Search This Blog

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Compulsory New Year’s Eve Post 2020

Public Domain

 So. Another compulsory New Year’s Eve Post! 

Here is one I did in 2014 It has SF author Connie Willis(1945) and editor and anthologist Ellen Datlow(1946) among the birthdays. This year I will add Bob Shaw(1931), another SF author(Irish), whom I once heard speak at Aussiecon 2, the 1985 World Science Fiction Convention, where he was the after-dinner speaker at the banquet. I recall him remarking on how weird it felt to be somewhere where the Minister for the Arts had a fanzine.(Race Matthews, a member of early Melbourne SF fandom)

Another one to add is Susan Schwartz, an American fantasy novelist(1949). I haven’t read her work in ages, but I do have a couple of her books. 

I haven’t got around to reading anything by British fantasy writer Joe Abercrombie(1974), but it’s his birthday too, and I hear he is good.

So, who has had a good 2020? And who knew we would be spending most of this year in lockdown, panicking that the horrible virus would capture us, at this time last year? 

I’m not doing much this evening, due to family commitments, but who is, really? I am looking forward to the Dr Who New Year special, even if we are going to lose two of the three companions(I will be very upset if they die!)

Still. I have sold a short story this year, and a couple of articles. I have read a lot of good books. I’m rereading The Dark Is Rising and finishing other books. 

I was hoping to go to New Zealand for the World Science Fiction Convention. As you know from my earlier posts, that went virtual. And it worked. And it wasn’t the only one. I got to attend NASFIC and the World Fantasy Convention, because they were online. I would never have been able to go to either of those in a normal year. I hope that, having learned how to do virtual conventions, con organisers will consider inserting a virtual stream for people who can’t make it otherwise. 

Meanwhile, I got a lot of new books as part of the package and bought some more, and I learned some amazing things from writers, artists and scientists, some of whom I had never heard of. 

Many people used the first wave, anyway, to take up hobbies and learn something new. I wasn’t one of them. There just wasn’t time - again, due to family commitments. 

I have attended one online funeral, but not a victim of COVID. She was my dear friend Theresa De Gabriele, whom I met through SF fandom, but who ended up in a nursing home with early onset dementia. She passed away in a hospital not that long ago.

I have found myself appreciating things I used to take for granted, such as taking long walks, eating out, seeing friends, going to the cinema and the museum, going outside without a mask. We have been almost back to normal the last few weeks - almost. And now someone came back I from Sydney and infected others... Sigh!

I’m glad the year is so nearly over, but I’m optimistic enough to think 2021 will be better. 

So, happy New Year, my friends, and good reading! 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Dragon Waiting by John M Ford: A Retro Review


I have a copy of this novel from its first publication, back in the 1990s. Then the author died in 2006 and, due to some technicality, nearly all his books went out of print. Now this one is back, thanks to a fan, with the blessing of John M Ford’s family, and if you missed it last time, you can catch up now.

I bought the new edition with a new introduction, in ebook, so this is not really a retro review. 

Anyway, here it is. 

Imagine a universe in which Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate,  who tried and failed to bring back paganism, is called Julian the Wise, because he succeeded. As a result, everyone can worship as they please and every city has a pantheon instead of a church or cathedral. There are no witch trials and witches can quite cheerfully admit to it. Christianity is a small sect which has hardly any members. Nevertheless, it’s the equivalent of the late 15th century. The Italian Renaissance is in full bloom and in England the Wars of the Roses happened pretty much as we know them. The Byzantine Empire is still powerful in this world (Constantinople was wiped out as a Christian kingdom in 1453 in our world). It sends out spies and interferes. Interestingly, there is no mention of famous European artists, who in our world focused on Christian religious work. I can see why it would have been simpler to leave them out than to speculate what they might have painted or sculpted in a pagan Europe.

Four people meet in England one night at an inn. One is Cynthia Ricci, a Florentine doctor, fleeing Italy after losing everything, including her father. Another is mercenary Dimitrios Ducas, whose father was a Byzantine governor in France, before his betrayal and death. German artillerist Gregory Von Bayern is a vampire, having been turned by a woman in Alexandria. He can go out by day, though with smoked glasses, and never harms anyone. Most of his food is leftover blood from kitchens, and the occasional human blood from willing donors, taken carefully and drunk from a cup. Hywel Peredur is a Welsh wizard. He, too, has lost family and friends, and been left alone till now. 

The four of them become very much involved with the fortunes of Richard III and his family. And because things are different here, Richard’s youngest sister Ursula, long dead in our world, is alive and well and competing in tournaments, while his friend Francis Lovell, who survived him in our world, is dead, killed in a tournament by Anthony Woodville. 

Anthony Woodville was a brother of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. He wrote the first book printed in England and was a poet and scholar. He was in charge of the education of young prince Edward, heir to the throne. In our world, he rushed off towards London on the death of Edward IV, taking his nephew, so he and the boy’s mother could control him. He met Richard on the way and was executed for treason. In this world...well, you will have to read it. 

There are quite a few historical characters in it - Dr Argentine, diplomat Dominic Mancini, John Morton(in our world a Cardinal who supported Henry Tudor, in this world a wizard, as there wouldn’t be any Church roles to play in a world without a major Christian Church!). 

As alternative universe fiction, this one is more like Guy Gavriel Kay in style than Harry Turtledove, whose alternative universe books are straight historical fiction except that things didn’t happen that way in our history. In Kay’s books - and in this one - magic is a thing. 

What can I say? A wonderful novel and a pleasure to re-read after all these years. 

Buy it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Retro Review: The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

 An oil exploration expedition finds a man’s body frozen in the ice. He is a top Roman gladiator who got into trouble with Emperor Domitian and was sentenced to death, but not just to be thrown to the lions. His death was to be by drowning in the freezing cold “German Sea”. Escorted there by a squad of soldiers, he made friends with the leader and was offered the chance to make it quick with poison. 

Two thousand years later, he is still alive, with the poison having acted as a preservative for his cells, while not having had time to kill him. At first, he doesn’t believe he has travelled in time; a view of a plane flying overhead finally convinces him that he is a very long way from home, never to see family or friends again.

A nun who is an expert in ancient Latin, as opposed to Church Latin, becomes his interpreter and companion. Of course, she wants to know about the Christianity of his time. And did he meet anyone famous? It turns out he did. He wasn’t a Christian, but his wife was. To make her happy, he paid a Christian priest a small fee to marry them, some guy called Peter... Nobody special. 

It’s a touching, beautiful story, one I loved when I first read it, and still do. I loved the idea of the man out of time, so very far from home. The character was one I cared about, as he dealt with it all, and the nun had her own issues to deal with as they worked together.

There was even a bit of humour, as he figures out how to use modern ingredients on his breakfast table to make something that tastes at least vaguely like garum, that disgusting Roman fish sauce that they put on absolutely everything. 

This novel seems to be out of print in physical editions, but is easily available in ebook and audiobook. You can buy it either in Apple Books or Kindle. 

I do recommend it! 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Just Finished Reading... The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott

 The year is 1943, at Christmas, the place is Melbourne. Inspector Titus Lambert and his Homicide team have had their Christmas Eve interrupted by the report of two horribly grisly murders committed in one of Melbourne’s leafy suburbs. A father and son lie dead. The daughter Mary, a radio actress, apparently returned from work to find her father and brother lying in their blood. 

Checking out the house, the police find piles of magazines connected with the Nazi-sympathising Australia First movement, but Lambert learns that John Quinn, the father, was working for Military Intelligence, spying on them. Could this be the reason he was murdered? But what about his son? 

Titus Lambert’s team includes Sergeant Joe Sable, a non religious Jew who is just realising that anti-Semitism is much bigger in Australia than he had thought. Helen Lord, as a woman, is never going to get beyond the rank of Constable. Titus gives her the chance to do more than secretarial work, because she is a very good detective. 

I should explain that we know whodunnit by about the second chapter. This is not a mystery, except to the characters. It’s a thriller, yes, but not a whodunnit. The only mystery is why, something we learn in the last chapter. And to be fair, the author doesn’t cheat his readers; I think I would pick it up on a reread. 

There are many historical details, something I appreciated as I read. The Leonski Brownout Murders are recent. American soldiers are all over the place. The magazine found in the victims’ home, The Publicist, is real. You can find it in Trove, on the Australian National Library web site. It was horribly anti-Semitic - and the contributors included some huge names in Australian literature, such as Xavier Herbert(Poor Fella My Country), Miles Franklin(My Brilliant Career), after whom an award is named, and Eleanor Dark(The Timeless Land). And they knew exactly what they were writing for. Every time I read about them from now on, I will remember...

I confess this is not my usual fare. I like a lot about it, especially the history, but I generally prefer whodunnits and cosies. I quite like police procedurals, but this is not quite a police procedural either. The good news is that if you enjoy it there are more; this is the first in a series. It’s good summer holiday reading. 

Just don’t read it over a meal! 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Just Finished Reading... Prisoner Of Midnight by Barbara Hambly

 This is the eighth in the James Asher series of vampire novels. If you haven’t read them I do recommend them. The first one was called Immortal Blood here and Those Who Hunt The Night in the US. In it, James Asher, a British spy, is approached by members of the London vampire community who want him to find out who has been killing their friends. They make threats against his wife, Lydia, a doctor, but Lydia is more than capable of looking after herself, and is very good at research; she finds out where the vampires live. Far from being angry, they are impressed.

One of them is Don Simon Ysidro, a sixteenth century Spanish nobleman who came to England with Phillip of Spain, during the reign of Mary Tudor. He and James track down the vampire killer, who isn’t a hero! They become friends - and Simon falls in love with Lydia. As a result, in each of the novels that follow, he helps them for her sake. There is no sex involved, of course, because dead, right? No blood flow. But he can still love. And she cares for him, despite knowing what he has to do to stay alive. 

In this novel, Simon has been kidnapped by a nut case American millionaire who wants to use him to assassinate trouble makers in his various businesses - union leaders and strikers and such. And there is someone who has developed a drug to keep him obedient. They are on a ship headed for the US, dodging German u boats(this is 1917). Fortunately for him, Lydia got his telepathic message and went aboard the ship, with her dreadful aunt Louise. 

Although James has his scenes, trying to find the scientist’s  formula to send her, having fun and games questioning Paris vamps, avoiding them  killing him, much of the novel is Lydia’s, as she tries desperately to find Simon - and wonders whether she really wants to help him, or kill him before he starts hunting in New York. And somebody is killing third class passengers’ children vampire style - is it him? Or is there another vampire aboard? 

I thought it interesting that in this novel we find out that vampires look as they did in life only by illusion, which can’t be maintained while they are on running water, except for about fifteen minutes each side of midnight. 

I have always liked Lydia, a strong, no nonsense lady, and quick-thinking. It’s nice to give her a novel of her own. 

It does have a rather cheeky ending which I won’t share with you, because spoilers. It is going to be interesting to see what the author does with it in the next novel.

I’m not usually into horror fiction, but this series is good. It’s not so much about people being killed by vampires but about what do you do if you actually like one? And he saves your life over and over? And you know that he is a serial killer who has murdered thousands of people over the centuries and you still like him? Love him, even? 

Hambly’s vampires don’t like looking at themselves in the mirror because they can see what they really look like, not because they are invisible. They are all volunteers, who wanted to change for the immortality thing, so had to be terribly selfish people to begin with. And crosses don’t harm them, but the silver content in them does. All these are the things that fascinate me about this series. 

 If you have been following it, it is worth chasing this novel up. If not, why not start with the first one and see what you think? 

I borrowed this from the library, but I’m sure it is available to buy at all your favourite web sites.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Some New Barbara Hambly Books!

 Yesterday I borrowed my first physical book in months from my local library. Here it is! 

For all these months I have been borrowing ebooks and audiobooks through BorrowBox and Libby(I currently have an audiobook of The Hobbit from Libby). And that has been wonderful, but it was so nice to go to the library and grab a brand new book from the shelves! 

This is the newest novel in the James Asher vampire series - the eighth, in fact. I got stuck into it immediately. This time most of the story is seen from the viewpoint of Lydia, James Asher’s wife, who has boarded a ship for the US, having reason to believe that someone has drugged and kidnapped her favourite vampire, Don Simon Ysidro. So far, so good - Barbara Hambly’s series books just don’t go down in quality. 

In the end, I spent over half of my Amazon voucher buying her new Benjamin January mystery, House Of The Patriarch, and have started that too. Life is too short to be sensible when someone has given you a gift that lets you indulge yourself.

As it’s the night of Jolabokaflod I’m off to bed to curl up with new books.

Good night and have a very enjoyable Christmas Day! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Of Wizardly Mentors In Fantasy Fiction

 On YouTube, there is a skit on Studio C, a comedy show, called “Lord Of The Potter”.  In it, Gandalf goes into an inn to meet Frodo, whom he has never seen before. Instead, he meets Harry Potter, waiting for Dumbledore, and each of them thinks the other is the person he is waiting for, due to the similarities.

Which makes me think of wizardly mentors in fantasy fiction, the guys who advise young heroes about to start their Hero’s Journey and sometimes going on it with them. There are quite a lot out there, but let’s just start with a few. 

Albus Dumbledore mentors Harry Potter. He is quite a lot like Gandalf. He is wise and dignified. He even has a scene with Harry similar to one between Gandalf and Frodo in Lord Of The Rings.  In LOTR Gandalf tells Frodo that he will one day be glad he spared Gollum, which is true - at Mount Doom, Gollum bites off his finger and falls into the fire; if he had been gone, Frodo would have failed. In Harry Potter, Dumbledore tells Harry the same about Peter Pettigrew, also true, as he makes Wormtail hesitate just long enough in Malfoy Manor to save the lives of him and his friends.

 There is also a twinkle in his eye. At the same time, he is human and makes mistakes - a lot of mistakes! In the final book, we find out some of the huge mistakes he made when he was younger, mistakes that led to his sister’s death and the evil Gelert Grindelwald, his dear friend and probably lover, being launched on the world. He appears one more time to Harry, when he says that his brother is the better man.

Gandalf mentors Frodo Baggins. He is the sort of person you’d be pleased to go to the pub with. He has some very human habits, enjoys smoking his pipe and creating fireworks displays. In one scene somewhere in the History Of Middle Earth books, he is having a break during a meeting of the White Council. The villainous Saruman sneers at him for smoking the hobbit pipe weed. Gandalf tells him he might be better off, and a more laid-back person,  trying some of these habits himself. He also recalls his first meeting with Thorin Oakenshield, just before the quest of the Lonely Mountain(The Hobbit) and muses that Middle-Earth was eventually saved because of that meeting. 

He likes mortals, especially hobbits, enjoys hanging out with them. At the same time, he isn’t human. He is a Maia, the Middle-Earth version of an Angel. So, he doesn’t really make mistakes that will cost his family, as he doesn’t have one. He’s just wise and  - well, not always dignified. Again - I’d love to go out for a beer with Gandalf. 

In The Dark Is Rising series, we meet Merriman Lyon, who is the leader of the Old Ones, a group of long-lived humans with powers, who are fighting the Dark, another group of humans with magical powers, on behalf of the Light. Merriman - who is really Merlin - mentors Will Stanton, a young boy who comes into his powers on his eleventh birthday. The title novel of the series is the second. In the first, Over Sea, Under Stone, he is called Great Uncle Merry by three siblings, Jane, Barney and Simon, and  is making a living as an archaeologist and University professor. They find the first object in the quest, a golden grail, and afterwards suspect who he really is. Merriman is only human too, wise or not, and he, too, makes some big mistakes, in one case towards a liege man who becomes angry enough to join the Dark. As a result, Will’s journey becomes harder. 

The Merlin of the Arthurian romances, of course, mentors Arthur. T.H White has him mentoring Arthur as a boy, teaching him by turning him into animals and birds. He is living backwards, so remembers the future. In the film Excalibur, Arthur doesn’t listen to him. As a result, he marries Guinevere, who ends up betraying him with Lancelot. This version of Merlin is eccentric and over-the-top. He is locked in a cave, not by Nimue but by his apprentice Morgana, who just wants power, something he can’t persuade her is not that easy. 

So, here are a few mentor wizards. Can you think of more? 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

My End Of Year Haul Of Goodies!

 Today I went into the city to use up some of my gift card goodness. I had an eftpos gift card which could be spent anywhere, and which my friends Gaye and Robin gave me on Sunday, and a $200.00 Myers card which my school gave me at the end of 2018, when I officially left. It still has a year on it, but I decided that it would be wisest to get started on my spend before another year rushed past and I had nothing. 

I chose to spend my eftpos card on books - physical books, as it wouldn’t be spendable on line for ebooks. So I did one of my favourite things: I went for a browse around Dymock’s in the CBD, followed by gloating over my purchases in Ganache, a chocolate shop and tea room across the road.

 It’s something I did about once a term when I was shopping for my library. I did it then because, while booksellers drop into schools with their boxes of books, if you want something specific you either have to order it or, simpler, just go to the bookshop and find it. My Dymock’s trips were when I took book orders from the kids, made a list, picked up sequels to books they were reading and found new stuff I knew they would like. Then I’d have tea and chocolates at Ganache, and gloat over a book or two I had found for me; the school orders were left behind, boxed up and posted for a very reasonable rate. And next day I’d tell the kids anxiously waiting that their orders were on the way. 

Today, my Dymock’s adventure was just for me. I had $50 burning a hole in my pocket and was determined to spend the lot. On Thursday night I will, I hope, have Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic custom of reading new books on Christmas Eve. It was such a joy to browse in there today! 

I did ask for two books that I wanted. One was the new Benjamin January novel I mentioned in my last post, House Of The Patriarch. No luck with that; the only Barbara Hambly books they had were two volumes of the Darwath trilogy, which I read many years ago, and have already. The other was the new translation of Beowulf, about which I keep reading on line, the one which is done in modern language. No luck there either - they can get it in, but have to order from the US, which will take five weeks. “No thanks,” I said. “I want something today!” Besides, I have a Penguin edition and Tolkien’s translation. I can wait. 

I decided to get something Australian. First I checked out the true crime section, which usually has something worth reading. Today, there was nothing I wanted badly enough to splurge my gift card on. I wandered back to the crime novels and found a fair bit of Australian fiction, then to Australian history. I did consider a Peter FitzSimons book, but ended with a history of Melbourne by Robyn Annear, which is in a new edition, with an index yet! I will go back for the Peter FitzSimons book another time. 

Here are my two purchases! 

The novel is by Robert Gott, whom I knew very briefly when I spent a few weeks at Princes Hill Secondary College, where he was a teacher. He was writing then, but it was non fiction for school use. And now? Historical crime fiction, set in wartime Melbourne! I’ve started The Holiday Murders and am enjoying it so far, in spite of the gruesome murders to which the police inspector hero is called on Christmas Eve in 1943. 

I believe Bearbrass is something of a classic, but this is a new edition. It looks like good fun, and I know I will enjoy it.

I bought some kitchenware at Myers, because I love baking, but I still have over $150 of the $200 to spend. 

My final purchases were two pieces of fabric which I’m hoping to transform into nighties soon. I will be doing it by hand, as I have no sewing machine, so I hope I get at least one of them done before summer is over.


A nice day in the city! 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Look What I Just Got!

 Look what I got! A gift from my friend Bart, whom I met for dinner last night. 

I have browsed Amazon today and found a book I didn’t know was even out, House Of The Patriarch, a brand new Benjamin January mystery by Barbara Hambly. The Benjamin January series in now eighteen books long and, unlike other series I have read, still going strong and enjoyable, not a single one of them a disappointment. Plus, you can buy her self published novellas and short stories from Smashwords, Benjamin January tales among them. She has created some wonderful universes in books that really can’t be sold in bookshops any more, but are easily available in ebook, so has extended them on Smashwords.

My local library has a copy of the new book, but it won’t be available to me till January 22, a whole month. Should I reserve it and wait, or should I spend half my gift card on the Kindle edition? What do you think, my readers? 

 The Apple Book edition is slightly cheaper, but still quite expensive for an ebook, where the regular price tends to be between $12 and $15. And I can’t spend my Amazon card on an Apple Book, can I? Decisions, decisions! 

Today I’m going into the city to finally spend my gift cards that have been hanging around far too long and are about to expire. Well, one still has a year on it, but if I leave it too long, I will never get around to it. I have an eftpos card which I am going to spend at Dymock’s Bookshop, and keep an eye out for House Of The Patriarch while there. 

Meanwhile... how do I spend that lovely Amazon card? Any suggestions? 

How To Get E Books Free Or Cheap - without Piracy!

 Since I started reading in ebook, I have also used a number of options to get books cheap or free. I never, ever do it illegally. Piracy stinks! Anyone who tells me that it’s okay “because it gets you exposure” has obviously never spent long nights working on a book, meeting a deadline, doing research. 

But there are plenty of ways to get books easily without having to pay much, legally! There are review copies, of course, but for those you need to be willing to review, whether it’s on Goodreads or your own blog. Publishers are happy to send you stuff for this. Self published authors are often on social media, promoting their books and offering e-copies for review.

If you just want to read, consider starting with Project Gutenberg, That web site has gathered many thousands of books, novellas and even short stories presented in book form, that are out of copyright. You might be surprised what is out of copyright. Last time I looked, there were some early Agatha Christie books on Gutenberg - The Mysterious Affair At Styles, Poirot Investigates, The Murder On The Links, early Poirot titles, The Secret Adversary(the first Tommy and Tuppence book) and The Man In The Brown Suit. And that’s just Agatha Christie; there are early books or short stories by SF and fantasy authors of the Golden Age, including Robert E. Howard(Conan the Barbarian) Fritz Leiber and Poul Anderson. Mack Reynolds is there too, and H.Beam Piper. These re just examples from the top of my head. There are, of course, the nineteenth century classics, including all the obvious ones and the Lang Fairy Books. I’m careful of the ones in translation, because those were translated a long time ago, and I usually prefer more modern translations; I’ll happily buy those in Apple Books or Kindle.

In Apple Books, if you enjoy classic authors, there are the Megapacks for 99 cents each, which have a large number of the most famous short stories by your favourite authors. Many are themed: SF, Crime, Westerns, etc. Some are themed by author, eg the Fredric Brown Megapack, or the Mack Reynolds Megapack. They are very good value for money. 

BookBub,, is a web site that lets you know when various ebooks are on special. It’s not a pirate site. It just tells you what is going free or cheap somewhere and provides links. It has a newsletter, which saves you having to keep wandering back to the web site.

Prolific Works has its own app, though it’s also on line, at Again, not a pirate site. Authors put their own books up there for a certain time - for exposure, yes, but their own decisions. A few friends of mine have appeared there in the past.  In return, you usually agree to receive their newsletters. But those can be worth it too, because those newsletters sometimes offer freebies. They are generally self published books. 

It’s worth joining such social media sites as Twitter, where authors sometimes offer freebies, or advertise their books over 24 hours or whatever, for a low price or even free. It’s good manners to review those, of course, but if you don’t like the book the author would probably be happy for you not to review. On Goodreads, there are promotions and competitions when new books come out. 

There are other sites, which you can probably find with a Google.

Of course, all these assume you want to keep your ebook. Your local library will certainly have an ebook collection, which it lends you via BorrowBox or Libby or whatever your library uses. And they include audiobooks - I’ve borrowed an audiobook of The Hobbit from my library, via Libby. I’ll wish you good night and listen to Rob Inglis read “Riddles In The Dark.” 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Stuff I’m Rereading Right Now!

 I seem to have missed  Beethoven’s birthday this year - December 16. A pity, because it’s his 250th birthday. Beethoven has given me a lot of joy over the years, and not only the glorious “Ode To Joy”. 

That takes me back to Peanuts comics, which I discovered in Grade 6 at primary school, where my class had a temporary teacher, Mr Kaufman(I remember his comfortable Scottish accent). Mr Kaufman told us about Peanuts, which was in the newspapers at the time, and I went off to read them. What joy! Poor Charlie Brown, who never succeeded and who yearned to speak to “the little red-haired girl” while Peppermint Patty adored him from afar! Snoopy the beagle, who played every role he fancied, from a World War 1 fighter pilot to a bestselling novelist. Linus, with his security blanket. And Schroeder, who played amazingly complex music on his toy piano, and was a passionate fan of Ludwig van Beethoven, whose birthday he celebrated every year...

Beethoven made an appearance in a novel I have just reread, Desiree by Annemarie Selinko. Desiree Clary was Napoleon’s first fiancée, till he dumped her for Josephine, who was better for his career. She later married one of his Marshals, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte and they ended up on the throne of Sweden, at the invitation of the Swedish Parliament. The novel is written in the form of a diary, kept by the heroine from the age of fourteen. At one point in the novel, while her husband is a governor in Germany, they receive a visit from Beethoven, who is on his way to a treatment for his deafness. They get to hear the Third Symphony, which he has just written. 

I bought a copy of The Dark Fantastic: Race And The Imagination From Harry Potter To The Hunger Gmes  by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, which won a prize at the World Fantasy Convention. It’s a rather academic tome, but the theme fascinated me. However, when reading the bit about The Hunger Games, I found there was a lot I had forgotten since I last read it, so I opened my ebook of the trilogy and started rereading. So far I have read up to about halfway through Catching Fire, the second novel in the trilogy. I’m finding it as powerful - and as painful - as the first time. I think I must be one of the few who liked Mockingjay, the final volume, but we’ll see how I go with it this time when I get there. I don’t think I can bring myself to read the prequel, The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes, which is about President Snow as a teenager. 

More recently, I have downloaded John M Ford’s The Dragon Waiting, which I loved when I first read it, and am still enjoying on my reread. It is now back in print, after going out of print on his death, along with his other books. There was some quirk of his will that kept everything out of print, but now it’s back, with permission of his family. 

If you are a fan of Richard III, this is definitely one to read. It’s set in an alternative universe, in which Julian the Apostate, a Roman Emperor who dumped Christianity to return to paganism, is known as Julian the Wise; he succeeded. The European Renaissance era is pretty much as we know it, but everyone can worship as they please and Christianity is just another minor sect. Byzantium, on the other hand, is still strong, maybe too strong. In England, Lancaster and York have fought their wars, but Edward IV worships Apollo and his young brother Richard is a Mithraist. Four people come to help, one of whom is a vampire, turned by a woman in Egypt. It’s just something you can catch like VD, and there are ways to handle it. 

If you are a Richard fan, you will love the ending!

I’ve also begun a reread of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, and just started a reread of Johnston McCulley’s The Mark Of Zorro. You can find them both for free on Project Gutenberg. Fun fact: Zorro was inspired by the Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro inspired Batman. Not convinced? Think about it - all three feature a playboy hero who acts like a simpering fool, while doing deeds of daring. And Bob Kane admitted Batman was inspired by Zorro. If you see the silent version of Zorro, you will see him ride his horse into a room beneath the house opening on the garden. Bat cave, anyone? 

Some years ago, Isabel Allende was commissioned to write a novel about the beginnings of Zorro, with the simple title Zorro. It was great fun, and covered Diego Vega’s childhood and early youth, before he becomes Zorro, but he bases his costume on that of pirate Jean Lafitte. There was a scene in it where his home features a huge chandelier and you just know that he is going to swing from it some day.

I’m not sure if it’s in print any more, but it’s worth chasing up, even second hand. 

I’m listening to an audiobook of The Hobbit, which I have read many times, because the reader is Rob Inglis, who also reads The Lord Of The Rings. I can’t think of anybody better for either novel. He used to do a one man show of The Hobbit, which intrigued me enough to find his audiobook.

I’m rereading quite a few books, all at once, for the comfort. Sometimes you just don’t want to read something new late at night, in bed. You want the comfort of something familiar before dozing off. 

Well, I do. What about you?  

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Death In Daylesford by Kerry Greenwood. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2020.

 I really never expected a new Phryne Fisher novel since the last one, Murder And Mendelssohn, appeared in 2013, so what a pleasant surprise it is to see elegant 1920s sleuth Miss Fisher back again! 

It’s February 1929. Phryne Fisher and her faithful maid Dot are on a short holiday in spa town Daylesford and nearby Hepburn Springs, while Phryne checks out a retreat for shell-shocked soldiers run by a man who has asked her to donate. This being a Phryne Fisher mystery, there is, of course, murder - and disappearing women - and a kidnapping. The interesting thing about the murders is that they happen in public, in the middle of a crowd. 

Back in Melbourne Phryne’s three adopted children, Ruth, Jane and Tinker, are investigating a mystery of their own, when a schoolmate of the girls is found dead in the water. They investigate the death with the help of Dot’s fiancé, Detective Sergeant Hugh Collins, who has been left with a temporary, incompetent boss while Jack Robinson is seconded to another department. 

So, in this novel, familiar characters such as Jack, Bert and Cec appear only briefly, as does Phryne’s lover Lin Chung. But the book manages without them this time and it’s rather nice to have lesser characters take the stage in their own right instead of just assisting the heroine. There are usually two to three threads in any Phryne Fisher novel anyway; this time the second thread is not about her investigation. 

The film which was being made at coastal town Queenscliff in Dead Man’s Chest is shown at the local cinema in this novel, a nice touch. 

Death In Daylesford is much tighter-written than some of the other later books in this series. While anything by Kerry Greenwood is a delight, there were, for example, chunks of Dead Man’s Chest that could have been cut without damage to the novel, so good to see this. 

It has been a long time since the last Phryne Fisher novel, as the author has been unwell, and it was a pleasure to pick up where I left off with Murder And Mendelssohn

The Fisher novels are more or less stand alone, but it’s probably best to start with the early ones and read a few before reading this one. 

Available now at your favourite on line bookstore if you live in Australia, but not till June next year, alas, if you live elsewhere. Still, if you haven’t read the others in the series, this should give you time to catch up. 

December 8 - On This Day!

 Today I’ll do a kind of post I’ve done in the past when I had no ideas for what to post about. There are some interesting people born on this day throughout history. Enjoy! 

Things that happened on December 8

Most of them were awful, and no book- related events, so here are three that appealed to me.f

1660 - a woman first appears on an English stage, as Desdemona in Othello. There was a play and film about it, Stage Beauty. In it, an actor who specialises in playing female roles is replaced by his female dresser, Maria Hughes(possibly based on the real actress who did this). She feels sorry enough for him to help him learn how to play male roles.

1992 - Galileo spacecraft flies past Earth for the second time

2010 - Japanese solar solar craft IKAROS passes Venus. It sounds like the name of the boy who flew too close to the sun in Greek mythology, but actually stands for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun). Oh, well. 

Born On This Day! 

65 BCE - Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace, Roman poet. 

                                                 Horace - Public Domain

1542 - Mary Queen Of Scots, who needs no introduction, but who certainly inspired a lot of writing. 

1894 - James Thurber, American humorist and cartoonist. There is a prize for American humour in his name. Oh, and he wrote “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty”, a short story which became a film with Danny Kaye.

 James Thurber 1954 - Public Domain

1916 - Richard Fleischer, director of quite a few films you have probably seen at one time or another. Here is a link to his Wikipedia entry.

1923 - Dewey Martin. I got a crush on him as a child when I saw him as the young romantic lead in Land Of The Pharaohs, which starred Jack Hawkins as Pharaoh Khufu, of Great Pyramid fame, and Joan Collins, playing one of her early bitch roles. 

1951 - Bill Bryson, author of some delightful books, including travel-themed ones, such as Notes From A Small Island, in which, after living in Britain for many years, he took a farewell trip around the country.

1976 - Dominic Monaghan, whom you have probably seen as hobbit Meriadoc Brandybuck in Lord Of The Rings

It’s the Day of Finnish Music in Finland. I think that’s nice, don’t you? And they are, I think, proud of their national composer, Sibelius! 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Two Books By Frances Hardinge: A Guest Review By Jane Routley


Today I would like to welcome guest reviewer Jane Routley to The Great Raven. If you have been following this blog for a while, you may have read her guest post about her work.

 This time, Jane is keen to share a world she has recently discovered, created by YA author Frances Hardinge.

Take it away, Jane! 

Several times during this year’s N.Z. Worldcon, the name  Frances Hardinge was mentioned by a number of panellists as a writer to go on to you’ve finished all of Rowling or Tolkien.  

So I tracked some down.  So far I’ve only had time to read her two Mosca Mye books – Fly by Night and Twilight Robbery, but I’m totally hooked.  

Mosca Mye is a strong-willed 11 year old girl who loves words and reading in a world in which most people fear the written word.  Orphaned, she leaves her village in the company of marvellously named con-man Eponymous Clent and her pet goose Saracen (otherwise known as the goose apocalypse).  Highwaymen, thieves, mad dukes, sinister guild men and floating coffee houses populate their following adventures, a rich rambunctious tapestry enhanced by wonderful names and joyful word play.  This is a world which looks like 17th Century England, but in which a series of small states exist in uneasy truce after a vicious civil war and an even more vicious religious war. 

Most people in this world worship the Beloved, a pantheon of small gods with wonderful and sometimes punning names, such as Goodman Palpitattle, he who keeps the flies out of jam and butter churns and Goodlady Whenyouleast,  Lady of reunions.  

The bookshelves are full of fantasy novels about feisty orphans taking on the world, but Hardinge’s books feel so fresh and original.  I adored the stubborn and spiky Mosca and the cunning Mr Clent.  The plot was so intricate and yet fell into place so effortlessly I was completely charmed and also envious.  

The plotting, the world building, the story telling and the sophisticated but never dull themes of rebellion, censorship, religious tolerance and the struggle for a fairer world are all marvellous and both books romp gloriously along.  And the blurbs on her other books sound wonderful.  Cities where faces don’t show emotions?  Trees which replace lies for truth?  Can’t wait to read them.