finished, I wish I had read it immediately! It's a lovely, gentle romantic comedy with coming-of-age elements. The whole thing takes place over one magical night in Melbourne, as glassblowing artist heroine Lucy spends the last night of Year 12 searching for her hero, graffiti artist Shadow, not knowing he's closer than she thought - and has his own problems. Like the fact that she broke his nose on their first date?

The teens in this are teens, with all the troubles teens have -it does help that the author has been a teacher herself and worked with teenagers - and there are so many times in the story when the characters are near disaster!

I loved the wacky relationships - Lucy's parents who have split with her father going into the shed to write while Mum finishes her novel, but not having the decency to want a divorce, and her friends Dylan and Daisy who adore each other but may also split after he threw eggs at her on Muckup Day. Or maybe not.

It's deservedly on this year's CBCA short list for Older Readers and I hope it does well. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

THE SHATTERING By Karen Healey. Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 2011

This is the second novel by Kiwi author Karen Healey, who lives in Australia. It’s not a sequel to Guardian Of The Dead, but a fine cracking mystery in its own right.

Keri, a teen living in the West Coast town of Summerton in New Zealand’s South Island, has recently lost her brother to suicide and is still grieving, as are her parents. In fact, the funeral is barely over. Nobody can understand why Jake killed himself. There was no warning, no suicide note. He simply shot himself – and Keri found the bleeding body.

And Jake is only one of a bunch of teenage boys who have killed themselves over the last several years. Two friends, Janna and Sione, have also lost brothers. When Janna suggests there are connections, Keri and Sione are willing to consider it.

Something must be going on. The town has been beautiful one day, perfect the next, for years now, since the boys started killing themselves. Summerton is the only town in this area that seems to have survived the financial crisis with weather and tourism intact. Janna is a witch, one of a number in Summerton. She believes magic is involved – could she be right? Are there really supernatural elements? Read it and decide for yourself. No spoilers here!

This is not only a thriller, but explores teen issues. Each of the characters must learn a lesson to help him or her grow. The nerdy Sione is not really sure how his brother felt about him and often can’t see what is under his nose. Keri has her own issues, apart from the grief, but to tell you would spoil it. Janna has some hard decisions to make about her life.

The book takes you into the heart of a small town in which everyone knows everyone else and any secrets will spread like wildfire.

If you like adventure and folklore and mystery, you should get a lot out of this one. Recommended.