Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Inheritance by Carole Wilkinson. Melbourne, Black Dog, 2018

Fourteen year old Nic is left with her grandfather on the family property, Yaratgil, in Victoria’s Western district, while her musician father works on a cruise ship. Her mother has been gone since the day she was born. Yaratgil has been around since her mother’s ancestors, the Mitchells, arrived from Scotland in the 1830s and built it. Living with her grandfather is not easy and she has not found it easy, either, to make friends at her new school, as the Mitchell ancestors were not popular and anyone of that family is likely to be snubbed, even after a hundred years. She does become friends with a small group of kids who are pretty much outcasts themselves, including a boy called Thor, an indigenous boy whose hippie (white) mother sells New Age stuff in the small town. 

Then she finds something that enables her to time travel in the local  area - and she discovers, to her horror, that some of her ancestors did some dreadful things ...

The time-slip story works well. Moving around from one historical period to another, with different viewpoints, the mystery Nic has to solve eventually slots together like the stones she uses to time travel. She finds there are some things she can’t fix and others she can. Her new schoolfriend Thor has his own issues and the two of them work together to help each other. 

I liked the huge role historical research plays in this novel, and the mention of Victoria’s State Library, Public Records Office and the National Library’s Trove archive, which holds so many digital newspapers, and which I’ve used so often myself. It’s a novel set very much in the present day, with modern methods of looking stuff up. At one point, Thor is distressed that some important cuttings are missing, but Nic smiles and offers to introduce him to Trove. Missing physical information is no longer an issue in an adventure story. 

I liked the characters, including Nic’s grandfather, the ancestral Mitchell women and Nic’s friend Thor. I would have liked to see more of the friends known at school as the Weirdos, who are mentioned and help out at the end, but don’t play much role in the story. 

The historical massacre of the local indigenous clan is a very dark, but powerful, part of the book. I’m not giving away much here, as it’s hinted at early on. 

Despite the serious issues dealt with, there were definite touches of humour, such as Nic’s grandfather’s small herd of cattle, all given girls’ names, but slaughtered anyway to make the sausages he sells at a weekend market and keeps in the freezer, so that at any one time, he and Nic might be eating their way through Denise or Maggie. 

I read this very quickly, overnight. It’s not a difficult read. Interestingly, while the characters are fourteen, there isn’t any hint of romance between Nic and Thor. They are mature in their behaviour,  but still just good friends. 

Read this if you enjoyed Kate Constable’s Crow Country or Jackie French’s Daughter Of The Regiment. If you haven’t read these, but like time slip fiction, I recommend all three. 

Available from Booktopia  Book Depository and Amazon(currently only in Kindle, but keep an eye out.)  ht

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Knight Life by Peter David - A Re-Read

I’ve been discovered plenty of my old books, either on a clean-up at home or on the shelves in my old bedroom. A recent one is Knight Life by Peter David, which I must have brought from home and forgotten about, because it’s the 2002 edition and I left my parents’ home long before that.

Anyway, I found it and took it home and I’ve re-read it!

What do I mean by the 2002 edition? The original version, which I’ve also read, was written in the days of typewriters and was about 30,000 words shorter. The author explains, in his introduction to this edition, that at one stage he was working on a script for a film version that was never made and decided it was out of date and could do with improvement.

If you’re into comics, you will probably have read this author’s work. He has also done several Star Trek novels and scripted some Babylon 5 episodes, including that funny one where the space station gets a merchandise shop which upsets station commander John Sheridan when he realises it’s selling John Sheridan teddy bears(he tosses one out the airlock). But this novel was my first encounter with this author, and I picked it up among a pile of Arthurian themed novels I was reading at the time.

So, what’s it about? King Arthur returns, but not in the way we usually think of it. No galloping out from his sleep with his knights, no returning to save Britain in its darkest days. In fact, at one point, he comments that we could be on the verge of a golden age if we wanted it. And he’s not in Britain either, he’s in New York City, along with Merlin, who escaped from his own cave because he has been living backwards and is now a young boy, so small enough to slip through the cracks. Both of them have managed to keep up to date in their caves, so aren’t completely surprised by what they see.  Now Arthur has to decide what to do with his life. Leading is what he does best. It’s a bit early to be trying for President, so, with Merlin’s help(faking computer records), he decides to stand, as an independent, for Mayor of New York. But he and Merlin aren’t the only ones who have survived into the twenty-first century. There’s Percival the Grail Knight, who has aged, but is still around due to having drunk from the Grail, and makes a good treasurer for the campaign. There is a re-born Guinevere who is a very good personal assistant and press secretary. She has her own problems, though. And there are Morgan and Mordred...

Odd that everyone from Arthur’s time still around is not only living in the US but in the same part of it(the furthest from New York we get is New Jersey), but never mind. I found myself enjoying it all over again and I can’t help wishing that they had made that film after all, because I’d have liked to see Jason Carter, who played that lovely Ranger Marcus Cole in Babylon 5, as Arthur. The description of Arthur certainly sounded like him, but he’s rather too old for the role now.

This isn’t the only novel in which Arthur goes forward in time; Arthur, King, written by another American with screenplay experience, has Arthur chasing Mordred into World War II. While there he meets and falls in love with a British doctor called Jenny... That was much like the Time Machine movie, Time After Time. And he becomes a pilot, learning how to take off, but never getting the hang of landing. That would also have made a good movie, perhaps with Kenneth Branagh as Arthur.

Anyway, both are worth reading, though you may have to get Arthur, King from ABEBooks. Knight Life is easily available from Book Depository, along with Peter David’s other books. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Doctor And The YA Novelist!

Just a quick post. I’ve now seen Rosa, this week’s episode of Dr Who, and was impressed both with the episode in general and the co-author specifically.

As you probably know, it concerns the story of Rosa Parks, whose place in history is about to be sabotaged by a time travelling criminal, and the Doctor and her companions have to put history back. It’s occurred to me that this is why the TARDIS brought them there instead of Sheffield. Early in the episode, the Doctor yells at the TARDIS for bringing them to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, instead of Sheffield 2018. Now we know why, otherwise you’d have to really suspend disbelief that they just happened to be in the right place at the right time to fix it. I had a great chuckle at the Doctor’s mentioning she’d lent Elvis a mobile phone - it must be the kind the earlier incarnation handed Rose, and perhaps it happened during that Christmas special when the Doctor found himself engaged to Marilyn Monroe...

What I enjoyed was that the companions all get a task to do to make things run properly. They don’t just follow the Doctor or even follow her instructions - they get their own ideas. They don’t need her breathing down their necks. When things go wrong, they don’t freeze, they improvise. And they insist on participating even when the Doctor urges them to return to the safety of the TARDIS, because after all, Rosa Parks can’t just get away, can she?

There was a lot of humour in what was still a serious story, and it worked. I think this will be a good team.

Now, why did I mention the co-author of this script? Well, it was none other than British writer  Malorie Blackman, author of many wonderful YA novels, including some that were dramatised for TV. we had some of  her books in my library and the kids did enjoy them. She was the British Children’s Laureate in 2013. I met her in the lift at Reading Matters one year, but was too tongue-tied to speak.

And now she’s writing Dr Who! I am so very excited!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Ghost In My Suitcase - The play!

So, yesterday I went to see A Ghost In My Suitcase the play, based on the novel by the wonderful Melbourne writer, Gabrielle Wang. It was performed by the Barking Gecko theatre company, a troupe from Western Australia. Here is a link to an interview she did with some of my students about this book.

I’ve read all her novels apart from the Our Australian Girl ones, but this one was very special. It’a about a girl, Celeste, who goes to China to stay with her grandmother and scatter her mother’s ashes. She discovers that her grandmother, Por Por, is a ghost hunter - a gift she shares. Por Por has an apprentice, Ting Ting(who now has her own novel), who at first resents Celeste, till they have to work together. By the way, Por Por also appears, still ghost busting, in The  Pearl Of Tiger Bay, an novel set in Australia!

The play was performed at the Melbourne Arts Centre. I bought one of the best tickets since they were only a few dollars more than the cheaper ones, so had a great view! There was a small cast - Por Por, Ting Ting and Celeste, with another three actors playing the rest of the roles, which they did impressively, and a very simple set made up of big boxes with projections for the places they went. There must have been some puppeteers involved in such things as flying sheets, and I saw the shadow of one, but they worked smoothly and well.

The twelve year old girls, Celeste and Ting Ting, were played by adults, but it didn’t seem to matter. I loved Por Por, the wise grandmother, and the actress who played the role.

A lovely play! I hope it’s turned into a movie eventually, but I have to say, it won’t have the magic of the stage show. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Look What I Found on My Shelves - Ephraim Kishon!

On the shelves of my old bedroom, I found another treasure - one of my collection of books by Ephraim Kishon. Ephraim Kishon was a Hungarian immigrant who arrived in the early days of the Israeli state and made the Hebrew language his own, to the extent that he added words to the language. He even turned the name of a street in Tel Aviv into a verb. Dizengoff Street is one of Tel Aviv’s major streets, where people wander around, shopping, going to restaurants, going to the theatre and the movies. His verb, “to Dizengoff” means “to wander around Dizengoff Street.” People use it. 

His humorous stories appeared for many years in the Jerusalem Post. Some of them were filmed. One was The Big Dig, based on a short story of the same name. A lunatic escapes from a mental hospital and steals a drill, with which he starts drilling on Allenby Road, another major Tel Aviv Street. Nobody knows who he is, but everyone assumes it’s legitimate roadwork and that someone else ordered it, so he is not only allowed to get on with it, but his way is cleared and traffic diverted. In the end, he hits the sea, which gushes into the trench, forming the new Allenby Canal. (And, in the short story, Tel Aviv is declared “the Venice of the Middle East”). It was a hilarious film too. 

A favourite of mine was one in which the author discovers there is only one box of chocolates in the entire country, and it’s well past the use-by date! You know how you get chocolates for a gift and don’t open the box, but end up giving it away? Well, what if everybody else did the same?

I don’t know if you’ll find any of his collections outside ABEbooks these days, but it’s worth looking them up there. 

Meanwhile, I’ll happily settle into this one! 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Just Unearthed... The Witch’s Brat by Rosemary Sutcliff!

Lurking on the shelves in my old bedroom at my mother’s place was this book which I can’t remember even buying let alone reading! A “new” Rosemary Sutcliff book is always welcome, though.

It’s set in the 12th century, some years before the war between King Stephen and Empress Maud, that war which Ellis Peters writes about in her Brother Cadfael series. King Henry I is still on the throne. A young boy, Lovel, a villain, is driven from his village soon after his grandmother’s death, because he has a hunchback and the superstitious villagers hate him. His grandmother was the village wise woman, but while they accepted a witch among them when she was useful, her disabled grandson is another matter.

Lovely finds his way to a monastery, where he is looked after and makes himself useful, discovering, eventually, that he is indeed the “mender” his grandmother told him he was. He learns to read, helps in the herbalist’s garden and the infirmary and eventually decides to take his vows.

But someone inspiring comes into his life: Rahere, first the King’s jongleur, then the founder of the hospital of St Bartholomew in Smithfield. Rahere was a real historical figure. He has his own novel, St Bartholomew’s Man by Mary Delorme, whose son sent me a copy in PDF a while back. In this novel, Rahere says to Lovel that he simply felt that there had to be something better than making the king laugh after supper.

Lovel goes to join him in his project just before taking his final vows, and helps another young boy to fulfil his own dream.

I read it pretty much in a single sitting. It’s a slender volume, only about twenty thousand words, if that, aimed at children, an easy read.

 It’s easily available from the publisher, Penguin, or in ebook. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

The Idylls Of The Queen by Phyllis Ann Karr: a Retroreview

I unearthed this on the bookshelves in my old room at my mother's place. I read it when it first came out and loved it. I had actually been looking for it only recently, as I had a craving to re-read it, but couldn't find it at home.

This story is inspired by an incident in Thomas Malory's Middle English romance Le Morte D'Arthure, a book I read when I was at university. In the original, it goes for about two or three pages. Phyllis Ann Karr has turned it into a novel-length whodunnit.

Queen Guenevere has arranged a small dinner for a couple of dozen of her husband's Round Table knights. All is going well until a young knight, Sir Patrise, drops dead after eating a poisoned apple. The fruit bowl was brought out for the benefit of Sir Gawaine, who loves fruit, so it is suspected by most that Gawaine was the intended victim. However, Mador De La Porte, Patrise's cousin, insists that the Queen is responsible and demands her death. Nobody who was at the dinner can accept his challenge to trial by combat. Her husband can't fight for her, though he offers to, because he has to be the judge. Her lover Lancelot is missing.

It's up to Sir Kay the Seneschal, who is in love with her and, in any case, is quite sure of her innocence, to act as the detective. While several knights, including Kay, go hunting for Lancelot, Kay and the king's son Mordred travel around interviewing everyone who might be a suspect in the matter, from the King's sister Morgana on. As they do so, a whole lot of unsolved past mysteries unwind, including who actually killed the mother of the Orkney brothers Gawaine, Gareth, Gaheris, Agravaine and Mordred.

Basically, it's a journey through Malory. You can get away with not having read the Morte, but if you have, it means more.

It's interesting to see the author's interpretation of the various characters. Mordred is a sad character, a lot more sympathetic than in the traditional versions. Gawaine is more like the lovable hero of Gawain and The Green Knight than Malory's unpleasant Gawain, and is still wearing that stupid green sash to remind him of his fallibility. She does not like some characters you're supposed to like, such as Gareth aka Beaumains, irritating to Kay, who considers him dishonest.  Lancelot is truly awful. You do see them all through Kay's eyes, in fact. Malory's Kay is the boor everyone loves to hate. In this novel, he is the one with the brains. And she doesn't rewrite the characters - she just shows them from another angle so you can see her point.

Ms Karr doesn't bother with history. It's Malory, okay? It happens in a Britain that never was, in the fifth century, with invading Saxons, but also the fifteenth century in which Malory's book was written - and set.

There's magic in it. Nimue, Lady of the Lake, is able to speed up the group's travel time. She actually lives under a lake. Morgan can see images in a bowl of water, though with limitations. The views Kay and his friends see only give a certain amount of information they can interpret.

You do have to like both historical fantasy and crime fiction to be able to appreciate this, but I personally loved what Phyllis Ann Karr did with it. On the other hand, if you have read Malory you'll know whodunnit. Fortunately, I'd forgotten.

I assumed that this book was probably long out of print, but you can get it from Amazon and Book Depository, though with a new cover.

Highly recommended!

Monday, October 08, 2018

Just Been To See... The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Okay. I’ve been a Dr Who fan since my childhood. I missed quite a bit of the Baker era when it was on, because my parents insisted on watching the news on commercial stations and those clashed. But I’ve caught up over the years, especially since DVDs became available. I’ve also been able to pick up  the earlier ones, from William Hartnell onwards. They’re doing amazing stuff these days, putting together the bits left and animating the rest. Fortunately a lot of the original cast are still around, so can be asked to do the voices. 

When I discovered that the first episode of the Jodie Whittaker era was being presented on the  big screen at my local cinema, I bought a ticket and went. And I must say, it was the right decision. It felt like a movie, if a short one. When you’ve grown up in the era of the original Who, you’re used to low budget, to wobbly sets and aliens who look as if they have zippers up their backs, even if they haven’t. And you’re okay with it, because on the whole, the writing makes up for the tiny budget. These days, there is a lot more money and there is still plenty of good writing. Not always - I think, for example, that keeping on bringing back the Weeping Angels was a mistake. None of those episodes was anywhere near as good as the first, “Blink”. But plenty all the same. 

So, what was it like, apart from good to look at? 

Firstly, if you haven’t seen it, I will try to avoid too many spoilers, but I have to say, this still felt like the Doctor to me. She has the right cheekiness which shows up in the presence of the villain. There were touches of other versions of the Doctor that I recognised, but she will be her own person when the series gets going. Remember, it is the regeneration episode. Speaking of which, this is the first time I’ve heard the Doctor actually describe what regeneration feels like. No, I won’t tell you, because spoilers, but I loved it. And she still doesn’t approve of violence. I could almost hear Doctor 9 in one scene where she admonishes a character for doing it. (It did help that she had a northern accent like his.) 

Secondly, the new Companions will be fascinating. There are two young things who went to school together and an older man who is going to be interesting in his own right. It will be good to see them show what they can do. 

Thirdly, the storyline. A bit silly, but probably no sillier than, say, Rose, the episode that introduced the companion of that name, certainly no sillier than The Christmas Invasion

There’s not a lot more I can say without spoilers, but it was a nice evening and fun to spend it with fellow fans who applauded or cheered at the right moments! 

Over on Twitter right now, people are trying to persuade Neil Gaiman to write an episode after he said he liked it and that Jodie Whittaker felt like the Doctor to him. I imagine this season is all written, but you never know what might happen next. 

So, what did you think, if you’ve seen it? 

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Urban Fantasy Or Horror?

This week’s Book Blogger Hop asks about your Halloween reading - do you prefer urban fantasy or horror? And why?

Urban fantasy, of course, any time of year. I won’t be going into too much detail here, firstly because it’s not Halloween, and I want to keep a proper post for then, secondly because I have two Halloween posts, or rather, one Halloween post and one simply written that day to celebrate a family birthday of my bookliving great-niece Dezzy. Expect more.

Did you know, by the way, that the Aztecs had their own celebration of their beloved dead around that time of year? It went for two weeks and when the Spanish came, and Aztecs converted, they talked them into cutting it back to two days. 

And in Malaysia they do it in August? And bobbing for apples was Roman? They brought the apple tree to Britain, along with the custom. 

Now, urban fantasy vs horror. I’m not a great horror fan. There are horror writers I respect greatly, such as Stephen King and Dan Simmons. I don’t read much of their fiction, though. I read Simmons’ Hyperion, a wonderfully atmospheric novel which has been called horror despite being set on another world in the 29th century. I’ve also read his science fiction. But Carrion Comfort, which featured mind vampires, was so very good that I decided horror fiction was not for me. If I care about the characters, I really prefer them not to be killed off unless there’s a very good reason other than “that’s what you do in horror fiction.”

 I’ve read only a small amount of Stephen King’s work - short fiction and a couple of novels - but I actually prefer his non fiction. He does some wonderful introductions and I loved his history of horror fiction, Danse Macabre

Of course I love some of the classic horror fiction I’ve read, such as Dracula - and did you know children’s writer Edith Nesbit wrote horror fiction for adults, as did Rudyard Kipling? More of this on Halloween. 

But urban fantasy is much more for me. I discovered it through Charles De Lint. His Newford stories have European fairies sharing the streets with Native American creatures. In Moonheart, which is set in Canada, where he lives, we learn that the Native American spirits were given the boot by European fairies who came with the European humans, and have withdrawn into an Otherworld. Also, the bard Taliesin sailed to North America and is still around. The heroine is a chain smoker, which works out well when she meets a Native American spirit and offers her a cigarette! It’s considered a sharing of sacred smoke. That book also had its heroine listening to folk bands I hadn’t heard of at the time. 

In Jack The Giant Killer (Jack is a girl), the fairies and other spirits are all over the city of Ottawa. There are giants living in a skating rink and the Seelie Court is under Parliament House. How could I not be delighted and enchanted at the notion of sharing a city with creatures of the Otherworld? 

Newford is the most amazing, though. It’s a city somewhere in North America which has both fairies and Native American beings - the local park is also a forest of the fairies. You sort of step sideways from one into the other. And it’s a city of the arts. There’s folk music of all kinds being played regularly in its cafes. There are artists - painters, musicians, writers. I’d move there tomorrow if it was real! And the Newford stories did get me into bead looming, using Native American designs. 

Barbara Hambly wrote a trilogy of portal fantasies, the Antryg Windrose Chronicles, featuring a wizard inspired by the Doctor(Tom Baker incarnation). By the end of the trilogy, he was stuck in our world with his human lover, a computer programmer called Joanna. So the author has written and self published some shorter pieces about their adventures in this world, and those are certainly urban fantasy. 

When I was working on my YA novel Wolfborn, which was not urban fantasy, I did a lot of research about Celtic folklore - and discovered the urban fantasy of Melissa Marr, the Wicked Lovely series. These Faerie folk are punks. They aren’t always nice, and that includes the good guys! Actually, they’re mostly not nice, even the good guys. They’re scary. (Scary is what folklore fairies are, by the way. Traditional fairies would eat Tinkerbell for breakfast) And they have a tradition of wearing tattoos. That last part was made up by the author because she likes tattoos, but the rest of it was well researched, and the bibliography she provided at the end of her books included the books I’d been reading for my Wolfborn research. It helps that Melissa Marr is a PhD. 

I suppose you could think of Melissa Marr’s work as horror, but I’d call it urban fantasy on steroids. And there’s enough romance that teenage girls love it. Those at my school did, certainly. 

There’s more, which I’ll leave for a later post. But yes, urban fantasy, please! 

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

The Inky Awards 2018!

If you love children's and YA books and you think the kids should have a say in awards, there are the YABBAs, of course, in Victoria, and other awards in other states, but the State Library's Centre for Youth Literature has the Inkys.

The main difference is that any child or teen under a certain age whose school subscribes to the YABBAs can nominate(and the subscription is so cheap that even my school, with a tiny library budget, joined). The Inkys has a committee of teenagers to read a long list and decide on a short list. Then any child can vote, on the web site Insideadog.  This site has just been updated and is free to join for all young booklovers.

The CYL chooses a new committee every year. They must have quite a few applications, because some of my top students have applied and, so far, no luck. Still, somebody has to get the job, so if you have students who might enjoy this, get going to the web site!

So, what are this year's winners? There is the Golden Inky for Australian books and the Slver Inky for overseas books.

This year's Silver Inky is being presented to The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I have read this and found it well worth all the hype it has received. And there's a film coming soon! You shouldn't have any trouble buying a copy in your local bookshop or on line, or in ebook.

The Golden Inky went to Paper Cranes Don't Fly by Peter Vu.  I haven't read this yet (The first print was sold out recently, but I've been promised a copy for reviewing) but I'm particularly pleased about this one, because it was published by Ford Street, my absolute favourite publisher of all time. It's a small press, so unfortunately you may need to buy it from the publisher if you live outside of Australia. It has been compared to John Green's The Fault In Our Stars, only written by a very young man. I am told he was in his teens when he wrote this debut novel. A future Will Kostakis, perhaps?

If you live in Australia, you should be able to buy a copy in any good bookshop once it comes back into print.

Congratulations to both authors and their publishers, who must be very proud of them!