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!

Isolation Publicity with Middle Grade Mavens

 

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.
Some of my first interviews were with authors who have had events cancelled – and if there is more interest, I will be including as many as I can over the next few months, because books are what will get us through. Another artform and piece of media that will get us through is podcasts, and whilst I have written about the ones I listen to before, I’ve never interviewed a podcaster. So, the first podcast I will be interviewing is Middle Grade Mavens. Pamela has answered most of the questions where it doesn’t specify a name with two answers. It’s interesting to see how the book community is adapting and promoting the literary world, and in the midst of this pandemic, are promoting kids’ books for all ages across their social media platforms.

 

It was interesting to see that we enjoy some of the same books and podcasts as well.

middle grade mavens

Hi Julie and Pamela, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. I started listening to your podcast late last year in 2019 and binged it to catch up. First of all, can you tell my readers what the podcast is about?
Middle Grade Mavens is an Australian book review podcast by myself, Julie Anne Grasso and Pamela Ueckerman. It’s aimed at anyone who loves middle grade books; that is, books aimed for ages 8-12. We provide detailed book reviews on new and not-so-new releases and author interviews. We sometimes create bonus episodes for aspiring authors such as a series we ran over the summer interviewing of children’s book editors.
2. When you began the podcast, as a team and as individuals, what did you hope to achieve with each episode?
Julie: Pamela and I both have an intense love for middle grade books. Sometimes we have intense views about how they should or should not be written, but regardless of our views, we knew we wanted to get the word out about great middle grade books we’ve encountered. To do that, we decided we would just start talking about middle grade books. From there it morphed into interviewing authors, illustrators, editors, publicists, booksellers, and anyone who wants to join us on the journey of promoting and discovering wonderful middle grade books. The world is our oyster really.

3. The connection you have as podcasters is great to listen to – did that develop as you planned out the podcast, through a working relationship, or another relationship, and how long have you been friends for?
Julie: It’s funny, Pamela and I met at Kidlitvic (industry conference) a few years ago and hit it off immediately. We talked about books, our views on the industry and how we hope to be a part of it. When I bounced the idea off Pamela of a podcast about middle-grade books, she jumped at the chance. We didn’t really have any idea how to go about it, so we just wrote up some questions we’d like to ask each other about the books we were reading, and went from there. We use a simple platform called Anchor, which is a mobile phone app. We record on Skype and upload our segments and interviews to the Anchor app, which then distributes our show to 10 platforms, like Apple Podcasts. Pamela is also whizz at websites, so she built one for us. The rest is history!

Pamela: It’s always great to hear that people enjoy our connection. We had already been part of a writing mastermind group for a year or so when Julie suggested a podcast, we knew each other fairly well but it has grown from there with working so closely. We spent a few months planning and preparing before we started recording so I think that also helped. We’re quite different in many ways but similar in our approach to our careers. We take things seriously, but not too seriously, and while we’d love to be perfectionists, we know with children and the limited time we have that perfection is unattainable so we don’t let that stop us.

4. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading, and was it a middle grade book?
Pamela: I’ve always read, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. One of my fond childhood memories is on my 7th birthday, my dad waking me up to give me a beautiful book of nursery rhymes and fairy tales from our next-door neighbour. I still have that book, although it’s not very PC any more. I also have an annual that was my mother’s when she was a girl. One of my favourite books as a child was Roald Dahl’s The Twits and another was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved escaping to other worlds, or other versions of our world. I still do!

Julie: I am going to surprise you, but I was not a reader at all as a child. I didn’t get the reading bug until I was well into my late teens when I read, Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan Series. Those books made me a reader and I still read them today and love them. Plus, I was always a sci-fi nerd, watching Dr Who as a child, so a sci-fi book series is what it took to get me reading.

5. I’ve been studying, reading and following literary circles and trends for a while – and the last few years have been the first time I have heard the term middle grade, at least in Australia. How do you feel the trend in using this term has grown for readers aged around eight to twelve?

Pamela: Middle-grade was a new term for me when I started writing for kids. Until I had my own children, I hadn’t read children’s books in many years and while they were little, I was mostly immersed in picture books. As a kid, I would jump between reading younger books like Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, maybe a Babysitter’s Club, classics like Little Women and then adult books like Mills and Boon and a French detective series I discovered at the library. There were books in between, of course, but not like they are today. I love that the focus has grown in this area because it’s such an important developmental growth period for children, especially as they no longer have the freedom to explore the world as they once did. But also, a great middle-grade book can be enjoyed by teenagers and adults as well, without darker themes, violence or heavy language that they might want to avoid. It’s hard for me to tell if the term has trended recently because I’m so immersed in it, but I like to think we are champions for middle-grade books and helping that readership to stand on its own.

6. When we were younger and in the nineties, the terms middle grade and young adult didn’t seem to be around or as visible – the bookshops and libraries were broadly divided into kids, adult and sometimes teen sections – do you think the addition of young adult, and middle grade has helped to address how we present books to readers of all ages?

Pamela: Yes, I think the terms really help the gatekeepers and the readers home in on books that are appropriate for their age level and also help booksellers and publishers to target their marketing. Which isn’t only great for sales but it’s also great for attracting kids to read. If they pick up a book that looks interesting but is too advanced or to dark, they might be put off. Likewise, they might be put off if a book seems too easy or babyish. Having these loose categories really helps everyone involved to know what to expect.

Many years ago, children’s books were seen purely as educational opportunities, very moralistic, so I think a part of carving out this niche is that the books are written with an understanding of the age group, writing from a child’s point-of-view rather than the perspective of an adult trying to teach a child. Story is much more important than moral now, which gives authors more scope and allows them to have more fun.

7. Maven Julie is a librarian (if I have this wrong, I apologise, and please correct when you send this back). In this sphere, have you noticed a change in the way middle grade books are presented and recommended in your library? Has this helped kids and parents find the right books?

Julie: So, I better clarify I am a customer service librarian, not a catalogue Librarian. My focus is to help readers discover, find, and access books, as well as essential services that the library offers. I have definitely seen some great changes in the kind of books coming into the collection, as well as how they are presented on the shelf. Through the podcast, and having access to re-release books, I am also able to make some great recommendation of new release books that have only just hit the shelves, as well as some golden oldies.

8. Maven Pamela – how do you incorporate the many, many middle grade books into your home-schooling?

Pamela: Many, many, yes indeed! We start every home-school day with me reading aloud from a novel to both my boys, who are only two years apart so close enough that I don’t feel the need to do separate books. I try to choose more challenging, literary books than what they choose for themselves – a mixture of classics and newer books. How I select those is fairly random, depending on what we already have and what I think they’re ready for. I have collected quite a few books from second-hand book sales and little free libraries over time so we always have options. Other times I use the library. After the novel read-aloud, I usually read from a non-fiction book or maybe a narrative non-fiction picture book and do this for both world and Australian history and sometimes to tie in with our science nature study. We also have bedtime reading, which is the boys’ choice – they usually each have a novel going as a bedtime read-aloud. And then throughout the day they dip in and out of other books for their own reading – these are usually more light-hearted books, manga, or Pokémon or Minecraft guides.

9. Do you have a current favourite middle grade book or series, and why?

Pamela: My current favourite is Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series, it has so much depth to the world, the characters, the setting. You can really lose yourself in Nevermoor, which is what you want from a series.

Julie: My current favourite is Malamander by Thomas Taylor and I am reading Gargantis, soon to be released, which is the second book in the series. It is everything I’ve ever wanted in a book. A middle grade magical realism set in eerie-by the sea, a shanty town with a crumbling hotel and a protagonist with a fruit as a surname. My criteria are eclectic I realise, but I’m owning it 100%!
10. When not reading middle grade books, what is your go to genre?
Pamela: Historical fiction is my go-to but I like good writing in any genre, including non-fiction, which I read quite a bit of.
Julie: I used to love forensic crime, but that was before I adopted sleep deprivation as my eternal friend. Now I like to read all things Mystery and or Who Dunnit!

11. Best reading companion: dogs, cats, or both?
Pamela: I’m a dog person but we don’t have any pets right now. At the moment, I’m lucky to get any peace at all so I’m happy when I do!
Julie: Achoo! Neither, allergies. Can I go with the actual book being the companion?
12. Which Hogwarts house do you think you’d be in, if you’ve read the books?
Pamela: Hmmm, I want to say Gryffindor but probably Ravenclaw.
Julie: Gryffindor, although, if I did one of those tests it would probably be Hufflepuff.
13. Are there any 2020 middle grade releases that you and your munchkins are looking forward too?
Pamela: Hollowpox, the next Nevermoor book, and Remy Lai’s new release, Fly on the Wall, both of which have been postponed, which is disappointing! Mr Nine is looking forward to Allison Tait’s new series, The Fire Star in September; and Mr Seven has a few sequels he’s looking forward including Squidge Dibley Destroys Everything (by Mick Elliot), Real Pigeons Peck Punches (Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood) and Aleesah Darlison’s League of Llamas books.
Julie: Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, The Mummies Smugglers of Crumblin Castle by Pamela Rushby, Illustrated by Nelle May Pierce.
14. When not borrowing from the library, do you have a favourite bookseller you frequent, and why?
Pamela: I try to spread the love around but in particular I like to support my local indie bookstore, Benn’s Books (Centre Rd, Bentleigh). They have a beautifully curated children’s book section.

Julie: The Younger Sun in Yarraville Vic They have an incredible selection and I have to limit my attendance so not to break the bank.

15. Book podcasts are gaining traction – and what I love about them is I can listen to them whilst doing something else, which is how I binged on your podcast and One More Page. What is it about podcasts that discuss books in particular that you think is something people are seeking out?

Pamela: That’s an interesting question. I guess for each person it depends on what they’re trying to get out of it. Some of our listeners are writers and looking to learn more about the industry and pick up writing tips. Others are teachers or librarians looking for book recommendations. The industry is quite strong (or at least was before COVID-19) and there are so many books, it’s nice to be able to cut right through the noise. I think it’s also a form of connection – when you get to know a podcast and if you enjoy the show’s format or the presenter’s voices, you feel a connection to them and want to hear what they have to say. And if the hosts are reading and discussing the same books as you are, there’s a connection there, a shared experience. As we are finding out the hard way with the pandemic, connection is a hugely important part of life. If you can get that connection on your terms – when, where and how is convenient for you – even better.

16. What book or podcast recommendations can you give readers?
Pamela: As a writer, I love So You Want to Be a Writer, particularly the interviews, they’re fascinating. For kids, my boys love Wow in the World, which is an hilarious science-themed podcast. As for books on writing, I’m currently reading Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, I highly recommend it.

Julie: Same as Pamela, above, as well as our friends at One More Page. I also love The First Time podcast, and another great one for more readers of adult mystery and crime fiction, SheDunnitShow Last but not least, another great one for adult and kids book lovers, Words and Nerds…

Isolation Publicity with Jenna Guillaume – author and freelance journalist.

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.

what I like about me

Jenna’s debut, What I Like About Me, which I hope to be reading and reviewing soon, came out in Australia in 2019. This year, it was meant to be released in America, and Jenna was due to head over to America for a book tour when the corona virus hit, and closures meant she wasn’t able to do so. In lieu of this, like many authors, she’s trying to do online tours and promotion, and her stop on my blog is part of this, and is another interview in my Isolation Publicity series.

Hi Jenna, and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. Your book, What I Like About Me. Has been out in Australia for a year and is just being released in America. Is this an exciting move for an Australian author?

It’s so exciting! I honestly didn’t really expect What I Like About Me to be published in America as I know it’s a hard market to break into, and it’s a very Australian book. It was a very lovely surprise. We consume a lot of American culture here so it’s nice to have a story of my own going back the other way.

 

  1. Did you have to edit your book for an American audience, or did you leave it as it is?

I did have to make some edits, although perhaps not as many as you’d think. It was mainly language – caravan became RV, servo became gas station and so on. I also had to take out a reference to Minties, because apparently they’re a dog treat in America, not a human treat.

  1. Do you feel it is important for Australian books to maintain their Australian identity when entering the international market?

I’m really passionate about seeing Australian books tell Australian stories, and retain as much of that identity as possible in international markets. As I already mentioned, we consume so much American culture here. It’s vital we hang on to our own culture, and having it embraced internationally is always going to help with that.

  1. Where did the idea for What I Like About Me come from, and what is it about Maisie that you think makes her more relatable than some of the middle grade or young adult protagonists in more popular books?

What I Like About Me initially started out as a romance, so I started with the dynamic of the core four characters who would be involved in the romance plot. As I developed the character of Maisie, the story morphed into being more focused on her own internal journey with loving herself – although of course the romance is still there.

I wouldn’t say Maisie is more relatable than other protagonists, but I do hope readers can connect with her. I poured a lot of my own personal experiences and emotions as both a teenager and an adult into her – especially regarding my relationship with my body. She’s comes from a place of authenticity.

 

  1. You started out as a writer with places like Buzzfeed, Junkee, Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News. Do you still write for these places, and where did you get your start?

I started my career at Girlfriend magazine, working there for five years, before I worked at BuzzFeed for another five years. I now freelance in addition to writing books, so the publications you mentioned are those I currently write for (amongst others). After a decade split across just two workplaces, it’s nice to branch out and write for a lot of different titles!

  1. You’re represented by my first interviewee in this series, Danielle Binks. How did you meet, and do you enjoy working with her?

Danielle and I ‘met’ online, on Twitter, purely because we have similar interests and enjoy chatting about things like pop culture and romance books and, of course, YA. We met in person for the first time at the Sydney Writers’ Festival a few years back, and she became my agent a few months later. She’s a dream to work with. We’re totally on the same page about a lot of things, and it’s wonderful to have someone as knowledgeable and passionate as Danielle in my corner.

  1. Is there another book on the way that you can tell my readers anything about?

I’m currently editing my second book, which is out with Pan Macmillan in August. It’s Weird Science meets Jenny Han – two girls accidentally create the perfect guy, and he complicates their lives in ways they would never have anticipated. It’s a very fun rom-com that I’m excited to share with people.

 

  1. The important stuff: Cats, dogs or both?

DOGS! Although I am trying to grow out of my previous anti-cat prejudices.

  1. Favourite kind of writing snack?

Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate.

 

  1. Which Hogwarts house would you belong in if you were attending Hogwarts?

I’m a Ravenclaw through and through!

  1. What is it about rom-coms that you love, and what was the rom-com that began your love of the genre?

Rom-coms are just so comforting. You know they’re going to have a happy ending. They’re the best form of escapism, and necessary in times like this. I’ve loved rom-coms for as long as I remember – I can’t even tell you what my first one would have been. I know I watched Clueless for the first time when I was about nine, but I’m sure there were some earlier than that. I guess that’s the first one I actively chose to get from the video store though.

  1. You might hate me for this question, but top five rom-com movies – what are they?

Oh my god this is so tough! Okay, don’t hold me to this because it may change in future, but right now:

  1. When Harry Met Sally
  2. 10 Things I Hate About You
  3. Clueless
  4. Love Actually
  5. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
  1. When writing, do you prefer typing on a computer, or using a pen and paper? Is one or the other more effective for you?

Computer, 100%. My handwriting is terrible and my arm hurts after writing like two sentences. I’m too used to computers now.

  1. Do you have a favourite bookseller, and why are they your favourite?

Ooooh I love so many bookstores, but I have a soft spot for Better Read Than Dead in Newtown because I go to book club there and they do other great events, plus it’s just such a homey and friendly place. Also Kinokuniya in the Sydney CBD, which is where I had my first book launch! They have an incredible range and a great YA section in particular.

  1. Like Danielle, your job is in the arts. How important do you think the arts are, in times of crisis and at other times as well?

The arts are vital. I know it can feel ‘frivolous’ or not important, but while they may not contribute to our physical health or immediate survival, I think they’re absolutely necessary for our mental health. They keep us sane and bring us joy even in the darkest times.

  1. Do you prefer the blue cover, or the yellow cover?

I cannot possibly pick a favourite. I like that both variations are out there!

 

  1. In this time of crisis, what art forms – movies, podcasts, television, books etc – do you find yourself turning to when you need a break from everything that is going on?

I definitely go back to my go-to comforts – rom-coms, and movies and shows I loved growing up. There’s something about nostalgia that provides a safe space. I am also super into kdramas, because they tend to have romance-focused plots, and having to read subtitles forces me to get offline when I am otherwise addicted to my feeds.

 

  1. What books are you looking forward to reading this year?

I’m so excited for Danielle’s debut The Year the Maps Changed, as well as Kay Kerr’s Please Don’t Hug Me and Anna Whateley’s Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal.

 

  1. Which events were you the most excited about this year that have been cancelled or postponed?

Oh man. I was going to be in America at the end of April to do some promo events for What I Like About Me and also see my faves BTS perform, and now that trip has been cancelled which I’m super bummed about. And although I was going to be away when it was on, I’m still devastated to see the Sydney Writers’ Festival be cancelled. There are so many events that had a lot of work put into them that have now been called off. It’s just so heartbreaking. I know when we can all finally gather and go to these events again, it’s going to be all the more meaningful.

Any further comments?

It’s a really tough time right now. Be gentle with yourself and don’t feel guilty for reaching for joy. Also, I know there’s a lot of financial pressure on many people, so even if you can’t support your fave artists and small businesses with money, a recommendation, review or tweet of appreciation and support can be really meaningful! And don’t forget the joys of libraries, which all have online services you can access without leaving the house.

Books and Bites Book Bingo – A book with bad reviews: Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

books and bites game card

In my tenth post for Books and Bites Book Bingo, I chose to mark off the square for a book with bad reviews. This was always going to be a subjective square – as all books are going to have good and bad reviews, so any book could really fit in here.

dark prophecy

Usually, the more popular books are more likely to have bad reviews, and this could be for many reasons – from simplistic writing, to the way the author handles the plot or issues of representation. Last year I was sent book four in the Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan – after the publication date and decided I had better read the first three first. For this category, I read Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy.

I’ve read the first two, and this is one of those series that will always have bad reviews for a variety of reasons – and sometimes, these will be a very individual reason, and might not make sense. From people feeling it is too much of one thing, or too little of another, or they simply do not like the way the Greek mythology has been dealt with, the bad reviews can be expansive, they can be brief and they might even be reviews that miss the point of the book – perhaps a commonality amongst bad reviews.

I’m getting a good pace going through this challenge – some squares have books planned in my mind, and some I’m letting fall as they come, so that lets some of the stress off me to find things all the time. With my aim to post at least once a fortnight, hopefully I will fill the card by the end of the year, but will probably post as often as possible at some point.

Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily #3.5) by Jackie French

christmas in parisTitle: Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily #3.5)
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 18th November 2019
Format: eBook
Pages: 104
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Paris, Christmas Eve, 1933
For once it was an accident. Violette did not mean to kill St Nicholas. But there he was, with blood on the cobblestones, and a family waiting for the Christmas Eve miracle that would never come. And her own family expecting her to eat Christmas goose tomorrow at Shillings Hall in England.
Violette Jones had led a life of melodrama since being born in the middle of a war to an espionage agent. But even she had never had to face a bloodied St Nicholas, and somehow conjure three miracles for Christmas.
Another story for the many fans of the Miss Lily series.
~*~

Each year, a few months after the main Miss Lily book comes out, Jackie French releases a short story – a Christmas story about the characters that takes place in between the main books. Christmas in Paris takes place in 1933 in between book three – The Lily in the Snow, which ends in 1929 as the Great Depression begins and book four – Lilies, Lies and Love – which is out in the next few months and will pick up the story in 1936, around the time Edward VIII abdicates to marry Wallis Simpson. In Christmas in Paris, Violette, the orphan from book three, is the focal character, and when she stumbles across a dead Santa Claus, and a worried American, she must call on her family – Sophie, Miss Lily and her parents – to help her solve the mystery.

AWW2020Violette’s story is mostly told in the latest Miss Lily novel yet hinted at here. She has certainly changed a lot since we last met her, and she is growing nicely as a character and will I feel become one who will be important in the later books and will help Sophie. However, Sophie is in the background of this story as Violette manages to pull together three miracles to bring Christmas to those who are not having a good time. Violette still has that spark she had when we first met her, yet she seems to have put it to good use for those who are now her family, and for what is to come in the next book. Whilst it might not set up for the main novels, each of these books will still add to the series for avid Miss Lily fans, and they are amongst some of the only eBooks I read – alongside any for work, as I find shorter works easier to read on screen than longer works. And let’s face it – it’s Jackie French and her books are always ones I will read, or even listen to if I had the chance. Thank you for these books Jackie, the Christmas ones and all your books. I’ve been a reader of them for over twenty years, since year seven when I first read Somewhere Around the Corner – and I still have my original copy.

The mystery of the dead Santa Claus, replacing him and pulling off an event that will appeal to Americans and Parisians drives this short story, and is perfect to fill the wait in between each main Miss Lily novel, though a couple of them go back in time, much like some of the Miss Lily books go back and forth as needed. Each can be read alone, yet they work better as a series. In my mind they work best when read like this – though the eBook short stories are optional and not crucial to understanding the rest of the series:

1. Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies (1902 to 1919)
2.With Love from Miss Lily (Christmas 1918 – Miss Lily #1.5 Short Story)
3. The Lily and the Rose (1919 – 1926)
4. Christmas Lilies (Christmas 1914 – Miss Lily #2.5 Short Story)
5. The Lily in the Snow (1929/1920s)
6. Christmas in Paris (Christmas 1933 – Miss Lily 3.5 short story) – this review
7. Lilies, Lies and Love (1936-) – yet to be released

I’ve read all that are out and have loved them all. I am keen for the next one. When reading historical fiction like this, I often find myself caught between knowing what is to come and hoping none of the characters are hurt, yet at the same time, hoping that what is dreaded does not come to pass, though it inevitably does. These books give women a voice in these histories, allowing them to speak about what they did and to highlight that much more went on during the wars and interwar period than the history books tell us. Jackie French has brought history to life, and in this book, has given people a moment of hope in a dark time in history – even if only for a day at Christmas.