The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

mermaid witch seaTitle: The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea

Author: Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Walker Books

Published:    2nd September 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 416

Price: $18.99

Synopsis: In a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic, a desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial lady find a connection on the high seas.

Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don’t trust, don’t stick out, and don’t feel. But on this voyage, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is headed to an arranged marriage she dreads. Flora doesn’t expect to be taken under Evelyn’s wing, and Evelyn doesn’t expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian. Neither expects to fall in love. Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, double agents, and the all-encompassing Sea herself. Deftly entwining swashbuckling action and quiet magic, Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s inventive debut novel conjures a diverse cast of characters seeking mastery over their fates while searching for answers to big questions about identity, power, and love.

  • Former bookseller Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s first full-length novel, an adventure-packed fantasy which we won rights to in a pre-empt
  • Gender identity is also a theme throughout the novel, which features a romance between nobility-born Evelyn and trans orphan Flora/Florian, two strong queer protagonists
  • Gender identity and gender roles/sexual mores in society are major themes throughout the novel, which features notes of Asian folklore and culture threaded through and alongside the fantastical, adventurous, action-packed plot line

~*~

An adventure set on the high seas of a fantasy world that melds Japanese stories and culture with the traditional British fantasy, paying homage to both and the tropes, characters and creatures that inform a fantasy world. The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea pulls cultures together to create an imagined world filled with diversity.

Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, an Imperial, is travelling on the Dove to an arranged marriage. She is attended by Flora, whom she knows as Florian, during the voyage. All seems well. Until the crew reveals their true nature, and takes the passengers hostages, and the true nature of the Dove as a pirate ship is revealed.

Told in alternating chapters between Evelyn and Florian, through their eyes, The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea also tells a story of magic and the vibrancy of the sea and her children, the mermaids. When Evelyn and Flora/Florian discover what the pirates are doing with the mermaids they catch, the two are determined to help, and prevent the mermaid from meeting the same fate as so many others.

In this story, the sea and the mermaids are as much characters as Evelyn and Flora/Florian, whose lives intersect and become separate to move the story along, as each grows into their own identity together, and apart. There is romance, but the heart of the book is about identity and the breaking free of stereotypes to be true to yourself. Before Flora/Florian and Evelyn can embark on any kind of relationship, they must find out who they are apart, and this is where the power of this story was for me. It spoke to the need to be true to yourself, your culture, your identity–whatever it is that makes you, well, you and find a way to pull all these things together if you can. It is a book that celebrates being unique, and that celebrates not allowing expectations to rule your life.

Women and their lives and identities are at the heart of this novel. Their femininity, their individuality, their strength and ultimately, who they are and their place in the world. This powerful novel will have something for everyone, from exploration of gender identity, to a rollicking adventure filled with diverse characters, to some clever intrigue when it comes to the women characters, and the way the men seem to underestimate them and the surreptitious and subversive ways Evelyn, Flora and other characters show their true colours and abilities.

Aimed at teens aged fourteen and older, this book centres gender identity and gives people and the characters who might not have a voice one, and a chance to see themselves reflected in literature. This powerful story also shows the diversity of the world, and how a class system can determine your role in life, but also, people’s ability to go against this and determine their own fate.

House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess

house of dragonsTitle: House of Dragons

Author: Jessica Cluess

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 16th June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win? Think THREE DARK CROWNS meets THE BREAKFAST CLUB with DRAGONS.

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year these five outcasts will answer the call….

THE LIAR: Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

THE SOLDIER: Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

THE SERVANT: Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

THE THIEF: Ajax knows that nothing is free—he must take what he wants.

THE MURDERER: Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne.

~*~

Etrusia is in turmoil following the death of the Emperor, and the five royal houses have come to the Games to find out who will take over. Each family has had a child selected to take part in the trials. Yet this time, the five are not the ones expected.

Emilia, whose dark magic has caused chaos and havoc, is forced to hide this from everyone lest she be killed immediately. Lucian is a soldier, whose past has forced him to loathe fighting. Vespir is a servant from one of the houses, a dragon trainer. Ajax is a thief and is prepared to steal what he needs to reach his goal. Finally, Hyperia is determined to do whatever it takes to win.

Each is not the destined competitor, yet they’ve been chosen somehow. Now they must compete to see who takes the throne … and to determine who survives.

House of Dragons has a sense of antiquity and mythology about it. There are echoes of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, but with dragons. The challenge felt a little bit like the Hunger Games, but on a different, more concentrated and calculated level. It wasn’t a free-for-all; each challenge was destined to speak to the strengths and weaknesses of the competitors. The short, choppy chapters made the action move along swiftly, and ensures the reader stays engaged in the action.

As the challenge moves along, the competitors get to know each other, and form a bond that sees most of them wanting something better, something different. They don’t want to play the games anymore and find a new way to do things. But can they, and can they change things for the better?

A high-stakes, fast-paced novel about a kingdom seeking a ruler to see them through a new and different time, and about unity in diversity, and the power that comes with working as a team rather than having one person having all the power. Young adult and fantasy readers will find this exciting and engaging to read.

Billings Better Bookstore and Brasserie by Fin J Ross

Billings front coverTitle: Billings Better Bookstore and Brasserie
Author: Fin J Ross
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Publisher: Clan Destine Press
Published: 29th June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 278
Price: $29.95
Synopsis: Young Fidelia Knight arrives in Melbourne in 1874, alone except for her treasured companion, Samuel Johnson; well, half of him. To escape servitude, Fidelia hides each night in Bourke-street’s renowned Coles Book Arcade. She loves words, you see, and wants to know them all.

What she overhears in Coles sets her on a path that will change the lives of everyone she meets, starting with Jasper Godwin, the hopelessly underqualified manager of the new Billings Better Bookstore.

Fidelia’s thirst for knowledge is contagious. She tutors two orphan boys and two illiterate women, inspiring them to unlock their creativity; and her exploration of colonial Melbourne takes her to some unusual places.

Nothing daunts this diminutive genius, except the mystery of what really happened to her parents on the voyage from England.

~*~

When Fidelia arrives in Melbourne, she is escorted of the SS Great Britain by a man named Mr Bartholomew and delivered to a local orphanage. She takes his warning to her about not speaking to everyone to heart, hiding away in gestures, and words when she stumbles upon Coles Book Arcade, and uses her nights to read, and learn. When she hears Jasper Godwin trying to come up with a window advertisement for Billings, she is inspired by Samuel Johnson and the words she knows, using these skills to create alliterative advertisements for each letter of the alphabet.

Once she is taken in by Jasper and his wife, and meets Secret and Joshua, two orphans taken in by Billings and his wife, her life begins to change.

This delightful story begins as a mystery, which is threaded throughout Fidelia’s journey. Small clues are dropped along the way – the missing volume of her dictionary, the lack of information about her parents, things she hears, and the whispers of some of the people around her, and the secrets they keep. These all help in building the light suspense that comes into being in the second half of the novel as Fidelia grows into a young adult.

AWW2020The novel moves slowly at first, a representation of Fidelia’s new life, and her adjustments to this new place. Yet when she overcomes a hurdle and finds a family with the Godwins, the pace picks up appropriately, and swiftly takes us through the next phase of Fidelia’s life as she makes friends, who are loyal to her and together, they explore the worlds of education, creativity and words.

The themes of family and friends – and the idea that family is what we make of it – are explored through Fidelia’s love of words and the role of creativity, literature and the power of education within our lives. It celebrates a love of words, which all books do, but on a new level and in a new way that brings the dictionary and lexicography to life for all readers who will be interested in this book, aged ten and over. It is for confident readers, and will instil a love of language, linguistics and words in all readers.

I loved this book, and would recommend it to all who love a good yarn, words and a story filled with hope, and girls and women who do not subscribe to the conventions of society, but work within them to change their circumstances and the circumstances of those they want to help. It sits well in its genre, reflects the sentiments and issues of colonial Melbourne, and allows the characters, who sit outside of societal norms, to be themselves, particularly in the second half of the novel, when Fidelia finds her voice and shares her knowledge, finding people who are willing to share this with her and encourage her.

Books that celebrate books and words like this one are favourites of mine. And I’m finding that these books are becoming popular. It is interesting to see how different authors approach this as well, and the role that words have on our daily lives, and where these words originally came from.

A powerful story about family, friends, words and books that will charm and enthral readers.

Book Bingo Eight 2020 – Themes of politics and power

Book bingo 2020

 

Welcome to the August edition of Book Bingo with Theresa Smith and Amanda Barrett. This month I am checking off the square for themes of politics and power. In some books, the themes of politics and power are very overt, and very obvious to the reader. This can be because of the gender of a character, a setting or the overall themes within the book that might be exploring something political in an allegorical, tactile or obvious way. However, there are those books that have themes of politics and power where the politics are often a lot more subversive, less obvious to the reader until something happens, and it becomes clear that there are much more sinister things happening than we’ve been led to believe. One such book, and the book that I have chosen to mark off this square is the March release of a stand-alone novel, The Vanishing Deep by Astrid Scholte.

the vanishing deep

Set in a world where people are governed by water, where diving is a job, and where a facility called Palindromena assists loved ones in a final farewell, The Vanishing Deep reveals that there is more to Palindromena than people know. Told over twenty-four hours in alternating perspectives of Tempest and Lor, The Vanishing Deep explores the power and politics behind a facility like Palindromena, and the way they control death, and the threats to those who try to expose them for what has gone wrong, and how they silence opposition. Whilst much of this comes in the latter half of the novel, the issues of who has power over whom, who allows people to come and go on the Reefs in this new world are constantly hinted at, and told that this is just how we live now – these aspects are not questioned as highly as the integrity and ethical behaviour of Palindromena.

Whilst it is a Young Adult novel, it does deal with some heavy themes, such as death and corruption. The way these are written about is accessible, but readers should be warned in case they find darker issues a bit distressing. It is in no way graphic yet can tug at the heartstrings and throw a few curveballs at the reader. It is an exceptional example of what happens when someone tries to play God and abuses their power to exploit those they see as expendable.

June 2020 Wrap Up

 

The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12

AWW2020 – 67/25

Book Bingo – 12/12

The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52

Dymocks Reading Challenge 23/25

Books and Bites Bingo 15/25

STFU Reading Challenge: 9/12

General Goal –110/165

 

In June, I managed to read eighteen books in total, fourteen by Australian authors, and all but one of those were Australian women authors. Fifteen of the eighteen were by women authors from Australia and the United Kingdom, and my reading crossed all kinds of genres and audiences this month as I work towards my yearly reading goals.

Towards the end of the month, I participated in an Emma versus Pride and Prejudice read-along with some blogger friends – it seemed several of us went with Emma- perhaps because we had not read it yet and had already read Pride and Prejudice – and two of us found we could use it for a classics book bingo square.

I’m moving slowly through my stacks of books to read, and will hopefully be on top of all of them soon.

June – 18

Book Author Challenge
Elementals: Battle Born Amie Kaufman Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Lilies, Lies and Love Jackie French Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Kid Normal and the Final Five Greg James and Chris Smith Reading Challenge
Toffle Towers: Fully Booked Tim Harris and James Foley Reading Challenge
Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripey Spell Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Wonderscape Jennifer Bell Reading Challenge
When Rain Turns to Snow Jane Godwin Reading Challenge, AWW2020
League of Llamas: Undercover Llama Aleesah Darlison Reading Challenge, AWW2020
League of Llamas: Rogue Llama Aleesah Darlison Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Kensy and Max: Freefall Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Silk House 

 

Kayte Nunn Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle

 

Pamela Rushby and Nellé May Pierce Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Roxy and Jones: The Great Fairy Tale Cover Up Angela Woolfe Reading Challenge
Alexandra-Rose and Her Icy Cold Toes by

 

Monique Mulligan and Kate Fox (Illustrator) Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Meet Mia by the Jetty Janeen Brian and Danny Snell Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Meet Sam at the Mangrove Creek Paul Seden and Brenton McKenna Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts  Kathryn Harkup Reading Challenge
Edie’s Experiments: How to Be the Best Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley

the austen girlsTitle: The Austen Girls
Author: Lucy Worsley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Published: 19th May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $15.99
Synopsis: Would she ever find a real-life husband? Would she even find a partner to dance with at tonight’s ball? She just didn’t know.

Anna Austen has always been told she must marry rich. Her future depends upon it. While her dear cousin Fanny has a little more choice, she too is under pressure to find a suitor.

But how can either girl know what she wants? Is finding love even an option? The only person who seems to have answers is their Aunt Jane. She has never married. In fact, she’s perfectly happy, so surely being single can’t be such a bad thing?

The time will come for each of the Austen girls to become the heroines of their own stories. Will they follow in Jane’s footsteps?

In this witty, sparkling novel of choices, popular historian LUCY WORSLEY brings alive the delightful life of Jane Austen as you’ve never seen it before.

~*~

Everyone knows Jane Austen’s books – the most famous of which are probably Emma and Pride and Prejudice, and there are many retellings, and many books both fictional and non-fiction that feature or are about Jane Austen in some way. But Lucy Worsley has taken Jane Austen’s nieces – Fanny and Anna – and told their story, which involves Jane in a new and interesting way.

Set in 1809, it is time for cousins Anna and Fanny to enter society and begin the search for a husband – as society dictates for young ladies at the time. For Anna, marrying rich is a must – there is pressure from her family to make the right match and for the right reasons. Her cousin, Fanny, has a little more choice, yet, both are under extreme pressure to marry from their parents, but Aunt Jane is always there to offer advice, help and reassurance for everything.

Lucy Worsley has a talent for taking the stories of women in history and giving them a voice, and an identity beyond being daughters and wives.

Her previous three novels have focused on royal houses – here, Lucy explores the early nineteenth century and Jane Austen’s life. It is fresh and fun – as readers, we get to see Jane as more than just an author. As an aunt, a sister and a daughter. It is an example of how historical fiction about someone’s life, where what we know is filled in with the possibilities of what could have happened, and extrapolations of events based on the names, dates and facts available. Lucy has used these basic facts to bring history to life for her readers, in a way that is informative, accessible and entertaining. Told through the eyes of the younger girls, Jane’s nieces, the novel illustrates societal expectations, and how even in one family, ideas of wealth and status can differ, and inform what is expected of a teenage girl. At the same time, it also explores what happens when the oldest girl in a family needs to take on certain responsibilities – and doesn’t shy away from the realities of the time, yet presents them in a way that isn’t overly confronting for readers, but also, in a way that can still be understood clearly.

I love Luc’s work – she includes all the relevant and interesting details and shows us a world that whilst very far in the past, at times, can explore universal themes, and she brings history to life for a wide audience. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

The Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

monstrous devicesTitle: The Monstrous Devices
Author: Damien Love
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Publisher: Bloomsbury/Rock the Boat
Published: 19th May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: A cinematic and original page-turner for fans of Indiana Jones and Alex Rider

On a winter’s day, twelve-year old Alex receives a package in the mail: an old tin robot from his grandfather. ‘This one is special,’ says the enclosed note, and when strange events start occurring around him, Alex suspects this small toy is more than special; it might be deadly.

Things get out of hand, Alex’s grandfather arrives, saving him from an attack – and his otherwise humdrum world of friends, bullies, and homework – and plunging him into the macabre magic of an ancient family feud. Together, the duo flees across snowy Europe, unravelling the riddle of the little robot while trying to outwit relentless assassins of the human and mechanical kind.

With an ever-present admiration for the hidden mysteries of our world, Monstrous Devices plunges readers into a gripping adventure that’s sure to surprise.

~*~
When the robot Alexander receives a mysterious robot from his grandfather, he has no idea what is in store for him. Soon, it seems as if the robot has come to life. Soon, Alexander and his grandfather are racing through Paris and Prague as they try to solve the mystery of the robot that comes to life and does things that Alexander never thought possible, and invites danger into their lives that is at times scary, and that Alexander and his grandfather need to get out of so they can resume their daily lives.

This intriguing novel combines adventure and quest stories, with living toys, ancient myths and stories from the past about the golem, and robots in a unique way. It merges magic and reality seamlessly, and incorporates themes of science fiction and stories of how the living robot came to be, and is at times, scary or worrying, but action packed from beginning to end as they try to bring an end to an ancient family feud fuelled by macabre magic, and people who aren’t quite who they say they are.

At times, it feels apocalyptic – as though the robot and those who want it and want to control it are going to win. It feels as though it is a whole story, that the ending wraps things up nicely. Yet at the same time, there could be a sequel. The Tall Man who appears has a connection to one of the characters that is hinted at but perhaps not wholly resolved – and as the mystery of the robot unfolds, we are told along the way about Alexander’s absent father, whose non-presence in the novel shapes the characters and forms an interesting plot line that works well not being resolved – we don’t always find out everything – yet also works to hint at a sequel – either way, this plot line is woven throughout as Alexander ponders who his father is and what is going on with the robot and his grandfather.

This is a book filled with mystery and danger at every turn, as it draws on the golem legend from Jewish culture, and a Rabbi Loewy who is linked to the robot and the store it was taken from in Prague – this theft opens up the novel – where we first meet the tall man and the young girl who accompanies him. They are a constant presence in the novel – whether on the page or off the page, and their role gives the novel the scary undertones – what do these two people want, and who are they are two questions constantly at play throughout the novel.

This was a different novel for me – most of the things I read don’t have robots. It was interesting, and perhaps gives a brief look at what things could be like if robots did take over or at least, what could happen if they could read our thoughts and act of their own volition. In this way, it was a touch scary at times, yet also engrossing – to find out if Alexander and his grandfather succeed, you have to read on. It captures the imagination and once in Prague, takes the reader somewhere new and historic. It evokes a sense of history and mystery, and magic in a place that has a long and complex history within Europe in many ways – perhaps too many to list here.

This is an interesting and mysterious read for confident readers aged nine and older, and will take you on a journey you’d never expect.

Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley

Peta LyreTitle: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal

Author: Anna Whateley

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 248

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: At sixteen, neurodivergent Peta Lyre is the success story of social training. That is, until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Peta will need to decide which rules to keep, and which rules to break…

‘I’m Peta Lyre,’ I mumble. Look people in the eye if you can, at least when you greet them. I try, but it’s hard when she is smiling so big, and leaning in.

Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.

When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.

When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?

A moving and joyful own voices debut.

~*~

Rules help Peta navigate her life, and the social world around her. She is neurodivergent – ASD, SPD and ADHD – and these rules help her remind herself how to act around people who might not understand her neurodivergence, and the way she is, and how she might fit into society. Her friend Jeb, and Aunt Antonia have helped her with these rules and working out how to do things, and supporting her for who she is for many years. Ever since her parents gave up and quit, Peta has been living with Aunt Antonia – Ant, as she calls her, attending a local College for years eleven and twelve, and has had some success in keeping her routines and normal ratings steady.

When Sam starts school, and Peta’s careful routines that help her maintain her normal crack as they head on the school ski trip, Peta starts to find new confidence in romance, – can she have a normal life, or will her old rules matter when things fall apart?

AWW2020

This is a touching, evocative and honest own voices debut that can spark a conversation about what is normal. Is normal what society deems normal, or does everyone have their own normal that should be accepted. Or are both right? Can society have an expectation of appropriate behaviours and interactions that we learn through socialisation whilst we are able to maintain our own individual normal and individual routines at the same time? This is perhaps one of the most complicated things to unpack yet also, the simplest. For Peta, what she does is normal – her normal, Jeb’s normal, Ant’s normal. Normal in their lives – like in everyone’s lives – is what they know and experience.

Yet at the same time, there are societal ideations and expectations of what is normal, and all the characters must navigate this. To add another layer, the normal of the College Peta, Jeb and Sam attend is different again – every student is different, has a different normal and I think it is safe to say, nobody seems to fit into what society and others around them demand and expect is ‘normal’ – like Big Kat.

So what is normal? Normal is me, normal is you. Normal is Peta, and normal is the author, Anna Whateley. Normal is what we make of it, and our lives, our routines. We can change and adapt our normal as our confidence grows and as we find our place in the world as this book shows through Peta and her experiences at the snow, and how it helps her uncover and begin to talk about her feelings, what she wants to do, and how to let other people in.

Her character is authentic – and many of her experiences are based on Anna’s, which is what makes this book engaging, fresh and honest. It works on all levels.  I loved the support Peta’s friends and school gave her and I loved how she resolved things – it felt honest and fair, and made the book feel as much about friendship, family and coming of age as it did about the romance – and it was Peta’s rules and structure that helped shape how she approached things and that hopefully, gives readers an insight into what people who had ASD, SPD, ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions go through. This will differ from person to person, but hopefully this will resonate with people as well. The way Peta interacts might not be the same for everyone in her position – yet through this book, maybe readers can learn ways of helping – or how to ask what they can do to help – or just to listen and make an effort to understand.

Seeing how Peta grappled with being honest and blunt and how this wasn’t necessarily socially acceptable was an eye opener, and can open up conversations, I hope. How one person sees and understands the world is not the same as others – and throughout the novel, we see Peta trying to walk the tightrope of how to interact socially and act according to her normal. In a sense, trying to find what some might call a happy medium to please everyone, and herself.

It deals with themes of family, friendship, LGTBQIA relationships, and invisible disabilities in a way not often seen – in a positive way, where for sure, bad things happen but it is resolved and understandings are reached, and a normal way of life is forged for everyone involved. A great read for teens who want to see themselves represented and also for those who wish to understand these issues.

April 2020 Round Up

In April, we found ourselves amidst a pandemic – and I found myself with an influx of review books, some quite long, and some not so long. As I usually do, I aim to read ahead in my review stack, to get things cleared, and posted or scheduled to save time. I’m still a bit behind, reading some books that should be on this list on the day of writing and posting. However, this is the case due to the fact that the books may have arrived after or a day before publication date due to the current overload of deliveries due to the COVID-19 crisis we’re facing.

I’ve also been doing an Isolation Publicity series with Australian authors – which by the looks of things will take me into mid – late August at this stage, a month short of the planned lockdown. Some of these interviews are really exciting and make me wish I could share them now, but the schedule means everyone gets a special day for their interview. Many authors have had launches cancelled, festivals and appearance cancelled or moved online – which has meant a loss of income and has been detrimental to the arts sector. These authors need the love and publicity the book blogging community can give them so their work can get into the hands of readers.

I read 19 books this month, and all except The Austen Girls and The Unadoptables have a live review at this stage. The Austen Girls will be appearing around the 19th of May with several other reviews and posts. The latter is appearing in June. I also ticked off a few challenge categories – not as many as I had hoped, however, I am getting there and should hopefully have filled them all in by the end of the year.

April – 19

Book Author Challenge
The Deceptions Suzanne Leal AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Puppy Diary: The Great Toy Rescue Yvette Poshoglian AWW2020, Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
The Octopus and I Erin Hortle AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Big Trouble R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Modern Mrs Darcy
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

 

L.D. Lapinski Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
Inheritance of Secrets Sonya Bates Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Jane in Love Rachel Givney Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily
Persuasion Jane Austen Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
The Austen Girls Lucy Worsley Reading Challenge
The Unadoptables Hana Tooke Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: No Rules R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King Kate Simpson and Hess Racklyeft Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery Renée Treml Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Modern Mrs Darcy (Nominated for the 2020 Readings Children’s Prize)
Shortlisted Readings Children’s Book Prize 2020 AU; Shortlisted Speech Pathology Award, Eight to Ten Years 2019 AU 
Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge
Ribbit Rabbit Robot Victoria MacKinlay and Sofya Karmazina AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Nim at Sea Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Rescue on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
The Complete Adventures on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge

Isolation Publicity with Dr Anna Whateley

 

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

Peta Lyre

Dr Anna Whateley is a neurodivergent, #OwnVoices author – and it is exciting to hear from her about her debut novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal, which was released on the 28th of April 2020. Anna put some of herself into Peta, and I think this will make for interesting and authentic reading. Like many authors during the next few months, Anna is missing out on the release, launch and events related to her debut novel. Since starting this series, several events and launches have moved online, which is great – but this series is still vital I think – to showcase as many authors as possible affected by the pandemic in a variety of ways and in at various stages in their careers.

Hi Anna, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. Your first novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal is released this year – can you tell the readers a little bit about Peta, and where she came from?

Peta Lyre is 16, and from an area just south of Brisbane called the Redlands. She is doing year 11 at a TAFE college, and lives with her Aunt Antonia. Peta is autistic and gifted, and she has ADHD and sensory processing disorder, so life can be a bit intense! She has been following all the social rules perfectly, masking and ‘passing’ as normal for years. Her best friend is Jeb, a funny and sensitive guy stuck in a mechanics course when he wants to branch out. When Samanta arrives at college, Peta falls in love. They go to Perisher Valley for a ski trip and everything becomes more difficult. She is left with conflicting rules, an avalanche of emotions, and her worst fears are realised.

Peta’s voice was natural for me, a certain way of thinking I share, but her story is her own. She’s more sensible than me, and probably smarter!

2. You’re the second author I’ve interviewed represented by Danielle Binks, who was the first Isolation Publicity interview – how did you meet Danielle, and how long have you been working with her on the novel?

I met Danielle at the CYA conference in 2018, where I pitched Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal. I was pretty nervous, but she was supportive and yet straight to the point (I like that!). After she signed me up we had some young interns read Peta’s story, and they loved it. We didn’t really do any edits before sending it out to publishers in early 2019.

3. I understand that Peta Lyre is your first novel – what events and launches were planned for this novel prior to the pandemic shutting everything down?

Before the pandemic I was contracted to the Sydney Writer’s Festival, and a few other events that still haven’t been announced (or they haven’t decided what to do yet). I absolutely love festivals, so I’m a bit crushed. Apart from those, I’d planned to have a launch and a few bookstore events – they’ve mostly moved online, so that’s great!

4. Without giving too many spoilers away, is there anything about Peta and her story that was inspired by yourself, or anyone you know?

I share her diagnoses, and she takes the same medications I do. I also went to a TAFE for years eleven and twelve of high school and went on the ski trip. I’ve drawn on those years to create Peta’s world, but not directly, and nothing in her family life is like mine was really. We did struggle for money in those years, and I really wanted to show what low SES living can be like. Not in a dramatic way, just in a mundane sort of day to day life way – like not going to the movies or having sponsored ski trip thanks to the government and package deals with local private schools. Being the charity kids, as it were. We still enjoyed it, but there’s always a moment when you realise that other people live and experience life differently. Apart from that, I drew on key moments – emotional punches – from my teenage years. Like the moment you realise someone has judged you for kissing a girl, or when you realise you’ve hurt someone you love. The situations are different, but the core emotion is shared.

5. Since the pandemic started to shut things down, you’ve started an #AusChat video series – what inspired this, and how many people in the book industry in Australia have you spoken to so far?

Ha, this was a strange thing! I was swept up in a moment of loneliness and sadness that I wouldn’t be seeing my writer community. I can easily slip into isolation anyway, and forget that I need other people, and when it looked like everything was shutting down, it became overwhelming. So, I guess my ADHD-self took over and decided to chat to people I know from Twitter using zoom, and just see how they’re going. Then I thought I’d record it and pop it up on my YouTube channel. Kay Kerr helped me figure out a few parameters and was always going to be my first chat. We’ve shared a lot of our publishing journey together and had previously thought we would do some online conversations. I’ve recorded thirty chats now and have more booked in! I’m stunned people have responded so well, and I’ll keep going so long as the need is there.

6. You’ve got a PhD in young adult literature – where did you study this, and in particular, what aspect of young adult literature did you focus on?

I do, but not in creative writing of YA! I analysed young adult fiction with a theoretical framework. It’s an academic way of understanding where our society and culture sit on a particular issue. For me, it was understanding how people continue on after they realise they’re going to die. That sounds simple, but there’s a moment where you understand what death really means, and that it’s always present in our lives (perhaps even more so at the moment). These revelatory moments are key to YA texts, and I specifically looked at the role characters who didn’t fit the binary codes of society played in each narrative. I could go on forever! Basically, I found that young adult fiction does an amazing job of processing and incorporating death in a productive and transformative way. More than that, characters who don’t fit simple binaries are crucial to survival. Perfect.

7. Did you study children’s literature prior to the PhD, and what did the course focus on? What aspects of a children’s literature course do you think are important?

I came from doing a teaching certificate in the UK, and before that I completed a BA with Honours in English Literature. Not children’s literature at all! I studied all the classics, from William Shakespeare to Toni Morrison. I loved every moment, though I’d say my favourites were the Romantic period, and postmodern literature. My honours looked at environmental discourses over the last two hundred years, winding in feminist, post-structural and postcolonial theories. I have taught children’s and YA literature to pre-service teachers more recently, where I think it’s really important to keep the texts current, while leaning on historical writing. We need to show a genuine respect for the books we study, whether they are adult, YA, picture books, graphic novels, or poetry. Popular or unpopular, they all show us something about the culture that produced them.

8. How important are #OwnVoices stories to you, and what do you think they bring to the book world?

Own voices writing is incredibly important to me, and I’m lucky to have come along at the upsurge of a movement that amplifies my own voice. We’ve had post-colonial theories for a long time, questioning the writing of Othered/marginalised people by those in more powerful positions (Western, usually male, white writers). Own voices is expanding these ideas and drawing attention to how problematic it is to have disabled, queer, or otherwise marginalised people written, rather than writing. The caveat is always that some writers may not want to expose their own position, or identify a text as own voices, so it’s good to remember that before criticising any text for not being own voices. I think our books bring a sense of authenticity, and it’s changing the publishing industry for the better.

9. #OwnVoices has been around for a few years now. What are some of your favourite #OwnVoices stories, and why these in particular?

I really like Erin Gough’s writing, her short stories and novella in particular, but obviously her YA, Amelia Westlake, too! To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han is wonderful, and Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard also had a big impact. I’m really looking forward to Kay Kerr’s Please Don’t Hug Me, as an autistic own voices YA novel. I like these ones because they have a voice I identify with, or that I don’t – and then I can learn and expand my own world understanding by reading them. [Just a note, these authors may not all identify these novels as own voices!]

10. During these difficult times of isolation, what authors or books do you find yourself turning to?

I’m reading a strange pile right now, mostly inspired by #AusChat! Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain, is taking my breath away. I’m expecting my copy of Deep Water by Sarah Epstein to arrive any day now, and I can’t wait. My reading has changed a lot over the years, perhaps as a teenager I would have turned to a long fantasy series, with a contemporary novel or two on the side.

11. There are several new releases over the next few months that have either been delayed or rescheduled due to the virus or are coming out without any launches or events attached to them. Which ones are you the most excited to read when you will be able to get them?

Ah! Luckily, I’m involved with OzAuthorsOnline, where we are doing YA launches for people who have had their events cancelled. Soon, I will have Sarah Epstein’s Deep Water, Katya de Beccera’s Oasis, and Danielle Bink’s The Year The Maps Changed, of course!

12. Favourite author, series or book that you always go back to?

Oh, once up on a time I’d have said Twilight, but the long-time favourite is Anne McCaffrey. For contemporary writing, I’d say Judy Blume.

13. What writing method works for you – handwriting, typing or a combination?

Typing! I scribble things, but my hands lack strength and I type much faster.

14. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

I have SO many hobbies. They include reading, jigsaws, felting, sewing (badly), camping, mushroom photography and Minecraft!

15. Do you have any writing buddies, like a cat or a dog?

I have two dogs, Teddy and Buddy, and two rescue guinea pigs called Autumn and Winter. They all keep me company! Teddy barks a lot, but he’s very sweet.

16. How do you think the arts community will help people through this tough time, and how do you hope it will come out at the other end?

The arts give us escape, entertainment, a reason to go on, and a way to process what’s happened. These things are equally important.

Thank you Anna!