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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Just Finished Reading...Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough

A couple of years ago, this author’s first novel, The Flywheel, was shortlisted for the CBCA Award.  It was a sweet and funny novel about a lesbian girl trying to keep her father’s restaurant running while he was overseas, while falling in love with a flamenco dancer performing across the road every night. Here’s my review of it. 

This one is also funny, in a more over-the-top style, but with a coming-of-age theme and a romance between two girls at a posh private school. The two girls are very different - Harriet, a teacher’s pet student and sports star who has, however, been hiding something unpleasant that happened to her, and Will, gifted artist and the daughter of a divorced couple, now living with her mother in one of Sydney’s less wealthy suburbs, whose mother is still somehow managing to pay her fees. She is passionate about social justice and angry about the way the school is being run. There is a teacher who gives higher marks to her pets, a school hall with excellent facilities that isn’t being used, a fundraising for a second pool - and a teacher who is getting away with sexual harassment. 

The two heroines meet in detention at the start of the novel - Will’s detention, not Harriet’s - and, from hating each other, get together to create a fictional student called Amelia Westlake, first to get some satirical cartoons published in the school newspapers and then to carry out a number of witty pranks to get some justice within the school. 

This does eventually lead to an “I am Spartacus” scene in a Year 12 assembly! 

I know there are reviews out there which consider the characters of the obnoxious staff members hard to swallow, but I didn’t find them so; even working at a disadvantaged school rather than a wealthy privileged one, I met Principals and upper level staff every bit as awful as the ones in this book, though I have to admit I never met one who gave better marks to favoured students. What would happen at report time, when you have to tick off what each student has achieved? And I can tell you that teachers soon know their students’ styles - and when they are plagiarising. 

Which is why I found the “blind” reading hard to swallow; it might happen at the end of year exams but doing it during the year assumes that teachers can’t pick out their students’ styles, and that the kids aren’t cheating. How can you help individual students to improve if you’re supposedly marking them blind? However, without it, there would have been one less prank for “Amelia Westlake” to pull! 

The ending was fairly predictable, but it didn’t seem to matter. 

Readable stuff for older girls. It’s available online and from your good local book stores. I bought mine from Apple Books. 

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Just Finished Reading... Monuments by Will Kostakis. Published by Hachette.

I bought this book at the Melbourne Writers Festival, though, alas, I didn’t get to hear him speak this year. 

It’s a very entertaining story which begins with hero Connor trying unsuccessfully to set up a meeting with his former best friend Olly, who has dumped him for being boring, and finding himself in an unknown part of his very old private boys’ school, along with a girl called Sally and a stone man called Darroch, who’s a god. Next thing he knows, he’s zipping all over Sydney’s oldest schools to find four more gods and move them to safety, being followed by a pizza delivery guy who is more than he seems, time travelling and finding a new friend, Locky, who is “the most gorgeous guy to ever roam the earth” (did I mention Connor is gay?) who is also drawn into the adventure. But they might just be heading for disaster and these five gods have their own problems which might also affect ordinary humans...

In a past blog post I described Will Kostakis as Australia’s answer to American YA author David Levithan in style. He has something else in common: the fact that each book is different from the last. You never know what you’re going to get, except until now all of them have been contemporary fiction. He did contribute a short story to an anthology of speculative fiction a couple of years ago, but in general, it has been contemporary. However, we’ve had a novel seen from a girl’s viewpoint, Loathing Lola, which is a commentary about reality TV and how many friends you might suddenly have when you’re on TV. The second novel, The First Third, was about a teenage boy trying to do his grandmother’s bucket list of requests and get his family back together. Sidekicks is set in an exclusive boys’ school in which three friends of a dead boy remember their relationships with him and gradually become friends with each other; he was the only thing they had in common. This is his first fantasy novel, and it looks set to be a series. 

This one covers some serious issues, but also plenty of humour. The hero is not exactly Superman. There are some hilarious scenes. However, like Billy, the hero of The First Third, he is kindhearted, and loves his family, including his Greek grandfather, now suffering dementia in a nursing home. Nobody has visited the old man in some time, but Connor finds a way to make up for that. Connor understands that there is more to people than simple good and evil, and that they make mistakes. And despite finding someone special, he doesn’t quite forget his friend, who might have dumped him, but had been good to him in the past, shown him wonderful things and didn’t reject him when he came out as gay, only for being boring(we discover that this was because Connor, a non drinker, had refused to attend a boozy party). 

Very much recommended for both boys and girls from about fourteen upwards! 

Easily available in your local good bookstore or in ebook. If you’re outside Australia you can order it from Book Depository. 

Last Day At The Melbourne Writers Festival 2019!

I hadn’t made up my mind whether or not to go to the last day of the festival. Last weekend, this time, would have been wonderful, as it focused on YA, but family commitments kept me busy, while people were happily tweeting about the great panels they attended. And this week’s YA events were all aimed at schools, no adults allowed unless with school groups - anyway, there were no bookings available on the app. So I went to two adult events earlier this week, and then, today, had to make up my mind if I was going at all.

But I decided I would, and then had to decide between a panel on romance and one on crime fiction. The romance panel sounded like fun, but after reading some tweets about the romance panel this morning and realising at least one afternoon panellist had been on the morning one and said some things that I didn’t agree with, I decided to go to “For The Love Of Crime” and was very glad I did.

Outside the door, I met fellow Sisters In Crime Carmel Shute and Lindy Cameron(who is the publisher at ClanDestine Press). Just inside, I met children’s writer Hazel Edwards, who was waiting for her daughter and grandson.

The Storey Hall at RMIT was packed with crime fiction fans. I’m guessing most of them had come to hear international GoH Val McDermid rather than local authors Mark Brandi and Christian White, who have both won awards, but are new-ish writers. But the guys were also entertaining and the audience laughed a lot, enjoying the session. The moderator was the Books editor from the Age newspaper, and he got right into the spirit of the thing.

He started by asking the authors how they had become crime writers. None of them had begun as crime writers, in fact all seemed to have started thinking they were writing literary fiction! Val said that she turned to crime fiction after failing at literary fiction and script writing, because it was something she knew about from reading. Christian said he had written what he thought was literary fiction and it ended up being promoted as crime fiction. Incidentally, later in the session, Val said she had been a judge on the Booker Prize and had to read hundreds of literary novels. She didn’t sound as if it had been enjoyable and yes, she agreed when asked, there were a lot of dinner parties in North London in the entries!

They spoke about their own novels and where some of the ideas had come from. Val said that as a former journalist she didn’t use any of the true stories she had read; the families had suffered enough grief without their stories turning up in books. Both the men gave suggestions for good online sources  for crime writers. Apparently Reddit has a good writers page and the Victorian police have a media site that will answer questions without asking any!

An enjoyable way to end the Writers Festival - I hope there will be something as good next year. 

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Just Finished Reading... Trail Of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

After reading over and over online about how great this novel is, I finally decided to have a go and bought the ebook a few days ago. 

I have to say, this is one of those books where the hype is close to matching the quality of the book. This one was on this year’s Hugo Award shortlist; it lost to the wonderful The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. I admit I prefer the Kowal novel, but that’s personal preference for hard SF. This is fantasy with a touch of cli-fi, with just a hint of Mad Max. It involves the gods of Native American mythology, now wandering the Navajo lands. Why they have suddenly turned up after the natural disaster, I don’t know, but this is why it’s fantasy rather than SF. 

As someone who is a huge fan of Charles De Lint (and has made some bead loomed belts with Native American designs!), I am fascinated by Native American mythology and folklore. 

I like character driven narrative, which this is, in the midst of the action adventure. I found myself caring very much about the heroine and those she cares about. If I hadn’t cared, the story alone wouldn’t be enough. 

My only issue with it is the cliffhanger ending, which is one reason why I’m not a fan of series fiction. I will consider the sequel, which is available now, but if that ends on a cliffhanger it will lose me. There is too much chance of a series suddenly being cancelled, as has happened before, or just never finishing(cough! Legendsong by Isobelle Carmody! Cough!). 

Still, well worth a read! 

I bought this from Apple Books, but also available in Kindle, though the Aussie site says it’s not available till November! However, it’s available in print copy from the usual sites. 

Monday, September 02, 2019

My First Day At The Melbourne Writers Festival!

Alas, only one panel, which is on at 6.00 p.m! I found that today and tomorrow seem to be the schools days and just about everything I wanted to see was a schools session. I used to go to those with my students when I was a teacher librarian. When I left, I thought, great, now I can go to the festival during the day!

No such luck, it seems. There was a whole YA weekend I couldn’t attend because of family commitments, and there is very little on today apart from the sessions aimed at schools, which I don’t think I’d be welcome at, but which are sold out anyway.

However, I did find out that Deborah Lipstadt will be on a panel at the gorgeous Capitol Theatre tonight, and I have read her non fiction book Denial, on which a movie was based. In case you don’t know about her, she teaches Jewish and Holocaust Studies and some years ago the Holocaust denier David Irving tried to sue her. She had to go to England to face a British court, due to a technical thing by which it was up to her to prove her point, not his to disprove it. It was a fascinating read and became a very interesting movie, with Timothy Spall as David Irving. You may remember him as the nasty Peter “Wormtail” Pettigrew in the Harry Potter movies, and I must say, he makes a very good villain. He did play as the artist Turner, in a movie I haven’t seen yet, but it’s a bit like David Warner, whom I only saw once in a sympathetic role, as the Grail seeker in Babylon 5.

Update: been to the panel, enjoyed it! That’s Deborah on the right! 

Tomorrow I’m going to hear DeRay McKesson, who has written a book about the founding of Black Lives Matter. I’ll buy that in ebook.

I’ve also bought a copy of Will Kostakis’s new novel Monuments, though I won’t be able to hear him - again, schools sessions and sold out. Looks like he’s gone from contemporary YA to fantasy YA, but I opened it and chuckled over the opening line and bought it. I love YA fantasy, but he is just so good at contemporary! My favourite is The First Third, his second novel. Our students loved it too. One girl was so concerned about the fate of the grandmother in the novel, inspired by his own, that he had to reassure her that his own yiayia is alive and well - in fact, she rang while he was with the kids of my book club, and he handed the girl the phone - and autographed her book with “To the President of the YiaYia fan club”!

It’s times like this I really miss my students - I’m quite sure nobody is taking them to the festival this year, unless it’s a year level to hear someone whose book they’re studying. Not that there is anything wrong with that, th authors are delightful when you actually meet them, and I remember how much my EAL students enjoyed hearing Melina Marchetta when they were studying Looking For Alibrandi.

I’d just like them to be able to go for fun.

Time to go for a cuppa before the panel starts. See you!