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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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1. A Loathly Lady Story By Lois McMaster Bujold

Recently, I've been rereading all my LMB books, which I love as much as ever and it has occurred to me that the story of "Labyrinth", the Miles Vorkosigan novella, has definite connections to the Loathly Lady stories of the Middle Agrs.

In case you're not familiar with these, you'll find them in the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell and even in Chaucer in the Wife Of Bath's Tale. What it boils down to is this: the hero finds himself with a terrifying huge, ugly woman who makes certain demands of him, including marriage, in exchange for something he needs desperately. He grants them to her and in the morning finds himself beside a stunningly beautiful woman - by giving her what she wanted, he has broken a spell. (And when you think of it, even the Disney movie Shrek plays with it, except that the beautiful woman turns into an ogre and happily goes off with her fellow ogre)

But I was thinking of the Child Ballad King Henry, which I first heard plated by Steeleye Span on my favourite album Below The Salt. In it, King Henry(no specific King Henry, just the standard Everyknight with a crown) gets lost hunting and finds his way to a "haunted hall" to spend the night. There, he is confronted with a huge, ugly fanged woman who demands of him food(his horse, hounds and hawks) and drink(wine sewed up in his horse's hide). Then she demands he sleep with her. Trembling, he lies down with her. In the morning, she has turned into the beautiful woman of his dreams, and tells him that his knightly courtesy and giving her all she wanted has impressed her. That's where Steeleye Span leaves it, except for a last chorus/verse about having an open heart and full of charity. 

So, we return to the story of Miles Vorkosigan and his own Loathly Lady, who eventually becomes a master sergeant in his fleet. Miles has been contracted to rescue a scientist whose skills will be useful to Barrayar and who has been having second thoughts about his employment on the dreadful planet Jackson's Whole, where pretty much everything is okay as long as it fits in with things capitalist. Including horrible use of genetic engineering for sexual slavery.

The scientist insists that a vital part of his research is embedded in the left leg of a "creature" he'd been working on and won't go without it. Kill the creature and take the material, he tells Miles.

Then Miles finds himself in the basement with an eight foot high being with fangs... and discovers it is female - and human - in fact, a sixteen year old girl - under all the genetic engineering. She has been created for a super soldier program that no longer exists and been abandoned and sold into slavery. Seeing her killing and eating a rat - about all there is to eat in that place - he offers her a ration bar. After the food, she wants water, which she has been without since being locked up. He finds a water pipe and she has her drink. Then she demands that he lie with her to prove he accepts her as human. Miles is at first shocked, but manages to give her what she wanted. making her happy - and inviting her to join his mercenaries, telling her that he had been sent to slay a monster and instead found a hidden princess.

 After that, they escape, wiping out the villain's entire gene banks of potential slaves as they go. The Loathly Lady, now called Taura, never becomes beautiful in a regular sense, but she cleans up well, with the help of a female soldier, and becomes beautiful in her own way.

Can you see the resemblance to King Henry? He gives her food, drink and himself, in other words "all her will", which is usually the point of these stories. Sir Gawain and the unnamed knight of the Canterbury Tale both have to find out what women want - which is to get their own way. King Henry doesn't have that problem, but he gives her her own way anyhow.

I wouldn't put it past Lois McMaster Bujold to have had a Loathly Lady story in mind when writing this.

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2. Australia's Favourite Authors 2016!

Just visited the Booktopia web site which published, a few days ago, this year's top ten list of Australia's (voted) favourite writers - link below:

http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2016/01/29/australias-favourite-author-2016-the-top-ten/

I am pleased to say that four of these on the top ten list are writers for young readers, and that some of the adult writers have also written for teens. Go check it out. And meanwhile, congratulations to this year's winner, Australia's favourite writer, the delightful Isobelle Carmody! Nice, too, to see that for the second year in a row the top writer on the list has been a children's/YA author. Does this tell you something about children's writers? I think they are just the best story tellers. My own opinion, of course. At least no one expects a child to love a book for its "beautiful writing".

Her novel Alyzon Whitestar will be republished this year by Ford Street publishing, so if you missed it the first time you'll have another chance.

Okay, Isobelle, now that you've finished Obernewtyn and become Australia's favourite writer,can you please,  please finish Legendsong

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3. On Comfort Reading And Fairy Tales

I have trouble sleeping some nights. Like last night. I'm in bed early Saturday morning and haven't slept since before 5.00 am - well before.

The thing I do when I'm unable to sleep is to pull out something I've read and reread. It soothes and the fact that I know what's going to happen means that I don't get my brain buzzing when I want to get back to sleep.

If you've followed this blog for a while, you'll know some of my comfort reading choices. Tolkien. Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga. Kerry Greenwood's mysteries. Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Josephine Tey's Daughter Of Time. Harry Potter. (And this morning I've been following Tor.com's HP reread. It's fun to read other people's thoughts on your own favourite books and enter the discussion)

This morning I've been reading some Andrew Lang Fairy Books, on my iPad compliments of Project Gutenberg.

I love fairy tales - I follow a few fairy tale blogs, which are always good value. As a writer of spec fic, I appreciate having the resources.

The Lang books, written in the Victorian era,  are a mishmash of everything from Grimm to D'Aulnoy, from Anderson to Greek myth(one story, while not mentioning names, is clearly a juvenile retelling of the story of Perseus). They come in different "colours". Many of the most familiar stories are in the Blue Fairy Book - Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, etc. The Brown Fairy Book focuses on international stories, quite a few outside Europe. The Pink Fairy Book has a lot of stories I've never encountered before.

Interestingly, Andrew Lang, though best known for his fairy tale books, wrote some fiction of his own, which I had on my iPad before it was wrecked and I had to download again. I'm still downloading books which didn't make it back in my initial download, as I realise that this or that book hasn't returned.  His own fiction, I vaguely recall, was crime fiction, or some of it was.

But he really comes into his own with the fairy tales - and I loved one of his introductions in which he explains why he doesn't call them folk tales, saying that he just can't see some small child asking his grandmother for "another folk tale, Grandmother".

They're a valuable treasury of world fairy tales and it's wonderful to have access to so much good stuff on Gutenberg, because I don't remember ever seeing any of these fairy books in the shops.

And a good, comforting thing to read late at night/early morning when you can't sleep.

Anybody got some favourite reading for sleepless nights?


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4. Just Finished Reading... The Colours Of Madeleine 1 and 2


In the last few weeks I've been reading volumes 1and 2 of Jaclyn Moriarty's YA trilogy The Colours Of Madeleine - A Corner Of White and The Cracks In The Kingdom.  The author will be doing part of her promotional blog tour here on March 16. I have yet to read the final volume, A Tangle Of Gold, the reason for the tour, but I am looking forward to it, as the second volume ended on a cliffhanger. Not sure when I'll get that as an email to the publicity department got me an automatic response saying that they only check it intermittently and if it's urgent, phone them. Hopefully it will be intermittently checked in the next day or so, as I have to send them interview questions for the author in the next two weeks. 


Meanwhile... What is The Colours Of Madeleine about? 

Madeleine and Elliot are pen pals. They write letters to each other about everything from science to their lives. Both of them are missing a father. His father has disappeared, possibly carried off to its caves by a rampaging Purple. She and her mother ran away from home individually and now live in a small squashy flat in Cambridge, England, while her father hasn't been answering her letters or email. 

The thing is, they live in different universes. He lives in the Kingdom of Cello, a country in a world where there are colours - or, rather Colours - that have physical form and can kill you or inspire you to dance and rejoice. Magic can be found in the Lake of Spells up north. The seasons aren't reliable - today might be summer, tomorrow there might be snow. The people in his kingdom know about our universe, which they call the World, but they haven't communicated since the seventeenth century, when someone brought back the plague from London. You can be executed for communicating with the World through cracks between the universes. But when Elliot finds a world crack in a sculpture in the high school's grounds and Madeleine sees a letter sticking out of a parking meter on a Cambridge street, a correspondence begins, and a possible inter-universe romance.

And Elliot's father isn't the only person missing from Cello ... 

I can't tell much more because of spoilers and you'll hopefully learn more on March 16, but I can say that it's a sweet and gentle story(you really can't read the second volume without the first, so yes, story, singular) with magic, mystery, adventure and teen angst. And baked goods, lots of baked goods, especially on Elliot's side of the barrier, but also in Cambridge tea shops. My mouth watered as I read! 

I think I have to agree with the author's friend Adam that it would be pretty hard to farm with unpredictable swinging seasons, even with greenhouses - and anyway, what did people in Cello do before greenhouses? 

I was fascinated by the science discussions, though. Madeleine is one of three teens being home schooled by several different people. Their science teacher is an Indian neighbour who uses her small daughters to demonstrate aspects of physics. Their history teacher is a porter at Cambridge university, who gives them the task of researching a historical figure who lived in Cambridge. Madeleine's historical figure is Isaac Newton, who seems to play a vital role in the background to these books. Learning about him definitely helps her to work out certain things Elliot needs to know. I'm just waiting to find out if Newton plays an even more important role in explaining what is going on in Elliot's universe. 

Let's see what the author has to say in my interview a few weeks from now! 




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5. January 31 - On This Day

I really have to get on with preparing my classes for tomorrow, so I've kept it simple, with a date meme. 

Things that happened on this day! 

I haven't been able to find any literary events on January 31, so here are some space-related ones:

1862 – American astronomer Graham Clark discovers the white dwarf star Sirius B, a companion of Sirius. He was also a telescope-maker and apparently made the discovery while texting out a new 18 1/2 inch telescope which, according to Wikipedia, is still being used, after 153 years! 

1961 – Project Mercury: Mercury-Redstone 2:  Ham the Chimp is shot into outer space. I vaguely recall Michael Collins mentioning this in his history of the space program. The poor little thing did not enjoy his space flight, but he did live till the 1980s and had a funeral complete with eulogy. And what they learned from his flight, where he had to perform tasks, helped with the flight of Alan Shepard in Freedom 7. 

1971 - Apollo 14 shoots off to the moon. I have a soft spot for this one because the leader was Alan Shepard, who had missed out after the Mercury program due to health issues. He had recovered and finally got to go to the moon. 

There are more space-related stories, but these will do for now. 

If you want to read a bit more about the space program, you might like to check out my children's book Starwalkers: Explorers Of The Unknown. Unfortunately it's out of print(sold out, by the way) but you might be able to get a copy on ABE Books.

I will just add that on this day, in 1949, the world's first soap opera, These Are My Children, was broadcast. Think of all the soapies which might never have happened if not for this!

Authors Born On This Day

1872: Zane Grey, the author of all those Westerns! He took a while to get going, having a lot of rejection slips, including for Riders Of The Purple Sage, which became his all-time bestseller, but once he did  get going, he became a millionaire(For Riders, he went over the head of the editor who had turned him down)

1893 - Freya Stark - travel writer and memoirist. 

1923 - Norman Mailer, Pulitzer Prizewinner

1934 - Gene De Weese, author of a lot of Star Trek novels. I can't recall if I've read any of his, but they were popular. 

1980 - Kevin Maynard, author of the TV series Dexter.

This is the feast day of St John Bosco, a nineteenth century priest who did great things for kids. I mention him because he's also a patron saint of editors and publishers. (Maybe it's the name John, because THE St John is also the patron saint of publishers.)


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6. Loss Of Followers Overnight!

Dear Readers,

I seem to have lost twenty followers overnight. As I don't really think twenty people have deleted me from their list of blogs all in one night, I can only assume it's due to the new Blogger policy of only allowing followers who sign in via their Google account. If you're reading this despite having lost me, can you please get a Google account? It's annoying, but can't be helped. Besides, I've found that Gmail is much better than other on line email services. There's less spam and it almost always goes straight into the spam folder. The only annoyance is the demand for your phone number - I understand the reason behind it, but it's an invasion of privacy, IMO. Still, if something goes wrong, hacking for example, you'd be glad.

If you prefer to get my posts by email, there is that option.

Cheers!
Sue

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7. Just Finished Reading...

...a few books.

My latest in my Lois McMaster Bujold reread, Memory. In Memory, Miles Vorkosigan must start a new life, knowing that he is, sadly, finished with the Dendarii Mercenaries because of something that happened in the previous book. Miles being Miles, he takes well to his new job, and manages to save an old friend/boss at the same time. And the Emperor gets engaged...

Then I went back to Shards Of Honor, the novel in which Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan, Miles's parents, meet. There are a lot of debates about this one. I loved it.

I've just finished Medieval Underpants And Other Blunders by Susanne Alleyn, a very enjoyable book about how NOT to write historical fiction. Considering how many anachronisms I've seen in historical fiction, it was a refreshing read. So many writers research the major events of history and get the little things about daily life and customs wrong. I have recently put down a book in which an eleventh century royal bride wears elegant lingerie to bed on her wedding night, to tempt her new husband. Urk.  The author knew his historical battles and politics, but not, it seems, what people wore to bed(usually nothing, but definitely not lingerie) or what wedding night customs were.  Frank Yerby's Saracen Blade, a delightful book that was made into a movie with a very young Ricardo Montalban, had a scene where a lively, energetic Renaissance dance is described as one where the characters bow and kiss each other's hands and talk as they dance...slowly. I forgave him for having it in a mediaeval setting - there aren't many mediaeval dances known - but not for getting the description wrong.

Yesterday I finished A Corner Of White, the first in Jaclyn Moriarty's Colours Of Madeleine trilogy so now I can finally read the sequel, Cracks InThe Kingdom, and understand it. The author is visiting this site on a blog tour in March and I have to have the interview questions written in the next couple of weeks.

Today I'm going back through the Indiana Jones trilogy - Temple Of Doom this morning - to decide which of the three I should teach Year 8 in English, as a film text. The film text theme for Year 8 English is Adventure. In past years I've done Up, which is a great film with lots of meat for class discussion, but last year, when I wasn't teaching English, everyone went over to Indiana Jones and while I'm allowed to do Up, I thought it might be best to do the same as everyone else. It will be a change for me. Last year, though, all three films were used by different classes. So, do I do the one with the Lost Ark, the one with the evil Kali worshippers or the one with the Holy Grail?

Any thoughts?




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8. Guest Post - Aubrey Porter And Imaginary Elephants

RR I have to admire people who have a go at NaNoWriMo - 50,000 words in a month! It's one of those things I've never tried myself, though I'm generally good at meeting deadlines. Aubrey Porter, mother of two and handcrafter extraordinaire, did, and the novel is now available from Createspace and Amazon.

I'll let her tell you about it. Take it away, Aubrey!





Hi, I’m Aubrey.  Sue has graciously allowed me to write a guest post to let you know about myself and my debut novel, Tsavo Dreams.  So, I’m writing to you from Windy Wyoming where I have been trying to find enough hours in the day to get all the ideas rattling around in my head, down on paper, or wrapped around my knitting needles. 

I have been writing, here and there my whole life, but it wasn’t until I had my two children that something seemed to click.  My children are a huge source of inspiration to so many areas of my life.  My son in particular, was the one to spark the idea of Tsavo Dreams.  He came home one day when he was three with an invisible elephant.  He had found it in a picture at the bank.  He carried that elephant around with him for weeks, talking and playing with it.  His enthusiasm for his new friend led me to write a short story about the incident.  
It wasn’t until years later though when I found National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) that I pulled the story back out.  It called to me, wanted to be something more.  I wasn’t sure if it wanted to be a blog post, a children’s picture book, or something else entirely, but it wasn’t satisfied (and neither was I) with sitting unread in a file on my computer. With NaNo fast approaching I started researching elephants, and found out my silly little story wanted to become something so much bigger than a blog post or a picture book.  It wanted to be a novel.  

I made it through NaNo with a little over 50,000 words and took a much needed break from it for the holidays.  When I came back to it after the craziness of December I realized how much more work I had left to do.  I started back in, working on it wherever or whenever a spare moment presented itself.  I worked on it until it finally felt ready.  Then, I read it to my kids, who are five and seven.  Their reactions made all the hard work worth it.  They squealed with delight when something in the story reminded them of themselves.  Their emotions mirrored what I imagined my main character feeling throughout the story.  The most important thing though, they stopped me as I was reading to them to ask questions, or talk about what was going on.  The story seemed to open their eyes to things going on in the world, both close to home, and on the other side of the world.  

Writing this book has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s made me laugh, cry, smile, and sometimes even weep, but it was worth it.  Tsavo Dreams is just the first story to make it out of my cluttered brain, but it definitely won’t be the last. 

If you'd like to buy the book, it's available as a paperback here and in ebook here.



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9. Rejoicing For My Students(reposted from Livejournal)

Yesterday the results came out for university offers for Year 12 students, so I looked on line and found some of those whose names I remember, though not all of them. At least one of them should have been there, as I can't imagine her not getting an offer, so perhaps she didn't give permission.

Anyway, I was delighted with those I have found so far. A boy who had told me he messed up his exams got into a Chemical Engineering degree which required quite a high score, thank you very much! I like to think of the smile on his face this morning. Goodness knows, with his family troubles, he could do with some happy news.

Another boy, who said he hadn't applied for anything when I last saw him, will be studying Business at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. I hope they can keep his nose out of his Kindle long enough for him to focus on his studies. Personally, I think he'd be happier studying librarianship; he may learn that eventually. Besides, there are a lot of boring texts in that course before you get to the good stuff. ;-)

One of the girls from my book club is going to Latrobe University to learn to be a nutritionist. Another of my book loving students, her close friend, will be studying Psychology. My nutritionist student's delightful boyfriend will be studying communications technology.

And my dear Western Chances Scholar has made it into Arts at Melbourne University, not sure which subjects, must find out when I can. But I'm thrilled for her!

I will drink a toast to these terrific kids with work friends next week. They deserve their success! boy, who said he hadn't applied for anything when I last saw him, will be studying Business at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He always had his nose in a book till he discovered the joys of ebooks. When we did Literature Circles, his group members pleaded that he go off and read something else till they caught up with him(he was only too happy to do that!). I hope the staff at RMIT can keep his nose out of his Kindle long enough for him to focus on his studies. Personally, I think he'd be happier studying librarianship; he may learn that eventually. Still, there are a lot of boring texts in that course before you get to the good stuff. ;-)

One of the girls from my book club is going to Latrobe University to learn to be a nutritionist. Another of my book loving students, her close friend, will be studying Psychology. My nutritionist student's delightful boyfriend will be studying communications technology.

And my dear Western Chances Scholar has made it into Arts at Melbourne University, not sure which subjects, must find out when I can. But I'm thrilled for her!

I will drink a toast to these terrific kids with work friends next week. They deserve their success!

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10. In Which I Take The Mary Sue Test

I found this link  in a post on author Susan Price's 'Nennius' Blog. It's aimed at writers who can check it out to see if their main character is a Mary Sue, or the male equivalent which I call a Mark Sam, though who knows? I followed the link from the post - which you should also read, it's a delightful post, so here's the link:

http://susanpricesblog.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/take-mary-sue-test.html

The test only works if you're honest and if you're not, the results can pick it!  And very funny they are, too. I decided to see if my hero, Etienne, the protagonist of Wolfborn, was a Mark Sam. He wasn't, it seems. And as I'd answered honestly the results showed that, but were still funny.

The questions go through a hilarious bunch of YA fantasy fiction tropes you recognise, even to picking some of the books you've read that have them. In some ways, it's more than about Mary Sue, it's about cliches in fantasy fiction, especially YA.

Even if you're not a writer, you can have fun with analysing the characters in your favourite novels. Go on, follow the links and let me know what happened.

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11. Currently Rereading... Brothers In Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

The latest of my Bujold rereads is Brothers In Arms, the first one I ever read, the one that got me hooked on the series. My copy is a remainder with a slash mark across the pages and two ends of the cover cut off. There was to be no mistaking this for a full price copy! The cover is pretty awful, as are most of the covers of my copies of this series. It shows a smirking Miles Vorkosigan(it must be, he's short) sitting relaxed on a rather uncomfortable-looking chair and a woman who is presumably meant to be Miles's reliable - and beloved - Commander Elli Quinn sitting on the platform on which the chair is parked, in what looks like a painful position but is meant to be relaxed. And both of them are wearing a uniform that has no connection with the story. The Dendarii uniform is grey and white; this one is a sort of dark blue leather which looks suited to motorbike riding. I have to wonder if the artist had ever read it - or even was commissioned by someone who had. 

Ah, well. I really must do a post on book covers, but it's just as well I didn't judge this one by its cover, isn't it? The remainder price certainly helped, and it's not the first time I have discovered a favourite author via the remainders table, with a dreadful cover; Mack Reynolds comes to mind.

I remember the first time I read Brothers In Arms. I had never come across these characters before, or their universe. I had no idea who they were. It was in the middle of the series. And yet I loved it and its hyper hero, Miles Vorkosigan, and even his much-upon cousin Ivan enough to go and find more. Take note of this, publishers who think that if you end a book on a cliffhanger this will be enough to force readers to buy the next book in a loooong series! Publishers who think it's enough to start a mid-series novel with a "story so far". All you had to do was ask your writers to create a character who is so likeable the readers want to know more.

There is, mind you, a chronology at the back of the book so that you know where you are in the series. And admittedly the later novels do form a story arc. There's not much point reading, say, A Civil Campaign, in which the likeable Emperor Gregor gets married and  Miles is finally accepted by a woman he loves, without knowing what led up to it. But in the earlier books you can go back and catch up with the storyline - and you'll want to!

Brothers In Arms is the novel in which Miles, on Earth and trying desperately and unsuccessfully to get the much-needed payment for his mercenary fleet, tells a journalist who has unfortunately seen him in both his personae - as Admiral Naismith and Lord Vorkosigan -  that this is because he has a clone, only to find out that he does have a clone, who is part of a conspiracy against his father and homeworld. Reading it the first time, who would think this clone would become a regular character - Mark - in the later books? That he would find love and a niche  for himself?

And this is the thing about this series - the stories are exciting and entertaining, but in the end they're about the characters. And they're funny while making serious points. There are scenes that made me laugh out loud, scenes that were a bit sad - and always, always I cheered on the hero.

In Komarr, in which Miles is on his first investigation as an Imperial Auditor, Ekaterin, the woman he will eventually win in A Civil Campaign, asks him what has happened to his former girlfriends and she spots a pattern he hasn't and maybe never will: that all the women in his life went on to do great things, even if they had to be without him, but usually with his help. I've just reread this one - I seem to be rereading the series backwards and all over the place.

That's fine - this is comfort reading.

Anyone else have favourite comfort reading?




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12. Katherine Hayton's Police Procedural!


Yesterday a Kiwi author called Katherine Hayton asked me via Twitter if I'd check out her new book on something called Kindle Scout and, if I liked it, vote for it. Huh? I asked. What's Kindle Scout? Katherine explained. 

It works like this: the author submits a manuscript to Amazon's publishing program. Amazon decides which MSS are worth going on a sort of short list. They design a cover and publish a five thousand word sample, which is up for thirty days. Readers who like a particular book vote for it and if the book they voted for is published they get a free ecopy if it. 

I don't have much to do with Amazon myself, for a number of personal reasons, but Katherine writes the sort of fiction that a Sister In Crime like me enjoys, so I said I would let my readers know about it, because there are only about three weeks left to read and vote. So below is the blurb and a link, and as I mentioned this was really, mostly, a blog about YA fiction, she also sent a blurb for a previously published novel with a fourteen year old heroine(who is actually dead, so a ghost story as well?). I include the blurb and link for that too. 

The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton 





Forty years ago Magdalene Lynton drowned in a slurry. She choked to death on animal excrement as her hands scrabbled for purchase on the smooth concrete walls. A farmhand discovered her bloated body three days later.

Except, Paul Worthington just confessed to her murder.

Forty years ago Magdalene Lynton died in a dirty shed. He smothered her life along with her cries for help as he tore the clothes from her body. He tossed her defiled corpse into a river when he was done.

Except, as Detective Ngaire Blakes investigates the death she discovers clues that won’t piece together with either version. Gaps, inconsistencies, lies. Forty years have eroded more than memories.

Is it possible to uncover the third death of Magdalene Lynton when time has eaten away at the evidence? And will the person responsible let her live long enough to try?


Skeletal




Three months before she died Daina Harrow faced a bully at school.
Six weeks before she died Daina Harrow suffered an assault in the park.
One week before she died Daina Harrow stole a secret people had killed to hide.

That was ten years ago. Ten long years.

Now, her bones have been found on a building site. A coroner's inquest has been reopened. A parade of witnesses is about to start.
And Daina's here. Watching every day as her mother cries in the courtroom. Watching every day as her friends, and her enemies, and her killers lie about her on the stand.
Watching, and making sure that no matter what the coroner hears, you know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

So help you God.

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13. A New Book...After Getting Rid Of Some Old Ones!

So, yesterday, the nice gent from the Continuum committee came to pick up the approximately hundred books I was donating to the con's fundraising raffle, and my shelves headed a sigh of relief, though I still have a couple of thousand left (Andrew, the committee member, told me he had come to Melbourne from Western Australian and had had to dispose of most of his own collection before he went and still had three large packing cases of books he couldn't bear to leave behind). 


And now I've acquired a new book. Here it is.


I wouldn't have dared before, but I thought what the heck, I've disposed of a hundred books, why not get one? 

Besides, I had what I thought was $25 on my Avenue bookshop loyalty card. This gorgeous book was $50. When I arrived at the counter, the seller told me that, in fact, I had $50! Somehow I had not used the credit from 2014. Not sure how that happened, because I've shopped there in 2015, you'd think they would have noticed, but never mind. The bookshop guy basically said, what the heck, and I had a beautiful new book, free!

And it is beautiful, too. There are breathtaking paintings of characters and places from the film, and a bit of discussion about what was in them. My sister said something about how it was not good to get another book at this stage and after I'd pointed out that with a hundred books off my shelves I could afford one, she looked at it and said, "Oh! How beautiful!" She understood why I wanted it. 

Off now to have a drool.

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14. A Morning At The Movies With Young Rachel: The Force Awakens

Warning, possible spoilers below, but by now you should have seen it if you want to see it, and they're only minor spoilers you probably saw in the trailers, so up to you.

During school holidays, I like to take the younger members of my family out, mostly to movies, though sometimes the gallery or the museum when there's something exciting on show. Once I took two nieces to the Abba exhibition at ACMI, on request. They had a ball and so did I. Max went with me to the Tim Burton exhibition and many more before he decided he was too old to be hanging out with his auntie Sue(he never said so, but somehow always has an excuse why he can't.) 

Yesterday I took Rachel, my nephew David's younger girl, and about to celebrate her bat mitzvah, to see Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. We had about forty minutes before the movie started, so I took her for an iced chocolate and she told me that, actually, she hadn't seen the original Star Wars trilogy. This despite having a father and uncle who are huge fans! Heck, even her little cousins, Eden(6) and Jonah(4) have seen the original trilogy, which I gave Eden for his sixth birthday, at home with their Dad and uncle. 

"But I've heard you don't have to have seen it!" she insisted.

Well no, not exactly. But most people at least know what Star Wars(now known as A New Hope) was about. She didn't. I told her that she could probably get away with it, but she would miss a lot of references to the original. (And that was true, by the way. When Han Solo made his wonderful first entrance and said joyfully,"We're home!" she asked me, "Who's that?") When the "garbage" spaceship in which the heroine, Rey, and her new friend Finn escaped was clearly the Millennium Falcon, she was not going to be excited with the rest of us.

I thought I'd better at least give her an outline, though she kept interrupting me with questions and asking about Jabba the Hutt, whose name she knew but not much else. She also knew that Darth Vader was Luke's father, though I told her that didn't become known until the second movie - and anyway, she didn't know who Luke was.

I had other interruptions, from the cafe proprietor, who was a huge Star Wars fan and intended to see the new film. He kept asking me questions I couldn't answer without spoilers for Rachel. Finally, I did tell him that the new movie went back to the spirit of the original and that satisfied him. 

So, of course, she kept asking me questions every few minutes during the movie, thankfully in a whisper. Some I answered, others I just told her to keep watching and she would find out.

She had promised her older sister, Dezzy, to tell her where a favourite actor made his walk on, and she did spot it. When we met Dezzy later, she said, "He was in such and such a scene...and he died!" Little spoiler! Dezzy didn't seem to mind, though. She is seeing it with a friend next week.

It was interesting for me to see it a second time - I noticed things I hadn't noticed last time. And I noticed, again, how many British actors were in it, including one, John Boyega(Finn) who had to do an  American accent for some reason, while his co-star, Daisy Ridley, got to be British. 

I also realised how many things had changed since the original - for example, how many women were in it. There were female pilots among the Resistance and female Storm Troopers and officers on the other side, as well as female techs. Even the Yoda character was a woman. (And interesting to see a wise, elderly - er, bartender? Pub owner? - played by a young, stunningly beautiful actress under the CGI). And speaking of CGI, the Supreme Leader(think Emperor) was played by Andy Serkis, a veteran of wearing those suits with dots on them for the benefit of the SFX folk. He rarely gets to show his face - in King Kong, he played the title role but asked to gave just one scene as himself, so got to be the ship's cook as well as the giant ape. Well, he doesn't get to be himself in this either. ;-)

 And I thought it interesting to see a multicultural/racial community on the desert planet, in the Resistance and among the customers at Maaz's pub(which made a nice homage to the original cantina scene, complete with jazz band), while the officers aboard the evil empire starship all seemed to be white and human - presumably not among the Storm Trooprers since the only one we saw without his armour was human and black, but he was one of the heroes of the movie, and whoever is under the armour, that is all uniformly white.

Come to think if it, it might be interesting to see a film in which a non human is the main character. Chewie is one of the main characters but in the end, he's not the hero and anyway, you'd need a permanent subtitle to follow what he's saying. He does get to make Han Solo squirm a bit with embarrassment in this movie, though.

Anyway, Rachel enjoyed the movie and promised to watch the original that evening. And on our way to lunch, we passed the cafe where we had had our drinks and the proprietor popped out to ask how it had gone. Fans!

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15. Vampire Fiction I've Read

Public domain image.

In my tote bag at the moment is a Tanya Huff novel I unearthed while selecting books to give away. 

This one is Smoke And Shadows, one of her Henry Fitzroy novels. There are two series featuring Henry. In one series, the heroine is Vicki Nelson, a former cop who had to leave the force because of a medical condition with her eyesight that doesn't allow her to work by night. She has become a private detective. The other series is seen from the viewpoint of Tony Foster, a former street kid who is now working as a production assistant for a TV series about a vampire detective(and no, it's not Forever Knight!). 

Both novel series are connected by Henry Fitzroy. Henry was the son of Henry VIII by his mistress Elizabeth Blount. He died at about seventeen, except that in these novels he didn't. Well, not in the normal sense, anyway. He is a vampire, currently living in Canada and making a living as a romance novelist. 

It's fun comparing this with other vampire books, so let's begin. 

In this universe, vampires don't have to kill to feed. Henry feeds, but a little blood from the wrist will do, thank you, and he has found a very pleasant way to do that, as part of his partners' orgasms. 

There is no problem with holy water or crucifixes. In fact, Henry was turned - on request - by a sweet young vampire who was a devout Catholic. 

You can see yourself in the mirror, which is a good thing, as Henry loves his fashion and preens in front of his own mirror. 

What is true is that you can't go out by day, but that's not a problem for Henry, who has set up his bedroom to block out the light completely - and, by the way, doesn't need a coffin or native soil, so can sleep quite comfortably in his bed. 

He has a small group of friends who know about him, but there's no "spend eternity with me!" here. In fact, vampires don't hang out with each other much, unlike in most vampire fiction with their nests and masters and being dominated by the person who turned you.  Once you have turned, you might get a bit of help adjusting to your new life, but then you're on your own. 

I haven't read Dracula in a long time, but I do vaguely recall that Dracula can go out by day. It just isn't a good idea, as he can't use his powers. He can turn people against their will, and does. He kills a lot and needs the blood to reverse ageing. I think a lot of the perceptions we have of vamps come from this book.

Catherine Jinks's Reformed Vampire Support Group is set in modern Sydney. The characters of the title are a group of vampires who really don't want to be vampires. One of the members was a doctor in his lifetime and has created a medicine that will allow them to avoid killing people, though they do need to fang something sometimes, so they keep guinea pigs, which breed quickly and can keep up the supply. The heroine was turned when she was fifteen and still lives with her ageing mother. As an apparent underage teenager she can't get a driver's licence and never will, so relies on the local priest for lifts(the group meets in the church hall). Like Henry Fitzroy, she makes her living out of writing - in her case, historical vampire adventures. One of the other members of the group is a woman who was turned in her eighties and as a result is suffering permanently from all the aches and pains of old age - something not usually considered in vampire fiction. The novel is great fun.

I've only read the first of the Twilight series. These vampires don't shrivel in the sun, they sparkle! Urk. Sorry. I know it's hugely popular and half her luck for that, but I just can't read the rest of the series. I found it dull; nothing happened till about two thirds of the way through, by which time I didn't care any more. Oh, and stakes don't kill these vamps, which didn't stop me from getting a T shirt that had the motto "And then Buffy Staked Edward. The End." I used it to tease one of my students, a  mad Twilight fan. 

Dan Simmons wrote a fascinating novel called Children Of The Night. In it, Dracula, Vlad Tepes, is still around in the present day. He has read the Bram Stoker novel and thinks it's garbage.  Vampirism is not a matter of being undead at all, but a genetic quirk which enables those who have it to regenerate their body cells, as long as they consume blood, which is processed by an organ most of us don't have. In Dracula's family, back in the fifteenth century, drinking blood was called  " the sacrament" and done with great ceremony.

Dracula has lost interest in the hunt and become enthusiastic about business; he is now a fabulously wealthy businessman. He's also sick and tired of his family - a big one after hundreds of years. He has plans... 

I enjoyed it because it played around with SF concepts while playing at being horror fiction. It's very different from other versions I've read.

But George R R Martin's Fevre Dream also involved vampires who are born that way, not undead. You can't be turned, though some of the nastier ones get what they want from humans by promising to turn them. There are two heroes in the book, one of them a man commissioned to build a great riverboat, the other a vampire who has come up with a formula that helps keep him off the human blood drinking - and has commissioned the riverboat to enable him to find other vampires who are fed up with having to kill people.

In Barbara Hambly's James Asher series, you can't be forced into vampirism, because it's a slow process that involves the vampire looking after your soul whole your body dies, then putting it back. It requires utter trust and determination on the part of the person turned. It's set in the Edwardian era, about James and Lydia Asher, a couple who start off being blackmailed into helping the vampires of London, who are being murdered in their beds. The main vampire character is a sixteenth century Spanish gentleman who came to England in the train of Phillip of Spain when he married Mary Tudor and has simply never left. He is their friend, though they keep having to remember, uncomfortably, that he is a murderer thousands of times over. 

There's Peeps and Last Days by Scott Westerfeld in which vampirism is caused by a parasite which keeps you alive because it's in the parasite's own interests to do so. You can get it from your cat!

There's nothing wrong with all these different ideas about how vampirism might work. These creatures of the night appear in different forms all over the world. In medieval Europe, it was believed you could be a vampire if you were born in Christmas Day or if you had red hair(associated with Judas), that one way to keep a vamp in its grave was to bury it with seeds or grains to keep it too busy counting to bother leaving the grave. This OCD theory about vampires was used, cheekily, by Tara Moss in her YA novel Skeleton Key. The heroine carries around rice to scatter at any vampires she meets. The poor things simply must stop to count the grains. 

But vampires weren't just in Europe. I did quite a lot of research for my first book, Monsters And Creatures Of The Night, and found, among others, the story of a vampire cat from Japan and a Malaysian vampire that liked fish!  

So, why not do what you like with your vampires in fiction? 

Anybody out there got any other favourite children of the night?



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16. Happy Birthday Morris Gleitzman!


Image found on Wikipedia

Today is the date of birth of wonderful Australian children's writer Morris Gleitzman. He's done a lot of amazing books which are funny and sad at the same time. Two Weeks With The Queen, for example,  was one of the  class texts at my school at one stage. We still have a class set. In case you haven't read it, it's about a young boy whose little brother is dying. He is sent to stay with relatives in England, where he gets to bright idea of trying to contact whoever is the Queen's doctor, who surely must be the world's best. He has a whole bunch of adventures, trying to get hold of the world's best doctor and, while he is about it, manages to help a gay couple spend time together while one is dying of AIDS.

Boy Overboard is about a boy refugee whose family are trying to get to Australia by boat, and how they end up in a detention camp. In the sequel, Girl Underground, the heroine helps him escape. 

There are so many other books, all wonderful. But at my school, the most popular are the series that begins with Once, about a Jewish boy called Felix who is on the run from the Nazis. Kids have turned up at our school in Year 7 and found, to their delight, that we have all the books in the series. "Ooh, I wanted to read this in primary school and just missed out!"

It's interesting how in a school whose kids come from all over the world,  the students, none of whom has ever met anyone Jewish(except me, of course!)could be so enthusiastic about child Holocaust era fiction. They love that series. Although they enjoy the others, those are the ones I'm always asked for. 

Personally, I think they're much better than other children's Holocaust novels I have read, even the one that was turned into a movie - I can guarantee you that a lot of young fans would turn up to see the adventures of Felix and his friend Zelda on the big screen. In the third book, Now, Felix is a grandfather, a doctor living in Australia, and the main character is his granddaughter Zelda. There is such a delightful relationship between the old man and the little girl, who call each other "David and Margaret" after the TV film reviewers, and it's set during the dreadful bushfires in Victoria in 2009.

But the next book goes back to Felix as a teenager and member of the Resistance. There has been another one since then, bu I haven't read it yet - it's rarely on the shelves! Time to find the ebook...

Anyway, happy birthday, Morris. Thank you for giving us all so much pleasure over the years and stay fit so you can give us a lot more!

Any fans reading this? What are your favourites?

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17. Sorting books for giveaway

I'm going to give some books from my overflowing shelves and bags and boxes to Continuum, our annual Melbourne SF convention, which will use them in fundraising, either in trivia quizzes or as part of a raffle.  Not that it will make a huge difference when you see my shelves, just a few gaps into which I can slip some books currently not on shelves. But it will be a start. 


This is not garbage disposal. Among my criteria are that the books concerned must be speculative fiction of some kind - what earthly use would the con have for a historical romance or a thriller? (Unless, of course, the author also writes SF) They can't be books the author has personalised to me because it would be just my luck if the authors saw them. They must be in perfect condition (though I did slip in one or two books with a single crease in the spine because they were part of a trilogy.) They must be a book that I either read once and knew I wouldn't read again, because so many books, so little time, or that I bought and just didn't get around to reading, but hey, if I do want them there's the ebook. I put back one book I had read and loved, but only once, because the ebook had an 11 megabyte download. I may want to read it again some time. Pity, because it was a trade paperback. If they're YA fiction, my own library has first dibs, although in one case, the Hunger Games trilogy(which I do have in ebook now), I am giving it to Continuum because I have a full set at school and no space for another. That set is perfect condition - I read the lot in three days, no time to crease the spines! I'm also giving them my Harry Turtledove YA Crosstime Traffic books, a wonderful series, but I've only read the books once each and I suspect my students won't read them. 

I'm arranging for a kind gent from the committee to pick up some boxes next week and am determined that the bare minimum of books will be a hundred. I can't do it again, at least not this year, so the more now the better.

A the same time, I'm unearthing books I had forgotten I had, such as the DAW collection of SF published for its 30th anniversary - that one is getting one chance from me and I've slipped it into my tote bag. I can always enjoy short fiction, you can read it on the tram and finish before you reach your stop - and it fell open at a Robert Sheckley story! If I've done with it by next week and can bear to part with it, into the box it goes. If I just love it too much, well, I have a few spaces now...

Reluctantly I put into the donation box an Anne McCaffrey book I bought at the now-defunct Of Science And Swords bookshop but never got around to reading. If I decide I do want to read it, iBooks will be likely to have it. 

They can have Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter which I found entertaining, but was sorry I hadn't been able to just borrow from the local library and return. It's in perfect condition, read once. Likewise the one about the "demon hunting soccer mom". Read once, never again. 

There were a couple of Arthurian novels I hadn't enjoyed but someone else might, and quite a few I gave decent reviews at the time but won't be reading again. 

I also found my copy of Dining Out On Babylon 5, long missingwhich I won't be giving away! It's a delightful recipe book which features introductions to the recipes by various characters from the show - the one by Londo Mollari was a hoot! That anecdote about the emperor who took the encouragement to joy through food rather too seriously and crushed a wife or two had me rolling on the floor laughing. I must reread and post a review, however late in the piece it is. 

Off to the city to find sandals and then back to the book sorting, which is a pleasure in itself.

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18. An Arvo At The Movies And Women Inventors

Today, I went with my sister and two younger family members, to see the film Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence of Hunger Games fame, and Robert De Niro as her fatherNot sure why they chose it, but Dezzy, the elder, enjoyed it, while it was really too long for Rachel, who is twelve and more into action adventures and maybe some comedies.

But I found it intriguing, because it took me back to the days when I was researching for my children's history of women in science, Potions To Pulsars: Wonen Doing Science.  The heroine of this movie, based on the real-life Joy Mangano, invented something called the Miracle Mop, which was sold through a shopping channel in the late 80s. It was an early squeeze mop, and you could detach the head and wash it, ready to put back. I suspect since then someone has decided that "You'll never need another mop" was not a good idea as far as business was concerned. Apparently the mop was only one of about 100 patents she has taken out.

Why do I say it reminds me of my research for the book on women in science? Well, one of the things I learned in that research(I highly recommend a book called Mothers Of Invention:From The Bra To The Bomb!) is that, while women scientists have indeed discovered a lot of spectacular stuff, many things they have invented over the centuries were the sort of everyday things that we use and take for granted without even thinking about it, but would not like to be without. Science is about solving problems and there are a lot of problems to solve in everyday life, even without being funded and given a lab to work in. Even the basic tools of the chemistry lab are based on the tools of the kitchen. Think about it. What is cooking anyway but chemistry?



So, a woman who is tired of having to squeeze the damn mop every time she's washing the floor might well say, "What if I could squeeze it without having to touch it?" Not something that's going to make it into Nature or even New Scientist, but if you're a person who has to do housework you might just appreciate its being made easier. 

(And speaking of New Scientist, I got a short but positive review of Potions To Pulsars when it came out. No need to tell you how chuffed I was! ) 


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19. Fall(Twinmaker 3) by Sean Williams. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2015


This is the final volume in the Twinmaker trilogy. If you've been reading along, you will know that so far, teenager Clair Hill, an ordinary girl in a world where the fabber (Star Trek's replicator) and d-mat(Star Trek's transporter) are a part of everyday life for everyone, finds herself involved in a lot of scary goings-on arranged by high-up figures who have been using both for their own ends. At the end of Volume 2(Crash) the world more or less came to an end, most of the population and anything created by fabber wiped out and Clair(one version of her, anyway) went to the virtual world of the Yard, where she found her friends(or versions of them) - and enemies.

Now, in Fall, the versions of the characters in the Yard and the versions surviving the catastrophe outside are trying to do one thing: get the people trapped in the Yard out. And there are others trying to block up the Yard forever...

That is a short description of a novel that has non stop action from beginning till nearly the end. I seriously think these books might make films now that The Hunger Games and Divergent are over. Of course, it might get confusing when there are so many different versions of the heroine and her friends and enemies. When you read the book it's confusing enough, with Clair 1, 2 and 3(Clair 3 is actually Clair 7 - no, I won't explain, you have to read it!). Characters who were killed in the first two volumes are back again, in the Yard, where their patterns were stored. And there is more than one version of the AI Q, Clair's friend, who wants, above all, to protect her.

But there is so much action,  and, unlike the average airport thriller, characters do stop to eat, drink, sleep and recover from injuries. Twinmaker would make a very exciting film series.

 Boys might enjoy the trilogy as much as girls, though it's for good readers only - the language is not for reluctant readers and despite the speed of the narrative, characters do stop to discuss the science of what is happening.

Much recommended for good readers from about fourteen upwards.

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20. On This Day - December 27

Searching for things that happened on December 27, I found quite a bit, most of it violent, and not a lot about books or writing, so what is here is what most appeals to me as a creator of writing and a lover of "sensawunda" inspired by adventure and discovery.   


537 - Completion of Hagia Sophia. The building of this church in Istanbul was part of The Sarantine Mosaic, an AU series by fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay(who, incidentally, worked with Christopher Tolkien on editing and completing Tolkien's Silmarillion)

Hagia Sophia internal, done in 1852. Public domain.

1831 - Charles Darwin sets sail in the Beagle, on which voyage he starts to think of the theory of evolution.

Public domain image 

1968 - Splashdown of Apollo 8. The astronauts, Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders, while on board, read from the Book of Genesis as a Christmas thing.

Not many writers I have heard of were born on this day, and none I had read, though I have come across the fairy tale collection of Lady Wilde. So here are some birthdays I like.

Birthdays

1570 - Johannes Kepler - famous astronomer. He hung out with another famous astronomer, Tycho Brahe(who had a brass nose and kept a pet moose)

1821 -
Public domain image

Jane Wilde - poet. As well as being Oscar Wilde's Mum, she was big on politics(the newspaper for which she wrote under a pen name, Esperanza, was closed down for publishing her demand for a revolution in Ireland), women's rights and collected Irish fairy tales. The fairy tales are what she's best known for. 

1822 - Louis Pasteur - the bacteria man, known as "the father of microbiology". If not for him, a lot of us would be very sick and die a lot more easily.

Public domain image

1911 - Anna Russell - amazing stand-up comedian who specialised in talking about - and sending up - famous music. When she realised that her decent soprano voice wasn't going to get her a place in opera, she used it instead to help her in her routines. If you haven't come across her, you'll find her on YouTube, mostly her recordings, but her hilarious retelling of the entire Ring Cycle of Wagner in twenty minutes, with piano and bits of the songs, is a concert she did in her later years. That's definitely worth a look, because her facial expressions are as entertaining as what she says and sings. 



Today is the Feast Day of John The Evangelist - he is said to have written one of the Gospels, and I've mentioned him here because he is, among other things, the patron saint of writers and publishers. Go, John! 

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21. A Message From Google

Here's a link to Satima Flavell's blog, in which she passes on the latest message about Google's decision to retire something that people have found useful but which Google doesn't. This time it's about whether you can use Google Friend Connect using things other than a Google account.

http://satimaflavell.blogspot.com.au/2015/12/message-for-blog-followers-from-google.html

From now on, you can't. Mind you, I think I set it up a while ago so that you needed a Google account. Mainly it was because of all the spam I'd been receiving - but it didn't help as much as making comments appear after approval, because some spammers just set up a Google account and keep spamming. And really, that's all that will happen now. I'm never sure why Google does these things, but as Satima says on her post, it's quite painless, although you do have to give them your mobile number before you can join. That's for security reasons, so fear not, no one is going to ring you.

I hope you'll consider this blog worth opening a Google account to follow. I blog regularly about all sorts of good stuff, and you can even comment!
Cheers!

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22. Published Around This Time in 2013

Here's a link to my last post for 2013. It was mostly about having to teach Year 8 history in 2014, but also about researching in primary sources, such as the Australian Women's Weekly 1933 editions. You can find those on the National Library of Australia's web site, in the Trove section, along with newspapers going back to 1803; I used some historícal newspapers from Trove to research my short story for Rich And Rare.



http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/historical-research-and-year-8.html

Read, enjoy, in case you missed it!

And here's a link to 51 Australian YA novels published  that year, including some that were on the CBCA shortlist.

http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/26308.Aussie_YA_Releases_2013


I am ashamed to admit I only read a few of them. Some are on my cyber bookshelves. One of the, Sean Williams' Jump, I have only finished recently. But check the list out - there's some great stuff there.

Back later - I'm off to the beach. 

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23. Compulsory New Year's Eve Post: My Year In YA Books

I started the year with a binge of Aurealis Awards books, but it's hard to remember how many I read in 2015 and how many I actually read last year. I did keep a "shelf" on Goodreads, but as my Goodreads Year In Books only shows eleven(I've read lots more than that!) I have to assume I read most of the fifty-odd entries in the children's section last year. Anyway, there were some good ones. I'm going to stick to those I remember enjoying most.

I read two of John Fanagan's Brotherband novels, Scorpion Mountain and Slaves Of Socorro, both very entertaining. These are set in the universe of Ranger's Apprentice, of course, in which Skandia, the Viking equivalent, has changed from raiding to the much more profitable and much less messy guarding of various countries they used to raid. The heroes are a bunch of kids who were picked last for teams in the annual Brotherband boot camp and are led by Hal Mikkelsen, that technological genius.

The winner of this year's AA children's section was Carole Wilkinson's wonderful Shadow Sister, the latest in her Dragonkeeper fantasy series set in early China. To read that properly I had to go back and read the others in the series, as I'd only read the first(we have them in my school library). A series well worth reading!

There were Laurinda by Alice Pung and Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, which I mention together because they had similar themes: Asian girl from working class family in Melbourne gets a scholarship to an exclusive private school and encounters a group of snobby girls. But they diverged from each other in other aspects. Laurinda is mostly about the heroine's experiences at the school and how she feels about the nasty girls. Cloudwish is about the heroine's romance with a fellow student and her concern for her mother, who suffers PTSD from her truly horrible voyage to Australia as a refugee. It's also a love letter to Melbourne. And it has plenty of gentle humour among the serious stuff. Both books are great, read them!

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Sean Williams' Twinmaker trilogy. It's breathtaking non-stop action and it's true science fiction. And it handles the implications of certain technologies which many SF novels and films just use casually as background. The books are Jump, Crash and Fall. 

Rebecca Lim's The Astrologer's Daughter was a delightful mixture of suspense, mystery and fantasy, just a bit, as the heroine tries to find out what has happened to her mother and solve a cold-case murder using her knowledge of astrology. (This is despite the irritating title, which is one of a huge number of books entitled The (fill in occupation)'s Daughter.)

Moving outside of Australia for the moment, I read a number of books by American author Laurie Halse Anderson, whom I had heard speak at Reading Matters conference. 

Two were historical fiction, Chains and Forge, set during the American Revolution and seen from the viewpoint of slaves, who had no special reason to care who won the war. It wasn't only the South that had slaves in those days. If you google "American Presidents who had slaves" as I did, you'll find only four out of the first eleven who didn't. The author also spoke of her disappointment at discovering that Benjamin Franklin, whom she "would totally have dated!" was a slave owner.

She also writes wonderful contemporary fiction. Speak is about a girl who was raped last summer and has to deal with the fact that she is the one whom her schoolmates are snubbing this year. In flashbacks, we gradually learn what happened. 

Wintergirls is about anorexia and bulimia, with a touch of fantasy. Oh, dear! And it's so very believable.

The Impossible Knife Of Memory is set in the small town where the heroine's war-damaged soldier father grew up, and how she works at helping him to recover, with the help of the local cute boy who has his own troubles. 

Laurie Halse Anderson is a prolific writer, so if you decide you like her work, there's plenty more where that came from.

The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness is more or less about what it might be like to be the "Muggle", the non Scooby Gang member, in general the non Chosen One in a town not unlike Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Sunnydale, and even has a cheeky reference to the high school burning down AGAIN as a result of supernatural goings-on(see Buffy if you haven't).

Back to Australia, we have Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson, a deliciously funny romantic comedy about a girl, a boy, a lobster costume and guerrilla gardening. Read it! End - or begin - your year with this funny, funny book.

There's more but these ones came to mind. I've finished them all, but am reading plenty of others, which I will share with you in the New Year.

Today the forecast is 39'C, so I may spend the day sorting books and cleaning with my fan going, and thus evening it's off to the Astor Theate for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I will see with some family members. Rocky Horror has become my tradition since Dad died soon before New Year's Eve six years ago and I decided that I just didn't care about midnight and champagne any more. 

See you in 2016! 


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24. My New Year Eve Tradition: Rocky Horror Picture Show

This time last year I was wondering if it would be the last time. The Astor Cinema was being sold and the owner kicked out. But then, a miracle - instead of being turned into fancy apartments it was bought by the Palace Cinemas group, which bought all the films the Astor shows and really, they have kept it pretty much as it was. There's even a new cat to follow on from Marzipan, the tortoiseshell cinema cat who lived to be twenty years old. Her successor, Duke, is black and white. He is a rescue cat from the animal shelter. We came across him in the street after the movie and the girls cooed over him and stroked him, much to his enjoyment.

I have been going to the annual Rocky Horror Picture Show on New Years Eve for the last five years or so, and since last year I've gone with my nephew David, his girlfriend and his two daughters, Dezzy and Rachel, plus my niece Amelia. It's a fun event and you don't have to stay up till midnight, which is something I no longer bother about. People dress up and compete for a prize in the costume parade. I know that these days it's called cosplay but that's what we call it at the cons I attend and anyway, that's what it was called tonight by the MC, who dresses as Frank'N'Furter.

There is a lot of clowning around beforehand, including , tonight, two Rocky Horror "virgins" who hadn't seen it before, who were called up on stage to make orgasm sounds. The young woman was chosen to win the prize, then the movie began. The cinema hires a bunch of actors to stay on stage and act out the film along with the cast on screen.

And there's the interactive stuff, including throwing rice and spraying water and even, later in the film, toast. I'd hate to be having to clean up afterwards! And people sing along and call out at certain points. And you dance the Time Warp - I always get up for that.

Of course, there's always someone, at least one, who overdoes the "interactive" and yells constantly so no one else can enjoy the movie. Tonight's idiot wasn't even the usual young man, he was grey-haired and balding. You'd think he would have outgrown this sort of stuff, but they do tend to think they're funny. I guess he must have been a fan for many years, maybe since the cult thing began. I know I first discovered it many years ago, myself,  on my first overseas trip. My cousin and his wife took me to a local cinema to see it. I wondered why so many people had brought candles and rice - I soon found out.  It was a very new fandom  back then.

I do love it - seen it many times on stage and screen alike, but it's kind of nice to see the film and know that the actor playing RiffRaff is the show's composer, Richard O'Brien(who, incidentally, had a piece in an issue of ASIM). The woman playing Magenta was in I, Claudius as Claudius's dreadful sister.  And there's Tim Curry, who was the very first sexy Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance.

It's such a joyous tribute to those old science fiction B movies, you can't help singing and dancing along. If you've never seen it, do give it a go!

Anyway, that's my New Year's Eve. I hope yours was just as enjoyable.

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25. Book Currently In My Tote Bag: A Civil Campaign


A few years ago, at a library conference, I was chatting with Michael Pryor, the author of the steampunk Laws Of Magic series. I commented that his Aubrey Fitzwilliam reminded me quite a lot of Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan, if you can imagine him on Earth - a steampunk Earth at that! Michael admitted that there was truth in that. Someone standing nearby asked what the Vorkosigan series was and I began, "Well, it's about this guy who..."and Michael   pointed out, "With most SF you'd say, 'It's about this planet where...' or something but it says something about this series that you can say, 'It's about this guy.'" 

And he was dead right and it's one of the reasons why I love this series and read and reread it for comfort. Not that there aren't plenty of perfectly good SF elements in every one of the books - in this one it's a bunch of genetically modified bugs which are terribly ugly but produce stuff which is completely nourishing and can be made into any food you like with a bit of imagination(and the help of Miles's genius cook, Ma Kosti). I have heard the author speak about her research and she researches thoroughly. 

But the SF elements are only about how they affect the humans who are the most important element of the novels. For example, Miles, the hero of the series, comes from a planet called Barrayar, which is a bit backwards in its attitudes because for centuries it was cut off from the other Earth colonies when its wormhole entrance was blocked off. When the Time Of Isolation ended the rest of the colonies had advanced quite a long way and Barrayar has still not caught up, either in technology or in attitudes. But some things are changing. For example, fewer body births and more births by uterine replicators, which have reached the planet only in the last generation. Of course, being the old fashioned people they are, the Barrayarans have been using it as a gender selector and so, as in some countries in our own time, there are far more males than females in the current generation, with the problems that causes. But the existence of this technology has changed things quite a lot for the women who no longer have to worry about the effect of pregnancy on their lives. 

And so on. There's plenty of technology in this series, which you'll have to read to discover, including the serious problems it can cause if misused(look up Jackson's Whole!), but it's all about how it affects people, one way or another.

In some ways, that's like what Terry Pratchett did with his fiction. Sure, it was fantasy, but in the end, it was about people - ordinary people, the shopkeepers and the gossipy next door neighbours and the postmen and the lady who rents out rooms. And if the people she rents rooms to are supernatural beings, well, it's all par for the course. You fill up the vampire coffins in the basement and leave windows easy to open by the paws of a werewolf and look after the needs of the shy bogeyman. The Wizards all live at the university and eat a lot and try to avoid their students. Assassins are all rich kids who get a great education and incidentally learn how to kill. But they aren't the protagonists of any of the novels except that the hero of Pyramids, Teppic, is educated there before returning to his kingdom to become Pharaoh. 

It's no wonder that this is another author whose books I read over and over for comfort, long after the regular fantasy novels have been returned to their shelves. 

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