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Ulf Stark: Writers Week Q & A

Ulf Stark, author of around 30 books for children and young adults, is in town for the New Zealand Festival’s Writers Week. This Swedish author has also written film, TV and theatre scripts and been nominated twice for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

See Ulf live
at the Hannah Playhouse (Downstage Theatre) on Sunday March 9th at 12:15pm

We have three of Ulf’s books, including a signed copy, to give away to one lucky individual thanks to Gecko Press. To win please tell us Ulf’s home country by email to wclblog@gmail.com, Tweet @WCL_LIbrary or comment on the post on our Facebook page. (We will announce a winner on the morning of Thursday March 13th).

Justin from the library Online Services Team meet with Ulf on Saturday morning. Here is their Q & A:

(J) How did you get into making books?

(U)So, I was not very talented in anything. And actually I disliked writing when I was very young because I was left-handed and we were forced to do right-handed in school. So that was the worst thing to have to write things. Then during my teen ages a lot of things changed. When you are a teenager you are looking in the mirror and you don’t recognise your face, you don’t recognise your feelings either. And then I read a lot of books. Not the younger books I had read before, but the real books. I think there is something, when you are in your teenage years you don’t feel confident to talk to your parents, or you don’t want to talk to them about the subjects that are near you – not about sexuality, not about a lot of things. So I had those conversations with the books and that was fine I think. Then we got a teacher in school who I liked very much and she liked my writing as well. I don’t think that teachers are aware of the power they have. So I started writing and then I came in contact with young authors and I was beginning to write. I wrote my first book when I was 18. It was a collection of poems. It was not that good – it was awful I would say.

(J)Did it get published?

(U)Yes it was. I got 500 Swedish Crowns and then I wrote another collection of poems, a little bit better and then a novel for the adults. Then I was 25 and I understood that I hadn’t anything else to write about. So I worked a little bit, for ten years or something. Then I started writing again in 1984 I think with this one [Fruitloops & Dipsticks] and it was a little success in Sweden and the Nordic countries. Suddenly I got money for writing. I had been working in the bureaucracy beforehand for a lot of years, training in education so it was quite good.

(J)Do you think the break helped?

(U)I think what helped with the job was that I was teaching about the differences about the male and the female. I was very interested in this difference, what is it to be a man and what is it to be a female? Why are we so different? So this is [Fruitloops & Dipsticks] sort of an investigation of the differences. An investigation of me being a male writer taking place in a girl.

(J)That would have been quite difficult?

(U)Yeah. It was quite difficult so I decided to let her be a boy after a while. It was much easier that way. It was published in a lot of countries. It is still published in a lot of new countries – in Russia for example. And they do a new edition now because of [Vladimir] Putin’s laws.

(J)Has it been censored?

(U)You cannot write anything about sexuality for young people under 16 years.

(J)Is that frustrating for you, knowing that they’re censoring your work?

(U)A little bit frustrating but on the other hand this edition [uncensored Fruitloops & Dipsticks] still exists in Russia. So I think the interest for the first edition has increased because it is forbidden.

(J)I think that’s a good way to make people interested in something, isn’t it. Tell them they can’t have it.

(U)Yeah. What could there be in this book? I’m not so disturbed by it. I am disturbed by Putin.

(J)Your books are originally written in Swedish aren’t they? Do you feel like they lose something when translated? Is there is a stark difference in the mood or the feel?

(U)There could be. I don’t think it’s because of the translation, it’s more because of the cultural differences.

(J)Yeah, I know that in German for instance there are words for things that would take a sentence to say in English.

(U)Yes – different associations and all this. But when it’s translated into so many countries I think it’s more universal.

(J)Have you ever had any unexpected reactions to your work?

(U)Yeah. Perhaps, take this one for example [Fruitloops & Dipsticks]. I was in Belarus, which is almost a dictatorship.

(J)Ex-Soviet isn’t it?

(U)Yes. I wrote a book called The Dictator and I was there and we had readings. It was translated so a local was reading it. They had to read in Russian [Fruitloops & Dipsticks] and I was astonished by the interest in sexuality. I mean there is not much in that book, I just felt like a sexual therapist or something when I came there. In Sweden now I can be astonished because of how they react. In this one [Can You Whistle, Johanna?] there is a Grandfather smoking a cigar. It could be a problem and that was why it was very hard to get the book into the USA. Just because he was smoking. I told her [literary agent] that he was dyeing at the end.

(J)So there is a health message there?

(U)Yes. If you smoke a cigar you will die. So there are moralistic reactions to the books. Often it is the parents who complain about the books.

(J)What we can we expect to hear or learn in your Writers Week programme?

(U)I just don’t know because I don’t know the questions. Perhaps you could get a clue about Swedish books. I mean, I am not representative of all the authors in Sweden, but I think what is common for us is a view from the child’s perspective. To be loyal with the child’s side, not being a story teller from up high. I think that is important. Some of these books are biographical in some way. In this one [My Friend Percy’s Magical Gym Shoes] the character Ulf is almost burning up society because he wants his friend Percy to see the fireworks coming. Then he sprays water on the fire and I got applause for that. But they didn’t like that in Spain. They thought the parents would have hit him at least a little bit.

(J)At least you don’t have to live there!

(U)But I think it’s better to hear of us making a lot of crazy things. He has to think about himself, his feeling, and think it was wrong, “I did wrong.” It’s an inner process. He has to think, I have done something stupid and see the consequences already, not that the act itself is punishable.

(J)Do you feel like there is a big difference between Swedish writing when compared to English?

(U)Yes, I think I was in England and they have very few books for the smaller kids that have discussions on things like death. That was a taboo.

(J)Do you find they are for entertainment?

(U)We have a lot of animals dying in Swedish literature. Even here [Can You Whistle, Johanna?] the grandfather is dying at the end. Often when you are writing about death, even in Sweden I would say it is just the rituals that you are writing about. Whether it’s something like putting flowers on or saying something because you are afraid of the reaction of sadness. I think it’s good. I think children have to be confronted with real feelings, so they should be a little bit sorry. They are not dying and hopefully they have their parents to discuss things and say something to. I have no fear of writing about something.

(J)What would be your advice to a young author?

(U)Not taking any advice I think. You have to find your own way but I think reading is a very good way of learning how to write because you could say I don’t like that way of writing. You could find your own way by reading other books, not imitating them but see what you want to do and see how it is made in other books. Start with poems, I think that’s a good short way to see what happens. And then perhaps short stories, I think starting a big novel project when you are thirteen is not good.

(J)It’s one way to pop your self-esteem isn’t it? Do you have any personal author recommendations?

(U)I don’t know if we read the same books here in New Zealand and in Sweden. My mother used to read a lot of Astrid Lindgren and so did I. I think for my own kids I read a lot of Roald Dahl books to my son and more tragic stores for my daughter who just loved tragedy. You could also read a lot of the old books, not just the new ones. These days everything is so up-to-date I think it is good to have a historical perspective as a child. I am writing books now about the 60s and 50s, there are no mobile telephones in this and they don’t want to read it. But it’s just like you could read a book from Sweden, I think it is important to take part of and experience different cultures.

(J)Do you think kids have changed?

(U)Yeah. I think the technique is changing a lot in the daily life of children. When I was coming here on my flight for 40 hours I saw what people were doing. People choose a lot of films and the whole time they were looking at blue screens and they got a blue face. It was reflecting and I was doing the same. I had a lot of good books I thought I would read but it is an easy way just to put my finger on the screen. You have to have dull time I think. Dull time is where you awaken creativeness. I am trying to have a dull life.

(J)Do you have much of a relationship with the internet? Do you use social media or blogs?

(U)No very little actually. My wife does but I really think that I have a need for moral contemplation and not so much being on the net. Perhaps I prefer meeting personally, I’m a bit afraid of being addicted the screen.

(J)We’ve already kind of touched on it – what is your process of writing, how do you turn an idea into a book?

(U)I see it more like an organic process. I have a lot of writing friends who are doing very exact shadows of what they should do in each chapter and also the schools are teaching children how to write and the disposition is so mechanical. I’ve tried that model too. Now I just start a story and see what happens. The more interesting persons are more interesting than the story.

(J)So you focus on the character than the character?

(U)Yes, for instance there are lots of books for the very, very young people but then I was thinking that there are no books for the unborn. So I did a book about a boy having a chat with a mother’s stomach to the child inside giving answers to the child in there about what happens when you come out. That was the theme.

(J)That’s a strange sort of thing to think up, where did an idea like that come from?

(U)I think I saw a stomach somewhere and thought what would I teach a small child or say this the life coming to you.

(J)Do you think you’re quite a curious person by nature?

(U)Yeah. I think so. I’m curious about all the things that haven’t got answers. I think the daily life of children, coming to school and learning things, there are answers. Often education is built on a question and an answer and then they could have the idea that there are answers for everything. But for the very, most important things there are no answers. You have to make up the answers yourself. What is the meaning of life? Okay, this is the meaning of life. Okay there it was. Why are you falling in love with a person and not with another person? Why are we dying? What’s in the universe? There are a lot of things that children from the beginning are very interested in.

(J)But they stop asking?


(J)If you could have a coffee with any human being, either been or alive, who would it be and what would you ask them?

(U)Umm. I think it would be nice to meet god.


(U)Yeah. I have a lot of questions. I wrote a book about god, it was my last book. God created the earth but he was a little bit tired of inventing everything. So he first invented the Darwinist evolution theory so that he only had to do the small things like the fishes and now the creation could go on. But then when he woke up there are human beings, the animals – but he didn’t plan to make the shadows. They are dark so he decided to put them to the other side of earth, the side he couldn’t see. They call this the night. And what happens is you get a sort of Prozac world, no shadows, no darkness, no sadness.

(J)Fake smiles on everybody?

(U)Yes, everyone is going about smiling. So there are no stories, no fairytales, no dreams. It’s a drugged world. I find it quite funny to write about the fear of happiness and that you have a need for the shadows. Then there is a boy and a girl just going to find their shadows again and they found it the god is there to clean it up again. They say no, no don’t do that we need our shadows, even the sorrowness. God is thinking okay, okay you are write and he puts them back again. I think that applies to books also. You need to have the shadow sides and the night sides. I think we will have a lot to discuss over coffee.

Wellington City Libraries has many of Ulf’s books available for loan, check them out here.

Books that haven’t gone out in a while

This week we’re bringing you the gems that haven’t gone out in a while, part four! You can see the reasoning behind this collection and the previous instalments here and here.

book cover courtesy of Syndetics33 Snowfish, Adam Rapp

On the run in a stolen car with a kidnapped baby in tow, Curtis, Curl, and Bobbie are three young people with troubled pasts and bleak, uncertain futures. As they struggle to find a new life for themselves, it becomes painfully clear that none will ever be able to leave the past behind – though for some, redemption is waiting in the unlikeliest of places. It’s a harrowing and haunting read that’s sure to stay with you.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsHang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, Ann Rinaldi

Kidnapped from her home in Senegal and sold as a slave in 1761, a young girl is purchased by the wealthy Wheatley family of Boston. Phillis Wheatley – as she comes to be known – has an eager mind and a knack for learning that leads her on an unusual path for a slave. When the Wheatley’s discover Phillis’s talent for writing poetry, they begin to mold her future by having her “perform” for influential guests. Eventually she is sent to England, where her work is finally published – the first book of poetry by and African American woman. Despite her great achievement and the fame that follows, Phillis is troubled about her way of life. All of the trappings of success do nothing to change the fact that she is still a slave.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsVariant X, Sue Robinson

A deadly strain of botfly is causing fear and panic on Australia’s east coast. In a race against time, Adam Wilde follows his scientist father to South America in search of a biological remedy. On board the Carlotta, their floating laboratory on a tributary of the Amazon, Adam meets Sharma, the daughter of a family friend. The two are suspicious of each other from the outset and, in the melting heat of the forest, tension builds to breaking point. Things are about to go very, very wrong.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsAnonymity Jones, James Roy

Once, in a street not very far from yours, there lived a girl called Anonymity Jones. Anonymity’s life is falling apart. Her father has left to have a mid-life crisis, her mother’s new boyfriend is a definite worry, her Europe-bound sister has changed her name (just to make a point), and all her girl friends are now girlfriends, with boyfriends. And then there’s the art teacher. Anonymity’s losing control, and it’s decision time. Does she hang on, get out, or get even?

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsKoyal Dark, Mango Sweet, Kashmira Sheth

Jeeta’s family is caught up in the whirlwind of arranging marriages for her two older sisters, but the drama and excitement leave Jeeta cold. Even though tradition demands the parade of suitors, the marriage negotiations, and the elaborate displays, sixteen-year-old Jeeta wonders what happened to the love and romance the movies promise? She dreads her turn at the matrimonial circuit, especially since Mummy is always complaining about how Jeeta’s dark skin and sharp tongue will turn off potential husbands. But when Jeeta’s smart mouth and liberal ideas land her in love with her friend’s cousin Neel, she must strike a balance between duty to her tradition-bound parents, and the desire to follow her heart.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsGeneral Winston’s Daughter, Sharon Shinn

When seventeen-year-old heiress Averie Winston travels with her guardian to faraway Chiarrin, she looks forward to the reunion with her father, who is commanding general; seeing her handsome fiancé, Morgan; and exploring the strange new country. What she finds is entirely different from what she expected. Although the Chiarizzi appear to accept the invading army, rebels have already tried to destroy them; Morgan is not the man she thought he was; and she finds herself falling in love with Lieutenant Ket Du’kai, who himself comes from a conquered society. Can the irrepressible Averie remake herself in this new world?

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsDamosel : in which the Lady of the Lake renders a frank and often startling account of her wondrous, Stephanie Spinner

Water spirit Damosel, the Lady of the Lake, glides through Arthur’s kingdom like a glamorous wraith. She shimmers and shifts between the worlds of fairies and humans, with the Rules Governing the Ladies of the Lake always on her mind: The Rule of Thorough Preparation for a Difficult Task, The Rule of Eternally Binding Vows to Wielders of Magic, Especially Wizards, The Rule of Service to Future Kings. Her knowledge is vast (magic, metal, men’s hearts) and leads to her greatest honor – and worst mistake. Damosel makes a promise to the wizard Merlin to protect young King Arthur, and then dares to break it – with devastating results.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsInferno, Robin Stevenson

For Dante, high school is hell. She hates her new home in the suburbs, her only friend has moved away, her homeroom teacher mocks her and her mother is making her attend a social skills group for teenage girls. When a stranger shows up at school and hands Dante a flyer that reads: “WOOF, WOOF. YOU ARE NOT A DOG. WHY ARE YOU GOING TO OBEDIENCE SCHOOL?” Dante thinks she’s found a soul mate. Someone who understands. But there are all kinds of ways of bringing about change … and some are more dangerous than others.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsToads and Diamonds, Heather Tomlinson

Diribani has come to the village well to get water for her family’s scant meal of curry and rice. She never expected to meet a goddess there. Yet she is granted a remarkable gift: Flowers and precious jewels drop from her lips whenever she speaks. It seems only right to Tana that the goddess judged her kind, lovely step-sister worthy of such riches. And when she encounters the goddess, she is not surprised to find herself speaking snakes and toads as a reward. Blessings and curses are never so clear as they might seem, however. Diribani’s newfound wealth brings her a prince – and an attempt on her life. Tana is chased out of the village because the province’s governor fears snakes, yet thousands are dying of a plague spread by rats. As the sisters’ fates hang in the balance, each struggles to understand her gift. Will it bring her wisdom, good fortune, love … or death?

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Bad Girls’ Club, Rhian Tracey

Four girls – Mary, Bea, Meena and Atlanta – are thrown together when they are picked for very different reasons by their teacher, to form a book review club. Their discussions and reviews will be heard on radio, chaired and presented by the incredibly cool Jazz. As the girls gradually relax and talk more and more animatedly about what they think about the different books, they find they are learning from, as well as about, each other. And so they become friends. Until one day Mary does the unforgivable and, having flirted outrageously with Bea’s new boyfriend, makes an all-out play for him. The tender new friendship of the foursome is fractured as a result of what Mary has done.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsNo and Me, Delphine De Vigan

Lou Bertignac is thirteen, has an IQ of 160, a head full of questions and a good friend in class rebel Lucas. At home, her father puts a brave face on things but cries in secret in the bathroom, while her mother has hardly left the house in years, not since her second child died in its sleep. To escape this desolate world, Lou likes to go to one of Paris’s main railway stations, Gare d’Austerlitz, to see emotion writ large in the smiles and tears of arrival and departure. But there she also sees the homeless and meets a girl called No, not much older than herself. She determines to make No the subject of her class project, and bit by bit, coaxed with drinks and a seat in a warm cafe, No begins to talk.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsWendy, Karen Wallace

Wendy’s imagination never runs away with her – it flies. Wendy Darling is not the perfect girl her parents would like her to be. Intrepid, outspoken, and wilful, she’s always getting into trouble. One evening, confined to the nursery by her horrible nanny, she sneaks out to spy on one of her parents’ glamorous parties. What Wendy sees changes her life forever and triggers a series of confusing adventures as she tries to solve the mysteries that lie at the heart of her family…

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Midnight Charter, David Whitley

In the city of Agora, anything can be bought and sold. Even children are possessions until their twelfth birthday. Mark has been sold by his father and Lily, an orphan from birth, has bartered for her life. Thrown together by chance, in the ancient tower of Count Stelli, they face an existence of poverty and servitude unless they can find a way to break free. But, unbeknown to Mark and Lily, they are being watched by the ruler of the city. Can they survive the treachery that awaits them and discover the dark secret that binds them together?

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsMessage in a Bottle, Valerie Zenatti

After a suicide bomb attack on her local Jerusalem cafe, seventeen-year-old Israeli Tal Levine sends a message in a bottle to Gaza. It is a desperate act, but Tal hopes that by starting a dialogue with a Palestinian, their shared experiences could lead to some kind of mutual understanding. Her message is found by a young man calling himself Gazaman, and a remarkable email correspondence begins…

What’s the deal with Ted Dawe’s Into The River?


Into The River (summary below) is a Young Adult Fiction novel written by New Zealand Author Ted Dawe. The book has spent a lot of time in the spotlight over the last year, taking home the supreme prize at the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. The prize was the, recently renamed, New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year award and it is one of the most prestigious New Zealand book honours for authors. Ted Dawe was no stranger to this award ceremony having taken gongs for his previous work Thunder Road. 

Into The River’s proverbial run of golden weather has recently hit a speed bump with discussions being had in relation to the books appropriateness. It has been reviewed by the Office of Film and Literature Classification and classified as R14.

This means that although libraries currently deem it a Young Adult book it is not suitable, nor legal, for distribution or supply to anyone younger than 14. At Wellington City Libraries it will now be kept behind the desk and only available for issue to individuals over the age of 14, even with parental consent it is still illegal for anyone younger than this age to read it.

For the full decision of the Office of Film and Literature Classification visit their recent decisions page

Into The River/ Ted Dawe
“When Te Arepa Santos is dragged into the river by a giant eel, something happens that will change the course of his whole life. The boy who struggles to the bank is not the same one who plunged in, moments earlier. He has brushed against the spirit world, and there is a price to be paid; an utu to be exacted. Years later, far from the protection of whanau and ancestral land he finds new enemies. This time, with no-one to save him, there is a decision to be made.. he can wait on the bank, or leap forward into the river.” (Back cover)

Graphic Novels with some Pulp

Nicola’s done it again! Here’s the next installment in her guides to the graphic novels:

Pulp was a word originally used to describe “the periodicals of the 1880s to the 1950s made from the cheapest pulpwood paper, the word came to have an expanded meaning; a dependence on formula and genre…literature concerned with sensation and escape.” (From The Encyclopedia of pulp fiction writers) Here, I’m using it to describe graphic novels that fall into ‘pulp’ genres: Western, crime, adventure, science fiction, and fantasy. So how are these books different from other graphic novels dealing with the same subjects? I’d say that ‘new pulp’ has a certain feel to it; they mostly focus on action and adventure rather than character development. That’s not a criticism: sometimes you just want to see a cowgirl shoot a zombie in the face. They are fantastic escapist reading. Although a reoccurring concept that pulp novels made popular was the “hardboiled” genre: a tough, cynical and realistic story set in a certain genre like western or noir.

One could argue that the Marvel/DC comics are ‘pulp’ but I think that, true to the original spirit of pulp comics, the graphic novels that I’ve described as ‘pulp’ come from smaller, more marginal publishers as the originals did.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsBlake & Mortimer series

Blake and Mortimer are two British secret agents who fight against all sorts of nefarious international organizations. It started out in the Tintin Magazine, which explains the similar feel. In fact, Blake & Mortimer works as a rather more ‘grown up’ version of Tintin, although its plots sometimes have that rather ridiculous feel. The plot of the first volume, The Yellow M, involves the theft of the crown jewels. There aren’t any female characters apart from the obligatory stalwart housekeeper, although this is because the censorship laws were very strict! That being said, this series is a great, retro, escapist glimpse into very English world where men with great moustaches and drink tea while pondering their next move against the dastardly forces. Hilariously, though, the writer was actually Belgian.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Rainbow Orchid: The Adventures of Julius Chancer, Garen Ewing

The Rainbow Orchid is an updated take on the adventure comics like Tintin and Blake & Mortimer. It keeps to the spirit of the originals, but without the sexism and racism that often marred a modern reader’s enjoyment of the original series. Again the drawing style is very familiar; it’s known as ‘ligne clarie’ (French for Clear line). There’s a certain uniformity to the way characters are drawn and shadow isn’t represented at all. It’s a very ‘cartoon’ style but it certainly works in this context! The story follows Julius Chancer, a historical researcher following the trail of the titular orchid, which takes him all over the world and into the path of some very dangerous people. It’s entertaining and fun.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Sixth Gun, Cullen Bunn

For something a littler grittier, take a look at the series The Sixth Gun. This is an action packed Western with zombies and black magic and pretty awesome female lead. Becky lives quietly with her stepfather until a group of thugs come to collect something he’s been hiding; the sixth gun, a magical weapon that is reputed to have been one of six guns forged by the Devil himself. Finding herself pursued by otherworldly forces, Becky has no choice but ally herself to Drake Sinclair, a man who wants the guns for his own purposes…

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsBloody Chester, J. T. Petty

Also a Western, but this one has a very different feel. Chester Kates is a teenager living on the fringe of society in the West. He takes a job to burn a deserted town to make way for the railroad, but it turns out to be not so deserted… Bloody Chester is as much about human frailty and greed, and shares a bleak cynicism with the works of Raymond Chandler, one of the greatest pulp writers of all time (and a writer that you should definitely look up if you enjoy this graphic novel). If I had to describe it, I would say it’s a “hardboiled Western.”

Best of the West (Island)

We’re kind of assuming you know the big Aussie names like Isobelle Carmody, Odo Hirsch, Catherine Jinks (if only because we’ve raved about her before), John Marsden, Garth Nix and Shaun Tan (whose genius is mentioned here) to name but a few. Forgive us if that was too presumptuous. But it is for that reason that those featured in this post are the (possibly) lesser known authors from the land out West.  For all the competition between our two countries, we are, in many ways, very similar. We’ve fought in wars together, we share a colonial history, a love of the outdoors, similar national past times, incomprehensible accents, a love of barbequed food … and the list goes on. Yet we often know very little about one another’s literature. Which is why, without further ado, we give you: R ‘n’ R’s Guide to (a few) Australian authors.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsUrsula Dubosarsky (pronounced Ersh-ala Doob-oh-sars-kee) is an enormously prolific writer, and award winner for that matter. A full list of the awards she has won can be found here on her website – if you’ve got time definitely go explore it! Of the forty or so books she has written, our favourites are The Golden Day and The Red Shoe. Both are set in Australia’s recent past (from the 1950s to the early 1970s) which Dubosarsky brings to life through her fantastic characterisations. Matilda, the funny, tough and fiercely intelligent narrator of The Red Shoe is one of three sisters whose father is mentally unstable and largely absent, their mother is possibly in the thrall of his brother, and a headline-making Russian spy defection is taking place next door. As well as the mystery of what is happening next door, at the centre of the story is a family secret that no one will talk about or acknowledge but is quietly tearing them all apart.
book cover courtesy of Syndetics
The Golden Day has a fantastically ambiguous ending (fair warning). As the Vietnam War rages overseas, in a year that begins with the hanging of one man and ends with the drowning of another, eleven schoolgirls embrace their own chilling history when their teacher abruptly goes missing on a field trip. Part gripping thriller, part ethereal tale of innocence lost, The Golden Day is a poignant study of fear and friendship, and of what it takes to come of age with courage. We love all of Ursula Dubosarsky’s books but especially these two because the richly drawn characters create an intricate web of individual and family psychology. If you need more of a reason than that, Dubosarsky has a gorgeous use of language, making her work a pleasure to read. 

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsMargo Lanagan is primarily known for her dark fantasy short stories, some of which are influenced by folktale. Black Juice was a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, won two World Fantasy Awards and the Victorian Premier’s Award for Young Adult Fiction. It’s a collection of 10 short stories that will (according to the publisher) delight, shock, intrigue, amuse and move the reader to tears with their dazzling imaginative reach, their dark humour, their subtlety, their humanity and depth of feeling. Yellowcake is another collection of hers and she’s featured in collaboration collections such as Zombies Vs. Unicorns. If you’re after a longer work of fantasy then try Sea Hearts which features the sea-witch Misskaella who on, remote Rollrock Island, discovers she can draw a girl from the heart of a seal. So, for a price, any man might buy himself a bride; an irresistibly enchanting sea-wife. But at what cost? Perhaps you’re looking for some more realistic fiction? Then try The Best Thing which is your traditional love story (girl meets boy from the other side of the tracks, their parents disaprove, her friends don’t understand her, they’re faced with a challenge to overcome) but with a something extra that comes from Margo Lanagan’s skill as a writer. All of her writing will entertain and move you in equal measure with her stunning use of language and the emotion it conveys.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsMelina Marchetta is incredible! Although not hugely prolific, her books are consistently award-winning. Her first novel, Looking For Alibrandi was awarded the Children’s Book Council of Australia award in 1993 and her second novel, Saving Francesca won the same award in 2004. Looking For Alibrandi was made into a major film in 2000 and won the Australian Film Institute Award for best Film and best adapted screen play, also written by the author. On the Jellicoe Road was released in 2006 and won the WAYRBA (West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award) voted by teenagers in Western Australia in 2008. It also won the US Printz Medal in 2009 for excellence in YA literature. This was followed up by Finnikin of the Rock in 2008 which won the Aurealis Award for YA fantasy, The Piper’s Son in 2010 which was shortlisted for the Qld Premier’s Lit Award, NSW Premier’s Lit Award, Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, CBC awards and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Just as a personal aside, all her books are in our Librarian’s Choice section as well. On the whole, we would class her books as ‘realistic fiction’ with the exceptions being the ‘Lumatere Chronicles‘ which are fantasy.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsMaureen McCarthy writes wonderful stories about young women in their late teens and early twenties. We particularly love The Convent which follows the hidden and intertwined lives of four young women as they face difficult, life-changing, impossible choices during the 1920s, 1960s, and the present. Peach is 19 and pretty happy with the way things are. But when she takes a summer job at a café in the old convent, her idea of who she is takes a sharp turn into the past. Where once there were nuns, young girls and women who had fallen on hard times, Peach discovers secrets from three generations of her family. It’s incredibly warm and real, intense and provocative, and tackles questions of fate and how the choices we make ripple and reverberate through time. Maureen McCarthy’s earlier novel Rose by Any Other Name similarly features a young woman on a road trip of discovery (quite literally) struggling with family dynamics and growing up. Somebody’s Crying however takes on an entirely different subject matter. A murder in a country town is the backdrop for the story of three young people, Alice, Tom and Jonty, who are bound together because Alice’s mother was murdered and Jonty is the suspect. They’re all wonderfully compelling reads because Maureen McCarthy really is a master storyteller.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsPatricia Wrightson was an Australian writer of several highly regarded and influential children’s books. We’ve got a number but the ones we class as Young Adult is “The Song of Wirrun” series which include The Ice is Coming, The Dark Bright Water and Behind the Wind. Patricia Wrightson’s reputation came to rest largely on her magic realist titles which were among the first Australian books for children to draw on Australian Aboriginal mythology. The most famous of her books to do so is The Nargun and The Stars which is set in Australia and involves an orphaned city boy named Simon Brent who comes to live on a 5000 acre sheep station called Wongadilla, in the Hunter Region, with his mother’s second cousins, Edie and Charlie. In a remote valley on the property he discovers a variety of ancient Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime creatures. The arrival of heavy machinery intent on clearing the land brings to life the ominous stone Nargun. The Nargun is a creature drawn from tribal legends of the Gunai or Kurnai people of the area now known as the Mitchell River National Park in Victoria. Other creatures featured in the story include the mischievous green-scaled water-spirit Potkoorok, the Turongs (tree people) and the Nyols (cave people). Her 27 books have been published in 16 languages. Furthermore, for her “lasting contribution” as a children’s writer she received the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1986.

Marcus Zusak

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsYou’ve heard of The Book Thief right? The award winning, brilliant, tear jerker that has been translated into over 30 languages, as well as being made into a film? Well, all of Marcus Zusak’s earlier work has been just as wonderful. He started his writing career with The Underdog (which took a seven years to publish) which is about down-and-out 15-year-old Cameron Wolfe, his family and the girl he falls for. It’s not a book that takes on huge social issues but rather explores a family dynamic and the trials of growing up and falling for a girl. It was followed up by Fighting Ruben Wolfe and also When Dogs Cry – technically, a stand alone companion novel.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThen there is The Messenger, which also features a down-and-out character, Ed Kennedy, but whose story is something completely different. Ed is standing in a bank queue when a robbery takes place. He accidentally foils the robbers’ escape, and is proclaimed a hero. Shortly after, he receives an Ace of Diamonds in the mail. The ace is from an unknown source. On the ace is written a list of three addresses and specific times next to each one. These represent a series of tasks that Ed must complete. He does so successfully and is rewarded with more aces and more tasks. The last card is a Joker and has his own address written on it. Ed was the ‘guinea pig’ of an experiment to see if an ordinary (very unsuccessful) man could perform the impossible and give hope to the world that this generation is not useless. Ed, who had always thought of himself as pathetic and second-loved to his brother, discovers that he has the ability to change lives.

If you’re a fan of Marcus Zusak then get excited, there’s a new book called Bridge of Clay. Although that said, he has been writing it for ten years and it was supposed to be released two years ago 🙁

Books that haven’t gone out in a while

This week we’re bringing you the gems that haven’t gone out in a while, part three! You can see the reasoning behind this collection and the previous instalments here and here.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Properties of Water, Hannah Roberts McKinnon

For thirteen-year-old Lace Martin it has always been the three of them: Lace, her older sister, Marni, and the lake. The sisters’ lives have always circled around the lake on which they’ve grown up. As Marni always said, the water was in their blood. Both competitive swimmers, the girls once shared everything. But living in her sister’s shadow was sometimes difficult for Lace; there was no escaping Marni’s beauty, wit, and athleticism. All that changed one tragic summer afternoon.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsFigs and Fate: Stories About Growing Up in the Arab World Today, Elsa Marston

The five stories in this collection are told from the perspective of Arab teens living in Syria, Lebanon, a Palestinian refugee camp, Egypt, and Iraq. Each main character embarks on a mission to confront his or her social situation, whether regarding friends, family, teachers, or society at large. Marston beautifully details the rich Middle Eastern culture of these five individuals and their families, dispelling negative stereotypes associated with young adults living in these societies and providing for a better understanding of their culture. Their ideals, goals, and dreams are no different from those of teens living elsewhere in the world. By exploring the challenges they face, Figs and Fate will awaken you to the rhythms of young people’s lives in the Middle East – a beat that may sound surprisingly familiar to you.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe swallow and the Dark, Andrew Matthews

Sam is sixteen, and at war with his own body, fighting an incurable illness that gives him only months to live. Time has suddenly become very important to him as he now has so little left. Nearly a hundred years ago, another Sam — a lieutenant in the British Army — is off to fight a different kind of war, on the Western Front. He knows that he may well not survive. Linking the two is a girl named Marion. But is Marion just a figment of Sam’s imagination — a hallucination caused by his medication — or something far more extraordinary? Could she somehow be… a bridge across time?

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Year of the Shanghai Shark, Mo Zhi Hong

The North-Eastern Chinese city of Dalian is home to orphaned teenager Hai Long. In the year of the Sars epidemic, he and his friends live out their urban existence, going to school, navigating the malls, and watching American basketball and Michael Jordan. They are part of China’s new generation, severing ties with their cultural past, surrounded by a fascinating array of rich, colourful characters who frequent their inner-city apartment block – from Gambler Dang, a high stakes Ma Jiang player, to Fish, a peasant from the countryside and an unlikely friend, and finally Uncle, whose shadowy occupation exerts an irresistible pull on Hai Long’s life…

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Door of No Return, Sarah Mussi

“Until my son, the lost Prince – get it, that’s you – comes back through The Door of No Return, and claims his ransom, my soul will never rest in the land of my ancestors.” Those are Zac’s grandfather’s dying words. An old man’s wild fancy? Or real: diaries, lost maps, secrets buried 300 years ago somewhere in Africa? A motive for murder? Somewhere in the old slave forts of Ghana lies the answer, and Zac knows his only choice is to go there and find out.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsCry of the Giraffe : based on a true story, Judie Oron

Labelled outcasts by their Ethiopian neighbors because of their Jewish faith, 13-year-old Wuditu and her family make the arduous trek on foot to Sudan in the hope of being transported to Yerusalem and its promise of a better life. Instead, they are herded into a squalid refugee camp until the day soldiers round up Wuditu and scores of others, forcing them back to the Ethiopian border. Throughout her harrowing trek across the scorching sand, and the humiliation, fear, and despair she later faces as a slave, Wuditu’s only hope is to be reunited with her family in Yerusalem. Based on real events, this is one girl’s courageous journey from exile and slavery to hope in a new land. It mirrors the experience of thousands of Ethiopian Jews who fled from hatred, persecution, and brutality to a new life in their spiritual homeland.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsSo Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother), Micol Ostow

Despite his dreams of hipster rock glory, Ari Abramson’s band, The Tribe is more white bread than indie-cred. Made up of four suburban teens from a wealthy Jewish school, their Motley Crue is about as hardcore as SAT prep and scripture studies. But after a one-song gig at a friend’s Bar Mitzvah – a ska cover of “Hava Nagilah” – the Tribe’s popularity erupts overnight. Now, Ari is forced to navigate a minefield of inflated egos, misplaced romance, and the shallowness of indie-rock elitism. It’s a hard lesson in the complex art of playing it cool.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsSecret Keeper, Mitali Perkins

When her father loses his job and leaves India to look for work in America, Asha, her older sister, Reet and their mother must wait with Baba’s brother and his family, as well as their grandmother, in Calcutta. Uncle is welcoming, but in a country steeped in tradition, the three women must abide by his decisions. Asha knows this is temporary – just until Baba sends for them. But with scant savings and with time passing, the tension builds. Ma finds it hard to submit to her mother- and sister-in-law; Reet’s beauty attracts unwanted marriage proposals; and Asha’s promise to take care of Ma and Reet leads to impulsive behaviour.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Middle of Everywhere, Monique Polak

Fifteen-year-old Noah Thorpe is spending the school term in George River, In Quebec’s Far North. The Inuit kids call Noah a Qallunaaq–the Inuktitut word for a non-Inuit person, someone ignorant of the customs of the North. Noah thinks the Inuit have a strange way of looking at the world, plus they eat raw meat and seal blubber. Most have never left George River–a town that doesn’t even have its own doctor, let alone a McDonald’s. But Noah’s views change when he realizes he will have to learn a few lessons from his Inuit buddies if he wants to survive in the North.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsMalka, Mirjam Pressler

Malka’s world is changing. Jews are no longer welcome in her home town and her family is threatened by Nazi round-ups. Nothing is safe any more. Now Malka’s mother knows she has no choice – she must take her daughters across the mountains to freedom. But escape proves harder than they could ever have imagined. Separated from her mother and alone in a terrifying new world, Malka struggles to survive starvation and brutality at the hands of the Nazis. But she is unaware that, miles away, a broken-hearted mother is searching for her lost little girl…

The Star Locket, Natalie Jane Prior

Identical in appearance, yet raised as strangers on opposite sides of the world, Estee Merton and Sally Taverner share a perilous inheritance: a broken half of a mysterious star-shaped locket, a magical talisman that could control the destiny of millions. Aided by a renegade secret society and a young man who loves one of them too much, Sally and Estee are drawn into a terrifying struggle on the murky streets of nineteenth-century Starberg. As torn loyalties threaten everyone’s safety, the star locket is fated to decide which twin will live and which will be lost. The problem is, there is no way of telling who is real and who is not.

Chrismukkah Spirit

It’s that time of year! That joyous, joyous time of year! You know, when advent calendar chocolates get devoured on day one, when Christmas carols quickly become annoying, when the list of presents to buy gets distressingly long… Secretly though, like all the Christmas movies that start appearing on tv, you love it all. Not quite in the spirit yet? Never fear! Here are some Christmas themed materials to help you get there:

The Classics (most of which have handily been made into movies)

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsHow the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Dr. Seuss
This is a Christmas favourite about the biggest, baddest, grumpiest villain with a heart two sizes too small. For 53 years, the Grinch has lived in a cave on the side of a mountain, looming above the Whos in Whoville. The noisy holiday preparations and infernal singing of the happy little citizens below annoy him to no end. The Grinch decides this frivolous merriment must stop. His “wonderful, awful” idea is to don a Santa outfit, strap heavy antlers on his poor, quivering dog Max, construct a makeshift sleigh, head down to Whoville, and strip the chafingly cheerful Whos of their Yuletide glee once and for all.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsA Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
You’ve heard of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come right? Well now you need to read the quintessential classic from which they came. It was published in 1843 and has entranced millions of readers since because it touches upon the emotions, the senses, the human condition, and encapsulates it all in the life and death struggle we all go through…plus, who doesn’t love a good ghost story and a happy ending? Then there’s this film adaption. And this one. And this one. And this one. And my absolute favourite: The Muppets Christmas Carol.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Gift of the Magi, O. Henry
One dollar and eight-seven cents is all the money Della has in the world to buy her beloved husband a Christmas present. She has nothing to sell except her only treasure – her long, beautiful brown hair. Set in New York at the turn of the twentieth century, this classic piece of American literature tells the story of a young couple and the sacrifices each must make to buy the other a gift. Beautiful, delicate watercolors by award-winning illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger add new poignancy and charm to this simple tale about the rewards of unselfish love.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsLittle Women, Louise Alcott
Why a Christmas book you ask? Well the opening line is: “”Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents, grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.” And so we are introduced to the March family; Meg (at sixteen the oldest, who longs for a rich life full of beautiful things), Jo (the willful, headstrong tomboy with aspirations to be a writer), Beth (gentle and kind, the ‘pet of the family’), Amy (the youngest, artistic, beautiful and spoiled) and Marmee, there busy but sympathetic mother. The book brings to life a universal struggle for girls and women to be themselves while at the same time following the conventions and expectations placed on them by wider society. Like all Victorian children’s books, Little Women is infused with a heavy dose of morality (and religious undertone) but at its heart it is the story of a family who love each other deeply and who support each other through all that life throws at them. It’s a wonderful book and Jo has been a wonderful role model for many a young woman.

The Movies

Miracle on 34th Street, directed by George Seaton
Like all great Christmas classics, this tale is one of holiday spirit with a dark undertone thrown in (it’s why they’re all so wonderful). The holiday swing is in full swing when a cultured gentleman with twinkling eyes, an ample belly and a snowy bear (sound familiar) is hired as Macy’s department store Santa. He claims his name is Kris Kringle and soon fills everyone with Christmas spirit… except for his boss, Doris Walker, who’s raising her daughter to not believe in Santa. But when Kringle is declared insane and put on trial, everyone’s faith is put to the test as young and old alike face the age-old question: Do you believe in Santa Claus?

The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick
What happens when holiday celebrations collide? Find out in this incredible stop motion animated film where Halloween Town is a dream world filled with citizens such as deformed monsters, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, vampires, werewolves and witches. Jack Skellington (The Pumpkin King) leads them in organizing the annual Halloween holiday, but he has grown tired of the same routine year after year. Wandering dejectedly in the forest outside the cemetery, he accidentally opens a portal to “Christmas Town”, whose residents are charged with organizing the annual Christmas holiday, under the guidance of Santa Claus. Impressed by the feeling and style of Christmas, Jack announces that they will take over Christmas.

It’s A Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra
George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve (that dark undertone once again) brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be had he never been born. Despite initially performing poorly at the box office due to high production costs and stiff competition at the time of its release, it is considered one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made. It was nominated for five Oscars and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made.

The Polar Express, directed by Robert Zemeckis
As well as being based on a gorgeous book, this is a 2004 motion capture computer-animated fantasy film that featured human characters animated using live action performance capture technique, with the exception of the waiters who dispense hot chocolate on the train, because their feats were impossible for live actors to achieve. It was one of the first to do so and according to the 2006 Guinness World Book of Records is the first all-digital capture film. As the story starts off, a young boy, who used to adore Christmas, hears a train whistle roar. To his astonishment, he finds the train is waiting for him. He sees a conductor who then proceeds to look up at his window. He runs downstairs and goes outside. The conductor explains the train is called the Polar Express, and is journeying to the North Pole. The boy then boards the train, which is filled with chocolate and candy, as well as many other children in their pajamas. It’s a truly lovely story with a very famous and very moving last line.

Love Actually, directed by Richard Curtis
We adore this film because it is everything an ensemble cast film should be. It’s funny, wry, poignant and heartwarming. The film opens with one of the loveliest messages, like, ever:

The film then follows ten different storylines about varying stages of love. It’s pretty cute and fills you with warm fuzzies.

The Music

Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, Sufjan Stevens
If you’re looking for a marathon of Christmas music, then this is the album for you. The 59 tracks stretch across nearly three hours, so it’s not for the faint hearted. For more than one reason. The album isn’t all happiness and joy. About a third of the tracks are Sufjan originals, and the music ranges from reverent, to intergalactic, to angelic, to positively looney. Which really, when you think about it, is what Christmas is all about.

A Christmas Together, John Denver and the Muppets
This is the Christmas album of my childhood. Without fail, (and to my parents despair) when I was asked to choose the music it was always, always this album. Why? Because it’s the Muppets and Christmas Carols, two of my favourite things. Miss Piggy always made me giggle and the whole album is the perfect combination of silly and moving. John Denver singing ‘The Peace Carol’ will break your heart a lil bit. Sadly, nay, tragically, the library doesn’t have this album. BUT! Never fear, it’s all on YouTube 🙂

Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 2
Amongst all of Glee‘s music albums, it’s really no surprise that there are Christmas ones. Three in fact, and a fourth coming this year. The second one (in my humble opinion) is the best one because it accompanies that wonderfully over the top season 3 themed episode: ‘Extraordinary Merry Christmas.’ Although that said, Kurt and Blaine’s ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ from the first Christmas album is also lovely.

The Others

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsDash & Lily’s Book of Dares, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsLet it Snow : three holiday romances, John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle
For all your Northern Hemisphere Christmas stereotypes! Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Tricksters, Margaret Mahy
You know how much we love this right? We’ve mentioned it before as I’m sure you know due to your weekly devouring of our recommendations. The Tricksters is about the classic Kiwi family Christmas at the beach. Harry (real name, Ariadne) Hamilton is seventeen years old and caught between her two older, more exciting (she feels) siblings and two much younger ones. Feeling alone in a large family she spends her time writing. This Christmas however, the family is joined by three fascinating but rather sinister brothers and Harry finds her stories and reality blurring together in an alarmingly complex way.

We hope that helps you get into the Chrismukkah spirit 🙂 Points to anyone who convinces their parents to give them eight days of presents followed by one day of many presents! Have a wonderful holiday everyone!

Books that haven’t gone out in a while

This week we’re bringing you the gems that haven’t gone out in a while, part two! You can see the reasoning behind this collection and the previous installment here.

Stitches in Time, Julie Ireland

When Elsie journeys all the way from Australia to Burgundy to visit her dead mother’s sister she finds herself in a disturbing world. Menancing and vivid glimpses of the past crowd in on her, and the truth about her mother, when it comes, is shattering.

My Life as a Dog, Reidar Jönsson

While his mother is dying of tuberculosis and his father is away at sea, thirteen-year-old Ingemar is farmed out to relatives, pseudo-relatives and the children’s home. He’s a sweetly eccentric boy with a creative sense of mischief that has a tendency to spiral out of control, often instigated by his equally unrestrained older brother. Ingemar may have a rough time, but not as bad as Laika – the Russian dog sent into space. During his summer away from home Ingemar meets various eccentric characters, giving him experiences that will affect him for the rest of his life. This is an adorably lovely novel about a young boy’s valiant attempts to manage life “in spite of it all” with both tragic and hilarious results.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsOphelia : a novel, Lisa M. Klein

I do so love a re-telling or twisting of a well known story. Lisa Klein doesn’t disappoint in this reimagining of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. This time, it is Ophelia who takes center stage. A rowdy, motherless girl, she grows up at Elsinore Castle to become the queen’s most trusted lady-in-waiting. Ambitious for knowledge and witty as well as beautiful, Ophelia learns the ways of power in a court where nothing is as it seems. When she catches the attention of the captivating, dark-haired Prince Hamlet, their love blossoms in secret. But bloody deeds soon turn Denmark into a place of madness, and Ophelia’s happiness is shattered. Ultimately, she must choose between her love for Hamlet and her own life. In desperation, Ophelia devises a treacherous plan to escape from Elsinore forever … with one very dangerous secret.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsBlue Plate Special, Michelle D. Kwasney

At 15, every girl believes her mother has always been middle-aged and clueless. But this compelling novel tells the other side of the story through the alternating voices of Madeline, Desiree, and Ariel. In alternating chapters, the lives of three teenage girls from three different generations are woven together as each girl learns about forgiveness, empathy, and self-respect. Michelle D. Kwansney reveals information at a perfect pace. She never gives too much away, yet never holds too much back. Though their circumstances are all different, and each girl is facing some seriously tough problems, I found them all deeply relatable. Each girl has a unique voice, the time periods are easily identified by pop cultural references, and the author skillfully draws you in with cliffhangers.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsA Summer to Die, Lois Lowry

Number the Stars reverberated with me for years and this novel is as equally compelling because of Lois Lowry’s strength as a storyteller. A Summer to Die is a beautiful story about an extremely tough subject and the complexity of relationships between sisters. Thirteen-year-old Meg envies her sister Molly’s beauty and popularity. But Molly is very sick in a way Meg doesn’t quite understand. Lois Lowry takes in the subject of death with grace and elegance. The big information is told not through first-person dialogue (declaration, reaction) but by simple narrative statements, sometimes right in the middle of a chapter. The news itself is important and dramatic enough to make impact in a few sentences. Once it becomes clear that Molly is dying, her disease still isn’t named for a while because ultimately this isn’t a book about leukemia, it’s a book about Meg and Molly as sisters.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsSomething in the Air, Jan Mark

Peggy is a fifteen-year-old rather at odds with the world around her. Her older sister berates her constantly for being messy. Her teachers reprimand her for being unladylike. Her best friend has stopped talking to her, because she was so shocked when Peggy explained the facts of life to her. And now, she’s got the strangest sounds reverberating through her head. Could they really be voices from another world, as her auntie thinks? Or is there a simpler explanation at hand?

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsWinter, John Marsden

I remember I read all of John Marsden’s books in very quick succession and it was this one that stuck with me more than the others. Possibly because of the compelling mystery of Winter De Salis’ childhood, which will keep you guessing till the very end (hopefully). John Marsden really does excel at lulling readers, and writing sleight of hands that distract us from the monumental wallop we’re going to be dealt before the final page. For twelve years Winter has been haunted. Her past, her memories, her feelings, will not leave her alone. And now, at sixteen, the time has come for her to act. She must head back to her old home, where a pair of family tragedies forever altered her life. What she discovers is powerful and shocking – but must be dealt with in order for life to go on.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsLost Property, James Moloney

The premise of this book completely hooked me; a clue to a missing brother found in Lost Property. From the outside, Josh’s life looks pretty much perfect. He’s in a band, he has a gorgeous girlfriend and he does well at school. But Josh’s family has been slowly falling apart since his older brother disappeared two years before. Then Josh comes across a clue to Michael’s whereabouts in the Lost Property Office where he’s working for the holidays. Determined to put his family back together, and without a word to anyone, Josh too leaves Sydney in a desperate bid to bring his brother home.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsShooter, Walter Dean Myers

Not to be approached lightly, this is the story of a teenager who is often bullied by classmates who eventually loses it and opens fire in his school, killing his arch-enemy and himself. What I liked about it was the way in which Walter Dean Myers told the story. Using police reports and various interview transcripts for the main text the author creates a very realistic tone that adds to the clinical, almost sterile accounts of “the incident.” It also kind of makes the story a little creepier. Then there is Len’s diary. The author works very hard to give background and context to the shooting, to tell us what factors can possibly lead to such a desperate act.

If you like the slightly different writing style of Walter Dean Myers then check out A time to love : stories from the Old Testament which is a retelling of six stories from the Old Testament, which explore the complexity of love from the perspective of Ruth, Delilah, Reuben, Isaac, Gamiel, and Zillah.

R n R’s guide to the ‘classics’

Because Nicola is amazing, as well as her guides to the graphic novels, she’s put together a guide to the ‘classics’. The notion that a book can be ‘classic’ is a contentious one. The term puts a group of books above everything else. But how is that possible when what makes good literature is so subjective? We do have a section devoted to ‘classic’ novels, which really means the ones that you’re likely to be asked to read for an English assignment. That being said, these novels are famous for a good reason; well written, sometimes funny, sometimes sad portraits of a particular time and place. Often, the ones we have classed as ‘classics’ are there because they’ve stood the test of time (another contentious term) in that they’ve been loved by several generations. Here are Nicola’s picks for the best of the best:

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsJane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is definitely one of the great female characters of pre-feminist literature. Stroppy and headstrong, intelligent and self aware, she conquers not only dreadful relations and a dire school, but the heart of Mr. Rochester, a man equally as difficult as she is. But please don’t mistake the book for a sappy romantic novel; Jane has to make hard choices and refuses to compromise on her sense of ethics, even if it means losing the man she loves. The Brontë family is pretty incredible as all three sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne) wrote novels that have become widely classed as ‘classics.’ Emily wrote Wuthering Heights and Anne wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. All three sisters were popular for the passion and originality in their writing.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsWide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

This was actually written as a companion piece to Jane Eyre. It’s no spoiler to say it deals with the life of Antoinette, Mr. Rochester’s first wife. Written in 1966, almost 120 years after Jane Eyre, it has a very different take on the world that Jane Eyre lived in. It mostly takes place in the Caribbean after the end of slavery and looks at race, class and sexism – themes unexplored in Jane Eyre.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsWorks of Charles Dickens

Where to begin? We’ve got almost all of his major works in the YA section. My particular favourite is Great Expectations (closely followed by Bleak House and Oliver Twist). Charles Dickens’ writing style can be a little hard to get into at first, but the first few are well worth persevering through. Despite my love for his novels, I will admit to finding his main characters a bit straightlaced; but the secondary characters sparkle with life. His books often take a satirical but realistic depiction of his society and its problems. He was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. A Christmas Carol, is one of the most influential works ever written, and it remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo

If your only knowledge of this classic comes from the 1996 Disney movie, then you’re in for a shock. But like so many screen adaptations, the book is much better (but librarians would say that). In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent. This novel is a dark picture of life in pre-reformation Paris, depicting cruelty, passion, lust and jealousy, all centred around the eponymous cathedral.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

“Epic” doesn’t even begin to describe this book. It starts rather simply; Edmond Dantès is thrown in prison for a crime he hasn’t committed. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. But that simple premise also encompasses stories of debt, class, love, illegitimate children, murder… and that’s about half of what happens before the end of the book. Certainly not a light read, but a breathtaking saga that encompasses years.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Lord of the Rings trilogy, J. R. R. Tolkien

Some would baulk at including The Lord of the Rings on this list. It has numerous imitators, and has been a massive influence on the fantasy genre since it was published. But a good story is a good story, and these books also have truths to tell. After all the hero is not the warrior Aragon, or Gandalf, or the elves. The hero is a shy hobbit who leaves his bucolic existence for a dangerous mission. At its heart it’s a story about ordinary people faced with doing extraordinary things.

New Books

after last week’s mammoth post, this week’s is a short one featuring books based on other literature and characters:

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsSweet Shadows, Tera Lynn Childs (336 pages) – Three teenage descendants of Medusa must figure out where their fate will take them. The warring factions among the gods of Olympus are coming for them, the creatures of the abyss are pushing into San Francisco, and the boys in their lives are hiding dangerous secrets. Gretchen has fought the monsters the longest, but teaching the girls the ropes is hard. Can she rely on Grace and Greer, or even trust herself to keep them safe? Greer has pressing social commitments and little time to train her newfound powers. But her second sight won’t leave her alone. Grace is worried about her brother, Thane, who has disappeared. His secrets might have to do with the heritage the triplets share. How can the girls embrace the shadows of their legacy?

First lines: “As I stare across Gretchen’s dining table at Grace, who is flipping through a binder about some ridiculously hideous monster straight out of mythology, I still can’t really fathom that there are two girls right her in this loft who look just like me. Same long, dark-blonde hair – although mine glistens with pricey highlights – and silver-grey eyes that have always been my most unique characteristic. Not any more.”

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Clockwork Scarab, Colleen Gleason (356 pages) – Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood. And when two society girls go missing, there’s no one more qualified to investigate. Now fierce Evaline and logical Mina must resolve their rivalry, navigate the advances of not just one but three mysterious gentlemen, and solve murder with only one clue: a strange Egyptian scarab. The stakes are high. If Stoker and Holmes don’t unravel why the belles of London society are in such danger, they’ll become the next victims.

First lines: “There are a limited number of excuses for a young, intelligent woman of seventeen to be traversing the fog-shrouded streets of London at midnight. A matter of protecting one’s life or preventing another’s death are two obvious ones. But as far as I knew, I was neither in danger for my life, nor was I about to forestall the death of another.”

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsSplintered : a novel, A. G. Howard (371 pages) – Alyssa Gardner hears the thoughts of plants and animals. She hides her delusions for now, but she knows her fate: she will end up like her mother, in an institution. Madness has run in her family ever since her great-great-great-grandmother Alice Liddell told Lewis Carroll her strange dreams, inspiring his classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But perhaps she’s not mad. And perhaps Carroll’s stories aren’t as whimsical as they first seem. To break the curse of insanity, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Wonderland, a place full of strange beings with dark agendas. Alyssa brings her real-world crush – the provocative Jeb – with her, but once her journey begins, she’s torn between his solidity and the enchanting, dangerous magic of Morpheus, her guide to Wonderland. But no one in Wonderland is who they seem to be – not even Alyssa herself…

First lines: “I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick. Some of my victims line the walls in shadow boxes, while others get sorted into mason jars and placed on a bookshelf for later use. Crickets, beetles, spiders … bees and butterflies. I’m not picky. Once they get chatty, they’re fair game.”

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsAshes on the Waves, Mary Lindsey (373 pages) – Liam MacGregor is cursed. Haunted by the wails of fantastical Bean Sidhes and labeled a demon by the villagers of Dòchas, Liam has accepted that things will never get better for him—until a wealthy heiress named Annabel Leighton arrives on the island and Liam’s fate is changed forever. With Anna, Liam finally finds the happiness he has always been denied; but, the violent, mythical Otherworlders, who inhabit the island and the sea around it, have other plans. They make awager on the couple’s love, testing its strength through a series of cruel obstacles. But the tragedies draw Liam and Anna even closer. Frustrated, the creatures put the couple through one last trial—and this time it’s not only their love that’s in danger of being destroyed. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling poem, “Annabel Lee,” Mary Lindsey creates a frighteningly beautiful gothic novel that glorifies the power of true love.

First lines: “She looked like something out of a dream . . . or a nightmare. Simultaneously, so terrible and beautiful, it made me ache. Waves pounded the jetty, shooting geysers of frigid salt water into the air as she leaned into the wind, her long hair whipping in all directions.”

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