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This is a book review and science fiction blog, for the most part, with the odd convention report and travel notes. And maybe the occasional Celtic goddess, such as the Great Raven...
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By: Sue Bursztynski,
And here's the full list of what you voted for if you were a member of this year's World Science Fiction Convention. I took it straight from the Hugo website, where it was posted by a guy called Kevin(Standlee?) Thank you, Kevin! I deleted everything that might be considered copyright except the bit about finding the details at the Hugo page.
It will be a while before most people are recovered from their partying and ready to post. I have no doubt there there will be a lot of discussion and analysis that will go till the NEXT controversy, but my suggestion is to put it all behind you, guys, get on with reading new books and magazines and next time, nominate if you don't want someone else to do it for you. And my advice to the someone else is, start your own awards if you don't like the way these are run.
There were, IMO, plenty of people on both sides of the controversy who behaved badly. Play nice, guys! You behaved like children, some of you.
Congratulations to the winners, including the only Australian team to get a rocket, the Galactic Suburbia bunch. I've never got around to listening to their podcasts myself, but will.
I'm not too sad ASIM didn't make it. A little, but not too much. I know how good it is and now several thousand people who wouldn't have heard of us otherwise also know. That has to be better than saying, "Hey, we got a Hugo!" only to have the reply, "Yes, but that was because..."
If you read and liked your ASIM in the Hugo pack, do consider subscribing. Hey, consider subscribing even if you weren't a Worldcon member! ASIM 61 will be out very soon - they're working on the ebook version and no point offering without all the options available. I'm organising the art for 62, which should be out soon after.
The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
BEST GRAPHIC STORY
Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM
Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM
Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, ” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST
Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
BEST FAN WRITER
Laura J. Mixon
BEST FAN ARTIST
JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).
The full order of finish in each category and links to the nomination and voting details are available on the 2015 Hugo Awards page.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
So, today I went to a couple more events at the MWF. It has been quite a while since I did that. Last year I went to nothing and the year before only one event and that was a free book launch. So it was nice to find something I wanted to attend a second day in a row.
I had intended to go to the panel on true crime as well, but I left home too late; there was plenty of time to get to the panel on historical fantasy fiction. The panellists were two women of whom I'd never heard, though one of them, C.S Pacat, is apparently a huge bestseller with her novel that started life as a web serial and went on to be self published before being picked up by Penguin. The other one, Ilka Tampke, was a debut novelist who seems to be doing well. Her novel is set in pre-Roman Britain, while the other one was not really historical fantasy at all, just the author's own universe, though she did research some historical periods. Both novels have sex in them, including bestiality in the Britain one!
To be honest, the discussion was very general and there was no mention of what the books were actually about. I had to whip out my iPad and ask my friend Dr Google for the story lines! The Pacat one sounded to me like old style slash fiction(including hurt/comfort? Hmm, I wonder...). Not my cup of tea, but this sort of fiction is very popular, hence the bestselling status. I might check out the other book, though the bestiality thing doesn't appeal.
I had the pleasure of meeting Sharon, a friend and former colleague, who had come to hear Ilka, a friend and former neighbour. We sat together. I also met Virginia Lowe, who does Create A Kid's Book, and her husband, both of whom came with me to the next session.
That session, free, was on "modern mythologies" and much more interesting. The authors were Dolores Redondo and Samhita Arni. Again, I'd never heard of either of them, but I was interested in the idea of using mythology as the background for a novel. Both books, Invisible Guardian and The Missing Queen, were crime fiction/thrillers. Ms Redondo's book - which has so far sold 600,000 copies in Spain alone and been translated into many languages - has a theme taken from Basque myth and legend, while The Missing Queen was inspired by India's national epic, the Ramayana but set in the here and now.
I bought them both in ebook on the spot.
The Spanish lady had an interpreter who was very good, whispering to her and translating almost immediately. Through the interpreter, she said, among other things, that fans of the novel have been turning up in the area where it's set, much as there were Brother Cadfel tourists in Shrewsbury at one stage(I was one of them). Apparently, the murder victims of what seems to be a set of ritual killings are found with a certain type of local cake on them. Nobody actually sells these cakes nowadays, they are only home made, but tourists ask for them! Things left on dead bodies in the novel! Sounds like a very popular series(it's a trilogy, but only one volume has been translated into English so far).
So, a good day at the festival. Not sure if I'll go to more this week, must check the program, but it has been good do fat.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Given that I'm here in Australia and this year's Worldcon is in Spokane, Washington, I thought it might be nice to check out this year's Hugo Award design, as the awards will be handed out in a few hours; by the time I head to the Melbourne Writers Festival, it will have been announced. Apparently, the rocket design is the same each year but the base is different, and this year's is designed by Matthew Dockery. The photo is taken by Kevin Standlee. The picture is okay to use by non commercial folk as long as the attributions are there, so here it is!
I'd be fascinated to know what the designer had in mind.
I received the Australian Science Fiction Media Award in my day, as Best Fan Writer. That was designed to look like the Emerald City in the film of The Wizard Of Oz and was designed and made by Peter Lupinski. It was made of green glass, it was gorgeous, but heavy! You could brain someone with it. Still, I treasure it. They haven't given out that award in many years now.
I can't find a photo of it online and it's currently at my mother's place, but if you watch the movie, you'll see what it looked like in the scene where Dorothy and her friends are approaching the city.
I'll publish the list of winners as soon as I get hold of them.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
I didn't go last year, alas! There was simply nothing I wanted to see at the tines I could go. I used to go to ten sessions, because you could get them cheaper than individually. I think this may have come back, but for quite some tine, you couldn't. I was willing to try out something new, different on the ten ticket thing, but when I couldn't I got picky.
But I missed my festival. I loved going to sessions in which I could hear my favourite writers talk about children's, YA, crime and spec fic books at a time when I wasn't at work. So this year, after spending most of the day with my mother, as I do on Saturdays - and especialły on a fine Saturday when I could drag her down to the beach - I simply got in the tram and rode into the city to see what I could find. If there was nothing I wanted to attend today, I could pick up a program and find something for tomorrow. (Actually, there are a couple of sessions I would like to attend tomorrow. One on true crime, the other on historical fantasy. Never heard of the authors, but I love the genre)
I arrived just too late for any of the 4.00 pm sessions and the later ones were away from the main festival venue, so I thought I'd trundle up to Trades Hall for the Ned Kellies, which are awards for crime fiction/non-fic. That started at 6.30 and was free and the people there are all big names in local crime fiction, some from Sisters In Crime. It was likely to be great fun.
Then I discovered, quite by chance, that in the next few minutes there was going to be a session at the Edge theatre in which the GoHs were Shaun Tan and Kitty Crowther(despite her Anglo-sounding name the lady is French/Swedish). The moderator/interviewer was Bernard Caleo, a local comic book artist.
Sorry, Ned Kelly Awards, no contest!
It was very enjoyable listening to these two wonderful illustrators talk about their work. Both of them are winners of the Astrid Lindgren Award.
Of course, we'd all heard of him, not so many of us had heard of her, so it was good to learn something new. Both of them talked about how they thought when they were drawing. He says that he doesn't start with a message, he starts with a drawing and the message comes later. For example, there was something that started as a funny drawing of a crocodile floor in a high rise building, with a special button in the lift. It's there because crocodiles need the sun. The message - which came later - was that the city in the story was built on a swamp, so we owe the crocodiles something for having taken away their habitat.
She spoke of a baby book called Alors! which was written/drawn for a Paris charity which publishes and prints books so a thousand children can have a book for Christmas. It was shown in slides and she and Bernard read it together. It was a charming book in which a bunch of toys are waiting anxiously for "him". In the last couple of pictures, "he" arrives, a smiling baby, and they rejoice and go to snuggle up in bed with him.
After swearing I wouldn't buy any print books at the festival, I bought Shaun's new one, a collection of Grimm fairytales with his clay art illustrating them. I lined up to get it signed. Behind me were a mother and child, a sweet little boy just turned seven who declared "Shaun Tan is my favourite author!" They had several well-loved books in their bag.
In front of me were a mother and teen daughter who were showing Mr Tan several of the girl's drawings, some of them of him, and very fine they were too. I suggested that they might consider checking out Ford Street Publishing, which had published two wonderful teenage artists in the last few years.
I chatted a bit with Shaun, who vaguely recalled meeting me, though not my name. (It was on a post it note on the book, as requested by the festival volunteer, but he hadn't seen that). We agreed that Ford Street is an excellent publisher which treats you well. I got my autograph and left. Unusually for a Saturday night I've decided to go out for dinner. Wine and eggplant Parma. A nice way to end the day!
A bit blurry, but here they are.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
It's weird how one thing leads to another. I read an open submission thingie for an anthology themed about monsters of the Mediterranean. (Deadline end of September) Well, I thought, there are plenty of monsters in Greek mythology, why not refresh my memory?
So I got out my copy of Robert Graves' The Greek Myths, a classic of its kind which I first read when I was in primary school. (How did I know it wasn't a kids' book? I do remember telling my friends all about the sacred king and the triple Goddess...) After a while I got the urge to reread Mary Renault's The King Must Die(currently reading in ebook), her wonderful novel about Theseus, which I first read when I was eleven, after hearing a radio play of the opening scenes. I admit a lot went over my head back then; I got more out of it as an adult. But I was madly into Greek mythology and children's retellings just didn't cut it for me after Robert Graves.
That made me feel a hankering for Poul Anderson's The Dancer From Atlantis, which was seen from the viewpoint of the Cretans, with Theseus as not such a nice man at all, and featured the Thera explosion. I went to look for it on my shelves, but it was somewhere on a higher shelf, being in alphabetical order, and instead I grabbed the same author's Past Times, a collection of short stories reprinted from other collections and magazines. It was sticking out from the shelf and I could reach it without grabbing a chair.
I had forgotten this one completely. Interestingly, one of the stories, "Eutopia", had been in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions collection, which would have meant, at the time it was published, that it was controversial, the sort of stuff that would make people gasp and feel just a bit naughty for reading it. Well, that was in the 1960s, this is now. It was a perfectly good story and I enjoyed it, but it wouldn't raise an eyebrow today. Really. I can't say more because spoilers for anyone who wants to read it, but I think the gasp shock horror aspect was connected with the last line. And all it got from me was, "Huh? Is THIS the deadly secret?"
How our culture changes!
For the better in some ways, I think - in this aspect, anyway.
I have always loved Poul Anderson, though - there was a tale for any mood I was in, whether it was a hankering for hard SF, for space opera or fantasy or alternative universe. It's still the case. And his heroes - my favourites were Dominic Flandry, agent of the Terran Empire and Nicholas Van Rijn, the canny merchant who acted dumb and wasn't.
What about you - any Anderson fans out there? (Or Robert Graves, who also wrote those wonderful Claudius novels).
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Yesterday I received an inquiry from Chuck Whelan, who introduces himself below. I do receive quite a few requests for promo from authors and artists, but Chuck is a fellow fan of Graeme Base, so who could resist inviting him to talk about his work? I must admit, while I'm familiar with the Where's Wally type of books and some that are similar to this picture book, the idea of having a story is not all that common. I remember The Eleventh Hour, which was an elaborate picture book with a mystery attached(who stole the birthday cake?) so it's nice to know someone else is having a go at it.
I'm very much in favour of Kickstarter projects. It's how Christmas Press began and look how they're doing these days. If you'd like to support Chuck's project, the links are below, but first read his post and drool over the lovely samples from his book...
Without further ado - take it away, Chuck! Wizard Pickles.
Hi, I’m Chuck Whelon, a cartoonist and children’s book author. Sue’s invited me to write this guest post to tell you about why I’m running a Kickstarter for my latest book
I’ve been working as an illustrator, off and on, since the early 1990s. My first job out of college was working at a book production company in the UK, where I was born and raised. There, I worked on a lot of language-teaching materials and other course-books for large publishing houses such as Macmillan, Heinemann and the BBC. It was a small place, but I got to do a lot of illustration, and also had to muck in and help with editorial and design duties. An assignment came up to work in the USA and, for some reason, no-one else wanted it. So, at 25 I jumped up and left for San Francisco, California, where I’ve lived ever since.
Much of the work I do comes through my agency, Beehive Illustration [http://www.beehiveillustration.co.uk]. Through them I got to work on some samples for a proposed Where’s Wally? spin-off series. It never came into being, but it led to me working on some other search-and-find titles for Buster Books in the UK. The first was called Where’s the Penguin? and it was followed up by Where’s Santa? and The Great Fairy Tale Search. These have all been published internationally and in many languages (my favorite editions are the Korean ones, which are very luxurious!). I’ve also done a lot of maze and puzzle books for Dover Publications here in the US, including a large series of What to Doodle? books.
Now, you may have noticed that all those books have a question mark in the title, which is a little odd, but I am particularly fond of to working on puzzles and games. I’ve also illustrated a whole bunch of games for Minion Games [http://whelon.com/boardgames/]
. I even designed a game myself called “Legitimacy: The game of Royal Bastards” [http://www.legitimacygame.com
]. I’m also the author of a long-running, semi-autobigraphical, comic-fantasy webcomic called “Pewfell” and the cartoonist for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG.
So, you’re probably getting an idea of the sort of things I like to create, and what led me to make Wizard Pickles. Wizard Pickles is fantasy-themed puzzle adventure book. It consists of 12 double page illustrations, filled not only with search activities, but also a wide variety of different kinds of picture puzzles, such as mazes, logic problems and codes. As much as I love straight search books like Where’s Waldo? I always want something a little more from them. I wanted to write something that had an actual story to it and a greater variety of puzzles.
There are a very few books of this type out there, one of the most popular being Graeme Base’s excellent The Eleventh Hour, which expertly showed how such a thing could be done. It’s definitely been a big inspiration. As a kid I loved Kit Williams’ Masquerade (impossible to solve) and his book without a name (The puzzle was to find out the title — which I proudly managed to do — Let me know if you need any hints!!).
Anyway, I was very sure about what I wanted to do with Wizard Pickles, so I set about writing it. That was the tough part. It was a balancing act between having an interesting story with actual characters and making each page be an interesting puzzle. I did a lot of back and forth on that, I can tell you! I was noodling around with it for a year or two, but eventually I had an outline and rough book dummy that I was happy with, and not a million miles from my initial concepts. I then showed the dummy around to get some feedback. Perhaps the most influential person to critique it was David Saylor, the creative director at Scholastic, during a local SCBWI event. He was very positive about it, but his advice was to to simplify the plot. A lot! Well, that was hard to hear, but I managed to do it, and in the end I didn’t have to gut it too much. There was a whole sub-plot about a Golden Pickling Spoon that was completely unnecessary, and the book was much better for it. So thanks for that, David!
Now, the manuscript was in pretty good shape, but I knew the book was still going to be a tough sell without the art. Then I heard about Patreon.com
which was a new site where people can sponsor artists they like. It’s a bit like Kickstarter, but it’s on more of an ongoing basis. I put the word out, and managed to find a few people interested enough to want to back the project there (http://www.patreon.com/cartoon)
- I ended up getting enough backers to pay me $200 per completed page. Not a lot, considering the work involved, but just enough to give me the motivation to keep working on the book in between my other assignments. After a few months, the book was done!
Now came the bit I was really dreading — shopping the book around to publishers. I didn’t want to offer it to Dover, as although they pay well and are great to work with, they always want all the rights to everything and never pay royalties. My agent showed it round to a number of people, including Buster Books (who had published my other search books), and I sent it to the couple of publishers I could find who might be interested and were actually open to unsolicited submissions. I even tried a few literary agents I had been referred to. Everywhere I got the same answer: “We love it, but it’s not what we typically publish and we don’t know how to market it”. They all encouraged me to keep showing it around but, after about a year of this, I decided it was time for plan B.
Plan B was always going to be Kickstarter.
I have had success on Kickstarter with my webcomic “Pewfell”, and several of the games I’ve illustrated for Minion were funded there. With Wizard Pickles my goal was to make something new and original, that hadn’t been seen before. It was the book in my head that I just had to get out. It’s understandable that marketing people, with budgets to worry about, do not want to take a chance on something with no proven track record. But I truly believe in the book, and Kickstarter is the perfect place to try out something new and different.
So now the project is up and running and we’ll see how it does. You can check it out here:
It runs until Sept 17th.
If all goes well, I’ll next move into the printing and distribution phase. For this I will be using Lightning Source/IngramSpark. I’ve used them for many years for my graphic novel collections, and their hardbacks are excellent quality and look lovely. Plus they have a great distribution network that get the print and eBook versions into all the big online retailers (e.g. Amazon & Barnes & Noble), and even gives you a shot at retail stores… if you can get the margins down enough. That’s tough, but still, the per-book royalty is just about as good as what a traditional publisher would pay. They have printing hubs in the USA, Australia, Europe, and the UK, so you have great international reach. A successful Kickstarter easily covers the setup costs, which are relatively small and certainly a lot less than a full-on print run. Of course if the Kickstarter does REALLY well, offset printing may still be a possibility, but with Lightning Source I can set a relatively low initial funding goal and go from there.
The biggest challenge with going this route is getting visibility, which is why I’m so grateful to Sue for giving me this opportunity to tell you my story here on The Great Raven!
If you’d like to know more, I’m very happy to answer questions. There are endless articles online about how to run a Kickstarter or self-publish a book. It’s a route I’d only recommend if there’s a particular dream project that you want to get off the ground. It’s a lot of work to do properly and you have to have your ducks in a row. Also, I only like to go to Kickstarter once the project is complete and ready to print. Going earlier and asking for more cash might be better from a business point-of-view - i.e. test the market before you do the work. But really, if it’s something you believe in and you’re going to do anyway, then I say just do it!
Email and web site:
By: Sue Bursztynski,
This just arrived yesterday. Sometimes I have to go to the PO for a parcel, but the postie who delivered it had carefully placed it under the doormat as he/she has done with others before, bless them! I think it's sweet, though I doubt my neighbour Peter would touch anything of mine, although he IS a book lover with whom I stop to chat about SF/F. ;-)
This came from a publisher with whom I've dealt in the past, though not recently. Always nice, anyway!
It is a YA thriller and written, I gather, by the author of Thirteen, a book I believe we have in my school's library. The name, Tom Hoyle, is a pseudonym for a school headmaster who presumably doesn't want it to be known that he does this stuff. That's a pity. I can assure the gentleman that his kids would be terribly proud to know that the author of those exciting books they have been reading is working right at their very school. Maybe it's some exclusive private school where this sort of thing isn't approved of by the administration.
Or maybe he just wants his privacy. I can relate to that. It's one reason why I have never lived close to the schools where I work. But my own students know about my writing. They read it and love it and once there were a couple of girls who offered to distribute fliers! I said no, but it was delightful that they wanted to help. Another student showed me her copy of Girlfriend which had a review of my novel.
Ah, well, up to him, I guess. I've begun reading it and so far the language seems to be readable and easy enough, no long words or sentences. I always think of reluctant readers. This is one advantage of a teacher writing a book - they know what kids will enjoy and they know how to tell a story in a way that even those who aren't top readers can handle.
There will be a review here as soon as I finish. Stand by.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
The latest fairytale retelling from Christmas Press has wandered from Europe to Asia. The stories in this, "Kenji's Magic Sandals" and "The Magic Cloak", are very different in tone from some of the European fairytales in previous Christmas Press volumes, especially the most recent, in which the retellings were of Bluebeard and Beauty And The Beast.
There is humour, for a start. In the first story, a young boy, Kenji, receives a pair of magic sandals from a tengu, a magical being out of Japanese folklore. If you fall over while wearing them, a gold coin drops down for you. There is one hitch: each time you use it you shrink a little. However, the boy needs money to buy medicine for his sick mother and his greedy uncle won't lend it to them. When the uncle borrows the sandals, he receives the punishment you would expect for his greed. In the second story, the village lout tricks a tengu into handing over his magic cloak that makes you invisible, but it isn't the tengu's vengeance that gets him, it's his own bad behaviour while wearing it. In the end, he doesn't die, he's just embarrassed - very embarrassed!
Duncan Ball has written a delightful pair of tales that children will enjoy. As usual, David Allan has created delicate, beautiful art to go with the stories, with a watercolour wash and a Japanese style. It can be read to younger children or handed to older ones to read themselves.
Another gorgeous publication from Christmas Press!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
This week three parcels arrived for me but I couldn't collect them till yesterday morning, alas!
The first was a gift from my friend and fellow blogger Isabelle, aka miki, who thought that Christmas in July was a logical thing to celebrate in the Antipodes and sent me, all the way from Belgium, a lovely packet of fruit tea, which I will be brewing for my brunch today, and a gorgeous handmade crochet scarf in two shades of blue, one dusky blue, the other turquoise. I'm thinking carefully of what I can make for her. Something beaded, perhaps? Earrings, necklace? A nice warm scarf, which will come in handy for her Yuletide when it will be winter over there?
The rest of my goodies were three books for reviewing, two from Ford Street Publishing and one from Christmas Press.
From the latter, I have the latest in their series of retold fairy tales from around the world, this one by Duncan Ball, with beautiful David Allan illustrations, Two Tengu Tales From Japan. I think it's amazing how speedily the Christmas Press has established itself as a highly respected Aussie small press, with several wonderful children's picture books on its list.
Ford Street, another great publisher, has sent me Gary Crew's new novel, Voicing The Dead by Gary Crew, who has become well known for writing grim and grisly tales for teens, since his first book, Strange Objects, scored a CBCA Award twenty-five years ago and still in print, with a new cover, even. This one is based on the true story of a couple of kids who were adopted by Torres Strait Islanders after the rest of those travelling on the ship were killed by head hunters in the 1830s. I've begun reading it and will review it as soon as I've finished.
The second Ford Street title to hit my letterbox is Belinda The Ninja Ballerina, a picture book by Candida Baker, illoed by the wonderful Mitch Vane, who did the art for my own book, Your Cat Could Be A Spy(and who helped my Dad colour photocopy the cover when they met, quite by chance, at the print shop copier).
I've read both the picture stories and will, hopefully, be posting reviews some time today.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
And here's the link to the Ticonderoga web site, where you can see the list in full, and the cover:http://ticonderogapublications.com/web/index.php/years-best-australian-fantasy-and-horror/volume-5-2014/387-year-s-best-for-2014-contents-announced
Ticonderoga is one of Australia's amazing small presses that show you don't have to be a Penguin or a HarperCollins to publish wonderful books.
I have particular pleasure in mentioning this year's Best Australian Fantasy And Horror
, because one of the stories in it is "Of Gold And Dust" by Michelle Goldsmith, a fellow Melbourne writer, and it was published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
#60, which I edited. This was only Michelle's second sale, but it will be far from her last, and one day I'll be able to say, "Oh, yes, I published her second paid story ever!" And it got into the Year's Best already! I was thrilled when a story of mine got a mention
in a Terri Windling Year's Best
, but Michelle's is actually being published!
Well done, Michelle! I am so proud of you.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
If you go down to the woods today ... Well, every child knows NOT to, don't they?
Tamaya is on a scholarship to the prestigious Woodridge Academy and every day she and seventh-grader Marshall walk to school together. They never go through the woods. And when they arrive at school they stop talking to each other – because Marshall can't be seen to be friends with a little kid like Tamaya. Especially not with Chad around. Chad-the-bully, who makes Marshall's life utterly miserable. But today, hoping to avoid Chad, Marshall and Tamaya decide to go through the woods ... And what is waiting there for them is strange, sinister and entirely unexpected.
The next day, Chad doesn't turn up at school – no one knows where he is, not even his family. And Tamaya's arm is covered in a horribly, burning, itchy wound. As two unlikely heroes set out to rescue their bully, the town is about to be turned upside down by the mysterious Fuzzy Mud ... I've only read three Louis Sachar novels, including this one. The first was the wonderful Holes, which I believe to be his masterpiece, the book for which he will be remembered. It was on the Year 8 English curriculum at the time. Now we do Literature Circles, but kids kept asking for it, so I put a few copies in the Literature Circles options. If you haven't read it, please do! Or at least see the film, which is fairly faithful to the book and has a cameo appearance by the author and his wife in the nineteenth century scenes, as well as a very young Shia LaBoeuf, Henry Winkler(the Fonze) as the boy's nutty scientist father, Eartha Kitt having great fun as an old gypsy woman and Sigourney Weaver as the villainous Warden. Oh, and Dule Hill (from West Wing) as the onion seller who wins the heart of Kissin' Kate Barlow when she's a schoolteacher...
The second one was The Cardturner, also a very good YA book, on the subject of bridge, a game I hadn't realised is as complex as chess, with some kids learning the game and a tournament and a ghost or two...
Fuzzy Mud is aimed at a younger audience and works very well. It has what I suspect to be the Sachar trademark over-the-top humour among the serious stuff. It makes a very good introduction to the eco-thriller and gives children something to discuss in class, about the environment, without preaching at them. There's another over-the-top scientist who is definitely not a bad guy, whatever the results of his experiments.
It's nice to see a children's book that isn't the first of a series! Louis Sachar makes his point, gently but firmly, and then moves on.
Highly recommended for children from about eight upward.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Bianca Dalmatin wants for nothing. As the heir to a department store empire and stepdaughter of the beautiful Lady Belladonna, the only thing Bianca longs for is a friend. It seems that her wish is granted at the Duke's Presentation Ball when she meets the handsome, mysterious Lucian Montresor.
But after the Mirror newspaper names Bianca as Lepmest's new Fairest Lady, the true nature of her stepmother is revealed. Belladonna tells Bianca the shocking news that Bianca's father is dying – and, when Bianca races to be by his side, Belladonna sends her faithful servant to kill her.
Who is friend and who is enemy? Plunged into a terrifying world that will turn her from a daughter of privilege to a hunted creature in fear of her life, Bianca must find allies if she is to survive – and if she is to expose Belladonna for who she really is...
This is Sophie Masson's Snow White novel, set in the same universe as her Cinderella novel, Moonlight And Ashes, in the Faustine Empire, in the same Victorian/Edwardian era, with telegrams and steamers. There are also trams, presumably horse drawn. Her Snow White, Bianca, is the daughter of "The King Of Elegance" instead of a regular king. The Mirror is a newspaper instead of an actual mirror, though there is a reference to it in the fashion show at the beginning. There is definitely magic involved as well as technology, there's a Prince of a kind and there's even that glass coffin, though I won't tell you more, because spoilers ...
Like Moonlight And Ashes it starts with the fairytale and continues past that. Unlike Ms Masson's Cinderella, Selena, whom you know will be strong right from the beginning, Bianca starts as an ordinary teenage girl who admires her beautiful and elegant stepmother, Belladonna, right up till the lady tries to have her killed. In the course of the novel, she realises that she needs to be stronger if she is to defeat Belladonna, and does some good investigation of the mystery behind the woman who snared her father. She makes some huge mistakes - mistakes that can get people killed, not only herself but the truly wonderful friends she has made along the way, but somehow her very klutziness results in a better outcome than if she had done the sensible thing.
Young readers of this may be a little disappointed in some of the romance elements but all I can say is that there were hints early on and it all works out in the end.
This is my second fairytale adaptation reading of the last week, by another of Australia's top fairytale adapters. I wonder if there's anything new by Juliet Marillier in the fairytale area? Hmm...
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Today, I would like to introduce you to new YA novelist Lauren Rose Brown. Lauren's first novel has just come out. I will let her tell you all about it. Enjoy! And if you are interested in buying the paperback, it's available not only at Amazon, but also at Waterstones, the Book Depository and, here in Australia, at Booktopia. No ebooks at this stage, but it can only be a matter of time. I must admit, I rather like the idea of YA crime fiction with supernatural/paranormal elements, having just read Rebecca Lim's wonderful The Astrologer's Daughter, which has a touch of the paranormal, with its heroine solving a murder mystery using her knowledge of astrology. It's a nice combination.
Take it away, Lauren!
Hello everyone, my name is Lauren Rose Brown and I am 23 years old. I live in Leicestershire and have a degree in media. Oh yes, and I’m also an author! My debut novel, The Reverie: Beginnings came out on the 30th July 2015 and I have kindly been allowed to write a guest post to let all you lovely people know about my book.
Throughout my childhood I was always writing, whether it was a poem, a stage play or an article. I have always worked best when I am able to use my imagination! When I was 11, I wrote my first ever short story which I called "Like I Wasn’t There". I remember being so proud of it, and I still am today –I think it was the catalyst that sparked my dream of becoming an author.
I decided to start my first book whilst studying my A levels, running with a simple idea that would eventually develop into my novel, The Reverie: Beginnings, which I finished in January 2014. I signed my contract with The Book Guild in June 2014 and have been on an exciting journey since then, watching my novel change from a manuscript into an actual book!
The Reverie: Beginnings follows the journey of my protagonist, Aislin (Ash) Casey. She possesses a power that nobody else has – she can see reality in her dreams. These dreams show her events from the future but until tragedy strikes her family they are just meaningless glimpses of life. Her dreams disappear altogether and now girls around her village are falling prey to a vicious killer, Ash has to find a way to reignite her power knowing she is the only one that can put a stop to this - but what her dreams show her next is something she was not expecting. What she finds will lead her on a dangerous path into the clutches of an evil that may never let her go…
It’s safe to say that this book means a hell of a lot to me. I write to express myself emotionally. I write to make others happy. I write because it makes me feel whole. With The Reverie, I wrote something with the intention of it reaching a wide audience, spreading across the globe to make people happy. I want my book to be something people want to read. It is quite a scary thing, putting something out there - something that is so much a part of you. Something you have spent so many days and nights over. It made me smile and it made me cry. It helped me get over things that I thought were insurmountable. It helped me realise that I could. And this is why I love writing.
I am currently working on my sequel to Beginnings, and am about halfway through. I also have plot ideas for a third and fourth book, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop there! I am very excited for what is to come, and if you would like to get yourself a copy of The Reverie: Beginnings it is available online at Amazon. Thank you for taking the time to read my post, it means a great deal to me. Sweet dreams x
By: Sue Bursztynski,
I had been looking forward to reading this, ever since I heard that Kate Forsyth was doing a novel based on "Beauty And The Beast", set in Nazi Germany.
It was worth the wait, though I should explain that it's not exactly "Beauty And The Beast", but rather a B&B variation in the Grimms' second collection, "The Singing, Springing Lark". That one starts off like B&B, though the girl has asked her father to bring her a lark rather than a rose and the Beast is a lion. That's where it ends - the rest of the story is quite different and the heroine has to do quite a lot of tasks to get her beloved Beast back, more like Cupid And Psyche and some other fairytales of the kind where a rival lets her have access to his room in exchange for a bauble of some kind, but makes sure he's asleep. So, yes, the heroine of this book, Ava, has an adventure, but the author does throw in a lot of references to roses, as in B&B.
Ava is the daughter of a university professor who is not crazy about the Nazis. Neither is she, and one the Night Of Broken Glass(Kristallnacht) she is out trying to help the Jewish family which has pretty much been her own since her mother, an opera singer, died. She says some rather reckless things to a young Nazi officer, but fortunately he is secretly anti-Nazi and helps the family by sending his colleagues on their way. His name is Leo(as in lion) and this is the beginning of their romance and eventual marriage.
The rest of the novel shows Germany going downhill, while Ava watches in horror and tries to help her Jewish friends and others. Leo is involved is a plot to kill Hitler - no spoiler here as it's on the cover blurb - and their lives are dangerous and frightening. It's amazing how many attempts there were to kill Hitler apart from the most famous one. He managed to survive them all before his date with destiny in the bunker.
Ava is a good, strong heroine, without having to be "kick-ass"(though she dies do some physical stuff towards the end). She spends the novel doing anti-Nazi activities with her friends, some of who are real historical figures.
If you know about the fairytale, you should be able to spot the connections easily enough. If you don't know, it doesn't matter - it works just fine as a historical novel with a lot of adventure.
I hadn't realised how many of the characters were real people, but tried not to look them up before finishing the book, to avoid my own spoilers. I did look up some places, such as the Adlon hotel, where Ava performs early in the book. Apparently it's still there and is Berlin icon, a bit like our Windsor hotel in Melbourne.
I was, however, familiar with some things mentioned. Flossenburg concentration camp, which appears in the later chapters of the book, was where my father was imprisoned and used as slave labour. It meant I had some emotional connections with the book, apart from the Holocaust itself.
I read this in ebook - I find it hard to put off gratification these days - but by now it will be available in all good bookshops and I do recommend it!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
We all do it. You buy a book and start reading it and then get distracted, sometimes by Life, sometimes by another book toy. And that has become a lot more frequent since the WWW made it possible to just download the thing RIGHT NOW instead of waiting till you get to a bookshop. That's especially true of me - and now I have no more room for paper books on my bulging shelves, I think, "Just this one more ebook..."
So my cyber bookshelves are crammed with books I've read from cover to cover and the unfinished gems just waiting for me to return. So this evening I've opened up some of these neglected treasures. I've read Robert E Howard's first sale to Weird Tales (he was only eighteen). A real eye opener about the pulp era! I'm a huge fan of this author, whose Conan stories and King Kull tales I adore, as I do Bran Mac Morn and Red Sonia and ... Well, he pretty much invented swords and sorcery! So when I say that if I got his first story, "Spear And Fang", in my ASIM slush, I would have rejected it, trust me - it's terrible! Probably I would have said no kindly, because it is so very obviously by a teenage boy, but rejected it anyway. It's so bad it's good.
Just as well he sent his first story to Weird Tales instead of ASIM, because he got better very quickly. In case you're interested, the anthology is called Shadow Kingdoms, volume 1 of a series featuring his early short fiction, in order of publication, but you can get some of his work free on Project Gutenberg; I have The Hour Of The Dragon, his only Conan novel from Gutenberg. I first read that in print as Conan The Conqueror, edited by Lin Carter. It's a nice vision of Conan in middle age, wincing as he finds there are some things he can't do quite as easily as he used to. He does some things well enough, though; there's a sweet young thing who fell in love with him at first sight as he rode his horse past her and now she is there to help him escape from the dungeon of the week. If you're a Conan fan, yes, it's Zenobia! If you aren't, yet, no further spoilers.
And ooh, I'd forgotten about another Gutenberg treasure, a collection of classic crime fiction by Rudyard Kipling, Wilkie Collins, even some Conan Doyle... Well, the Conan Doyle you can find easily enough elsewhere, but I'd never read the Kipling before, though it doesn't surprise me; he wrote a wide variety of stuff and I have some of his horror fiction both in print and ebook. It's great stuff. This collection is under The Lock And Key Library.
And oh, I have too long neglected some of the short fiction of the likes of Murray Leinster and Henry Kuttner, which came with the original covers of the SF magazines in which they appeared! I found those in Gutenberg too. Amazing how much of the early fiction of big name SF writers you can find in Gutenberg!
Well, I'd better get back and finish reading these gems...
By: Sue Bursztynski,
I get a lot of ebooks, including anthologies, which tend to be cheap and feature my favourite writers. I was looking on my cyber bookshelves for Charles De Lint material (to my delight, I've just discovered that a lot more of his work has come out in ebook since I last looked) when I found the anthology Firebirds Rising, which I had bought and forgotten about, though I had started reading it. A great little anthology, by the way, with some big names in it, not surprising since the editor commissioned the stories. I can't recall the price and iBooks doesn't tell you once you've bought it, but I wouldn't have spent a lot of money on an anthology unless it was by one author I loved already; mostly, I use these to sample work by authors I'm not familiar with, before buying their books.
When I selected the book on my shelves, it turned to the story I was reading when I last opened the book and it wasn't Charles De Lint's contribution, but Alison Goodman's.
Alison, for those who don't know her, is a Melbourne writer, who has done mostly fantasy and some crime fiction. When I first met her, she had done one novel, Singing The Dogstar Blues. We both had a book out that year - mine was my book on astronauts from Omnibus(just closed down, alas!). I couldn't resist travelling to Canberra, on invitation, to hear the announcement of the CBCA shortlist at the home of the Governor General. Neither of us made it on to the list, alas. That was the year when I was chatting with one of the judges, who said, "Oh, yes, an entertaining book, well written, kids will love it, but that's not one of our criteria." Their response to Alison's book, which I mentioned, was pretty much the same(with a shrug included).
We shared our disappointment. Alison thought she had missed out on the shortlist because her book was SF. I suggested that no, it wasn't that - they did occasionally put SF on the shortlist - - but that it was funny. They didn't, at the time, care for funny books. "Not enough psychological depth," I was told by a judge whom I won't name, but who was well known in children's fiction fandom. (When I pointed out that the very funny Hating Alison Ashley, fairly new at the time, had plenty of psychological depth, she said that yes, it was good, but it was a paperback!)
Anyway, I started reading this story in Firebirds Rising and suddenly realised that it was a direct sequel to Singing The Dogstar Blues! It has been such a long time since I read the book, I'd forgotten everything about it except that it was funny, it was set in a future Melbourne, at a future Melbourne University, that there was music involved and adventure. I don't have it any more, as I donated it to my library(probably gone by now, since the senior campus library was closed down), but I can always get the ebook now.
The short story started to bring it all back. The heroine, Joss, is a first year student at Melbourne Uni, specialising in music and hoping to watch important events in music history when she does some time travel. She has a partner/room mate, Mav, the only alien student on Earth, of the Chorian race, who are born as twins, who are connected telepathically all their lives, though Mav has lost his twin and is trying to connect with Joss instead. In this story, he wants to be connected with Joss when she has a "mating ritual", something she is not happy about. And there are troubles between the "comp" kids, genetically engineered through appropriate donations, and the "noncomp" who aren't, but who all seem to be wealthy enough not to need to be engineered for intelligence or physical ability, because they have plenty of money already, without having to work for it.
It was an unexpected treat and, on my first trip outside the house in a few days(I've been lying in the warm, recovering from a nasty cold since Thursday), to get some groceries, I settled down to read it over lunch in my local bakery.
An enjoyable read on a cold Melbourne winter day! Now to read the rest of the stories in the anthology...
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Welcome again to Bec, who answered some questions about the Stella Prize Schools Program the other day and who now has kindly written us a guest post about it. An award and program well worth supporting! Take it away, Bec.
Young adults need to read books about women and girls written by women and girls.
I can’t tell you the number of female author friends I have who have told me stories about changes they’ve had to make to their books to give them wider appeal. The suggestions range from using their initials instead of their first names on the cover (because a woman’s name won’t sell ‘boyish’ books) to changing the cover illustration to something more or less masculine depending on the perceived audience. I’ve also heard of boy characters being included to make sure boys stay engaged, or a love interest is added or emphasised because that’s what girls want. But what if they don’t? What if these prescriptive gender assumptions are in fact doing both boys and girls a great disservice by slamming shut the very important doorways into the lives of others that books offer?
The problem is not that women aren’t writing. It’s just that they’re not getting noticed. Or maybe it’s that they’re not getting noticed by enough people. Or maybe it’s that they’re not getting noticed in a way that affords them the same relevance as books written by male (generally white, often long dead) authors. There’s a whole other argument here about YA in general not getting taken seriously, but what if that’s just a further consequence of the gender bias found in the adult world of literature? If, as adults, we find that women’s stories are considered less relevant, less intelligent, less universal – and underrepresented in literary prizes and on the books pages – then it follows that that attitude is amplified in a category of writing dominated by women.
We need more books by Australian women on school booklists. We need more books by Australian women on school booklists because only by giving them more space can we truly begin to show what it is to be a girl growing up in Australia today. We need books by women living on farms, in cities, living corporate lifestyles, bohemian lifestyles or farming free-range cattle. We need books that show women with disabilities, Indigenous women, refugee women, women exploring their sexuality, women whose cultural background makes their experience different from other women. Why do we need them? Because young women from all kinds of backgrounds need to see themselves represented in literature, and they need to feel that their voices will be heard in the discussions about our future. We need them because it’s as important for young men to read stories about young women as it is for young women to read them about young men. Books are a conversation that sets the tone for our future, so let’s make sure everyone gets heard.
The Stella Prize Schools Program was established in 2014, and I’m lucky enough to have been on board from early on. I’ve seen schools begin really important conversations about the kinds of texts that they’re putting on booklists, and whose voices are being sidelined. And I’ve spoken to wonderful, inspiring young people who are passionate about change. I’ve had books recommended to me by young women who are deeply affected by something they’ve read. I’ve seen students set up clubs to create an open space where diverse stories can be shared. I’ve also had students tell me they feel ‘betrayed’ when gendered marketing has turned them away from a book. Change is happening, but that doesn’t mean we should stop. As the Stella Prize Schools Program pushes through its second year and on towards its third, I look forward to seeing more Australian women on booklists and in schools running talks and workshops. I look forward to running Professional Development sessions with more schools to make these changes happen. And I look forward to seeing a generation of girls and boys evolve who are not limited by their gender.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Earlier this year, we had a wonderful guest speaker, Alice Pung, compliments of the Stella Prize Schools Program. I had spoken to Ambelin Kwaymullina at Continuum, the annual Melbourne SF convention, telling her about my disadvantaged school, and she let me know that the Stellas were setting up a schools program and might be willing to help us out with a guest speaker, something we can't afford ourselves. They were, bless them, and I invited the Schools Coordinator, Bec Kavanagh, to talk about the program here, because I think they're doing a fabulous job in promoting women's writing and getting children interested. Today I am posting some interview questions I sent Bec, along with her photo. Tomorrow there will be a guest post from Bec, with more details. Enjoy!
How did the Stella Prize Schools Program Begin?
The Stella Prize Schools Program was established to address the gender imbalance on school booklists and to start discussions about the way the unconscious gender bias impacts young readers. The Schools Program launched in Victoria in September 2014, and we launch this year in NSW on the 9th of September at the Sydney Story Factory.
What are some of the things Stella Prize Schools Program does? And what is your particular job?
The Stella Prize Schools Program is working to change the gender imbalance on booklists by offering support to teachers through free PDs, teachers’ notes and reading questions in our regularly updated Education Resource Kit, and to promote books by Australian women through discussions with schools and other educational bodies. I have worked with the Schools Program from its inception, creating the Education Resource Kit and leading school visits and professional development sessions in schools.
How have schools responded to this program so far?
So far we’ve had incredibly positive feedback from schools – one teacher who took part in a free PD session commented that it ‘injected a lot of understanding and enthusiasm into the staff who attended’. The Schools Program certainly seems to be starting those incredibly important discussions about how and why particular books are studied more often than others, and the ways in which young people’s perceptions of themselves and the world are affected by the books they study.
Do you mostly work at girls' schools or equally at co-ed schools?
I’ve run sessions at both co-ed schools and girls’ schools. We want to work with all schools (including boys’ schools), as gender bias is something that affects all young people.
What response do you get from boys?
Primarily, the sessions I run are with staff, and I’ve had some really wonderful responses from male staff members about the changes they’d like to make in their classrooms. One comment that sticks with me came from a boy who attended the ‘Girls’ Books vs Boys’ Books’ session at the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2014. We were talking about gendered marketing, and the way covers are often designed specifically to appeal to either girls or boys. We showed the students a particular book, and asked if they would read it based on the cover. Many of the boys in the audience said ‘no’. We then described the contents of the book and went into more detail about the plot and the themes – many of the boys who had said ‘no’ at first changed their answer to ‘yes’. We asked the audience how they felt about being ‘shut out’ of a book by gendered marketing, and one of the boys responded, ‘I feel betrayed’. I thought that was the most succinct and powerful response. We’re betraying all young people by telling them that who they are – what stories they should be engaging with and even what they can achieve – is defined by their gender.
It has often been said that girls will read anything, while boys prefer to read books with male characters - how true have you found this? (For the record, it hasn't been completely true at my school, where the main fans of Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials and even Tamora Pierce's novels, all with strong female leads, have been boys)
In my experience visiting schools and talking to teens about books, it’s a mixed bag. I think that teens aren’t actually bothered by whether the author or protagonist is the same gender as them or not. A more significant deciding factor is the way books are presented. The designs of many genre books are fairly gender neutral, but in realistic YA there is more of a boys books/girls books divide, which is largely derived from how they are marketed. That’s a real hurdle to consider when we’re encouraging teenagers to read widely.
Are you thinking of having a junior version of the Stella Prize at some stage, ie for books written for children and teens?
Our current priority for the Schools Program is to continue lobbying for change on school curricula and promoting greater diversity in the range of books students are exposed to. We put a lot of work into our annually updated Education Kit to support teachers and enable them to address these issues in the classroom. But in the future, anything’s possible!
Thank you, Bec, for your thoughtful answers to the questions!
If you'd like to learn more about the Stella Prize Schools Program, follow this link:
By: Sue Bursztynski,
In case you missed this week's terrific event at Ford Street, there's another one coming up in two weeks. I can't go due to family commitments, but if you're in Melbourne and can go, do!
The guests this time will be Deborah Abela, Nicky Johnston and the delightful Archimede Fusillo, who alone is worth the price of admission, even if you haven't yet read any of his books(I have read several). I've heard him speak to kids - wow!
Oh, and here is what Paul had to say about the last session!
Apologies that our next An Evening With . . . is so close to our last event, but Deborah Abela said she'd be in town and available so I snapped her up. Teamed up with Archie Fusillo and Nicky Johnston we're set for another blockbuster.
We had a great night on the 6th. Gary Crew spoke to us about castaways and how his research led to writing Voicing the Dead while Judith Rossell also talked about her research and how it helped to create her award-winning novel, Withering-by-Sea.
Apart from our most excellent librarians/teachers and friends, we had a stellar cast of authors and illustrators present. They included Michael Pryor, Marc McBride, Adam Wallace, Jane Tanner, Claire Saxby, Vikki Petraitis, Mackenzie Oliphant, Mark Wilson, Robert Favretto, Leigh Hobbs, Meredith Costain, George Ivanoff, Andrew Plant, Michelle Hamer, Sue Bursztynski, Sunshine Herbert, Sean McMullen and Lucy Sussex.
Book early, guys, there really isn't much space! Go to their web site to check the details. It will be under the newsletters, I think. Paul sent me a copy of the flier, but yet again it came as a file I just can't reproduce properly here. One of these days I will get him to send a Word document...
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Bec Kavanagh, from the Stella For Schools program has written a great guest post which I will be posting as soon as she has also answered some interview questions I've just sent her.
This year, as you may know if you've been following this blog*, my lucky school had a visit from the amazing Alice Pung, compliments of the Stella For Schools program(which I heard about thanks to Ambelin Kwaymullina). By way of thanks, and because I thought you might enjoy it, I invited them to do a guest post or an interview, and just two days ago I finally received the guest post. And then ?i thought, what-the-heck, why not have both? Bec kindly agreed.
I'm reading my way through the books sent me by A&U and Bloomsbury - I need the humour of the Geoffrey McSkimming book to help me get through a chilling horror novel in the pile. I'm hoping to have at least one review up before I have to return to work, and long work days next week.
Watch this space!
*And if you're not following thus blog, why not scroll to the "join" button right now? Never miss a post again!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
This morning I read a blog post at Writer Beware, about a woman who had been upset - very upset - when Amazon took down one of her reviews because the Amazon computer perceived her as having a connection with the author whose book she was reviewing. She said that this wasn't the case, she was just a fan.
I hadn't been aware that this was an Amazon policy. That doesn't matter to me. I don't post reviews on Amazon. I have a few Kindle books in the app on my iPad; some were bought with a gift voucher I won in one of many blog-based giveaways. The rest were downloaded during various authors' free promotional offers. I've never actually paid for an Amazon book. So I don't have much connection with them. I prefer iBooks, both for the layout and for the fact that they can be bought without having to give anyone my card details. Most of my reviews are on my own blog or on January Magazine, from books I received as review copies.
But it made me think. I can understand why this policy might be considered fair. But where I live, the writing community, like the general population, is small - very small. The children's writing community is even smaller. When I go to a publisher party or a conference, I know most of the people there. They may not all be personal friends, I don't get invited to their homes, but I will know them at least through social media, email, science fiction fandom or having known them before either of us had sold anything. George Ivanoff and Sean McMullen, for example, are folk I knew through fandom well before we sold our first stories(there are others!). I knew Paul Collins as my local second hand bookshop proprietor years before he became my publisher(though he was already publishing then). If, as someone suggested - very practically - on Writer Beware, there was a disclaimer with each review, it might be easier for me to put one on reviews of books by people I don't know than those I do!
I don't do the standard "I got this book in exchange for an honest review" statement. All my reviews are honest, including those of books I borrowed from the library or bought. If I hate a book, or even have too many concerns about it, I don't finish or review it. Life is too short.
Really, I'd rather not review books by friends, as is the policy of some people I know. Because...what if I don't like the book? I do say, "This worked for me, that didn't." Politely. Sometimes, a friend doesn't think that's quite good enough. One such friend badgered me to make my review more enthusiastic(she didn't say exactly that, but implied it). It did have a lot of good things about it, but also some things that I thought didn't work. She wanted a five-star enthusiasm I couldn't give it. You can see the problem.
But when you know nearly everyone... What do you do?
So - do you think I should put disclaimers on my reviews? Any writers out there, what are your thoughts on this issue?
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Really, English is a crazy language that has only become crazier over the centuries. Why not share the craziness with children?
But with the interesting words and expressions you never knew have a long history(and well-known expressions we use daily that come from Shakespeare), this book has puns, riddles, jokes and tongue-twisters, enough to keep the little one in the back seat entertained till you "get there" or absorbed at lunchtime in the school library.
And you get sucked in. Did you know what the word "griggling" means? I didn't! (It's an early word that means "collecting small apples" and not, as you might think, a way of saying "giggling" with your mouth full). I look forward to hearing some child say,"I think I'll get my Mum some daffadowndillies for her birthday."
I love a book which teaches kids things without their noticing they're learning!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Phyllis Wong is a magician, like her great-grandfather, Wallace Wong, a successful stage magician who disappeared in 1936. She lives with her father Harvey Wong and her fox terrier Daisy, in a building named for her ancestor, training herself as a conjuror. A basement full of Wallace's props and costumes helps, though she has a favourite shop. Her neighbours are a colourful assortment of characters, from a belly dancer to a police inspector.
In the last novel, Phyllis Wong And The Return Of The Conjuror, she discovered that Wallace Wong was still alive and well and travelling through time(or, rather, Time), in a process he calls Transiting - and that she, too, had the ability to do this. There's no TARDIS. If you have the ability you can do it, with the help of some stairs and an object from the Time you want to visit, and you can take a guest with you - in Phyllis's case, this is her friend Clement, a boy who loves over-the-top disguises and playing zombie fighter games online. If you don't have the ability, you can run up and down the stairs all you like and you'll just get tired. That novel was about a lost play by Shakespeare and some suspiciously new but absolutely authentic First Folios being auctioned off in the present day. There was some time travel involved.
This novel involves more time travel, a Paris theatre in 1931, an evil ventriloquist and Myrddyn Emrys, aka Merlin. Wallace Wong does make an appearance but leaves the story early, hoping that his great grand-daughter will find Merlin, not only the greatest magician of all time, but the inventor of the TimePocket used by Wallace and Phyllis. As the story continues, it becomes vital that she does find Merlin or the world might just come to an end, not with a bang but with the Great Whimpering...
In some ways this series is very different from Geoffrey McSkimming's Cairo Jim Chronicles, in which an Indiana Jones-like archaeologist had adventures in various parts of the world, with his companions, a Shakespeare-quoting macaw and a telepathic camel who enjoyed reading western novels. There was even a kind of Marcus Brody in those novels. The heroes of this series are a young girl and her friend and the time is clearly now, with the Internet and mobile phones, while you never could tell when any individual story was set in Cairo Jim; a couple of them had mobile phones while in another of them a character remembers something that happened in 1910.
But there is the same over-the-top whimsy, the same humour. Wallace Wong keeps making bizarre comparisons and, when Phyllis doesn't get them, exclaiming, "Oh, I know what I am meaning!" And there is also a message; in Cairo Jim, the gentle message tended to be about countries that appropriated the cultural heritage of other countries, through their museums. In this one, interestingly, a message of sorts comes from the lips of the villain! He's right, but also wrong. Read it and find out what it is.
It's probably better if you have read at least one of the two earlier books, but it isn't necessary. I haven't read the first one.
Recommended for good readers from about ten upwards.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Three years ago, Alice's identical twin sister took a gun to school and shot seven people, including her boyfriend. Since then, the small town where they live hasn't been the same. Nobody has overcome their grief - least of all Alice, who wears the killer's face and has to cope with the anger of the others in the town. Then one day, after her return from time in therapy, Alice sees a ghostly figure on the road she thinks must be her sister. Going after it, she finds she has swapped bodies and is now in a land of dreams - and nightmares. Everybody's nightmares...
This could easily have been another YA contemporary tale of overcoming a truly horrible event, and it would have been good in its own right. But the author has gone a step further. She has taken us to where the dream versions of people from this world are wandering around, trying to survive among the monsters from people's dreams, including many versions of the killer who had taken away their children and friends, where a girl from this world needs to overcome her own inner monsters in a way not possible in the real world.
It's a fascinating premise and makes a very good piece of horror fiction as well as a psychological thriller. For what could be more terrifying than we can imagine ourselves?
"Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland" will never be the same again!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
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I'm carrying in my tote bag the new novel by Louis Sachar, Fuzzy Mud, this one aimed at younger readers - mid to late primary school. The heroine is in fifth grade and there is an issue with something mysterious a local lab is brewing. So far, quite readable. If I can get an hour or two to myself I should be able to finish it, then I'll share my thoughts with you.
Also carrying Blood Queen by Rhiannon Hart, which the author kindly sent me from England via Amazon. I've started it and I'll say at this point that you really do have to have read the others to understand what 's happening, so if you haven't, why not read them while you wait for my review?
I've just picked up my battered copy of Harry Turtledove's AU Shakespeare novel, Ruled Britannia from the pile by my bed. I find it easier going than some of his other novels, as it's only seen from two viewpoints, Shakespeare and Spanish playwright and soldier Lope De Vega. As I said - battered. I've read it over and over!
And as I have my iPad in my tote bag, I've got hundreds more books in case I want a break from review copies! I'm rereading Dog Wizard by Barbara Hambly, the third in her Windrose Chronicles, which I seem to be enjoying more this time around. I'm being firm with myself and rereading this before I buy the newer Antryg Windrose novellas now available on iBooks. The author has self published quite a lot of ebook shorts and novellas set in her most popular universes, but so far these are the only ones I can find on iBooks and I'm not keen to go to Smashwords and offer up my card details, even if it does mean being able to read more Ben January adventures. I will just have to be patient. If you haven't yet discovered the delightful Antryg Windrose do get a copy of The Silent Tower - especially if Tom Baker is your favourite Doctor. Barbara Hambly is a Tom Baker Doctor fan girl and Antryg is Doctor 4, with cheap beads instead of a scarf!
And I'm starting again with To Kill A Mockingbird, also on my iPad, before deciding if I am willing to take a chance on Go Set A Watchman, the "new" Harper Lee novel, written first but set twenty years later. I am not sure if I'm quite ready to see Atticus Finch as a racist and bigot who is fighting integration. I know he's based on the author's father, but Mr Lee STARTED as a racist and changed his mind while she was writing the book.
There have been some positive reviews, even by people who loved the first book, but others have just not been able to cope with it. I have been known to be unable to wait, especially now I can just hit the "buy" button on iBooks. And the thing about ebooks is that you can't give away any that you didn't enjoy. So, again, being firm!
There are some online pieces about the celebration in her home town, with public readings, parties and people costuming as Atticus! Go take a look, it's delightful.
What do you think, readers? Are you planning to read it? Already reading?