A.A. Milne’s Birthday – Winnie-the-Pooh Day

Today marks A.A. Milne’s birthday. One hundred and thirty-four years ago, on the 18th of January 1882, Alan Alexander Milne was born in London. He attended Trinity College at Cambridge University before writing for Punch, and serving in World War One. A pacifist at heart, Milne served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, followed by the Royal Corps Signals, and was discharged in 1919. A.A. Milne is most famous for the Winnie-the-Pooh novels and poetry books, written during the 1920s, after his son, Christopher Robin was born in 1920, seven years after marrying his wife, Daphne.

Of all of Milne’s works, the most famous are the Winnie-the-Pooh books, written between 1924 and 1928, and were written for his son, and were published in the following order:

When We Very Young (1924)

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Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)

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Now We Are Six (1927)

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The House at Pooh Corner (1928)

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Anniversary editions:

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood by David Benedictus (2009)

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The Best Bear in the World (2016) 

best bear

Of these, the novels, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner are the most well-known, though all are still in print today, over ninety years after publication, with The House at Pooh Corner turning ninety this year. Milne based the adventures of Pooh and his characters on his own son and his son’s toys, and the books were illustrated by E.H. Shepherd, and even today, are the benchmark in my opinion, for Pooh illustrations.

Milne’s birthday, the 18th of January, is also known as Winnie the Pooh Day. It is a wonderful day to relive the magic of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends.

Though Milne wrote other pieces of work during his career for Punch and a detective novel, The Red House Mystery (1922), and worked on stage play adaptations for The Wind in the Willows, he will always be best known for Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and the gang, and the 100 Acre Wood and the adventures of his son, Christopher Robin.

Further Reading on A.A. Milne:

HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY (As Owl might say Happy Birthday)

A.A. Milne: His Life by Ann Thwaite

Goodbye, Christopher Robin by Ann Thwaite

 

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Stella Prize 2018 and #StellaSpark

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There are many major literary awards that cover genres, styles, and various nationalities, and some that are international. However, there is one significant award in Australia that has been running since 2013. The Stella Prize is a major literary award that champions and highlights Australian women’s writing, and as a result, is an organisation that champions cultural change. It is named after one of the most iconic female writers in Australia – Stella Maria Sarah “Miles” Franklin. Fiction and non-fiction books by Australian women are eligible for entry. Below is a list of what the Stella Prize seeks to do, quoted from their website:

The Stella Prize seeks to:

  • recognise and celebrate Australian women writers’ contribution to literature

  • bring more readers to books by women and thus increase their sales

  • equip young readers with the skills to question gender disparities and challenge stereotypes, and help girls find their voice

  • reward one writer with a $50,000 prize – money that buys a writer some measure of financial independence and thus time, that most undervalued yet necessary commodity for women, to focus on their writing

AWW-2018-badge-roseA prize that works to highlight the voices of women writers in Australia is highly commendable. It serves the purpose of allowing women of Australia, regardless of age, ethnicity, race and so forth, to be represented and be heard in reviews, in writing and across all avenues of connection about Australian Women Writers. Reading has always been a passion of mine and I have always enjoyed Australian literature, and in particular, literature written by Australian Women Writers. In the last two years, I have started to pay more attention to Australian Women Writers that I read, out of curiosity to see what kind of authors populate my list more, whilst still realising that there are many other authors that do not necessarily fall into the category of Australian women writers that I will read and enjoy.

One thing that the Stella Prize works on is the Stella Count – a survey of how many Australian women versus male writers are reviewed by major publications and literary magazines. To build up the profile of Australian women writers and when I can, women writers in general, I try and review as many of them as I can on my blog. To work out my count, I keep a log, not only of every book read during the year, but a separate log for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, to see how I fare in my goals.

This year, there is a new campaign – The Stella Spark Campaign, where people can share their favourite book they have read written by an Australian woman in the past year on social media using the hashtag – #StellaSpark. This is an amazing prize and imitative that works to amplify the voices of women writers in Australia and raise their profile. Each year I peruse the long and short lists of the prize to see if something jumps out at me, and sometimes to see if I have read one of the nominees or the winner.

The long list will be announced in February, with the shortlist announced in March.

My #StellaSparks

Facing the Flame by Jackie French

Facing the Flame

Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

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Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

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A Dangerous Language

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Draekora

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Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

mr dickens.jpgTitle: Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Author: Samantha Silva

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Faber Factory Plus/Allison and Busby/Allen and Unwin

Published: 22nd November 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 320

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: ‘A charming, comic, and ultimately poignant Christmas tale about the creation of the most famous Christmas tale ever written. It’s as foggy and haunted and redemptive as the original; it’s all heart, and I read it in a couple of ebullient, Christmassy gulps.’ Anthony Doerr, bestselling author of All The Light We Cannot See

For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, avid fans litter the streets and he and his wife have five happy children and a sixth on the way. But when Dickens’ latest book, Martin Chuzzlewit, is a flop, the glorious life threatens to collapse around him.
His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, and increasingly plagued by self-doubt, Dickens meets the muse he needs in Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy. With time running out, Dickens is propelled on a Scrooge-like journey through Christmases past and present.
Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, comic, and ultimately poignant Christmas tale about the creation of the most famous Christmas tale ever written. It’s as foggy and haunted and redemptive as the original; it’s all heart, and I read it in a couple of ebullient, Christmassy gulps.’ Anthony Doerr, bestselling author of All The Light We Cannot See

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Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva focuses on what drove Dickens to write his most famous story, A Christmas Carol in 1843. In this novel, Dickens has been approached by his publishers, whose grave news of the failure of Martin Chuzzlewit over in America starts to eat away at him, and his usually charitable donations he gives out. For economic reasons, they encourage Dickens to write a Christmas story. In Silva’s version, these events happen not long before Christmas, with the book published days before Christmas. Silva has Dickens go through a similar transformation to Scrooge, though his reasons for wanting to cut back are presented as economic struggles rather than a selfish desire for money. On his journey, Dickens encounters the homeless and impoverished children of London, and a young woman named Eleanor Lovejoy, and her son, Timothy – who inspire the version we know and love today.

This fictional retelling of how Dickens came to write one of the best loved Christmas stories in the world draws from threads of information and biography that the author collected, and showed that someone many people depended on, a man whose heart was big, could be crippled by the very thing his books made social commentary about: poverty, or near poverty. Dickens was plagued by debts at the time, but the demands on his aid and from family didn’t stop – nor did they take him seriously in the novel when he said he couldn’t help. For Dickens, a chance meeting with the Lovejoys gives him the inspiration he needs to write the book that people all around the world know and love today: A Christmas Carol.

The London that Dickens inhabits leaps from the page, fog and all, just as it is in his books. His time alone with the Lovejoys is akin to the journey of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, where Dickens finds his way back to family and Christmas, and the magic in his heart that makes him the kind and generous man everyone knows he is. It is a heart-warming story, and portrays Dickens as merely human, a man who just likes to write and wants the best for his family, but also feels pressure from outside forces to do everything and please everyone. As an aspiring author, one line stuck with me, where Dickens is talking to his publishers and they are telling him what audiences want. His response about writers having to be told what to write by an audience even then shows the pressure authors are under to please an audience of readers. Despite this attitude, Dickens ended up writing a wonderful story that illustrates what Christmas is about, and the meaning of family and humanity, reflecting the attitudes of what it meant to be rich and poor in Victorian London.

I enjoyed this, even though it was a fictional reimaging of the journey Dickens took to write A Christmas Carol because it allowed an insight into what kind of journeys a writer goes on, and how they come to write certain books. The fog, and the cobblestones were as real as the figures that populated Dickens world and the young pauper boys who followed him around, wanting to put on a play of his work, and wanting to be immortalised as characters on the page. Silva has used research and her imagination in a wonderful union to recreate this time in Dickens’ life, and I will be aiming to read it again this coming December, alongside my other Christmas books.

I read this after Christmas as it arrived in early January from Allen and Unwin, but it is one that will make a great Christmas read, and enjoyable to read beside A Christmas Carol. I loved this book and I think fans of Dickens, lovers of Christmas and literature will enjoy this delightful book.

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Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings (Rose Raventhorpe #3) by Janine Beacham

rose raventhorpe 3Title: Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings (Rose Raventhorpe #3)

Author: Janine Beacham

Genre: Historical Fiction/Crime/Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Published: 11th January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 277

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The city of Yorke is under attack and it’s up to Rose Raventhorpe and Yorke’s secret society of butlers to find the culprit! The third mystery in the Rose Raventhorpe Investigates series.

The Clockwork Sparrow meets Downton Abbey

The city of Yorke is in a panic. There’s been a murder! Is an ancient ghost-hound called the Barghest on the loose?

ROSE RAVENTHORPE, her friend Orpheus and the secret society of butlers search for clues in the dark, eerie skitterways, on the mist-covered moors, and atop the ancient walls of the city. Rose believes that the villain is human, and she’s determined to prove it.

There’s no sweeping this crime under the carpet…

 

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AWW-2018-badge-roseRose Raventhorpe returns in her third adventure, Hounds and Hauntings. Yorke awakens one day to the death of a young local pickpocket named Moll, in Mad Meg Lane. The old legends of the Barghest start to be bandied about, calling up the old superstitions of Yorke and the surrounding areas within the walls. As Rose, her friend Orpheus, and Heddsworth, Rose’s butler, head towards a new chocolate shop that is opening, they stumble across the crime scene, where they are soon joined by Miss Wildcliffe, her dog, and the other Silvercrest Butlers as the police try to convince everyone Miss Wildcliffe’s dog is to blame. Told to leave by the police, Rose, Orpheus and the butlers of Silvercrest begin their own investigations, leading to unforeseen events and consequences, and an exciting ending where the case is solved, but a sense of mystery still abounds. And Rose’s cat, Watchful, is ever present, keeping Rose safe and secure. Just as in the previous books, the clues and hints are dropped at the right time for the reader to discover at the same time as Rose, creating an exciting atmosphere and pace that keeps the story going, and ensures a well-timed yet quick discovery when it is most needed.

 

Three books into this series, and each one is as good as the previous one. None have disappointed so far, delving into myths and legends from around the area Rose’s Yorke is based on to create a story and place that feels just as real as York in Yorkshire, including the Cathedral. Within this book, the world of Rose is very Victorian but with characters who are not what everyone expects them to be – Bronson, the female butler, was at first a surprise in the first book, but is quite a favourite now – the kind of surprise that works so well, it is a delightful surprise that I simply was not expecting. Rose bridges a gap between a proper Lady of society, and breaking out of gender and class roles as she works with the butlers to solve cases. Miss Wildcliffe is referred to as the authoress, a very Victorian phrase that works exceptionally well in this book to situate the character within her time and place, and what she represents.

 

Each book has something unexpected and new to discover as we venture through Rose’s world. With her parents absent in this novel, Rose had a lot more freedom, though at times, was still constrained by what adults around her thought she could do – nonetheless, she as usual, fought alongside the butlers for justice, and uncovered secrets at the end that those holding them would rather have kept to themselves.

 

Another delightful read from Janine Beacham, I hope there are more Rose Raventhorpe books to come.

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Book Bingo 2018

At the start of this year, I had decided to undertake the annual Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge. As I will read some books that will work for both, this shouldn’t be a massive undertaking, apart from a few categories that won’t coincide with the #AWW2018.

AWW-2018-badge-rose


Whilst perusing some of my favourite blogs today, I came across a Book Bingo, that Theresa Smith Writes and Mrs B’s Book Reviews are taking part in. I decided to give this a go, deciding that I would be more casual, and try to fill as many squares as I could. Rather than actively seek out all the squares, I am aiming to see where books for the other challenges fit into them to make it easier for me. I do have some books that won’t fit the #AWW2018 but might fit this and the other challenge I can do.

As today is launch day, there is no review for today. I aim to have one up on the 20th though, possibly scheduled. Keep an eye out for it and a note about which square it has filled.

To try and keep involved with Theresa and Mrs B, I will aim to complete a bingo review on the first and third Saturday of the month, whichever square happens to be have been filled at that time, and that will be the review I post.

I will be aiming to complete this over the course of the year, however, if I miss a few squares I won’t worry, though filling them all would be a very cool achievement. As part of this year’s reading journey, being able to use books across a few challenges will help me complete as many reviews and as many categories as possible.

If I double up with Theresa and Mrs B, that will be entirely coincidental, but also rather fun and interesting to see how we manage to fill the squares, and as some categories are open, what we choose to read for these ones.

My focus is of course, the #AWW2018 challenge, but this is just a bit of added fun.

Here is the bingo below, and ping-backs to Theresa and Mrs B are in the second paragraph.

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If you want to join me, as a blogger, ping back this and the other posts, and share your reviews!

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Illustrated Edition) by JK Rowling (Newt Scamander), Illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill

AU FB Illustrated-AU-Book-Jacket (1)Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Illustrated Edition)

Author: JK Rowling (Newt Scamander), Illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill

Genre: Fantasy, Chidrens and YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 7th November 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 160

Price: $45.00

Synopsis: Celebrate 20 years of Harry Potter magic!

This glorious new edition of Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (considered a classic throughout the wizarding world) features an extraordinary array of magical creatures, from Acromantula to Yeti via ten different breeds of dragon – all beautifully illustrated in full colour by the brilliantly inventive, Greenaway Medal shortlisted Olivia Lomenech Gill.

Famed Magizoologist Newt Scamander’s years of adventure and exploration have yielded a work of unparalleled importance, admired by scholars, devoured by young witches and wizards, and even made available to Muggles in the early years of this century. With this dazzling illustrated edition, readers can explore the magical fauna of five continents from the comfort of their own armchairs. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is essential reading at Hogwarts.

This new edition features the fully updated 2017 text – which includes new profiles of six magnificent beasts that inhabit North America and a new foreword by J.K. Rowling, writing as Newt Scamander.

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hp20_230As part of the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter last year, JK Rowling re-released a special edition of Hogwarts textbook, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Previously published in several different editions for Wizards and Muggles separately, this illustrated version is an exquisite addition to any Harry Potter library. Several new creatures have been added, such as the Thunderbird, the Wampus Cat and various other creatures found during Newt’s travels across the world when he first wrote the book, giving a larger scope to the wizarding world. Within these covers, there are new introductory notes from Newt by way of JK Rowling, discussing the differences in attitudes to magical creatures and wizards in different places. Each creature has a specific description and Ministry of Magic Classification, ranging from not so dangerous to extremely dangerous, as shown below.

X- Boring

XX – Harmless/may be domesticated

XXX – Competent wizards should cope

XXXX – Dangerous/requires specialist knowledge/skilled wizard may handle

XXXXX – Known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate

A previous edition in 2017 included the new creatures and the first editions made available through Bloomsbury and Comic Relief provided only text, and a few pictures by Tomislav Tomic, whose illustrations where wonderful, and the new ones by Olivia Lomenech Gill are beautiful.

Neither artist can be fairly compared, as they each have their own style, and each style, much like Jim Kay’s style in the illustrated novels contribute something unique to the book, and these full-colour illustrations bring the creatures to life in a new and vibrant way for fans of the Wizarding World of JK Rowling.

Olivia’s illustrations evoke the same magic and wonder as the words they sit with on the page, giving a better scope to the world of magical creatures. Though some have shorter descriptions, in the world of Newt Scamander, this would be down to what he could find out, especially during his time in America, where he was shown how secretive the world was in the movie. All in all, this is a delightful companion to the Harry Potter books to coincide with the 20th anniversary in 2017.

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The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan

*Read in 2017, published review in 2018*
sisters songTitle: The Sister’s Song

Author: Louise Allan

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set in rural Tasmania from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Sisters’ Song traces the lives of two very different sisters. One for whom giving and loving are her most natural qualities and the other who cannot forgive and forget.

As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1926, everything changes. The two young girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora’s musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.

The two sisters are reunited when Nora’s life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.

Ida longs passionately for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida’s eyes, it seems that Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.

Set in rural Tasmania over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters. The Sisters’ Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.

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AWW-2018-badge-rose
Most of the time when a novel contains love, it is the romantic kind, between two unrelated people, crossing paths and finding themselves tumbling head-first into a relationship, and its ups and downs, creating a much-loved genre amongst many readers. However, as someone who is not an avid fan of such novels, I always love it when I come across a novel where if there is romance, it is a subplot, or an element of the novel, and the main story shifts the important focus to something else, like family – a kind of love that is not often seen in many novels, but one that I have begun to see as creeping into books by Australian women writers, sometimes alongside a historical backdrop and some romantic love. It is this familial love that drives and instigates the plot of the debut novel by Louise Allan, The Sister’s Song.

 

Beginning in 1926 and set in Tasmania, and spanning the next seventy years, The Sister’s Song follows the lives of Ida and Nora Parker after their father dies, and their mother withdraws into herself. Nora is a gifted singer and piano player, and dedicated to faith, aww2017-badgeguided by the loving hand of her grandmother. Ida is the opposite, unsure of her place in the world, only knowing there are things she is not good at. When they grow up, their paths separate and Nora goes to the mainland to study music, against all her mother’s wishes, and Ida stays behind, becomes a nanny, weds, hoping to start a family. Their mother tries to keep Nora in Tasmania in the rural town they live in with their grandmother, pushing realism, not dreams, into their heads as the way to go. For Ida, this advice sticks with her but so does a feeling of wanting to be a better mother, a better sister. When Nora falls pregnant, she is sent home and married off to another man, and from here, the sister’s lives take a new turn, with Nora bearing the children Ida wishes she could, and each sister turning into what they never thought they would become.

Where Nora becomes more like their mother, Ida becomes more like their mother’s mother, and a supportive Aunt whose nephews and niece turn to in times of strife. Throughout the years, these sisters fight and come together, and ultimately, show the power of sisterly love through hard times. Spanning across seventy years, The Sister’s Song hints at the historical events Ida and Nora live through, but these moments are almost like passing ships as the reader becomes invested in the characters. I found that the love between the sisters, and Nora’s children was stronger, and had more depth in them than some romance novels I have read – deeper, more meaningful relationships always make a book more relatable and readable for me.

Louise Allan has created characters with flaws, that are not perfect and who make mistakes, and she allows them to make mistakes. She allows them to act and live within their time and frame of understanding as well, ensuring that their attitudes suit what they know, even if there are characters who find these attitudes shocking. Through Ida and Nora, various ways of living and thinking are explored, and understood over the years. It is a beautifully crafted story that shows everyone is human, and that everyone has the capability to follow their dreams, to fall, and to find their way back to who they once were, and the changing dynamics of family throughout time.

Ideal for readers looking for a new reader and a new author, and a refreshing take on the relationships that women have in literature and fiction. It’s always lovely to see one that doesn’t focus on falling in love, as it gives some variety and spice to female characters and their stories.

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