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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. The Scarlet Rider by Lucy Sussex. Ticonderoga Pulications, 2015



Mel, an unemployed young woman not long out of university, is offered a job by a small press dedicated to women writers, especially women crime writers. They need her to do some research for them. They have a wonderful Victorian mystery novel set on the goldfields and first published as a serial in a small local newspaper. The problem is that the book was published anonymously. The publishers believe the author was a woman, but can't be sure and if the novel wasn't written by a woman, they can't publish it. It's up to Mel to find out, using the public library, old police files and her aunt's expertise in history and genealogy. While following the trail of the mysterious novelist, Mel must handle a lot of personal and family problems, not to mention some strange dreams and the uncomfortable feeling that she's being haunted, perhaps even possessed...

I read this book when it was first published by Tor, back in the 1990s. The original edition didn't do all that well, I believe, for reasons unconnected with its quality. Not in the US, anyway, though it received a Ditmar Award here. Apparently, it was hard to place on bookshop shelves, due to being cross-genre - fantasy, history and mystery.

There's a definite feel of reality about the research, not surprising with the author's academic background. It's slightly dated, of course, because while there is still plenty of research done by reading primary - physical - documents, there is also a lot you can do online, not available at the time when the novel was written. Also, Mel would have been spared a number of troubles if mobile phones had been as common in the 1990s as they are now.

 But this is not a story that can be updated much; it would lose a lot of the suspense and drama if Mel could simply Google something or pull out her mobile phone to make an emergency call instead of having to find a phone booth and the right change. It makes me think of Josephine Tey's Daughter Of Time, published back in the 50s, when the hero solves a mystery from his hospital bed, with some help from a researcher - in the 21st century, Inspector Grant would probably be carrying on with his paperwork with a borrowed laptop or iPad, but could also Google information about Richard III -  if he even bothered to do something not work related. 

It's great to see this wonderful novel back in print, and well done to Ticonderoga for not only publishing it, but giving it a much better cover than the Tor original. I can only hope that there will be an ebook edition at some stage, making it available around the world, but meanwhile, you can buy it from the publisher, Ticonderoga Publications, here or, if you're in Australia, ask your local bookshop to order it.


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2. Continuum 11 - The GoH Speech


In case you were not at Continuum or just missed it, here's R.J Anderson's GoH speech, which I, alas, missed! But I've now read the transcript on RJ's site and it was as wonderful as people have told me. Don't hang around here, go read it NOW and then buy one of her books - I'm currently reading Ultraviolet - which she mentions in the speech - in ebook and finding the premise fascinating. Synaesthesia as a spec fic element - Imagine that! (I did once have an idea for a short story with synaesthetia as an element, but never wrote it and it wasn't like this one)

                                                   
       


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3. What I'm Rereading Right Now!

                                                      

Yesterday I got a craving for some alternative universe Richard III fiction. I'd just finished reading my first Philippa Gregory novel, which I bought on iBooks when it was going cheap. I admit I enjoyed it and the author had the sense to end it before her heroine, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, mother of the Woodville tribe, started losing her husband and children. I've only ever read Rosemary Hawley Jarman tales with Jacquetta shown as a hag and a witch, an elderly woman instead of the middle-aged matron who had only recently had her last child, so it was an interesting change. Mind you, Gregory's heroine does have the Sight and has to keep refusing to do magic for people, having seen what happened to the herbalist who taught her the trade. And in the last scene, as Edward and her daughter are approaching the house, she is cheerfully grabbing a bottle of love potion out of storage... I'm not sure I'll read any more of her books, but I liked this one.

So. The craving. In past years I was reading one Richard III novel after another - Jarman, Sharon Penman and others - and the trouble with reading historical fiction about real people is that you know how it's going to end. It's particularly hard with Penman's novel because you keep saying, "No, Richard, you idiot! Don't pardon the bastard! He'll come back and bite you!" and of course, he does pardon the baddie... So it was a joy to read John M Ford's alternative universe novel, The Dragon Waiting, in which the world is just that bit different - nearly everyone is a pagan, due to something that happened hundreds of years ago, the Byzantine Empire is still around and running part of France and magic is real, so things might conceivably turn out differently, for England and for Richard.... And no, I'm not going to tell you how it ends. Read it.

I hauled out an old, battered copy I rescued from my dying library when a new government closed down my old school, and started rereading and found that I had forgotten enough to be able to enjoy it all over again. I might do a proper review when I've finished.

Meanwhile, I'm having a ball!

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4. The Warlock's Child Part 2: An Interview With Sean McMullen

The Warlock's Child Part 2: An Interview With Sean McMullen


And here is Part 2 of the interview with the authors of The Warlock's Child! This time, I'd like to welcome Sean McMullen to The Great Raven. I have known Sean since before we both made our first sales - and here he is, writing bestselling books! We were both members of a writers' group, then Sean persuaded me to join the SCA and learn how to fight properly so that I'd write better fight scenes. Pay attention to his answers below, because Sean does his research - thoroughly! 


GR: What gave you the idea for The Warlock's Child? 

SM: This is Paul’s question, mostly. Paul wrote the original story, Deathlight, for a YA anthology years ago. Deathlight more or less covered the same ground as Books I and 2 of The Warlock’s Child. When he started expanding the story into a novel he called me in as a collaborator. My main ideas were adding the dragons, and making Dantar’s sister Velza a major character.

GR: How did you work on it as a team? For example, did you plot it all out in advance and decide who did what, or did you work like the authors of Logan's Run, who had one person write while the other paced up and down waiting for his turn?

SM: Paul wrote an outline draft, then I expanded on some areas and added new bits of detail and story. I suppose that means we followed the Logan’s Run model, because we took it in turns to work on whatever was currently in the works.


GR: When I read a book with two names on the cover I wonder who wrote what. Can you tell us - unless it's a secret?

SM: It’s very complicated and tangled. This is largely because Paul had written about 35,000 words centred on Dantar when I invited me in, but when I expanded the series I enlarged the role of his sister, Velza, as well as adding the dragons as a vital part of the story arc. This meant that a lot of my extra text got interspersed into Paul’s text, while some of his text had to be changed because there were now dragons and an older sister on the scene for the plot to take into account. Don’t try to disentangle our contributions to the text, it’s padded cell territory.


GR: The characters are in their teens, but it seems to be aimed at younger readers - why is this? 

SM: Younger readers like to see what they are in for when they get a bit older, so they look for older characters to identify with and emulate. Usually they will look for characters about four or five years older than themselves, but I have had twelve-year-olds turn up at my signings with an armload of Greatwinter or Moonworlds novels – which are definitely adult books. I honestly can’t remember ever meeting a child who preferred younger characters in fiction.

GR: Though it's set in your own world, given the particular technology on the ships, for example, which historical era did you imagine when you wrote it? And who did the research?

SM: Roughly speaking, early Middle Ages. Ships with catapults and rams were in use for about fifteen hundred years by then, and flame throwers had been around for a few of centuries too. The research  … well, I did my PhD in this area, I have spent time as a sailor on other people’s yachts, and because I’m descended from a Bounty mutineer I have read a lot about life on sailing ships. All this was a good reason to set a lot of the series aboard ships – I did not need to do much research.


GR: It can't be much fun to be the child of the villain. It's also an unusual situation, unless your name is Luke or Leia Skywalker. What made you think this might work?

SM: This is one of the many lessons for kids that we built into the series. You can’t choose your parents, but you don’t have to be like them. How many kids are out there whose parents are doing time, or have done time? Quite a few, I should imagine. How many kids just think their parents act reproachfully over some things? Quite a few more, probably. Kids need to be reassured that they are allowed to go their own way, and that they are not destined to grow up to be just like mum or dad. That said, Darth Vader does wear a great outfit, you have to admit it.


GR: This series reads like a novel broken up into parts - is this the case? If so, will you consider, at some stage, publishing it as one book?

SM: That structure was deliberate. The series was consciously written to be accessible to reluctant readers, yet exciting enough to hold the attention of accomplished readers. Following on from that, a 100,000 word book is going to look a bit daunting to an eleven year old reluctant reader, so Paul thought that six novelettes of around 17,000 words would be a better way to present the story. Individually the books look really manageable, and when you reach the end – Oh no, something exciting happens in the next book, so you’d better get it and keep reading. On the other hand, if some huge publisher comes along with a proposal to bundle it into one novel, I think that would also work really well for the more confident readers.


GR: Have you had much response to this series from children so far?

SM: The first book came out less than three months ago, but already the responses we have heard from kids in signings and seen in reviews have been splendid. Generally they think it’s a fast, exciting read and they love the characters. Nobody has said that it’s difficult to read, which is exactly what we were aiming at. I don’t know if you rate sales as a response from children, but the books have been selling well above expectation, and even gone into multiple print runs. Ford Street Publishing is also running a writing and illustrating competition based on The Warlock’s Child, and readers have been very excited about that. The deadline is 1st August. If anyone who is fifteen or younger wants to enter, details are available from the Ford Street website.


GR: A general question for both of you. You have both been known for writing for adults and have turned very successfully to writing for children and teens. How did you decide to make this change - and how has it worked out for you?

SM: Terry Pratchett gets the blame for me. I read Only You Can Save Mankind in 1993, and I found it incredibly engaging for a book that was clearly written for older children and teenagers. I empathised with the characters and really liked the philosophy behind the book, so I did what every author does when faced with something seriously impressive: I started experimenting with my own YA fiction. The young readers certainly like what I write, and I thoroughly enjoy writing for children and teenagers. They are at a very exciting time of life, so there is infinite scope to tell exciting stories.


GR: If The Warlock's Child ever becomes a movie, no limits (you can have a time machine to collect young actors from the past if you wish), whom would each of you cast in the lead roles?  

SM: I think Edward Furlong as he played John Connor in Terminator 2 (1991) would be pretty close to Dantar. Dantar has to be resourceful, brave and funny, while also being convincing as an older child who has a lot to learn. I think Furlong did a great job with all that as John Connor. An actor for Velza is a lot harder. She has to be seventeen, dynamic, brave and assertive, yet a little vulnerable and uncertain of herself too. Caitlin Clarke as Valerian in Dragonslayer (1981) played a girl of about that age pretending to be a boy, and she ticked all the right boxes to play Velza. Maisie Williams and Dakota Fanning could certainly handle the role too. I know you did not ask for adults, but I’d also nominate Mark Strong as Captain Parvian, Charles Dance as Calbaras and Benedict Cumberbach as King Lavarran. 

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5. The Warlock's Child: An Interview with Paul Collins




A few days ago, I sent the following interview questions to Paul Collins and Sean McMullen, authors of the Warlock's Child series. I haven't heard from Sean yet, so his answers to the questions will be published separately, as Part 2. Interesting to hear from Paul that the dragons were Sean's idea! And - goodness, that there was a school where the books outpolled the amazing Andy Griffiths in the YABBAs! Read, enjoy, and if you have any questions of your own, write them underneath and I will pass them to the authors to answer on this web site.




And don't forget to get your entries done for the Ford Street competition! 


GR:  What gave you the idea for The Warlock's Child? 

Paul: Many years ago Pearson published a couple of anthologies called Picture This. They sent me two photos and asked me to write a story around the pictures. One was of footprints going across wet sand. And so I pictured a fantasy world set on an island. The island gets invaded, and on it went. The story was complete, but I knew it had many avenues to explore. And so I wrote a novel from it.

GR: How did you work on it as a team? For example, did you plot it all out in advance and decide who did what, or did you work like the authors of Logan's Run, who had one person write while the other paced up and down waiting for his turn?

Paul: Basically, I wrote the first draft. I then thought itd be great to publish as a series rather than a single novel. Problem was that I didnt have time. So I approached Sean McMullen and he came up with sub-plots  in fact, the dragons werent in my first draft. Sean created that entire thread, which became the dominant part of the series.


GR: When I read a book with two names on the cover I wonder who wrote what. Can you tell us - unless it's a secret?

Paul: Hard to tell, Sue. I think Sean wound up writing more words than me, because the dragon scenes became dominant. You could say I wrote the initial plot and what I think was a passable book, but Sean took it to a new level.

GR: The characters are in their teens, but it seems to be aimed at younger readers - why is this?

Paul: Kids always read up, not down. So if its pitched at 11-year-olds, then the characters have to be 12+. As an aside, the original novel was called Broken Magic. But before we could get the series out another author took that title!

GR:Though it's set in your own own world, given the particular technology on the ships, for example, which historical era did you imagine when you wrote it? And who did the research?

Paul: I didnt actually pitch it in any era  most fantasy from what I can see is medieval. Sometimes authors make certain distinctions. For example, in The Quentaris Chronicles Michael Pryor and I decided we werent going to have gunpowder, so no cannon, muskets, etc. The Warlocks Child was not so strict.

 GR: It can't be much fun to be the child of the villain. It's also an unusual situation, unless your name is Luke or Leia Skywalker. What made you think this might work?

Paul: A kid isnt the only evil one involved. But on this subject, I think the scariest movies are where kids are the evil ones. Adults we expect to be evil. Kids we dont.


 GR: This series reads like a novel broken up into parts - is this the case? If so, will you consider, at some stage, publishing it as one book?

Paul: As Ive mentioned, it was originally a novel. Sean dismantled it into six parts. And yes, we have a version that could sell as a single book. Wed like to see if we could get this published in the US.

 GR:  Have you had much response to this series from children so far?

Paul: Weve had a huge response so far. Sales-wise through the shops has been good  in fact The Burning Sea has gone into two reprints, the sequel, Dragonfall Mountain, one reprint. Not too bad considering they only came out a couple of months ago. I believe The Burning Sea out-polled Andy Griffiths latest book in the Yabbas at Tucker Road Bentleigh Primary School. Several book clubs have already bought the first two books.

GR: A general question for both of you. You have both been known for writing for adults and have turned very successfully to writing for children and teens. How did you decide to make this change - and how has it worked out for you?

Paul: I spent many years writing adult (mostly SF&F) short stories, but knew that I could never make a living from it. In the early 80s I had two YA books contracted by an educational publisher called Parteach. Unfortunately they disappeared leaving me with two contracts but nothing else. At that time it was the closest Id come to getting an actual novel published. So I figured I should persist writing for kids. The Wizards Torment was one of those manuscripts, and HarperCollins published it in 1995. It took another few years to find a publisher for the other book Parteach had contracted, and that was The Earthborn, that TOR published in 2003. The latter became a trilogy. In between those two books I had quite a few others published. So by then my reputation was that of a writer for children. Ive dabbled in the adult sphere a few times, notably with two collections and the horror novel The Beckoning (Damnation Books).

GR: The Warlock's Child ever becomes a movie, no limits (you can have a time machine to collect young actors from the past if you wish), whom would each of you cast in the lead roles? 

Paul: Age appropriate, I see them as . . .
Calbaras: Christopher Lee
DantarElijah Wood
Velza: Angelina Jolie
Marko: Michael Caine
Arrissa: Wynona Ryder 
Avantar: Sean Bean 
Merikus (voice): Mel Brooks.

The mind boggles at the image of these actors in the roles. Thank you, Paul. Looking forward to hearing from Sean.




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6. Ford Street Competition For Kids!

I received the below information from my lovely publisher, Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing. It's a fan fiction/art competition for the under 15s and should be well worth entering. Unfortunately, I received this as a Word document, so couldn't reproduce the pictures of the prizes. Paul says he will send me the JPEG versions, and meanwhile here are the details. You'll have to trust me, the prizes look gorgeous! Pity I'm too old to enter.

The Warlock's Child



COMPETITION
To celebrate the first three books of The Warlock’s Child being released, Ford Street Publishing is running a competition for readers fifteen years and younger.

ARTWORK: The best colour illustration of a dragon from any of the first three books in the series (The Burning Sea, Dragonfall Mountain and The Iron Claw).

STORY: The best story of 500 words or less featuring any two characters from the first three books in the series.

Judges will include Marc McBride (cover illustrator for The Warlock’s Child and Deltora Quest) for ARTWORK, and authors Paul Collins and Sean McMullen for STORY.










PRIZES (in both categories):
First Prize: a leather-bound dragon notebook (just the thing to carry on quests), an autographed set of all six books of The Warlock’s Child, and publication of the winning artwork and story in ‘OzKidsinPrint’.
This entry will include the art and story in the magazine’s own story and art competitions.
See www.ozkidsinprint.com.au. (*)
Second Prize: A Celtic dragon backpack
Third Prize: a dragon T-shirt

DEADLINE: Entries must be submitted (that is postmarked or emailed) by the 28th of July, 2015.
Submissions may be electronic or postal, but submissions arriving after 1st August 2015 cannot be considered.
Email: ue485@hotkey.net.au
Postal: Ford Street Publishing
162 Hoddle Street
Abbotsford
Victoria 3067
Australia 
Link: http://fordstreetpublishing.com/ford/index.php/about-ford-street/latest-news/295-warlock-s-child-competition
RESULTS: Winners will be announced on the Ford Street Publishing website at
www.fordstreetpublishing.com on the 10th of August, 2015.

RULES.    .  .

Only one entry per person in either category
You must be fifteen years old or younger on the date of submission.
The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
Remember to include your age, email address and postal address with your submission!
(*) The publisher reserves the right to publish or not publish the winning entries, regardless of the decision of the judges

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7. An Interview With George Ivanoff: The Gamers Trilogy

A confession here. I've known fellow Ford Street writer George Ivanoff for many years. We met in Star Trek fandom. George has gone on to be able to make a living from his writing, unlike most Australian writers. Now that he has made it to the YABBA shortlist, I thought it more than time to celebrate some of his work, and let you, dear readers, know what great stuff us coming out from Ford Street Publishing. The books mentioned are all available online, including ebooks from the Baen web site.


Announcement of the launch of the final Gamers book



Your Gamers trilogy began as a short story in Ford Street's Trust Me! anthology. It was on the theme  "where do computer game characters go for their holidays?" How did you come up with this idea? And did it ever occur to you at the time that it might make the basis for a novel?

It all started with a documentary on the ABC. I was channel surfing and came across a doco about computer gamers gathering together in a massive warehouse to play games. What struck me about the interviews was that so many of the gamers talked about playing exciting games full of death, destruction and adventures, but then spoke about how dull and boring their lives were. It made me think about what sort of games would be played by computer game characters whose lives were filled with death, destruction and adventures.

At the time it was just a short story. I never considered expanding the idea into a novel until fellow-author Meredith Costain suggested it. 

2. When you did begin work on the trilogy, how did you plan it out? Did you know right at the beginning how it would end? 

When I started on Gamers Quest, I assumed it would be a stand-alone novel. So I just planned the one story. Of course, I knew what the consequences of that story would be. So when I was asked to write a sequel, it was just a matter of structuring a story around those consequences.

Writing Gamers Challenge was a bit different in that I was hoping I’d get to write a third book. It just seemed logical in my mind that the story would now be a trilogy. In the first book the two main characters, Tark and Zyra, don’t realise that they’re characters inside a computer game. So it’s a journey of discovery for them. In the second book, they know they’re in a game and they want out. It seemed only natural to me, that there should be a third book in which they did get out.

So while writing Gamers’ Challenge, I was planning for a third book and seeding things.

When I eventually got the go ahead for Gamers’ Rebellion, I was all ready to go.

3. Tell us a bit about your main characters, Tark and Zyra. How did you create them? Were they perhaps inspired by any other characters - or anyone you might know in real life? 

They weren’t inspired by anyone in particular. In the short story, they were intended to be clichés. What I did work at in the novels was progressing them from being stereotypical programmed games characters, to real teenagers. In the end, I wanted then to be typical teenagers in an atypical situation.

4. Tark and Zyra speak in a rather strange manner (we eventually find out why). What did you have in mind when you were devising their speech pattern? 

Initially in the short story, their speech patterns were meant to simply designate them as lower-class game characters. I was trying to play with clichés. In the novels I went on to develop this further… and the way they spoke became an important part of them overcoming their programming and becoming real.


5. Did you play any computer games on which, perhaps, The Game in your trilogy is based? (Or did you play some as research?)

As a teenager, my game of choice was Space Invaders (yes… I’m old). I played a few text based adventure games as well. But the game in the novels came about because I was amazed at the complexity of some modern games — too complex, I might add, for me to get my head around. I tried to take things a step further — a multi-world, virtual reality game. But right from the start, I knew it would be more than just a game, that there would be an ulterior motive behind it all. I finally got to reveal all that in the third book. 

6. When I was reading the trilogy I noticed some rather cheeky references/tributes to such things as Dr Who. What were some other tributes you paid? 

I’m kind of obsessed with pop culture and inserting pop culture references into my books. Each of the Gamers books has references to Doctor Who, because that is my biggest pop culture obsession. The other two major references in the Gamers books are Star Trek and William Gibson’s amazing cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.

7. You wrote another Gamers story for Ford Street’s second anthology, Trust Me Too!. How does this story relate to the novels?  

“Gamers’ Inferno” is a stand-alone story set inside the game. It has a completely new set of characters and is set in a game-world that doesn’t feature in the novels. I love the Gamers world that I created for the books, and this story was a chance to play in another part of it.

8. How have kids responded to these books so far? 

Response from kids has been great. They particular seem to love the villain in the first book, the Fat Man. He is an over-the-top cliché. And he was a huge amount of fun to write. While I aimed these books at myself as a 14 year old, they have been more popular with a younger audience of about 10-13, which I think is interesting.

9. I know you've done four Choose Your Own Adventure style books recently, of which one is on this year's YABBA shortlist (congratulations!) How difficult is it to write this sort of book? (Our Year 8 students had to write their own for English and it looked pretty hard to me!)

Actually, I’ve done eight You Choose books so far. Four came out last year, two earlier this year and another two are due for release in August.

These books are a lot more difficult to plan out. Rather than simply writing an outline, as I did for the Gamers novels, I plotted these out on a whiteboard. But because the planning was done in so much more detail, the actually writing was a lot simpler.



I am over the moon about the YABBA shortlisting. Unlike other judged awards, this one is voted on by kids. It is so exciting because the book has been nominated by my target audience.

10. What are you working on right now? 

I’m working on a new four-book adventure series that will be published by Random House Australia in 2016. I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything more about them, as they haven’t been announced yet. But I’m having a lot of fun researching and writing them.

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8. New On My Cyber Bookshelf

I have just finished Reading Laurie Halse Anderson's first novel Speak, which I downloaded at the Reading Matters conference the other week. I thought it very good and might consider reading it online during Banned Books Week this year, as it has been banned and challenged, for what good that did(a million sales, I believe!).

This week I downloaded Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye, after someone mentioned it on their blog. I had forgotten how good it was.

I'm reading my first Phillippa Gregory book, The Lady Of The Rivers, about Jacquetta, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville. It was going very cheap on iBooks this week, so I thought, why not? And it's interesting to read a version of her story that is told sympathetically - mostly, she only appears as the manipulative and nasty old lady. Right now, in the novel, she is fifteen and reluctantly about to witness the death of Joan of Arc, whom she had considered a friend when Joan was imprisoned at her great-aunt's castle.

Other new downloads are Robinson Crusoe(from Project Gutenberg) and Gillian Polack's new novel The Art of Effective Dreaming and Laurie Halse Anderson's Untraviolet, which looks to be an interesting read.

Back to the reading!

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9. Continuum 11 - Home From The Con

Queen's Birthday Weekend means, for me, Continuum. I've been to every one, even been on the committee of one, though I haven't done that in some time. It's a LOT of work. I'd rather just be on a few panels, usually about YA fiction, in which I can use my knowledge of what kids are reading and why. It's over for another year, but I've joined next year's already.
Rebecca Anderson

As it happens, this year's international GoH was R.J Anderson(Rebecca), who is a YA novelist, though most of the panels she was on, she used her knowledge of this stuff as a parent rather than a writer, to talk about other people's books. I think that's nice. I missed her GoH speech, which I'm told was excellent, because I was spending a bit of time with my mother before going into town. I hope someone has recorded it.

These conventions are always good, the only problem being which panel to attend because there are four streams, all worth attending. 

Gillian Polack on the Fantastic Foods panel 

But there are also people you don't see except once a year, and you try to catch up with them if you can - well, I certainly do, usually via lunch or dinner. I couldn't do dinner this time because Saturday I had a play to attend, then dinner at a restaurant with my family afterwards(the play was North By Northwest, which I wasn't missing for anyone!). Sunday I always go to visit my mother, along with my sister. But I managed a couple of lunches and enjoyed the company. The first lunch was with my friend Anne Poore, a wonderful harpist who brings her instrument to every convention. Unfortunately, her concert was on Sunday evening, when I was with my family, but I have heard her play. At Swancon, some years ago, she did a jam session with the GoH, Charles De Lint, and his wife, Mary Ann, both of whom are musicians(they met when he was giving her mandolin lessons). It turned into an impromptu concert in the hotel foyer.

I also met some of the folk who were at last week's Reading Matters conference. One of them was Ellie Marney, the author of some YA novels about a teenage Holmes and Watson in modern Melbourne. (Watson is a girl). Of course, Ellie was on the Sherlock Holmes panel and she also did one with me. Before she left, on the Sunday, I got her to sign a copy of the third book for my book club student Kaitlyn, who read her first two in manuscript form and is a huge fan. Kaitlyn will hopefully be pleasantly surprised when I give it to her this morning. 

I saw Margo Lanagan, author of some wonderful fantasy, on the way out last night, with my friend Gillian Polack, who is a historian and a writer herself. Margo greeted me by name. I know we've met, but only briefly, a long time ago. I must be memorable; other people I've only met once, briefly, seem to know me. Some give me a hug! She did stop to chat with Gillian, who knows her better than I do, then Gillian and I went off to catch a tram. She lives in Canberra, but her family live here and on the same tramline as mine. It was great to catch up.

To my mild surprise, I won a raffle prize - I entered because it raises money for the next convention. The basket of goodies I received after the other two had chosen the ones with the real goodies, had some ginger tea which I will enjoy drinking, a con bag from Craftonomicon, a pair of very strange plastic chopsticks with tiny figures inside them, a novel, a couple of manga books and two DVDs of anime movies. I'm not really into manga, but the kids at my school are and fortunately they were both volume 1 of their respective series. So that goes in the library. One of the movies had some names I knew, so I will watch it before deciding if I'm giving it away. The tote bag will always come in handy.

I arranged some interviews and guest posts for this site before I left. We'll see how it goes.  

All in all, I had a very good time and met up with some good friends I don't see often.

Next year's GoHs have been announced, both local, but I know them, both YA folk. The two Chans, Queenie and Kylie. Queenie Chan should be good value for money. She is a manga artist whose books are hugely popular in my library.

I've only read one book by Kylie Chan, White Tiger, which I reviewed here when it came out. It was a good idea and well written, but, I felt, needed chopping by about a third. I thought at the time - and still think- that the publishers made her stick in a whole lot of stuff to make it fit into a trilogy. I suspect nobody these days tells her what to do, since she has become a big name. 

Anyway, that's for next year! 

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10. Tanith Lee And Me

I first discovered Tanith Lee when I was still living at home, working at my first job. The local bookshop, Sunflower, was run by a delightful couple, Brian and Noreen Ormsby. Brian was a fellow spec fic fan. One day, he pushed a book into my hands. "It's a new writer. Read this, it's great!" 

It was Tanith Lee's The Birthgrave. It turned out to be about a woman who has been lying asleep under a volcano for a long time. She doesn't know who she is, not even her own name, but she has powers, as she discovers. She is fleeing from a being known as Karrakaz, until she finds out... Well, I'll leave you to find out for yourself. I loved the way this regular heroic fantasy turned suddenly into science fiction! Would I love it today? I don't know, it has been a long time and I've rather gone off fantasy, or rather, I am very picky about what fantasy I read, much more picky than I was then, but I'm glad I gave that one a go, because I wouldn't have, today. In a day when you don't get this kind of fantasy much under 600-700 pages, it's strange to realise it was only about 300. There were sequels, but it was not at all today's Fat Fantasy Trilogy.


And so began a long and happy love affair with the works of Tanith Lee. I must have read about twenty of her adult books and some of her children's books - I didn't care for the later adult books, and discovered other writers, but some glow like gems in my memory. There were her short stories. I particularly remember the story in which a demon lord can't understand why humans don't love snakes as he does...so he creates cats, which are just snakes that have fur and can be cuddled. Can you think of a better way to describe cats? And there was the story set in India, about a couple who have gone through an arranged marriage. Neither of them is an oil painting. But when their train is stopped in the middle of nowhere, something happens that lets each of them see the other's beautiful soul - and this effect is permanent. They live happily ever after.     

And her delightful anthology of twisted fairytales, Red As Blood. Snow White as a vampire - her stepmother is trying to save her soul. Little Red Riding Hood as a werewolf... Well, read it. 



There was Sabella, which was set on an old-style Mars, the kind writers used to create in the Golden Age of SF. The heroine is a vampire who survives as a prostitute. But she's more than a vampire, as she discovers. She isn't undead, she's born that way, but again - more than she seems...



Does anyone remember Blake's 7? It was a British SF series of the 1970s/early 80s. It still has its fans, young ones as well as old, and a search on YouTube will find some fan made episodes. Tanith Lee wrote two episodes, Sarcophagus and Sand. She became something of a fangirl of Paul Darrow, the handsome actor who played antihero Avon. This led to a delicious novel called Kill The Dead, which became the one Blake's 7 female fans hunted down to read. I have a copy somewhere. The hero, an Avon-like ghost hunter, is called Parl Dro. Yeah. :-) (It's dedicated to "Valentine" - Mr Darrow's middle name)He travels with a thief and musician called Myal Lemyal, who is based on Vila, another character from Blake's 7. It's not her best book, but is great fun. 



The Silver Metal Lover is set in a world in which robots are metallic, but otherwise human in every way. They even seem to follow Asimov's Three Laws, though those are not mentioned - everyone these days uses the Three Laws and forgets, or doesn't know, where they come from. And these robots are better than humans. Humans don't like the competition. So they are recalled, including the beautiful silver man with whom the teenage heroine has fallen deeply in love... That one had me almost in tears and if it doesn't make you at least sniffle, there's something wrong with you. 



But my all time favourite of her writing is the pair of books that have been published under one cover as Drinking Sapphire Wine. This one is set in a distant future in which you can literally change your body to any shape you want. You can be a big hulking man one day and have yourself reshaped as a tiny, beautiful woman the next. If you get killed, you can be brought back, no problems. Your parents might be two men the next time you visit them. You can live a life all for fun if that's what you want. In fact, you're encouraged to do that by the machines who are running the world. The one thing you can't do until you reach a certain age is anything meaningful, like a job. Our heroine - who does occasionally become a man - has become frustrated and wants to do something meaningful with her life - but when she insists on being given a job before her time, she discovers that even those are dull and meaningless, eg pushing buttons that would push themselves if you failed to do it. She does something that finally gets her exiled - and then the story really begins.. 



This is a writer we're all going to miss very much. See, it wasn't just the storylines, which were great. It is the fact that all her books have human beings - or sort-of human beings - with human problems. She didn't write fantasy about an elf, a long lost prince, a couple of dwarves and a sorceress on a Quest. And if she had, it would have been about the people, not the Quest.

If you haven't read any of her work, go and get it(but check the publication date - the most recent are not as good).

 You won't be sorry.

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11. Tanith Lee Is No More!

Rats! I just read about it this morning - lucky I get the Tor newsletter or I might have gone a long time without hearing about it. 


Tanith Lee, the Queen of fantasy, has been gone since May 24 and the world is just a bit emptier for it. Two fantasy giants, however different, gone in a few months - no, it 's too much for me. Just too much.


I will post more when I can get my head around it a bit more. But I will be very disappointed if there isn't some form of tribute to her at Continuum this weekend, though with my luck it will be tonight or tomorrow night, when I won't be there.

Stand by.

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12. Reading Matters 2015 - Some Books I Bought

Three days! It was a wonderful conference but, unlike SF conventions, you don't really have the option of hanging about outside chatting with friends old and new. Well, you can, but then you miss what you're there for, and I spent $$$ on the membership. And I was cold in that room. I'm told it was just me - even Virginia Lowe, who is much older than me, was surprised when I told her. My mother and sister both suggest it means that I'm not well. So right now, I'm achey all over and have a sore throat.  Oh, well.

I ended up buying some books in print because they weren't on iBooks. In ebook, I got Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains, a piece of historical fiction about African Americans who were slaves in the North during the American Revolution. The sequel wasn't available in ebook, so that was one I bought in print. I also bought her first novel, Speak, in ebook.

I bought Erin Gough's gay YA romance, Flywheel. It sounded like fun.

Clare Wright's Stella-winning non fiction about the women at Eureka, The Forgotten Rebels Of Eureka, sounded fascinating, so I got the book of that. She is apparently working on the YA version, which is mostly abridged. If I like it, I may get that for my library, because I've found the junior version of Mao's Last Dancer has gone over well with our students. Kids do like non fiction if it's about a subject that interests them.

I must admit, her talk went rather too long for my tastes, but it may be because I was starting to feel unwell and just wanted to get out and have a hot drink.

My final ebook was Sean Williams' Jump, which is a what-if that suggests how different the world might be if we had matter transmitters like the ones in Star Trek. We do have a copy in my library, but I don't feel like lugging it home - and if I've been enjoying it, I might be able to recommend it.

One of my print books is Sally Gardner's The Door That Led To Where, a timeslip story about a boy in the here and now who travels back to London in 1830 through a door that only his mysterious key can open - but someone has left the door unlocked and people on both sides have been misusing it for their own ends. It's very entertaining and I've already finished it. I'm starting to read the latest Rbecca Lim novel, The Astrologer's Daughter, which I'm enjoying very much so far, only has anyone noticed how many books these days have titles that go "The ______'s Daughter"?  Still. I have never read one of her books I didn't like and so far, this one is no exception.

Lots of great stuff to read ahead of me!

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13. Reading Matters 2015

Reading Matters 2015 - Student Day and Day 1

I love the Reading Matters Conference. It has been going for a long time and I've gone to all of them. I remember the first one, organised by Agnes Nieuwenhausen. Afterwards, we all went to dinner at a Greek restaurant somewhere in Lonsdale St. I forget which one, though it's probably still there. I was sitting next to Jack Dann, whose wife was one of the speakers. It was nice hearing this American SF writer telling the American next to him how wonderful it was to live in Australia and how safe he felt. They were living in South Yarra at the time, but have since moved to Foster, a beautiful coastal town where Jack can look at the sea as he writes.

There have been ten more since then and on Thursday I was able to take some students to the Student Day. They are all great kids, who didn't disappear and stayed together. One of them not only bought several books and got them signed, but discovered a place at Melbourne Central station where people drop unwanted books and pick up anything they want. It's called the Little Library and I think the two books she picked up were ex library books. They were also books she had been wanting, in a series she is reading. I heard the murmur of envy and admiration from the other students as she showed them off.

One of my students is an autistic lad who is mostly fine, but can explode if he gets upset. This time, he socialised nicely(normally he prefers to sit by himself in class), got his book autographed by Will Kostakis(I took a photo which I can't share with you due to the legalities, but it was a nice one)and generally had a ball. Now and then he asked me a question, but he whispered it and I replied. The integration aides had assured me he would be fine as long as I gave him some attention, so I sat next to him. When Jaclyn Moriarty was talking about how she created her universe for her series "The Colours Of Madeleine" she mentioned a childhood incident in the life of Isaac Newton and I whispered to my young friend that Newton had been autistic(he was, Asperger's, I believe, and that childhood incident confirmed that for me).

I think the highlights of the day were Jaclyn Moriarty, and Sally Gardner's talk about how she was dyslexic and how Dickens wouldn't have made it as a journalist today because he had very little education and the big newspapers refuse anyone without a degree from the major universities. She has written a timeslip story in which the hero time travels to pre-Victorian London. (I have since bought that and am thoroughly enjoying it). Another highlight was the panel with Will Kostakis and Amie Kaufman, which was after lunch. As one of my students said, "They left the best till last." Well, yes and no. Sally Gardner was before lunch. But I do have to say, they need to do something about those microphones in the State Library. The voices were blurred and you had to listen really hard to be able to make out anything the speakers were saying. The panel with the two American GoHs was very hard to make out. There was a motivational speech about following your dreams by Abe Nouk, a local poet and former refugee who has lived here for about eleven years. He is self published(though, to be honest, most poets these days are. Even Steven Herrick, who was selling verse novels to big publishers, has started writing prose these days)

Yesterday, which was at the ANZ Pavilion in the Arts Centre, the microphones were fine.

Anyway, we had a good day and the kids went to get a bit of lunch to take away and bs k we went to Sunshine. Some had notes to say they could be dismissed from the station. Some I dismissed from the shops near school since they live nearby. The rest came back and went home from school. And my autistic lad said, "Thank you for giving up a day of your time in the library to take us."

Is that sweet or what?

I tweeted instead of taking notes yesterday. I bought books! They will, of course, all go into the school library when I've finished reading them. I might review some.

The GoHs were better yesterday, when I could hear them properly. I downloaded two of Laurie Halse Anderson's books and bought in print editions a couple that weren't available on iBooks. Laurie H A gave a very good GoH speech - on the Student Day she was only on a panel. It makes a lot of difference, believe me. As well as contemporary fiction with a gay slant, she writes historical fiction. She spoke of her disillusionment with Benjamin Franklin, who had been her hero until she discovered he was a slave owner all his life. (Well, so were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and Washington was horrible to his slaves, while Jefferson's lived better than the free peasants, but that's not the point, is it?). Anyway, I bought both her historical novels. I didn't bother with autographs, since I won't be keeping them, and some were ebooks anyway.

I met a few people I knew - Sharon, who used to work with me in the library, who now works at a Catholic girls' school down the road, and Vikki Wakefield, who said it was nice to be there just as a member of the audience instead of a speaker(nice to know, though I'd be thrilled if someone asked ME to speak at a Festival!) I ran into Ellie Marney, who writes that junior modern day Sherlock Holmes fiction, who saw my name tag and asked,"Aren't you on Twitter?" I said I was and that we were doing a panel together at Continuum next week. I'm also doing one with Amie Kaufman, but I think we've done one before. I also met Kirsty Murray, who said she wasn't going to be there today.  I told her one of my students is a big fan of hers and had acquired her latest book on Thursday - pity I couldn't get it signed for her. Oh, well.

I had a bit of egoboo in the morning when the first person I met said, "Hey, you're a writer!"

More today! I will add my photos tonight when I can download them to my computer.

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14. My Take On An Open Letter From GRRM


A friend sent me a certain link, thinking it might amuse me. It did, sort of.

Here it is, so you can read it too. 


It seems people have been noticing how many characters you like get killed in Game Of Thrones. Some must have been complaining about it, because his response is rather grumpy. But I did chuckle when he pointed out that, among other things, Ned Stark is an idiot who warned his enemy - and then that they had cast Sean Bean in the role, what did people expect? Because, of course, he does  tend to play roles in which he is killed off. I can think of two off the top of my head - Boromir in LOTR and a man who got on the wrong side of Henry VIII in the miniseries with Ray Winstone(I forget the character's name, but he was real, and Mr Bean got to use his Yorkshire accent). Though he also played Odysseus in Troy and Odysseus survived, didn't he, and came home to a faithful wife and a loyal son, unlike the other Greek heroes. 

Then he went on to call William Shakespeare a psycho and argue that there are piles of bodies on the stage in Shakespeare tragedies. Well, yes. Though one play he describes with gruesome relish is Titus Andronicus, which was probably Shakespeare's first play, certainly early in his career. I must admit, that's one I can't watch. I had to read it at university and haven't read it since then and I didn't go to see the movie(what were they thinking, choosing that one?). It's too awful. There's even a scene where this man is standing making a beautiful, lyrical speech about his niece when she has just been raped and mutilated! But the thing is, it wasn't the only one of its kind. It was part of a very popular genre, the revenge tragedy. I guess he and his company must have decided to cash in on the craze,

And Shakespeare, like a certain American spec fic writer complaining about him, was a writer of popular stuff that everyone went to see. He was a commercial writer. If he was alive today he would probably be writing sensationalist stuff for TV. He wouldn't be getting invited to writers' festivals to talk about the deep and meaningful symbolism in his work. The fact that he wrote stuff that makes you laugh and cry and says for you things that you can't express yourself and has something to say about everything  is beside the point. He would probably be shocked to find people running courses in his work. I had a very faint taste of that once, when I found an online review of a short story I had forgotten I'd written, reading into it all sorts of things that had never occurred to me when I wrote it. 

Shakespeare was the sort of guy you could have a beer with at the pub. And he wrote plays that are still performed, not because they're great literature(though they are)but because they still have things to say to us. 

Then Mr Martin goes on about that dreadful, violent book, the Bible. Well, I can't deny that. I have always liked the Bible for that very reason, all the sex and violence ...;-) 

I read The Game Of Thrones when it first came out. I liked it for the believable mediaeval stink and discomfort and for the fascinating weather conditions on whichever planet it is, oh, and for all the eating that goes on. Some fans wrote a wonderful cookbook, which I have at home. I have since read more, though I'm not sure I'll finish the series, not because of the violence and killing off your favourite characters, but because, IMO, it has turned into a soap opera. I'm not a fan of the soaps.  I'm also not a fan, in general, of fat fantasy series, however good they might be. Terry Pratchett was another matter. His books weren't thick and it mostly didn't matter if you hadn't read the earlier ones, though you'd probably rush off to find them anyway.

To be honest, there are other books of his that I prefer. Tuf Voyaging, the space-based story of a man and his cats and their adventures in a seed ship. Fevre Dream, the story of vampires in the Old South and a vampire who is sick of killing people and wants to find another way of getting his nutrition, is my favourite. That was about to come out when he was in Melbourne for a very small convention at a tiny hotel in St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne - the population is small here, so even US minicons would be huge compared to our conventions. I remember him saying that he chose that setting because it was a time and place where slaves could disappear and nobody would ask questions. He was working on the TV series Beauty And The Beast at the time. And I enjoyed his work. Fortunately, the early ones are still in print, no doubt because of the success of his later ones. Read them if you can. 

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15. The Glorious 25th Of May! Terry Pratchett's Night Watch

                                                         
Truth! Justice! Freedom! And a hard boiled egg! (And no, I'm not going to say, "Make that two hard boiled eggs" - different universe)

Just now, I finished rereading Terry Pratchett's Night Watch. It's one of the later City Watch novels. It's one if my favourites. And it occurred to me that this is "the glorious 25th of May" as mentioned in the book,so what better day to post about it? 

In this one, Sam Vimes, Commander of the Cory Watch, is without the backup of his loyal crew, Carrot, Angua, Cheery Littlebottom, Detritus and so on, because he has been thrown into his own past. He does, mind you, have Fred Colon. Nobby Nobbs is there, but he's a child, who's carved himself a police badge from soap. Still, he's useful. The future zombie Reg Shoe is alive. There's a rebellion growing in the city against the current Patrician(Vetinari, the future Patrician, is still a student at the Assassin's Guild, though he plays a very important role in the story, as does his aunt, presumably the one mentioned in Guards!Guards!). The History Monks are around - and I had just been rereading  Thief Of Time, in which you first met Lu Tze, the old monk who exhorts you to remember Rule 1(beware of skinny old men) and follows the Way of Mrs Cosmopolite. Vimes is thrown into the past while chasing a genuinely evil murderer, and realises that if he doesn't mentor his young self and take part in things happening in thus history, he may never make it back at all to his wife, his about-to-be-born child and his friends - and the murderer is right at home in the scary old times of Ankh-Morpork.

As I said, one of my favourites and there's a delightful adaptation of Rembrandt's painting on the cover.

But I love pretty much anything of Terry Pratchett's and I love this universe because, unlike many other fantasy writers, he doesn't waste time on long lost princes and elves going on a quest. Well, there  is a long-lost king, but he's a cop first and foremost and uninterested in taking the throne, even if he admitted he knew what he was, which he doesn't. And there are elves, in the Witches novels, but they aren't Galadriel or Legolas, they're lunatics who would rather kill you than look at you. And as someone who reads her folklore I can tell you he has it a lot more right than those authors who fill their books with twinkling glamorous fairies. And yes, there are wizards, but they like their huge meals and long snoozes and have no interest in going on quests. 

What I love is that his heroes are ordinary people. They're Mums and Dads running an all night Klatchian takeaway shop or farming in the Ramtops or having a fight with the neighbours. And in Ankh-Morpork, they enjoy their unofficial street theatre, and Ankh-Morpork has long ago stopped fighting other city-states and started selling them stuff. Any barbarian invader who tries to take over finds himself leaving with cheap wine and a purple straw donkey and a lot less money than when he arrived.

I love it all! So, raise your glass of whatever and drink with me to Freedom, Truth, Justice and a Hardboiled Egg!

And to the wonderful, much-mourned Terry Pratchett.

 

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16. Two Happy Birthdays To Two Wonderful Writers

Today, May 23, is the birthday of Sean Williams, Aussie speculative fiction writer:

Publicity pic, seanwilliams.com

and the wonderful British children's/YA novelist Susan Cooper:

Profile pic from Goodreads


Both of them are massive bestsellers and both deserve it!

I must admit, I discovered Susan Cooper a long time before I had heard of Sean Williams. I stumbled on the first couple of novels in a series that became known as The Dark Is Rising, based on the title of the second book in the series, in which the young hero, Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son, finds out on his eleventh birthday that he is the last of the Old Ones, destined to fight for the Light against the Dark, at the side of a Professor Merriman Lyon (yeah, he's Merlin). The sheer power and beauty of this novel has made it a classic. The author was already living in the US when she wrote it, but it's very British, based on the Buckinghamshire she remembered. Unfortunately, someone decided to make a dreadful movie out of it and I wasted a whole morning and $17 on seeing it. When it came out on DVD I refused to buy it even discounted.  But the book and the series were amazing and you wouldn't think she could continue to write wonderful books, but she has - The Boggart(a Canadian family bring home a desk from a Scottish castle and there's a boggart asleep in a drawer, poor thing!), King Of Shadows(American boy actor finds himself in Shakespeare's London), most recently Ghost Hawk, set in the part of the US where the author now lives, historical fiction and fantasy combined in a gorgeous story.

I remember writing her a fan letter, back in the days when you could do that by looking through a book of modern children's writers, which had postal addresses, and getting a reply. But when she came out here for a library conference in Hobart, I found myself tongue-tied, like the other teacher-librarians there - a bunch of fan-girls we all were!

I have  read and loved some of Sean Williams' short speculative fiction over the years, but more recently, I've had a chance to read his Trouble-Twisters series for children, written with Garth Nix, and great fun they are too, with children who have special powers that aren't always convenient. It's interesting to see how many SF writers have become very good children's and YA novelists in recent years. Sean Williams is an international bestseller who, like many other Australian writers, doesn't mind writing for local small press, which has published entire books of his short fiction over the years, and he had a story in an early issue of ASIM. 

Anyway, happy birthday, Sean and Susan! May your pens never dry up!


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17. Happy Birthday, John Flanagan!


My original plan was to do an "on this day" post, and there have been some interesting events in history on May 22( the Greeks beat the Persians, it was the start of the Wars of the Roses - even if you don't know what those were, I bet you'll know Game Of Thrones, which was inspired by them). And there were some interesting birthdays, such as Laurence Olivier and that awful man Richard Wagner.

But when I went looking for writers, I discovered that the wonderful John Flanagan celebrates his seventieth birthday today!

I remember hearing him talk about his first Ranger's Apprentice novel at a centre for Youth Literature event. Hmm, I thought, sounds interesting, but I didn't check it out for a while after that.



When I finally did get around to it, I was sorry I hadn't read the books earlier.

The Ranger's Apprentice, in case you haven't read these books, is a delightful series set in an alternative Middle Ages. In this world, women can do a lot of things they couldn't do in our world at that time and people drink coffee and tomatoes are around in "Europe".  And a boy called Will, who is small and really not much good at fighting gets a job as an apprentice to Ranger Halt, who is a likeable rogue, who managed to start up a program for breeding ponies for his colleagues in the Rangers by stealing some breeding stock from this world's Mongols.

There is a spinoff series set in Skandia, this world's Viking lands, about a bunch of boys nobody picked in the annual Brotherband trials, but who ended up winning the competition because their leader, Hal, is smart and an inventor.

The books are funny and serious at the same time and both series suggest that you don't have to be a big hulking knight to make it in the world (though Will's best friend is a big hulking knight, Horace).

Raise your mug of coffee to John Flanagan, creator of this delicious universe! And, sorry, Americans, he's ours! An Aussie!

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18. The Ellie McDoodle Diaries: Most Valuable Player by Ruth McNally Bradshaw. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2014

Ellie McDougall lives with her cheerful, over-the-top family in a nice, ordinary suburb and goes to a cheerful, over-the-top school which has Spirit Week, Crazy Hair Day and Teacher Twin Day, encouraging students to do silly but enjoyable things. She is a capable student and has two good friends, Mo and Travis.

She's good at a lot of things, but those don't include soccer. When her father becomes coach of a local girls' soccer team, Ellie feels she ought to be a part of it, no matter how hard it is to improve.

The story goes through several days of school time and soccer practice, as well as meetings of Journey Of The Mind, a group of intelligent kids who are working towards a competition. It features a birthday, a fundraiser and making stuff(due to the book's journal-style layout, it is easy for the author to draw the how-to of making ninja stars, flying dragons, etc.)

The style is very much like that of Jeff Kinney's Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series and, in fact,  one of our students, a Wimpy Kid fan, is simply loving this book. The characters are likeable, there are no real baddies(even the girl who yells at Ellie a lot on the soccer team is not that bad, and turns out to be a very good artist) and not too much happens, really. It's a nice, gentle read for young fans of the Wimpy Kid books, and not too many hard words. You don't have to have read the other books in the series(this is the fourth), as it's pretty much standalone. I hadn't read the others and had no trouble with it.

Recommended for children of about eight or nine upwards.

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19. And The Award Goes To... The AAs 2015

AA logo, used under fair usage


So here are the winners of the AAs for 2014! I confess I've read the children's books, obviously, nothing else, but I do have some of the others either on my TBR pile or on my ibooks shelf, shortlist and winners alike. 

And this week, there will be another shortlist announced, for this year's CBCA shortlist and I probably haven't read most of those either, but will have to, and buy anything not already on the shelves. Stand by for another shortlist! 

I earned this list below, by the way - it wasn't up on the AA web site this morning so 
I had to wade through the tweets made last night. 

Now, get reading, not only the winners, but the others! If it's on a short list, it was potentially good enough to win and believe me, as a judge, it was HARD to make up our minds. I'd like to thank the other members of my team, Sarah Fletcher, Jordi Kerr and Sarah Mayor Cox. They are all true ladies, very easy and pleasant to work with. Thanks also to the convenors for letting me be in this. Do let me do it again next year! 


BEST FANTASY NOVEL

Fireborn, Keri Arthur (Hachette Australia)

This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)

The Lascar’s Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette Australia)

Dreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)

Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins (Harlequin Enterprises Australia)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY

“The Oud”, Thoraiya Dyer (Long Hidden, Crossed Genres Publications)

“Teratogen”, Deborah Kalin (Cemetery Dance, #71, May 2014)

“The Ghost of Hephaestus”, Charlotte Nash (Phantazein, FableCroft Publications)

“St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, Angela Slatter (The Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3)

“The Badger Bride”, Angela Slatter (Strange Tales IV, Tartarus Press)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Aurora: Meridian, Amanda Bridgeman (Momentum)

Nil By Mouth, LynC (Satalyte)

The White List, Nina D’Aleo (Momentum)

Peacemaker, Marianne de Pierres (Angry Robot)

This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)

Foresight, Graham Storrs (Momentum)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

“The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)

“Wine, Women and Stars”, Thoraiya Dyer (Analog Vol CXXXIV nos 1&2 Jan/Feb)

“The Glorious Aerybeth”, Jason Fischer (OnSpec, 11 Sep 2014)

“Dellinger”, Charlotte Nash (Use Only As Directed, Peggy Bright Books)

“Happy Go Lucky”, Garth Nix (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST HORROR NOVEL

Book of the Dead, Greig Beck (Momentum)

Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)

Obsidian, Alan Baxter (HarperVoyager)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

“The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)

“Skinsuit”, James Bradley (Island Magazine 137)

“By the Moon’s Good Grace”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 12, Issue 3)

“Shay Corsham Worsted”, Garth Nix (Fearful Symmetries, Chizine)

“Home and Hearth”, Angela Slatter (Spectral Press)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

The Astrologer’s Daughter, Rebecca Lim (Text Publishing)

Afterworld, Lynnette Lounsbury (Allen & Unwin)

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia) (Should have read this as I got it for reviewing, but never finished due to other commitments)

Clariel, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

The Haunting of Lily Frost, Nova Weetman (UQP)

Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

“In Hades”, Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press)

“Falling Leaves”, Liz Argall (Apex Magazine)

“The Fuller and the Bogle”, David Cornish (Tales from the Half-Continent, Omnibus Books)

“Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

“Signature”, Faith Mudge (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION

Slaves of Socorro: Brotherband #4, John Flanagan (Random House Australia)

Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, Karen Foxlee (Hot Key Books)

The Last Viking Returns, Norman Jorgensen and James Foley (ILL.) (Fremantle Press)

Withering-by-Sea, Judith Rossell (ABC Books)

Sunker’s Deep: The Hidden #2, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Shadow Sister: Dragon Keeper #5, Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books) 

BEST COLLECTION

The Female Factory, Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter (Twelfth Planet Press)

Secret Lives, Rosaleen Love (Twelfth Planet Press)

Angel Dust, Ian McHugh (Ticonderoga Publications)

Difficult Second Album: more stories of Xenobiology, Space Elevators, and Bats Out Of Hell, Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)

The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Angela Slatter (Tartarus Press)

Black-Winged Angels, Angela Slatter (Ticonderoga Publications)

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Kisses by Clockwork, Liz Grzyb (Ed) (Ticonderoga Publications)

Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Eds), (Twelfth Planet Press)

Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, Dominica Malcolm (Ed) (Solarwyrm Press)

Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)

Fearsome Magics, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)

Phantazein, Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL/ILLUSTRATED WORK

Left Hand Path #1, Jason Franks & Paul Abstruse (Winter City Productions)

Awkwood, Jase Harper (Milk Shadow Books)

“A Small Wild Magic”, Kathleen Jennings (Monstrous Affections, Candlewick Press)

Mr Unpronounceable and the Sect of the Bleeding Eye, Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)

The Game, Shane W Smith (Deeper Meanings Publishing)


The Convenors' Award for Excellence, according to the AA web site, is "awarded at the discretion of the convenors for a particular achievement in speculative fiction or related areas in the year that cannot otherwise be judged for the Aurealis Awards." I assume this means it's for something that doesn't quite fit into the AAs otherwise. We have a list and a winner this year. Here it is:

“It Grows!”, a film by Ryan Cauchi and Nick Stathopoulos

“Night Terrace”, a serial podcast story, produced by John Richards, Ben McKenzie, David Ashton, Petra Elliott and Lee Zachariah 

“The Australian Women Writers Challenge”, an online reviewing initiative

“Useless Questions”, a radio play by Laura Goodin, performed by fans at Conflux.

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20. The CBCA Shortlist for 2015!

This year's theme. Used under fair usage

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It's that time of year again. While I've been fussing about over the Hugos and the Ditrmars and the Aurealis Awards a bunch of judges across Australia have been reading hundreds of books and discussing them before making up their minds which should be shortlisted. 

 I pinched this list from the Reading's Website. You can check it out yourself, along with the Notables. As the author of two CBCA Notable Books(Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science - which also scored a place on the Clayton's shortlist and Wolfborn) I do urge you to check out the Notables too; sometimes there's a little as one vote between something that makes it to the shortlist and something that gets a Notable. And I was delighted to see how many of our Aurealis shortlisted books and nearly-shortlisted books made it to the Notables. Great minds think alike, it seems.
Unfortunately, I've read very few of this year's shortlist and only two are in our library just now. Time to call Sun Bookshop and see if they can get us the rest before they run out!

Older Readers
Younger Readers
Early Childhood
Picture Book of the Year
Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
Crichton Award for New Illustrators
  • Rivertime by Trace Balla
  • Kick with My Left Foot illustrated by Karen Briggs with text by Paul Seden
  • One Minute’s Silence illustrated by Michael Camilleri with text by David Metzenthen
  • Little Dog and the Christmas Wish illustrated by Robin Cowcher with text by Corinne Fenton
  • Meet Douglas Mawson illustrated by Snip Green with text by Mike Dumbleton
  • The Lost Girl illustrated by Leanne Tobin with text by Ambelin Kwaymullina



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21. Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2015

Ivy Pocket is a twelve-year-old maid of no importance, with a very lofty opinion of herself. Dumped in Paris by the Countess Carbunkle, who would rather run away to South America than continue in Ivy's companionship, our young heroine (of sorts) finds herself with no money and no home to go to ... until she is summoned to the bedside of the dying Duchess of Trinity. 

For the princely sum of £500 (enough to buy a carriage, and possibly a monkey), Ivy agrees to courier the Duchess's most precious possession – the Clock Diamond – to England, and to put it around the neck of the revolting Matilda Butterfield on her twelfth birthday. It's not long before Ivy finds herself at the heart of a conspiracy involving mischief, mayhem and murder.


There is a lot of Victorian era fiction for children nowadays, since the Lemony Snicket books became so popular. This is the latest. I have heard it compared to both Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman. I haven't read the former and mostly only the adult books of Neil Gaiman, apart from a recent burst of children's books and, of course, the wonderful Graveyard Book. Not really Neil Gaiman, from the ones I have read. Myself, I would compare it to Judith Rossell's Withering-By-Sea, which I read for the Aurealis Awards and which is now on the CBCA shortlist. If you, or your children, liked that one, you should enjoy this. It had the same quirkiness and the art was delightful.

Ivy is irritatingly self confident, but means well and as the novel progresses you learn more about her background and she becomes a sympathetic character. I liked Ivy's bizarre, over-the-top adventures and the equally over-the-top characters, from the bloated, frightening Duchess to the dreadful Matilda and the dwarf monks. 

Children from about nine upwards are likely to enjoy it. I can't comment on the drawings, which didn't come with the proof copy I received, but I suspect they will be very good. The artist is John Kelly, a British book illustrator who has won some major awards.


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22. Some of my Favourite Novel Adaptations of Fairytales


Over the last year or so I have discovered a number of delightful blogs dedicated to fairytales. While I don't intend to turn this into such a blog, it made me think of how many novels people are writing which are based on fairytales - and how many I've read and loved. I won't list all of them as I would be here all day, but just mention a few that come to mind.

Cinderella

Moonlight And Ashes by Sophie Masson. This one is inspired by Ashputtel, the Brothers Grimm version, rather than Perrault's Cendrillon. This means that the heroine, Selena, is a lot stronger and less passive than in the other version. It's also only the starting point for a full scale adventure.

The same author also wrote Cold Iron, which was based on Tattercoats, the British version of Cinderella. That one was great fun, set in Elizabethan England and mixing in elements of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. 



While I'm writing about Cinderella, I'll slip in one play, The Other Cinderella by Maxwell Anderson. That one is also fun. Cinderella - Ellen - has been lying about her stepmother and sisters, who are all sweethearts. She resents suddenly being the youngest member of the household when she was running it before her father remarried. The only reason she isn't going to the ball is because she had a fit of the sulks - she thought her white dress too plain and refused to go. There are also the pantomime characters, the fairy and the demon, who participate in the usual pantomime storyline. The fairy is disappointed when everyone is nice to her in her old woman disguise!  

Beauty And The Beast

Beauty by Robin McKinley. A gently humorous novel. Beauty is actually Honor, but has been nicknamed Beauty since she scoffed,"Huh! I'd rather be Beauty!" Her sisters are sweet, gentle and not very practical; it's up to Beauty to do the sensible things to keep the family going. The Beast eventually explains that he is under a family curse, because his ancestors were so disgustingly good and holier-than-thou, that a local enchanter said that the first family member to put a foot wrong would really get it. And that was him. The scholarly Beauty simply adores his library, which contains a lot of books that haven't been written yet(she loves Sherlock Holmes, but other books are confusing - what on earth is an aeroplane, for example?). It says something about her that when she finds herself confronting an "alarmingly handsome" young man, she yells, "What have you done with my Beast?"

Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier. This is set in early mediaeval Ireland. The heroine has escaped her dreadful stepfamily and taken a job for the summer at a local castle whose lord is under a family curse - but his facial deformities are due to a childhood illness, not to the curse. She is a scribe like her late father, and has a job researching and working on the family history. Please note that women in early Ireland had a lot more rights than women elsewhere, so this is not too hard to swallow.

The Wild Swans

Juliet Marillier's first Sevenwaters book, Daughter Of The Forest, is set in Ireland too, eleventh century. The heroine is a lord's daughter whose stepmother turns her brothers into swans. The "king" who finds her is an aristocrat from England. The story is pretty much as we know it, but has history woven in and the girl is even stronger than the original. And it is the start of a series, with the family's descendants taking on roles. 

The Seventh Swan by Nicholas Stuart Gray is out of print, alas. It is actually a sequel to The Wild Swans, set in sixteenth century Scotland. Recommended if you can get it from your library or find it secondhand. I don't have a copy, I borrowed mine from a friend.

Rapunzel



Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth. The story of Rapunzel is told from the viewpoints of three women - Charlotte-Rose De La Force, the composer of the fairytale in seventeenth century France, Selena, the witch, an Italian courtesan who was a model for Titian, and the girl herself. You know, the fairytale never does tell you just why the witch wanted to lock up her victim. This novel does give you a reason. And it's wonderful! 

Others

Red As Blood,Tanith Lee's collection of fairytale-based short stories, has everything from a vampire Snow White to a futuristic Beauty And The Beast - and you'll never look at a frog the same way again after reading her horror story version of The Frog Prince!

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, sets the story of the ballad in a small 1970s university campus in America. Janet is an English student who becomes caught up in the truly scary things likely to happen to a boy she cares about because the Queen of Faerie, the head of the Classics Department, has to pay the rent to hell on Halloween. There are two students who arrived in the twentieth century with the Faerie court and were members of Shakespeare's company. They laugh their heads off at modern productions.

In the same series of books is The Nightingale by Kara Dalkey, based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale. The nightingale is a young woman, a flautist whose music is magical, and it's set in Japan instead of China.



Jim C Hines wrote a series of books about fairytale characters Cinderella and her friends the Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. The Beauty character is an assassin, having awoken to rape. The Snow White character is a sorceress whose choker made of bits of mirror forms the basis for her magic. In The Stepsister Scheme, they have to rescue Cinderella's Prince, who has been kidnapped by the fairies at the instigation of her wicked stepsisters. In The Mermaid's Madness they must save Cinderella's wonderful mother-In-law, who has been attacked by the grief stricken Little Mermaid who had stabbed the prince who rejected her and gone mad. Highly recommended and I believe there's another one about an assassin known as the Lady of the Red Hood. 

There are plenty more, but these are the ones that came to mind. Do you have any favourites?



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23. Footy Dreaming by Michael Hyde. Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing, 2015

                                                
    
In the small, footy-crazed Victorian town of Marshall, two boys play football and dream of one day playing professional football at the 'G(the MCG, Melbourne Cricket Ground for those of you outside Victoria). Noah is a Koori, Ben is white. They play for different teams, but become friends during their running sessions. And there's a scout coming to look for talent for the Bushrangers football club Development Squad. Will one of them - or both of them - make this first step towards their dream of playing at the 'G?  

This is a lovely, gentle story about following your dream, football, friendship, first crush(on Millie, one of Noah's classmates). There is a bit of racism in the town, though mostly the baddies on the Kookaburras team for which Ben plays. It never reaches the proportions of, say, the racism in Deadly, Unna? (Phillip Gwynne). But when Ben asks Noah why he became so angry at a racist taunt in the course of a game, because he sees taunts as just a regular part of the game, Noah is able to explain.

"Okay, then. It's like this. You aren't a green Martian. But I am black. When someone says what he said, he's insulting my people and...and our families..and our culture. Trouble is, guys like Elliot think that if you're black, you're a piece of crap." 

This is, in any case, a later era than Deadly, Unna? There are enough immigrant families in town that you can get Vietnamese food and Greek food and the Mayor stands up at a local event and acknowledges the traditional owners. Even Noah's father tells him racism isn't as great as when his mother, Noah's grandmother, was growing up. 

The single-parent family is Ben's. But his father, who smokes and drinks and is just a bit racist, loves his two children and makes a sacrifice for his son's happiness. Noah lives with two loving parents and a brother who is terribly proud of him. It would be interesting to see what relationship the nasty Mark Elliot has with his family, but you never learn that. Actually, all the adults in this book apart from Mark Elliot's Dad, coach of the Kookaburras, are so nice!  Everybody - Noah's Dad Paul, the teachers, Noah's coach, even Ben's Dad Joe. 

There are a number of things that make me feel this is a novel for middle-grade rather than YA. The characters are in their teens, but they feel younger to me. Their issues and concerns are younger. The closest there is to a romantic interest, Millie(who plays very good netball and joins the boys in their morning run)doesn't play much of a role in the story except to cheer on the two heroes when they play. Noah likes her but is too shy to say anything. While there are teenage boys like that it's really the sort of thing that belongs to a younger age group. I'd recommend this novel to children who enjoyed Specky Magee(Felice Arena, Garry Lyon) rather than Deadly, Unna? And the language makes it very suitable for reluctant readers. It's not a long read and there are few difficult words.

It is such a very Australian book- the landscape, the characters, the passion for Australian football -  but I don't think people outside Australia would have too much trouble with it. I don't even like football and I thoroughly enjoyed it! 

Highly recommended.  

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24. Fearsome Fairytales From France by Adele Geras. Illustrated Fiona McDonald. Christmas Press 2015


                                      

Here is another one of Christmas Press's delightful series of folk and fairytale retellings. This time the focus is on France, with the stories Beauty And The Beast and Bluebeard, retold by veteran children's historical novelist Adele Geras, once more lavishly illustrated by the talented Fiona McDonald.

Beauty And The Beast has been charming us since Lucius Apuleius's Cupid And Psyche in which the girl is to be sacrificed to a scary beast and instead finds herself married to the beautiful love god. (C.S Lewis used that one as the basis for his novel Till We Have Faces.) It tells us not to judge a book by its cover; the Beast can only be redeemed when a woman loves him for himself instead of for his looks, and Adele Geras does a little more than retell. She shows the reader just why Beauty might fall in love with a scary-looking man. She loves his "low, musical voice". He is intelligent. They talk about a wide variety of subjects every night, till she looks forward to their conversations. In the end, she, like Robin McKinley's Beauty, demands of the handsome young man what he has done with her Beast. 

Bluebeard is the truly scary story of a serial killer husband, but kids like gruesome. In this version, the mother urges her daughter to agree to the marriage because he's rich. He's old and much-married, but so what? Older men, she argues, tend to be indulgent to young wives. 

I often wonder what would have happened if the wife had not opened that room. I suspect the husband would have found another excuse for murder. There are plenty of Bluebeards in real life (Frederick Deeming, anyone?) who don't need an excuse.

The story is told well, anyway. And it's interesting to think that there's very little of the fantastical in this particular story, except the notion that the blood would still be on the floor or that the key couldn't be cleaned if it was. 

I think this book might suit children from about seven to ten. Any younger is too young. Any older and they might have abandoned fairytales for novels. 

Another excellent publication to add to your fairytale library!

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25. The Warlock's Child 3: The Iron Claw, by Paul Collins and SeanMcMullen. Melbourne: Ford Street, 2015




"The warlock Calbaras wants to revive the ancient, forbidden magic of dragons, and his son Dantar is vital to his plans. Dantar is on the run in an enemy kingdom, unaware that he is so important. Worse, his sister Velza is now working for the enemy king."

This is the third in a set of five short children's fantasy books by speculative fiction veterans Paul Collins and Sean McMullen. Actually, it's one novel broken into five parts from the look of it and, like the first two parts, this one ends on a cliffhanger. 

The story is great fun and not difficult reading, so good for older reluctant readers as well as younger ones; the characters are all in their teens.  

There is an endearing silliness about the characters' predicaments, and about Merikus, the talking rat who is travelling with Dantar and his friend Marko. Velza can do fire magic like nobody's business but makes some dumb mistakes in other areas that get her into trouble. The tone is light and cheerful; it reminds me just a little of the style of Anna Ciddor's Viking Magic novels, though the storyline is very different.

If you haven't yet figured out who is the dragon chick you aren't paying attention. How and why are other matters, yet to come. 

Dantar is still a bit of a whinger, but we'll see how it goes.

The cover is as beautiful as the first two - Marc McBride just can't go wrong.  I'd like to add that Sean McMullen is proving himself to be a very good children's writer. Paul Collins has been doing children's and YA books for done time, but Mr McMullen is better-known for his adult novels and short stories and his ability with fiction for young readers has been a pleasant surprise. I hope he will continue.

Well worth a read and good for your library if you're a school or children's librarian, but get the 
first two; this is not standalone.

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