Tuesday, January 29, 2013

'What the Raven Saw' launch

What the Raven Saw will be in bookstores, Australia-wide (and also Target, Big W, etc) TOMORROW. That is awesome. There will be a launch Friday 8th February. Pretty casual affair but will be heaps of fun, everyone is welcome. I will be happy to have a chat and sign books.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Literary Birds

What the Raven Saw's official release date is just over a week away and the book will most likely be going into bookstores this week. It will be so wonderful to see my cranky Raven out there, and to celebrate I thought I would shine a light on some of my favourite avian characters from literature. The raven likes to know he is in good company, after all.

1. The Raven, narrator of Marcus Sedgwick's The Raven Mysteries series. I read a couple of these after I had written What the Raven Saw, because I was interested to see another fictitious raven in action. I guess ravens are rather cranky by nature, because this one, too, is a ball of sly, sarcastic and outraged fun. Maybe they are cousins?

2. Tawny Owl in The Animals of Farthing Wood. Pompous and snobby, but also fiercely loyal. I enjoyed the characterisation in the television series, too (the show was pretty much the highlight of my television week, when I was a kid).

3. Kehaar in Watership Down. Great character, who is memorable far beyond just being the only bird in a tribe full of rabbits. I love his loyalty to Bigwig, his crankiness, his scorn, his idiosyncratic and funny way of speaking, but also his courage and loyalty to the rabbits.

4. The Raven in Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place. There must be something in the air in raven land, because this one too is a bundle of one-liners and sarcasm. He is a bit of a fan favourite, and adds some much-needed humour to this lovely, wistful and sad book. I remember laughing out loud reading some of his lines.

5. The White Pigeon in upcoming The Last Wild by Piers Torday. This book isn't out yet (I have a proof), but the silly white pigeon is a delight, and was quick to become my favourite.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter


Mermaid fiction is one of my guilty pleasures when it comes to reading, and Lost Voices has been high on my list of ‘to-reads’ for aggggeeeees. I finally found it available in Australia through one of our smaller publishers, when I was uploading the new release files at my bookstore. Yet another reason why working at a bookstore is totally amaze!

Lost Voices is a unique mermaid story, quite different to the usual fare you get with YA paranormal fiction. There is no big love story, or triangle (although I believe that will be developed in future books), the premise of ‘becoming’ a mermaid is unique, and the story is pretty much entirely set in the ocean – i.e., the mermaids are not half-human, and don’t get around on land, and can’t go to school and all that YA-ish stuff. I really, really, loved the choices Sarah Porter made when constructing her story. The mermaids also do mermaid-ish stuff – sink ships, covet and steal human treasures, drown seamen by singing to them, live in caves. I think Porter obviously really loves mer-mythology, and that was what primarily kept me reading.

I would like to see, in future books, the mer-world expanded on though – I would like to be taken deep within that oceanic world, as Porter’s descriptions of sea-life are interesting, but mostly pretty and harmless. I would like to meet some more mer ‘tribes’, and I am interested to see how pear-shaped things get when humans begin to learn of the mer existence.

My big gripe with Lost Voices is that I really disliked, or didn’t enjoy, most of the characters. They are all mostly vain and shallow and silly, as I guess teenage mermaids should be, but I think there is room to go deeper, as is hinted at with the mermaid Kat. I REALLY couldn’t stand the ‘so hip’ way a lot of the mermaids talked, and personally I was glad at the end of the book when Luce decides that maybe that tribe isn’t for her. The best parts of the book are when the mermaids are in action, doing their mer-thing, instead of talking like Mean Girls rejects and squabbling over designer clothes.

Lost Voices certainly piqued my interest to read the rest of the series – if only it would build on the darkness, the haunting loveliness that appears in flashes, then I would be completely sold.

First published in July 2011
In Australia, November 2012

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Twitter @SamEllenB

My new Twitter account is @SamEllenB, which will cover all things bookish as well as all the silly, amusing, ridiculous and awesome things that occupy my time.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Feathered Man, by Jeremy de Quidt

First published in Australia in February 2013

Jeremy de Quidt's first children's novel, The Toymaker, blew me away when I first read it and quickly became one of my favourite children's books ever. The Feathered Man is much of the same - beautiful writing, mature ideas, grim and gritty action, memorable characters and an adventure story that rarely takes a breath for the whole length of the book.

I really enjoyed it; the only thing is the book is in that in-between stage of 'is it for teens or kids'? As an adventure story it's perfect, because I think it would completely suck kids in. The two lead characters, Klaus and Liesel, are compelling and easy to cheer on. De Quidt's pacing, his plot twists, the thrills and chills, and all his strange and wonderful characters are enthralling. But it is dark. A lot of the characters meet grizzly and often unfair deaths, and the writing is genuinely scary. I think many of the concepts about the after-life and the quasi-reality world Klaus slips into will also go over kid's heads.

In a nutshell, The Feathered Man is about a tooth-puller's boy called Klaus who lives in a German town. When his master goes to pull the teeth from a dead man at Frau Drecht's lodging house, he discovers a diamond, and steals it. But Frau Drecht and her beastly son want it for themselves. And a Jesuit priest and his Aztec companion want it for their own reasons. But so does the Professor of Anatomy and his protoge. Then there's the young girl, Liesel, who needs it to stay out of trouble. And then, of course, there's the Feathered Man who the whole mess revolves around. So who will get the diamond first?

As you can probably tell, De Quidt has a big cast of memorable, dastardly, unique characters. As in his first book, they are all gothic-inspired, and they all play a part in the chase for the diamond. De Quidt sure knows how to wring out menace and atmosphere. He is also an old hand (or maybe that's his editors!) at perfectly-placed chapter endings and openers - you will want to read on and on. The pacing is quite relentless, and this, combined with De Quidt's descriptions of the cold, inhospitable city, creates just the right amount of sinister atmosphere.

I thought The Feathered Man did not quite have the same emotional resonance as The Toymaker - some moments in that were so beautifully cold they were exquisite. But it is, even just on execution of such an imaginative concept, equally as stunning. I really don't know who to compare De Quidt's work with - he reminds me somewhat of the darker Grimm or H.C.Anderson fairytales. Darkly beautiful, and highly recommended.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Favourite Books of 2012

 Well I’m back from the New Year break and ready to enjoy 2013, the release of my debut children’s novel, and lots of awesome literary goodness. Below are my favourite reads of 2012; a selection of both new releases and backlist, because, let’s face it, who doesn’t have a backlist pile a mile high that they delve into all the time! It’s not really a ‘best of’ as such, just the reads that I loved and highly recommend. It was also fabulous last year to re-discover a lot of classic children’s books that I hadn’t read in a really long time. Never forget these and how important they are! They are still, and always will be, the inspiration for my own books.

Talina in the Tower, by Michelle Lovric & The Last Unicorn, by Peter S Beagle

The Last Unicorn becomes my favourite all over again every time I read it. Beagle’s skill with words is beyond brilliant and his imagination an absolute delight. We also had it in my bookstore a few times last year and it was a pleasure to hand-sell and introduce it to a new generation. Talina in the Tower was another ‘can’t put it down’ read by Lovric, who creates the kind of books that are beyond doubt new classics. For a mature children’s read, try her books.

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman & Ship Kings 01 The Coming of the Whirlpool, by Andrew McGahan

Both Australia authors, fantastic! The fascinating complexities and bright, intelligent lead character in Seraphina thrilled me when reading. Can be enjoyed by both YA and fantasy readers. The Coming of the Whirlpool was a complex, difficult read, but I found myself completely won over by the time I’d finished reading. McGahan’s writing really creeps up on you and sucks you in.

Hooey Higgins, by Steve Voake

Hooey Higgins is a chapter-book series for kids, which follows the madcap adventures of Hooey and his crazy, creative schemes. Great illustrations, funny, and fun. 

Ship Kings 01 The Coming of the Whirlpool, by Andrew McGahan & Pure by Andrew Miller

It was McGahan’s writing that sucked me into this series – the worlds, atmosphere and interest he creates with his writing is spot on. Pure is an adult literary read, but oh my god,  I found the story and the writing breathtaking.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
I can’t remember now why I picked up this book, but it enchanted me start to finish. Hartman is a talent to watch.

Ghost Knight, by Cornelia Funke
I admit, I haven’t read any of Funke’s books until this one. Ghost Knight was a perfect spooky, funny adventure story for both boys and girls.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
I saw it all coming, but I still cried along with Connor. The power here is in the simple, accessible way Ness shares Connor’s grief with his readers.

 The Scarecrows, by Robert Westall

Talina in the Tower by Michelle Lovric

The Monster in A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  A lovely, but badass, metaphor.

Ship Kings o1 The Coming of the Whirlpool (hardback), by Andrew McGahan & Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. For internal illustrations, Ghost Knight & A Monster Calls

Wildwood 02 Under Wildwood, by Colin Meloy & The Feathered Man by Jeremy de Quidt