Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year for 2007



English: Happy New Year
Chinese: Gung Hay Fat Choy
Dutch: Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
Filipino: Maligayang Bagong Taon
French: Bonne Annee
Gaelic: Aith-bhliain Fe Nhaise Dhuit
German: Gutes Neues Jahr
Hawaiian: Hauoli Makahiki Hou
Hebrew: Shana Tova
Italian: Buon Capo d'Anno
Japanese: Akemashite Omedetou
Norwegian: Godt Nytt Ar
Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
Romanian: La Multi Ani
Russian: C Noveem Godom
Spanish: Feliz Ano Nuevo
Swedish: Gott Nytt Ar

To everyone in the Blogosphere who reads these pages, may 2007 be book-filled !

Jumping the Scratch - Sarah Weeks

I first heard of Sarah Weeks' Jumping the Scratch from Jen Robinson's review, which was so well written, I wanted to read the book, despite it being a non-genre book (and as you know, there are so many SF&F books published each year, that merely keeping up with them is hard, so I don't often read non-genre books). I had to go to my local Borders store to order a copy and then waited nearly a month to get it, and then another week to read it as I was finishing up my Cybils reading). However, it was well worth the wait.

Jamie Reardon and his mother move from Battle Creek to Traverse City, in north Michigan, after his father runs off with the cashier at the MicroMart. They go to live with Jamie's Aunt Sapphy at the Wondrous Acres trailer park as his aunt's recent freak accident at the local cherry factory and she is unable to make any new memories, although she remembers the past as clearly as she always did. Jamie wants to help Sapphy find a "magic trigger" that will help her to recover the ability to make memories, or allow it to "jump the scratch", like a needle on an old 78 record. Somewhat ironically, Jamie himself is desperately trying to forget an incident on Christmas Eve the previous year. Initially the reader only knows that the incident involved a button pressed into his cheek, a taste of butterscotch flooding his mouth, and Old Gray, who's the manager of the trailer park. The memory of this incident literally haunts Jamie, preventing him from making any new friends or doing well in his new school. He tries to get help from his strange classmate, Audrey Krouch, who claims to have ESP and offers to hypnotise him (Jamie hopes she can hypnotise him into forgetting the incident, although he won't tell her what he wants to forget). Finally, in desperation, he tells Sapphy, knowing that she will have forgotten about it by the morning, but somehow (and maybe a little too conveniently) Jamie triggers Sapphy and instead of forgetting, she remembers and tells his mother, and the whole incident comes to light.

What I really liked about this book is the way that Weeks builds up the suspense about what happened to Jamie, and reveals it only gradually. Whilst older readers will probably guess quite early on, as I did, the nature of what happened to Jamie, younger readers probably won't realise until Jamie relives it under hypnosis. I also thought it interesting that Jamie is narrating his story a long time after the incident happened, as he makes clear on the very first page.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Dark Is Rising Sequence - Susan Cooper



Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising Sequence consists of five books as follows:

The first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, features the three Drew children: Simon, Jane and Barney, who are staying in Cornwall with their parents and their "Great Uncle" Merriman Lyon. In the attic of the house in which they're staying (rented from a sea captain), they find an ancient map which leads them on a treasure hunt to find a long-hidden Grail that once belonged to King Arthur. But the three of them have to figure out the clues on the map (it's not a straightforward "X marks the spot" treasure map) and Merriman cannot help them much as he needs to keep three rather sinister people from discovering that the children have the map, and then keep them from gaining the map and finding the Grail for themselves.

The second book, The Dark is Rising, features a different boy, Will Stanton, who on his 11th birthday, meets the mysterious Merriman, who tells him that he is the last of the immortal "Old Ones", a circle of people throughout history and spread across the world, who collectively are fighting the forces of evil (known as the Dark). As the power of the Dark grows, Will has to travel backwards and forwards in time (something an Old One can easily do) in order to recover the six Signs of Iron, Bronze, Wood, Fire, Light and Stone, which can help to stop the Dark from overcoming the Light, and protect his family from the malice of the Dark.

In the third book, Greenwitch, the three Drew children are visiting Cornwall again, staying in a cottage with Merriman and next door are Will and his American uncle and aunt. The grail has been stolen from the museum where the three Drews had deposited it and they four are in search of it because it, like the Signs, is a Thing of Power for the Light and is important in the final fight against the Dark. However, Jane is haunted by nightmares about the Greenwitch, a symbolic image woven from branches and leaves that is annually cast into the sea in the hopes of ensuring a fruitful year. Barney, meanwhile, is captured by a sinister painter, who wishes to use the Grail and Barney to foresee the future. But the Greenwitch is not just a symbolic image, it's alive with Wild Magic that neither Old Ones nor the Dark can control, and it holds a manuscript which holds the key to translating a runic inscription on the Grail. Somehow, the children and Merriman must persuade the Greenwitch to give up its "treasure" to them, rather than to the painter who is the Dark's representative.

In the fourth book, Grey King, Will is suffering from a bad illness and after he passes the danger zone, he is sent to recuperate in Wales, with his mother's old friend and her husband. On Clwyd Farm, Will meets Bran Davies, an albino Welsh boy whom he names the "raven boy", and a dog with silver "eyes that see the wind" - both are part of an old legend, and are mentioned in the old rhyme that Will learnt from the runic inscription on the grail. Will leads Bran into discovering his history and past, although the Dark does all it can to prevent Bran from joining Will and the Old Ones.

The final book, Silver on the Tree, brings the series to a climax. Will and Bran journey to the Lost Land to recover the final Thing of Power, the Sword Eirias. They must face many challenges, any one of which could destroy them, before they can gain the sword - but once they have it, the final battle with the Dark is yet to come.

Fantasy incorporating legends and old myths is nothing new, but Susan Cooper brings the idea of time-travelling immortals, ancient magic, adventure and tragedy together in an interesting and enjoyable series of books. Cooper's writing is atmospheric and full of detailed descriptions. Whilst some readers may not like the fact that good and evil are portrayed as evenly matched, the strength of the Old Ones' determination is very invigorating. The Old Ones are powerful, but they are still very human. And the "lessons" which Cooper includes in the series are carefully interwoven; these lessons about good and evil, about compassion, loyalty, friendship and redemption are never overtly moralising. My favourite character is Will Stanton, who is a mixture of a wise ancient being and a pre-teen boy.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Poetry Friday 30



For the last Poetry Friday of 2006, I bring you a mixture of Christmas, Time and New Year related poems. T S Eliot's The Journey of the Magi has long fascinated me:

The Journey of the Magi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


T S Eliot

This sonnet of Shakespeare's is a reminder of the passing of Time:

64

When I have seen by time's fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age,
When sometime lofty towers I see down razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage,
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store,
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay,
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.


William Shakespeare


And finally, the old Scottish favourite, in anticipation of Sunday night !

Auld Lang Syne

Words adapated from a traditional song
by Rabbie Burns (1759-96)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.


Glossary

auld lang syne - times gone by
be - pay for
braes - hills
braid - broad
burn - stream
dine - dinner time
fiere - friend
fit - foot
gowans - daisies
guid-willie waught - goodwill drink
monie - many
morning sun - noon
paidl't - paddled
pint-stowp - pint tankard
pou'd - pulled
twa - two

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Harry Potter conference news

I received this announcement in my email today:

HP Education Fanon, Inc, is pleased and proud to announce its 2008 and 2009 conferences, dedicated to throwing wide the doors – and mysteries – of J K Rowling's fantasy world, beyond the story of her hero.

Portus 2008 will occur 10-13 July 2008, at the beautiful Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas. With its theme, "Opening the door to the Department of Mysteries," Portus will explore all the metaphysical aspects of the Wizarding World.

The Ministry for Magic will be scrutinized even more in-depth at "Level Two 2009," which will be held 23-26 July 2009, at the San Jose Cultural Center and Facilities in San Jose, California. The theme for this conference will focus on Defense Against the Dark Arts – both those within Harry's world, and those that fans and scholars encounter.

As our attendees have come to expect, both conferences will feature our traditional array of activities, including optional meals (such as afternoon teas at Portus and keynote luncheons), Quidditch, a vendor room, a common room, art galleries, concerts, and more. And of course, the centerpiece of any HPEF event is the high-quality programming, including panels, posters, roundtables, and presentations, in response to our Calls for Participation.

Websites for Portus and Level Two are anticipated to be running this spring. Keep watching the HPEF website for more details as they become available!


Or watch this Blog as I will definitely post more information as I get it !

* * * * * *

I've just realised I've made 5 posts on my Blog today - yet I'm allegedly still on holiday !

The Ruby in the Smoke TV movie



The TV movie of Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke aired last night and I watched it this afternoon. Billie Piper was quite good as Sally Lockhart, and Julie Walters was astonishingly wicked as Mrs Holland ! It's now 6 years since I read the Sally Lockhart quartet - they were the first of Philip's books that I read - and I've never got around to re-reading them, but I feel inclined to as a result of seeing the TV movie (which can only be a good thing !) Of course, the fact that I've not read them recently means that I didn't spend the entire 95 minutes nit-piicking about what they'd changed, left out or added - something I'm generally inclined to do with adaptations of books (which is one reason I deliberately haven't re-read Terry Pratchett's Hogfather lately). The BBC did a good job of the Victorian settings, as might be expected from the champions of period drama, especially the scenes in the opium den. If you're wondering whether to watch this when it comes your way, then my advice is do watch it and enjoy it, as I did.

Firefly Quote of the Week

(I forgot this one on Tuesday, thanks to Xmas throwing me out !)

Jayne: Well... I don't like the idea of someone hearin' what I'm thinkin'.
Inara: No one likes the idea of hearing what you're thinking.

("Objects in Space", Season 1)

Travels of Thelonious - Susan Schade, Jon Buller

Travels of Thelonious is written by Susan Schade and illustrated by Jon Buller. It's a curious mixture of comic book and novel - with the narrative alternating between the two.

Thelonious is a young chipmunk who lives in a tree in a world where humans exist only in legend, having long ago destroyed the environment for themselves, but apparently (and rather curiously) not for animals, many of which have developed the power of human speech. During a violent rain storm, Thelonious' tree is ripped from the ground and he is swept away down the river to a city that is populated by animals, most of whom are criminals. Fortunately he soon finds himself making friends with Olive (a bear with a gift for mechanics), Fitzgerald (a porcupine who lives in a bookshop and guards the books that were left there when the humans died out), and Brown (a lizard who joins their group to escape a life of slavery). The four of them attempt to find their way back to the idyllic commune where Olive used to live, which is atop the Fog Mound. Unfortunately, I found the narrative rather too heavy-handed in demonstrating the evils of humanity and its lack of concern for the environment (quite apart from my bafflement about how the animals survived when the humans didn't), and the story takes a ridiculously idealistic turn once the animals arrive at the Fog Mound. I also have to confess to find comic books/graphic novels unsatisfactory to my very word-oriented mind ! I think younger readers would probably enjoy it, in spite of the moralising, but it left me feeling a little blank.

Travels of Thelonious is also available from Amazon.com.

Is Shakespeare good for the brain ?

Last week The Times reported that reading Shakespeare can excite the brain in a way that keeps it "fit", so researchers at the University of Liverpool are claiming. They are investigating whether wrestling with Shakespeare's innovative use of language can help to prevent dementia. Whilst monitoring participants with brain-imaging equipment, the research team found that certain lines from Shakespeare, and other great British writers such as Chaucer and Wordsworth, caused the brain to "spark" with electrical activity because of the unusual words or sentence structure. In particular, the use of "functional shift", such as when a noun is used as a verb, causes the brain to react "in a similar way to putting a jigsaw puzzle together", reports Philip Davis, of the university’s School of English. Professor Davis, who has a book out next week called Shakespeare Thinking, believes that reading classic literature helps children in their wider studies.

Thanks to Lee at Lowebrow Blog for the link.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Truth - Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's The Truth is another stand-alone novel, this time set in the bustling city of Ankh-Morpork (which bears no small resemblance to New York), which is home to the city ruler, Lord Vetinari the Patrician, the Unseen University for Wizards, and Guilds for everything from Assassins to Thieves, including Clowns but not mimes. Ankh-Morpork has weathered several influxes of "modern" technology in its time - the demon-inspired invention of movies (in Moving Pictures, the brief fad for "Music with Rocks In" (aka Rock and Roll, in Soul Music) - and now it has acquired a free press (The Ankh-Morpork Times) with dedicated newshounds, a staff of dwarf printers, and some readers who just want to see their amusing vegetables in the "On a Lighter Note" section. There are attempts afoot by the old aristocracy to unseat the Patrician, which The Times finds itself tangled up in, much to the annoyance of Commander Vimes of the City Watch, who's in an even worse temper than usual. William de Worde, the accidental editor and chief reporter of The Times is an attractive Pratchettesque hero, and the two villains of the story are probably the nastiest doomed hitmen outside of a Tarantino movie.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Small Gods - Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's Small Gods is a good place to start reading the Discworld books - it's a stand-alone (ie. not part of a several-books-long character arc) and it's not too outrageously funny (which some people might find off putting). It's also profound, very thought-provoking and still very relevant (in some ways it's more relevant), despite being written nearly 14 years ago.

The setting is the country of Omnia, a land on the Klatchian coast of the Discworld, that is ruled by the priesthood of the Church of Om. It's a harsh, arid desert country where the Quisition works tirelessly (and bloodily) to remove the sin from individuals deemed to be guilty - and almost no one is safe from the Quisition, since the priests regard the very existence of suspicion as proof of guilt. You might think that the Great God Om would bask in the power and glory of his church, but ritual has replaced substance in Omnia, and whilst the people worship Om, they don't really believe in him anymore. As a consequence, when Om manifested himself three years ago, he found himself stuck in the body of a one-eyed tortoise (rather than, say, a mighty bull, as he was planning) and he has only just found someone with the true flame of faith burning inside him. Unfortunately for Om, that one believer is Brutha, a novitiate in the Church whom, all would agree, is just a little bit slow on the uptake, and is probably the last person Om would have chosen to become his new Prophet. Brutha does have one thing going for him - he has a perfect memory, but unfortunately, because he remembers literally everything, he has little spare brain capacity for thought. Although, in a way, this is not hugely inconvenient since the Church strongly discourages individuals who think for themselves as that kind of thing just leads to trouble.

Unsurprisingly Brutha has a hard time accepting that a tortoise is the Great God Om, and since Om doesn't have the power to do anything but mouth ineffectual curses at the things that bother him, Om cannot easily convince Brutha of his identity. Brutha becomes increasingly disturbed to learn that Om never really gave his followers any instruction whatsoever - all of the holy books that he knows by heart were apparently made up by the prophets. Then Brutha finds himself accompanying Deacon Vorbis, the head of the Quisition, to the land of Ephebe, where you can't throw a brick without hitting a philosopher, all of whom argue violently among themselves, and frequently live in barrels. One such philosopher is Didactylos, whose philosophy is summed up as "It's a funny old world". He suddenly finds himself part of an underground movement that insists, despite the tenets of the Omnian Church, that "the Turtle moves"; that turtle being Great A'Tuin, the space-faring turtle on whose back the Discworld is carried by four elephants. As so often happens, religious dispute breeds war, and the future of Omnia - not to mention the future of the Great God Om - lies in the hands of Brutha and how he deals with others, particularly Deacon Vorbis.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Hogfather TV movie

I finally sat down and watched the four hour Sky One TV movie of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather this afternoon, and it was better than I'd heard, thankfully. I really liked Michelle Dockery as Susan, Death's granddaughter - apparently she starred in the stage version of His Dark Materials. Marc Warren as Teatime the Assassin was frankly creepy (and a much better role than Elton in Doctor Who's "Love and Monsters" from season 2 - the only other role I've seen him in !) I didn't think Joss Ackland was nearly loud and over-confident enough as Ridcully, but Ian Richardson as the voice of Death was brilliant. No film adaptation of a book I've thoroughly enjoyed is ever going to be completely satisfying, since I'm so book-oriented, but I thought this did a good job.

(By the way, does anyone else find themselves reminded of a certain Lord of the Rings movie scene when looking at this image from the film ?)

The Dragonology Chronicles: The Dragon's Eye - Dugald Steer

Dugald Steer's The Dragon's Eye is a novel-length follow up (the first of four) to the hugely successful Dragonology book.

12 year old Daniel Cook and his elder sister, 13 year old Beatrice, are sent to stay with their parents' strange tutor, Dr. Ernest Drake, one summer after their parents fail to keep their promise to come home from India for the summer vacation. However, it turns out to be one of the very best summers of their lives because they discover that Dr. Drake is actually a dragonologist, and no sooner do Daniel and Beatrice arrive on Dr. Drake's doorstep, than they are swept into a hunt for a number of dragon treasures.

Daniel narrates their story as he and Beatrice are pulled into a magical, wonderful, yet also highly dangerous world. Dr. Drake begins teaching them, not only about dragons, but also about the subjects that must be studied to develop a full knowledge of dragon lore. Beatrice, something of a skeptic at first, is soon won over when she meets the little dragon named Scorcher, who gives them the opportunity to see a dragon up close, and to learn about their mysterious ways. Before long, other children join them at Dr Drake's Dragonology summer school. Between solving riddles, keeping an ongoing journal and a dragonological record book (The dragonological record book is without doubt the most useful tool of the scientific dragonologist. Keep a dragon diary, and one day it may keep you! - Dr. Drake's Dragon Diary, August 1849), the children are kept very busy. But their summer brings them into the company of the evil Ignatius Crook, a man who feels he should have been designated the next Dragon Master after his father (the previous Dragon Master) dies. Crook is bent on finding the famous, mystical jewel known as the Dragon's Eye. The children learn to fly on a real dragon, find themselves fighting villains here and there, and try to recover Dr. Drake's diary, which Crook has stolen, and try to survive being made to walk the plank.

This is a fun book that younger readers will thoroughly enjoy.

The Dragon's Eye is also available from Amazon.com, and there is an excerpt of the first two chapters at Kids Reads, if you're interested in trying before you buy ! This book was received for review from Nikki Gamble at Write Away.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gossamer - Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry's Gossamer is the first of Lowry's books that I have read.

Gossamer tells the story of a group of mythical beings who are responsible for creating and distributing dreams to humans. Each being is responsible for a particular household, and assigned to the households by their leader, Most Ancient. The beings create the dreams after finding out about the residents by lightly touching different objects in a house: these include clothing, photographs, ornaments, etc. that contain significant memories for the owners. After they have gathered enough meaningful fragments, the dream-givers then combine the fragments into a story to bestow a dream. But the dream-weaving beings are not the only ones to operate in this manner. There are also nightmare-givers, the Sinisteeds, who have four legs and hot, angry breath. They belong to the Horde and they often band together in a group in order to flood their victims' subconscious with dark and miserable thoughts. If enough nightmares are inflicted upon an individual, their waking hours become increasingly negative and damaging until they can no longer remember how to be happy and at peace. In this agitated state, they are a great risk to those around them and to society as a whole.

In addition to providing an imaginative explanation as to where dreams and nightmares come from, Gossamer also tells the story of an angry 8 year old boy and a lonely older woman who are brought together when John has been taken away from his mother by Social Services because his father beats him and his mother, and is fostered with the older woman, who is on her own because her soldier husband died and she is now retired. Her main companion is her dog Toby. The bond that forms between the woman, John and Toby is subtle yet full of feeling. The story is also told from the point of view of John's mother, who's struggling to get back on her feet after her husband leaves for California, and from the point of view of Littlest One, the newest and youngest of the dream-givers who is nevertheless very talented at combining fragments and creating dreams, and has a gossamer touch.

Gossamer is also available from Amazon.com.

Philippa Pearce RIP

Philippa Pearce, known to millions as the author of Tom's Midnight Garden died on Thursday 21 December, aged 86. There are obituaries on the Independent website, and on the website of EDP24 a Norfolk news site.

I confess I've never yet read Tom's Midnight Garden, though I've seen bits of the TV adaptation (I will rectify that omission after Christmas). I love Pearce's A Dog So Small however, and recently re-read it for the first time since childhood.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Beka Cooper: Terrier - Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper: Terrier is subtitled "A Legend of Tortall" and it goes back to an earlier period of Tortall's history, 200 years before Alanna: The First Adventure.

Beka (Rebakah) Cooper is 16, and her world is not one of knights, the nobility and palaces, but of thieves, beggars, shopkeepers, drinking dens, and the Court of the Rogue. She was born in the Lower City, in the worst of Corus' slums and it is where she feels most at home, although she has spent the eight years before the book opens living in the household of the Lord Provost.

Beka is a new member of the Provost's Guard - a rookie "cop", in a time when cops make their names based on their personality, their willingness to break heads, their attitude toward money, and love of the law. Beka intends to make her mark in this hard world, but it won't be easy for her because Beka is painfully shy, and at the outset has very few friends. These are problems she must deal with, but fortunately she meets people who can see through her shyness to see her as a smart, stubborn young woman. She already has one very good friend to advise her, who lives in her rooms on Nipcopper Close. He's a coal-black cat with purple eyes (suggesting he's a Divine being in disguise) and his name is Pounce.

Beka tells her story via the journal that she starts to keep on her very first day as a Puppy (in her time, the Guards (cops) are called Dogs and the trainee Guards are known as Puppies). Beka introduces us to the Dogs who are training her, teaching her what they know of the hard life of a Lower City Dog: Tunstall is easygoing and funny, although he goes a little nuts during a fight. Goodwin, on the other hand, is a small and tough hardcase who didn't want Beka to train with them - it's nothing personal, she tells Beka, it's just that they've never had a Puppy and they don't want one now, although they have no choice). The three of them are pulled into some very nasty crimes in the Lower City, largely as a result of Beka's own personal informants, the ghosts who ride on the city's pigeons, and the dust-spinners - literally small localised whirlwinds, each with their own personality, which not only pick up dust and street rubbish, but also carry the voices they hear... Beka finds herself attempting to solve two criminal rackets that are taking place in the Lower City - for "the Lower City is [hers], its people are [hers]. If she find them that's doing all this kidnapping and murdering, they'd best pray for mercy, because once [she] gets [her] teeth in 'em, [she] will never let them go." This last quote (from the back of the book) explains, in part, just how Beka earns her nickname "Terrier"; I was reminded strongly by this (in particular) of one of my Terry Pratchett characters, Sam Vimes, who coincidentally is also a cop, in the Discworld's Ankh-Morpork...

This was a very good book - and I'm no longer a big fan of police procedurals (as they're called in America), and I shall definitely look for the sequels Bloodhound and Elkhound in due course. Beka Cooper: Terrier is also available from Amazon.com. There's an excerpt available at Tamora Pierce's website.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Poetry Friday 29



You may have heard that most of the UK is blanketed in thick fog and has been for most of the week, which means I'm still obsessing about the weather ! (Thank goodness I only had to take three trains and a bus to get to my parents for my week in Gloucestershire !) Therefore I offer you Oscar Wilde's

Impression du Matin

THE Thames nocturne of blue and gold
Changed to a harmony in grey;
A barge with ochre-coloured hay
Dropt from the wharf: and chill and cold

The yellow fog came creeping down
The bridges, till the houses' walls
Seemed changed to shadows, and St. Paul's
Loomed like a bubble o'er the town.

Then suddenly arose the clang
Of waking life; the streets were stirred
With country waggons; and a bird
Flew to the glistening roofs and sang.

But one pale woman all alone,
The daylight kissing her wan hair,
Loitered beneath the gas lamps' flare,
With lips of flame and heart of stone.



It has to be said that these days, the fog is white, not yellow, but it's still disorienting and peculiar to be out in and not be able to see more than a few paces in front of you ! Because it's almost Christmas, I'd like to leave you with the opening verse to a carol written by Chris­ti­na Ros­set­ti in 1872; she wrote these words in re­sponse to a re­quest from the mag­a­zine Scrib­ner’s Month­ly for a Christ­mas po­em:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.


We don't have the snow, but it's certainly bleak with all this fog around !!

Happy Holidays !

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 - P J Haarsma

P J Haarsma's The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 is the first in a planned series of four books.

13 year old Johnny Turnbull has always known there was something different about him, even before he and the other 199 kids landed on the first of the Rings of Orbis. He could communicate with the computer aboard Renaissance, just by speaking to it - with no need for any of the interfaces required by the other 199 children aboard the ship. Once their spaceship lands, he is identified as the first-ever human "softwire" — a human with the ability to enter and communicate with computers through his mind. Due to a mechanical problem, the adults on the spaceship perished long before Johnny and the other young passengers were born (they were stored as embryos and raised by the ship's computer). When they arrive on Orbis 1, the orphans quickly learn that they will be forced to work for the Guarantors (alien businessmen) who paid for their parents' trip to Orbis, so that they can pay off their dead parents' debt. Johnny and the rest of the children are put to work in alien factories but thinks quickly start to go wrong. When the all-knowing, all-controlling, and technologically "perfect" central computer starts malfunctioning, many suspicious eyes are turned towards Johnny. Is he the one responsible ? Johnny must prove his innocence and solve the mystery of the technological failures before time runs out - and just to encourage him to concentrate on that task, one villainous alien has taken his little sister hostage.

Haarsma does a pretty good job of introducing his alien, futuristic setting without getting the reader bogged down in long and detailed descriptive passages, and the plot moves fairly briskly. However, some of the secondary characters are not fully developed, which I found disappointing. Having said that, Johnny and his sister, Ketheria are fairly well drawn, and some of the scenes between them are nicely done.

I'm not a big fan of SF books as a rule - despite my programming background the technology (and technobabble) generally bore me ! However, Haarsma did manage to keep my attention for most of the book. The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 is also available from Amazon.com.

Harry Potter book 7 - Title Revealed

Unlike the folks on a discussion forum I frequent, I'm not going to make you go looking for the title, which has been announced - I will tell you that it is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

This week Rowling revealed that she has gone back to writing in cafes - as she did 13 years ago when starting to write about the boy wizard. She has also admitted how she has been dreaming of the character. Writing on her website she described it as an "epic dream" where she was Harry and the narrator simultaneously.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Eye Pocket: The Fantastic Society of Peculiar Adventurers - E J Crow

E J Crow almost deserves an award for having a title that is almost as many letters long as his book is pages long. The Eye Pocket: The Fantastic Society of Peculiar Adventurers would certainly win an award for the most puzzling book I've read during the Cybils - were I giving out such an award, but I'm not.

This is the story: 9 year old Bobby Humblebeech's dad used to be a member of the Fantastic Society of Peculiar Adventurers and he used to go to exciting places, and do and see interesting things. But then the society kicked him out and now he just sits around watching TV whilst Bobby wants to go out and have fun. (Bobby's mother works full time and is rarely home). Every morning Oscar completes what his son terms "the Walk of Shame" when he goes out to the end of the drive to pick up the paper, dressed in his pyjamas and robe. His son, charming child that he is, thinks this is highly amusing and laughs at his father.

One day when Bobby has failed to persuade his father to do anything with him, he is hanging around the playground when he encouters Dirk Straw (who is described as "the town weirdo" - although he seems merely a little odd since he likes wearing Flying Ace goggles) and Dirk's sister Sam, of whom Bobby is apparently afraid (although there's no obvious reason why). They show Bobby a secret, apparently magical, place that can only be seen from the corner of one's eye - hence an "Eye Pocket". In the Eye Pocket past, present and future intermingle, and the three children find a genuine Spanish gold doubloon and an old sword. However, before they can properly investigate, they are scared away by an unidentified gigantic beast with tusks. The three run home and try to convince Mr. Humblebeech of what they've seen. He takes some convincing, but once he realises the coin is genuine, he gets excited and goes out to the garage to kit out the children with some of his high-tech Society equipment. The four of them head off to the Eye Pocket and using some of Mr H's equipment they unearth a large chest full of doubloons. Dreaming of what they will spend the money on, the four find themselves attacked by the ghosts of the men who stole the gold. Mr H disables the ghosts and the four make their escape back home, but the ghosts can travel out of the Eye Pocket and they turn up determined to get their gold back. Mr H has set up some equipment with which to trap (and record) the ghosts, intending to take them to the next meeting of the FSoPA, but Bobby sets the ghosts free (with the money). They nevertheless take the recording of the ghosts to the FSoPA meeting the next night, but none of the Society members believe that Mr H is telling the truth and they're laughed out of the building. Mr H then resumes his TV watching life.

If, as Gail Gauthier suggests, the point of a book is to communicate a message to readers, I have to wonder what message Crow was trying to communicate ? That it's OK to mock the unemployed ? That it's OK to label someone a "weirdo" just because they're a little bit different ? I was also puzzled by the randomness of some of the events in this book - whilst they're at the meeting of the FSoPA, the three children accidentally enter a secret passage - then Bobby's dad lets them back out about 30 seconds later. The Society's guardian is a sleeping lion - which apparently wakes up whilst Mr H and the children are at the meeting - but then it turns out to be a false alarm - without any explanation of the significance of its sleeping or waking. It's a shame because the idea of the Eye Pocket has good, storytelling potential - but it's rather wasted on this story.

The Eye Pocket: The Fantastic Society of Peculiar Adventurers is also available from Amazon.com.

New York Review of Books Children's Collection

I first heard about the New York Review of Books Children's Collection from Lee Lowe and then Gail Gauthier reminded me of it too. This article in the Washington Post discusses the collection in more detail and mentions some of the titles that have been reprinted including:

Lucretia Hale - The Peterkin Papers
E Nesbit - The House of Arden
Esther Averill - Jenny and the Cat Club
Eilís Dillon - The Island of Horses
Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire - Book of Trolls and Book of Norse Myths
Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson - Wee Gillis
Norman Lindsay - The Magic Pudding (as recommended by Philip Pullman in his list of books children should read and with an introduction by Pullman)
Rumer Godden - An Episode of Sparrows
Eleanor Farjeon - The Little Bookroom
T H White - Mistress Masham's Repose (which I'm personally delighted about as I had to get my local library to dig out an ancient edition when I wanted to read it last year !)

You can find out more about the NYRB Children's Collection at their website - and I shall add one or two of them to my wishlist !

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

News for Anthony Horowitz fans

I've just been reading the latest news on the Anthony Horowitz news blog. Anthony's currently in the process of moving house (this close to Christmas ?!), but he tells us that he's currently 35,000 words into Snakehead, the next Alex Rider novel - and the better news is that it won't be the last, there will be at least one more after this one - Yay !

Sadly, the US release of the Stormbreaker movie didn't really happen, so we may have to wait a while for Point Blanc to be made. It's a shame, because it did really well in the UK - $15 milllion is a lot for an independently made British movie !

And for fans of the "Power of Five" (also called "The Gatekeepers" in the US) series, the third book, Nightrise will be out in the UK (at least) in April 2007.

Firefly Quote of the Week

Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction.
Zoe: We live in a space ship, dear.
Wash: So?

("Objects in Space", Season 1)

The Tenth Power - Kate Constable

The Tenth Power is the third and final book in the Chanters of Tremaris series (The Singer of All Songs - reviewed here - and The Waterless Sea - reviewed here - were the first two books). In this final installment of the series, a sickness is spreading across the land, affecting only those with the magical power of chantment. Calwyn, who in The Waterless Sea lost her powers and the potential to become the Singer of All Songs, travels with Mica (a girl with the gift of wind chantment) and Trout (a young man with a technologically-focused mind) to her homeland of Antaris in the hopes that she will recover emotionally from the loss of her powers. However when they arrive, they are shocked to find many of the priestesses encased in the ice of the Wall that surrounds Antaris. The worst shock of all is that Marna, the High Priestess is dying of the same sickness that is affecting so many other Chanters. Marna manages to pass on to Calwyn some important information about a mysterious Wheel only half of which remains in Antaris, and about a previously unheard of Tenth Power, before her death.

Meanwhile, Darrow is also traveling, searching for his long-time enemy, Samis, who it turns out isn't as dead as they'd hoped. He, Tonno and Halasaa visit Gellan, where Samis' former lover Keela arranges for Darrow to be arrested and locked in the Lazar House where he soon contracts the deadly illness that is feared by all chanters. Soon, the six companions regroup at Antaris and they agree that they must find the other half of the Wheel and repair it before Tremaris becomes a desolate wasteland, devoid of magic and light. Their journey takes them into betrayal, joy, love, and even a potential war.

I have to say that this book was a bit of a disappointment to me. Calwyn regains her powers rather too easily, but not before she's alienated Mica; she also deals with Samis via a rather-too-conveniently available "object", and the potential war is a rushed, tacked-on affair that failed to convince me it was a serious threat.

The Tenth Power is also available from Amazon.com. It was received for review from Nikki Gamble at Write Away.

The Edge of the Forest - December issue

The December edition of The Edge of the Forest is up!

Here's what's on offer this month:



Beginning in 2007, it's planned that The Edge of the Forest will be published on the 10th of every month.

Thank you to everyone for reading each month, and I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you a pleasant and enjoyable Holiday season (whichever holiday you are celebrating this month) and to wish you a peaceful 2007 filled to the brim with books !

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pucker - Melanie Gideon

Melanie Gideon's Pucker centres on Thomas Quicksilver, a seventeen year old who has spent most of his life with only his mother and a small number of close friends owing to the fact that he was badly burned on the face as a young child. To his cruel school fellows he's known as "Pucker". Thomas' mother tells the future for her clients from her sickbed, where she spends nearly all of her time. What none of Serena's clients, nor Thomas' best friend, Patrick, knows however, is that Thomas Quicksilver has more in his past than the trauma of a childhood accident because he and his mother were once Isaurians. They lived in a world where technological advances have deliberately not been made and where every step of every person's life is foretold by the Seers - not just the cataclysmic events such as blizzards or earthquakes, but daily occurrences such as avoiding a street with a large pothole in it that could twist an ankle, or predicting what a family will have for dinner the following week. For Serena and her husband (also a Seer) the calm, predictable life of Isaura wasn't enough and they wanted Thomas to have a normal life, one filled with love, desire, regret, and the unknown.

Serena takes Thomas to Earth to begin a new life, free from the safety and monotony of Isaura. But Serena discovers that she can still foresee the future on Earth - and her gift is much stronger here than it ever was in Isaura, so much so that she can foresee the future of all living things, not just people as she could in Isaura. Her only hope to save her life and her sanity, is for Thomas to return to Isaura to recover her Seerskin, the second skin which gives a Seer in Isaura the ability to foresee the future. Serena hopes that if Thomas can find her Seerskin, which was flayed, it will dampen her ability to foresee the future on Earth.

For Thomas to achieve his mother's goal, he will have to return to Isaura as one of the Changed - humans whose lives are so bad that they are offered the chance of redemption in Isaura. They pass through to Isaura via a portal in America and are healed of whatever makes them ill, then become slaves to Isaurians. Unfortunately, Thomas is quickly sidetracked by his newly healed, gorgeous, face - and by Phaidra, a beautiful and rebellious young woman who knows there's more to the Changed than the Isaurians will admit. So then it becomes a question of whether Thomas will get his act together sufficiently to locate his mother's Seerskin and get it back to her in time (with the knowledge that he will lose his beautiful face when he returns to Earth), or will he give in to his hormones and remain in Isaura ?

Pucker is also available from Amazon.com.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Devilish - Maureen Johnson

Maureen Johnson's Devilish is a Faustian tale. Jane Jarvis is a genius who's also seriously out of place in St. Teresa's Preparatory School for Girls in Providence. Whilst she considers herself to be above the school's traditions, she does want to help her very best friend, Ally, to get a good freshman "sister" at the annual Big-Little ceremony. Unfortunately Ally forcefully vomits over one of the potential "Littles", in front of the entire student body, meaning she now needs more than Jane's help. After a brief period of avoiding all her schoolmates, Ally suddenly becomes cool, confident, sophisticated and unbelievably well dressed. It's a truth universally acknowledged that high school is hell, so it makes sense that demons abound, and, as it happens, Ally has sold her soul to one. Jane is determined to save her friend and odd things start happening, from a storm of giant hailstones to self-igniting textbooks. Jane tries to make a deal with the demon who holds Ally's soul, which is accepted, but then, amazingly, Ally makes a counter-deal because she doesn't want to lose what she had. In the end, Jane does the only thing left open to her.

Johnson's characters are fairly well-developed and definitely interesting, and readers will enjoy meeting them, especially Jane's family. The scenes set in the Catholic high school are amusing without making a mockery of religion - I was reminded of Sister Act 2 (without the singing !), for example, Sister Rose Marie gives Jane a demerit for lack of caution in adverse conditions when she is rushing through the lobby during a power cut. Devilish is also available from Amazon.com.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone Update

There is a review of James A Owen's Here, There Be Dragons over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Poetry Friday 28



I am continuing the Winter theme again this week, so I would like to share the following poems with you.

The Frost

The frost looked forth on a still, chill night,
And whispered, "Now I shall be out of sight;
So through the valley and over the height
I'll silently take my way.
I will not go on like that blustering train,
The wind and the snow, the hail and the rain,
That make so much bustle and noise in vain,
But I'll be as busy as they!"

He flew up, and powered the mountain's crest;
He lit on the trees, and their boughs he dressed
With diamonds and pearls; -- and over the breast
Of the quivering lake he spread
A bright coat of mail, that it need not fear
The glittering point of many a spear
That hung on its margin, far and near,
Where a rock was rearing its head

He went to the windows of those who slept,
And over each pane, like a fairy crept;
Wherever he breathed -- wherever he stepped --
Most beautiful things were seen
By morning's first light! There were flowers and trees,
With bevies of birds and swarms of bright bees;
There were cities -- temples, and towers; and these
All pictured in silvery sheen!

But one thing he did that was hardly fair --
He peeped in the cupboard, and finding there
That none had remembered for him to prepare,
"Now just to set them a-thinking,
I'll bite their rich basket of fruit," said he
"This burly old pitcher -- I'll burst it in three!
And the glass with the water they've left for me
Shall 'tchick!' to tell them I'm drinking!"


Hanna Flagg Gould


The following two poems are by Robert Louis Stevenson and come from A Child's Garden of Verses and Underwoods.

Windy Nights

WHENEVER the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.



Picture Books in Winter

Summer fading, winter comes -
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.
Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by
Wait upon the children's eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are,
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies' looks,
In the picture story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

London Calling - Edward Bloor

Edward Bloor's London Calling is a mixture of SF/time travel and historical novel. The book opens and closes with a narrative by the main protagonist, who is recording the information in 2019. He looks back to when he was a 13 year old boy. John Martin Conway (known to everyone as Martin) feels out of place at his exclusive prep school, where he is frequently reminded of his status as a scholarship kid. After a confrontation between Martin and his two friends, Pinak and Manetti, with Hank Lowery, who is the great-grandson of the school's founder, and his thugs, Martin tells his mother and older sister Margaret, and the Headmaster, that he doesn't want to return to the school. They agree to a compromise, that he will work at home on some independent study projects.

He is keen to do a project on a World War II-era radio that his late grandmother (who dies fairly early in the narrative) left to him as it has brought him into contact with an English boy named Jimmy who lived during the War, and who needs Martin's help. Martin's grandmother had promised Jimmy that Martin will help him so he takes Martin back in time, via the radio, to the London Blitz. Martin makes fleeting, terrifying visits to the Blitz. Back in his own time, he focuses his research on the things Jimmy has told him and shown him, and the people he encounters. Along the way he uncovers some new information about his grandfather's and General Hank Lowery's activities in London during the War, and he discovers how he can help put Jimmy's soul to rest. He also comes to terms with his father's alcoholism (which apparently runs in the family) and with his own depression.

This was an enjoyable book, but I found the language employed by Martin and his two friends when they are chatting online, via an Instant Messenger, to be far too formal and therefore quite unrealistic. I talk online (on electronic discussion forums) with quite a lot of teens and young adults who are in their 20s, and almost none of them use formal English - they prefer to use abbreviations, slang, obscure jargon and often incomplete sentences as well.

London Calling is also available from Amazon.com.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Nestle Children's Book Prize Winner

Julia Golding, a former UN campaigner and ex-diplomat, has won this year's Nestle Children's Book Prize for her debut novel, The Diamond of Drury Lane (Egmont Press) (Review). It's the second time this book has won a literary prize, as it was also the winner of the Ottaker's Children's Book Prize 2006.

The award was made today at the British Library in London, in front of an invited audience of some of the schoolchildren who were this year's judges. The Nestle Children's Book Prize, now in its 22nd year celebrates the nation's best children's books as voted for by children themselves.

(Thanks to Kelly for the heads-up - I'd forgotten this was being announced today ! Migraines are bad for the memory !)

Television treats for British fantasy fans

British fans of Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett are hoping for Christmas treats. The BBC are screening an adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel The Ruby in the Smoke (the first book in the Sally Lockhart quartet) on December 27th at 8.30 pm. The Victorian adventure stars the actress who recently retired as Doctor Who's assistant, Billie Piper, alongside Oscar-nominated Julie Walters. Good news for American fans - according to the PBS site, it'll be airing in early February in the US (it's about half way down the page on the left hand side !) on Masterpiece Theatre.

And Terry Pratchett fans are hoping that Sky One's adaptation of Pratchett's Discworld novel, Hogfather, lives up to its potential. Fans of the book and the TV movie, may be interested in the Hogfather: The Illustrated Screenplay or the Hogfather Calendar, both of which I've seen and can recommend as being interesting (and in the case of the calendar, full of some brilliant photos !). Hogfather is airing on Sky One on December 17 and 18, and again on December 25 and 26, in two 2-hour slots.

Changeling - Delia Sherman

I get the impression that Delia Sherman's tongue was quite firmly in her cheek when she wrote Changeling. This is a contemporary tale of Faerie that combines children's literature with pop culture in a witty, clever and intriguing manner. Neef is a mortal changeling who lives in New York Between, a parallel version of our New York where fairies, elves, vampires, demons, dragons, and numerous other familiar beings exist. Neef was stolen by fairies who replaced her with one of their own, a fairy changeling. She is protected by her fairy godmother, a large talking white rat named Astris. Neef is in search of Adventure and one day she runs into Peg Powler, an old bogeywoman, who lets slip the information that a Dance takes place every Winter and Summer Solstice and all the denizens of Central Park (where Neef lives) attend, including the other mortal changelings. Unlike Cinderella, Neef's fairy godmother has never allowed or encouraged Neef to attend, but she is determined to go this summer. She finds a Kazna Peri, who sells her some keep-awake (coffee to you and me !), and she is able to stay awake on Solstice night, despite the usual visit from the Sandman. Neef then sneaks out to attend the Solstice Dance, but in doing so she breaks the geas laid on her when she was Changed, and loses the protection of the Green Lady, the Genius of Central Park. Neef, however, nothing daunted, refuses to panic when she discovers she's about to be handed over to the Wild Hunt, and bargains with the Green Lady. If she can successfully accomplishes three tasks, she won't be thrown out of the Park or lose the Green Lady's protection. Neef agrees to get hold of the Mermaid Queen of New York Harbour's Magical Magnifying Mirror, a ticket for an orchestra seat for Peter Pan, featuring the original Tinkerbell, and the Scales of the Dragon of Wall Street.

Prior to making this bargain with the Green Lady, Neef encountered her fairy changeling at the annual Eloise Awards for the Most Spoiled Child, to which she was taken by Carlyle, a Japanese tengu, who had already found Jennifer (Neef's fairy changeling). Changeling, as Neef calls her, helps Neef with her quest to bring back the required objects for the Green Lady, startling Neef quite often in the process.

This books is riddled with allusions to children's books (the Water Rat from The Wind in the Willows and Stuart Little both live in Central Park), fairy-tale motifs, and contemporary culture (including references to computers, the New York Stock Exchange, Broadway ticket sharps amongst others).

I confess, I only know New York secondhand (thanks in large part to Helene Hanff's memoirs), but I could still recognise it in the descriptions of New York Between. I thoroughly enjoyed Changeling, which is also available from Amazon.com. (So don't sit there, go and order a copy and enjoy yourself reading it !)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone Update

My review of Angie Sage's Septimus Heap: Flyte is over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone.

Firefly Quote of the Week

Wash: Little River just gets more colourful by the moment. What'll she do next?
Zoe: Either blow us all up or rub soup in our hair. It's a toss-up.
Wash: I hope she does the soup thing. It's always a hoot, and we don't all die from it.

("Objects in Space", Season 1)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2007

Dragging my thoughts away, for a few moments, from my ongoing and seemingly endless reading for the Cybils, I'd like to give you an idea of what I've got planned for 2007. Once the Cybil SF&F shortlist has been handed over to the judging committee, I shall be turning my attention back to my paper on wizards in the "Tales of Einarinn" and the "Aldabreshin Compass" series by Juliet E McKenna. This paper is for the Masters of Magic: Wizards in Western Literature essay collection (feel free to ignore the dates on this webpage !), which should hopefully see the light of day late next year or in 2008. The last I heard, the deadline for papers is Spring 2007, and after that, I plan to get back to my projected book (with the projected title: From Heroine to Lady Hero) on heroines in YA fantasy and how they've developed from Damsel-in-Distress to independent women heroes. This project has been on the back burner since 2003 (in large part due to a certain lady author not finishing her 7 book series about a certain young wizard yet !) I'm currently planning to write chapters on the following authors/series: Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series, Robin McKinley's Damar series, Garth Nix's The Old Kingdom series, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series and J K Rowling's Harry Potter series.

All of which means I will be doing lots and lots of re-reading next year and probably a bit less reading of new-to-me books. I will, of course, still be reviewing for Orbit/Atom and for Write Away, and writing for The Edge of the Forest - so there will be new books from them that I will read and review, and many of the books I'll be re-reading for the book will be reviewed here, because I've mostly not re-read them since starting my Blog.

On the topic of female fantasy heroines, if any of my readers have suggestions of books to read (for comparative purposes), please do let me know. I've got a handful of titles/series/authors that I've either read or plan to read (including Tanith Lee's Unicorn series and Andre Norton), but I'm open to new suggestions, although I may not read all of them (depending on availability).

The Fetch - Chris Humphreys



I like the cover of this book. It's not often I comment on cover artwork because, on the whole, I don't find pictures very meaningful, but this black and blood-red cover suits the tale within. Chris Humphreys' The Fetch is the first book in the "Runestone Saga", rather like the Norse sagas of old, with which it has things in common.

15 year old Sky's ancestor was a great Viking warrior, and his Norwegian grandfather, Sigurd, knew the secret magics of the runes. When Sigurd's old sea chest turns up at his house, Sky investigates and finds an old journal and a drawstring bag of Norse Runestones hidden in the lid. When Sky's cousin Kristin, who is a year older than him, comes for a holiday visit to his new Shropshire home on Wenlock Edge, they start to learn about Runestone magic. Sky discovers that he can send his Fetch back through time and get involved in his ancestors' lives. His first trip takes him to inhabit the body of his ancestor, Bjorn, a 15 year old Norwegian boy who is going a-Viking for the first time, and is on a raiding trip to England, to York. Inhabiting Bjorn's body, Sky fights as a Viking warrior and Berserker (a warrior who fights like an animal, rather than a human - most of the Berserkers about whom I've read are wolves, but Bjorn is a bear).

However, Sky learns from his grandfather's Fetch that the runes demand a price for the knowledge they give, just as Odin the Allfather had to pay a price for the Runes when he was first given them. Sky slowly discovers what kind of price that means - a blood price, and when his grandfather reveals whose blood, Sky is horrified.

Sky is a likeable character, with just enough immaturity left in him to allow him to make mistakes and to learn from them. He has a bit of a tendency to act without thinking things through properly, but he's redeemed by his willingness to accept the consequences of his rash actions without complaint.

Since this is book one of the series, I will note, without giving away too much, that the ending of the book resolves the immediate conflicts well although, as you would expect, it doesn't wrap up some of the central issues regarding Sky's ultimate fate. The teenage dialogue is a little dull, but the narrative style is strong and direct. The only thing that really annoyed me (and it's a fairly small thing), was this rather unnecessary jibe: [Kristin] was reaching into her bag again. Like most girls' bags, it was overflowing with rubbish. (p. 91) That is such a cliche ! Plus, I know plenty of men whose bags/briefcases also overflow with rubbish !

That aside, this book is a strong start to the series and I hope Humphreys maintains that strength. I shall eagerly look out for the sequels. The Fetch is also available from Amazon.com.