Review ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’ by Katherine Battersby

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The New York Times says ‘Hopelessly cute…’ and they are right.

Squish is just a small rabbit, but he dreams big.

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Two friends read their favourite book ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’.

Squish dreams of many things including having a pet.

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Squish Rabbit is a lively little character.

Squish makes a long list—a puppy would be perfect.

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Squish Rabbit makes a list of many things.

Squish’s best friend Twitch helps him along the way.

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Squish Rabbit’s best friend Twitch helps make an ‘almost’ pet.

Squish thinks important thoughts about friendship and his future pet.

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Squish Rabbit has two other adventures you can read.

Squish waits and waits to meet his new pet—who is more wonderful than he ever dreamed.


REVIEW:  There is an art to creating good children’s books and with her clear illustrations and succinct text, Katherine Battersby has shaped a beautiful story.  ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’ is a picture book which combines thoughtfulness, fun and friendship with an eggciting ending.

COMMENT:  I saw this third Squish Rabbit book at a UQP publishing event prior to its release and had to buy it.  I am familiar with Katherine Battersby’s work and have met her professionally when she journeyed from Canada to Queensland.  Happy writing!  🐨 🍁

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Category: Children’s Picture Book, Children’s + Young Adult
Release Date: 3 April 2019
Pages: 32
Publisher: The University Of Queensland Press
ISBN: 978 0 7022 6046 9
Teacher Notes: http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/store/images/Hi-RES/teachersnotes/1501/4157.pdf

Printed with a squishy cover perfect for little hands!

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Just gift-wrapped Squish for a new baby, never too young for books!

Dylan Thomas ‘Under Milk Wood’ Wales Readathon 2019

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I found myself drawn to ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas after accepting an open invitation from Book Jotter to participate in Wales Readathon by reading a book or two from any Welsh writer during March.

Because I wanted to read a physical book, my search had its ups and down until I visited my local library.  Ah, libraries, magical places!

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I now have in my possession (for a limited time) an updated paperback edition of ‘Under Milk Wood’ published 2000 and based on the definitive 1995 edition.  The original was first published in Great Britain in 1954.  The cover art above is taken from ‘Abstract With Woman’s Head’ an oil painting by Evan Walters.  The paperback has been well-read, with yellowing pages, and the print is small.  Initially glancing through it, I thought it had longer introductions and more explanatory notes than the play length!

First, the book blurb to get you started—

Synopsis is taken directly from the back of the book, written when people read longer paragraphs:

“In 1951, two years before his death at the age of thirty-nine, Dylan Thomas wrote of his plan to complete a radio play, ‘an impression for voices, an entertainment out of the darkness, of the town I live in, and to write it simply and warmly and comically with lots of movement and varieties of moods, so that, at many levels . . . you come to know the town as an inhabitant of it’.

The work was Under Milk Wood – an orchestration of voices, sights and sounds that conjure up the dreams and waking hours of an imagined Welsh seaside village within the cycle of one day.  Thomas’s flawed villagers reveal a world of delight, gossip and regret, of varied and vivid humanity; a world that his classic ‘play for voices’ celebrates as ‘this place of love’.”

And, I might add, a snapshot of history, a way of life changed forever.  The VOICE OF A GUIDE-BOOK on page 19 hints at Llareggub being a backwater.  In Dylan Thomas’ time the part where Mog Edwards boasts that he will take Myfanwy Price away to his Emporium on the hill ‘where the change hums on wires’ was already a dying era.  But Thomas shows us that basic personalities never really change.

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Now some background information—

Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953) is a poetry icon, he even has his own day on 14th May.  No doubt ‘Under Milk Wood’ has been analysed within an inch of its life, so it will be difficult to choose a path not already well-trodden.  For starters, I am not going to tell you Dylan Thomas’ life story – his granddaughter Hannah handles that beautifully.

I will say that Dylan Thomas finished polishing his play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’ in 1953 and performed it in New York.  It went on to become a BBC radio drama, stage plays, films and produced in several other formats in Wales and around the world.  Australian pianist and composer Tony Gould‘s 1997 ‘Under Milk Wood’ adaptation (written for narrator and chamber orchestra) was performed by actor John Stanton and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.

Several Australian versions followed, including a one-woman production of the text performed at the Sidetrack Theatre in Sydney, New South Wales.  Actress Zoe Norton Lodge performed all 64 characters in the play – and I like to think at least one was based on her father, a proud Welshman.

And finally my book review—

Got a coffee handy?  I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this classic.

Spoken by an omniscient narrator, the opening paragraph of ‘Under Milk Wood’ gave me chills.  If you’ve got the time, I’d like you to read it.

[Silence]
FIRST VOICE [Very softly]

‘To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters-and-rabbits wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black crowblack, fishingboat bobbing sea.  The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds.  And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.’

He goes on to describe the people and the animals, the town and household items until we arrive at ‘ . . . the big seas of their dreams.  From where you are, you can hear their dreams.’  Then we learn about Captain Cat, the retired blind sea captain.

FIRST DROWNED
Remember me, Captain?
CAPTAIN CAT
You’re Dancing Williams!
FIRST DROWNED
I lost my step in Nantucket.

And just like that, you know you’re in for a rollicking time!

Make no mistake, it contains dark adult concepts.  Fear, foibles and funny thoughts are exposed, things which the villagers would prefer hidden from view.  At the same time, it doesn’t matter because whatever country or town you live in, I think Dylan Thomas’ characters are universal and show us that love, lust, greed, spite and skullduggery can lurk inside every home.  The odd behaviour of Lord Cut-Glass and his clocks, Mr Pugh’s poisonous ideas, Mrs Dai Bread One and Two; the good, bad and temperamental folk are laid bare in the most lyrical of terms but at the same time asking us to accept and forgive.

As for individual characteristics, I consider Nogood Boyo has the right idea.  He goes out in a dinghy, ships the oars and drifts in the bay, lying in the hull among the tangled fishing lines.  NOGOOD BOYO [Softly, lazily] ‘I don’t know who’s up there (on Llareggub Hill) and I don’t care.’  Page 29.  But inquisitive readers do.  On page 55 Reverend Eli Jenkins muses about his deceased father Esau who fell sleep in a corn field and had his leg scythed off.  Reverend Eli thinks ‘Poor Dad, to die of drink and agriculture.’

Listicle 06Rhymes are chanted and there are various words unknown to me so I appreciated the Textual Notes at the back of the book.  The editors, Messrs Walford Davies and Ralph Maud, took exception to BBC copywriters dropping commas, changing spelling or capitalising/italicising words which were not in Thomas’ original manuscript.  So ‘take that BBC!’ from pages 81 to 104 they have been painstakingly corrected.

But, I say (holding up my pointer finger like a school teacher), while Mr Thomas was said to be an excellent speller, I think I spy with my little eye, a possible hiccup on page 37 and I quote ‘ . . . the drugged, bedraggled hens at the back door whimper and snivel for the lickerish bog-black tea.’  Could that word be ‘licorice’?  No, this man rocks poetic license and knows exactly what he’s doing.

Just for the record, I’m not entering the ‘Under Milk Wood’ book title debate.  The name of the fictional fishing village of Llareggub, where the entire dawn-to-dusk scene takes place, appears to be Welsh but if you read it backwards, it says something quite different.

There are several evocative paragraphs I could elaborate on with great relish, however, since I did not study Dylan Thomas at school, this blog post could be in danger of turning into a starstruck student essay.  I will close with one of the milder pieces:

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‘From Beynon Butchers in Coronation Street, the smell of fried liver sidles out with onions on its breath.  And listen!  In the dark breakfast-room behind the shop, Mr and Mrs Beynon, waited upon by their treasure, enjoy, between bites, their every-morning hullabaloo, and Mrs Beynon slips the gristly bits under the tasselled tablecloth to her fat cat.’ Page 27.

An excerpt from the final paragraph reads:  ‘The thin night darkens.  A breeze from the creased water sighs the streets close under Milk waking Wood.  The Wood, whose every tree-foot’s cloven in the black glad sight of the hunters of lovers . . . the suddenly wind-shaken wood springs awake for the second dark time this one Spring Day.’  That makes my mind reel – in a good way.

Grab a copy and read it out aloud—Rated Five Daffodils!

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Diolch yn fawr, mwynhewch ddarllen!  Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Twitter #dewithon19

Wales Readathon https://bookjotter.com/category/wales-readathon/

DHQ: Dewithon 2019 https://bookjotter.com/2018/03/26/dhq-dewithon19/

Suggested http://readingwales.org.uk/en/

Rattling the Book Club Cage

Do you ever throw a literary stink bomb into your book club meetings?  Does a particular book annoy you into spewing a non-positive review?

My recent attendance at a book club gathering certainly raised eyebrows (I guess I’m not highbrow) when I panned Julian Barnes 2016 quasi-biography ‘The Noise of Time’ based on Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

I believe book clubs should read a wide variety of books and not just ‘literary stuff’.  Out of 12 people, only two of us spoke up and voiced our critical opinions without fear or favour.

Read my review below and make of it what you will – this is not a discussion post but it is my opinion and I totally respect yours –


Book Review – ‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

Author Julian Barnes fictionalised biography of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich begins in 1930s and is about the man himself, not necessarily about his music which is a disappointment.

Barnes wants to immerse us in the inner world of Shostakovich, therefore most of the story takes place within the previously uncharted waters of the composer’s own mind.  The rest appears to be gleaned from conventional sources.  There’s a lot of telling and not much showing.

Russian Composer Dmitri ShostakovichFirst up, Shostakovich’s opera ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ is denounced, and while there is tension and foreboding throughout the story, there’s no significantly dramatic scenes after this point.  Shostakovich smokes heavily and is understandably nervous.  He has the fear of Soviet Communism hanging over his head all the time (there’s a peculiar phone call from Stalin) and the dread which Shostakovich seems to pile upon himself.  Like the bookcover illustration, he’s a man always looking over his shoulder but this doesn’t necessarily make edifying reading.

Politics aside, Shostakovich later wrote his Fifth and Eighth Symphonies yet Barnes glosses over a lot of this, using a series of vignettes without delving into that emotional side, so there’s minimal mention of his creative process or the effects of his wife’s death on his family.

The interior dialogue does not expose Shostakovich as an eccentric creative, nor do I think it makes him a likeable protagonist.  Barnes portrays his inner world in an obsessive manner (think clocks, bad luck in a leap year, the elevator scene) and I think he comes across as a bullied child.  One who needs encouragement yet gets slapped down at every turn.

British Author Julian BarnesMy favourite paragraph is when Shostakovich is staying in New York and a woman working at the Soviet consulate jumps out of a window and seeks political asylum.  So, every day a man parades up and down outside the Waldorf Astoria with a placard reading “Shostakovich Jump Thru The Window!” but according to Barnes and other writers this gave him great inward shame.

In strides man-about-town composer Nicolas Nabokov who kindles Shostakovich’s shame so that Shostakovich is trapped by his own timidity, unable or unwilling to stand up and be counted, preferring to talk through the medium of music which is later used to punish him.

For me, this partly true reimagining is not very engaging.  I did learn a couple of new things but even allowing for Julian Barnes writing style, this book doesn’t add anything special to my reading list.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Publisher Penguin Books
https://www.penguin.com.au/books/the-noise-of-time-9781784703332
Author Julian Barnes
http://www.julianbarnes.com/
Composer Dmitri Shostakovich
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitri_Shostakovich

Review ‘Heart of the Grass Tree’ by Molly Murn

Simon McDonald is a Sydney-based reader, writer and senior bookseller at Potts Point Bookshop.  I always enjoy his book reviews.  Simon writes perceptive, eloquent and up-to-the-minute appraisals which have helped me discover some great stories and I look forward to reading this book.  GBW.

Molly Murn is a South Australian author and poet.  She holds a Bachelor of Dance, a Masters of Creative Arts, and is currently a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at Flinders University.  ‘Heart of the Grass Tree’ is Molly’s first novel.  https://mollymurn.com

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Simon McDonald

9780143792499With Heart of the Grass Tree, Molly Murn cements herself as not only one of Australia’s most exciting up-and-coming novelists, but a brilliant novelist of Australia.

In the South Australian author’s debut, multiple generations of a family ensconced in secrets and embroiled in personal turmoil converge on Kangaroo Island to farewell Nell, an Indigenous elder, mother and grandmother. The narrative flits between their stories, which occur in distinct time periods — the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries — and their unifying factor is Kangaroo Island, which makes the island, and its distinct landscape and indigenous population, the Ngarrindjeri people, the true protagonist of this extraordinary novel.

Lyricism empowers this tale of settlement on Kangaroo Island. Its prose is gorgeous, every page jewelled by Murn’s lyrical parlance, antithetical to the brutality of its conquest by the first settlers. Her rendering of the island’s natural beauty and it’s violent, oppressive history is…

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Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2019

This year’s winners have been announced at an awards ceremony on 31 January 2019.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards were inaugurated by the Victorian Government in 1985 to honour Australian writing.  The awards are administered by the Wheeler Centre on behalf of the Premier of Victoria.

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The Winners

  • The Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction: No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani (Picador Australia)
  • The Prize for Fiction: The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida (Faber & Faber)
  • The Prize for Drama: The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver (Currency Press, in association with Griffin Theatre Company)
  • The Prize for Poetry: Tilt by Kate Lilley (Vagabond Press)
  • The Prize for Writing for Young Adults: Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Prize for Indigenous Writing: Taboo by Kim Scott (Picador Australia)
  • The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript: Kokomo by Victoria Hannan
  • People’s Choice Award: Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee (Allen & Unwin)

The winners of the main suite of awards – fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, writing for young adults, and the biennial Prize for Indigenous Writing – each receive $25,000. The winner of the Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript receives $15,000.

The winners of the seven award categories go on to contest the overall Victorian Prize for Literature, worth an additional $100,000.  This is the single most valuable literary award in the country.

Website https://www.wheelercentre.com/projects/victorian-premier-s-literary-awards-2019
Winner https://www.wheelercentre.com/news/behrouz-boochani-wins-the-2019-victorian-prize-for-literature

This could be your book one day!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Garry Disher ‘Kill Shot’ Book Review

Wyatt is almost spectral as he shifts unseen through a corrupt world, an inscrutable villain doing what he does best––stinging the stingers.

No qualms from Wyatt as he tracks ruthless, avaricious people and their hidden treasures, taking back what is not rightfully theirs and passing it on.

Wyatt was doing specialist break-and-enter jobs when his friend and fixer Sam Kramer contacted him.  Currently incarcerated and relying on prison networks and outside contact from his daughter Phoebe, Kramer gets a message through to Wyatt offering him a lucrative job.  Lucrative yes, easy no.

After some quick research, Wyatt learns his target is corporate financier Jack Tremayne who is being investigated by the Probity Commission and facing jail time for a Ponzi scheme which ripped off innocent people and made him rich.  Tremayne appears likely to abscond with the lot.  Before he escapes the country, Wyatt’s task is to find the assets he’s hidden, a million in cash, shares and bonds.

gun 02The trouble is several other felonious characters are interested in the hidden million, working just as hard as Wyatt to find it.  And we know there will be inescapable violence along the way.

Author Garry Disher is adept at getting inside the morally deficient minds of the criminal fraternity Wyatt encounters, tearing down their respectable facades, releasing their foibles bit by bit until cruel, cunning personalities emerge––those who will fight hard to steal a valuable prize.  And fight even harder when they find out Wyatt is closing in.

There is plenty of action in this thriller and as the tension builds, the main players emerge.  Trophy wife Lynx Tremayne; Will DeLacey the Tremayne lawyer; Mark Impey nervous investor; prison gofer Brad Salter; Kramer’s sleazy son Josh: ex-commando Nick Lazar; none are particularly agreeable.  Apart from the incomparable Wyatt, my other favourite person is Property Crimes DS Greg Muecke who gets in the way of Robbery & Serious Crimes division as he relentlessly follows Wyatt’s trail.  A knowing man but usually one step behind.

merewether beach newcastle nswThe drama starts in Sydney and unfolds around the beachside homes in Newcastle before progressing through to yachting marinas and beyond.  Wyatt has various identities and travels in understated disguises as he tracks his target.  No slang but unashamedly Australian with place names and businesses, author tributes e.g. Corris, Throsby, and an atmosphere so evocative you can smell the eucalyptus and fresh sea air.

Full of plot twists, ‘Kill Shot’ is number 9 of this tightly written series.  The ending is not what I expected which makes the story all the more enthralling and earns my Five-Star rating.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Wyatt Crime Series

Kickback             (1991)
Paydirt                (1992)
Deathdeal           (1993)
Crosskill              (1994)
Port Vila Blues   (1995)
The Fallout         (1997)
Wyatt                   (2010)
The Heat              (2015)
Kill Shot               (2018)

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Title: Kill Shot
Author: Garry Disher
Pages: 320
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
Publish Date: 3-Dec-2018
Country of Publication: Australia
https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/kill-shot-a-wyatt-thriller

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In addition to the Wyatt series, Garry Disher has written a variety of books
https://www.garrydisher.com/

‘Early Riser’ Jasper Fforde Book Review

A winter nightmare in snow-bound Wales.

Imagine a world where human inhabitants must bulk-up and hibernate through brutally cold winters, watched over by armed Winter Consuls, a group of officers who diligently guard the susceptible sleeping citizens.  Or do they?

“Early Riser” is the latest novel from bestselling author Jasper Fforde.

A unique and inventive writer, Welsh resident Jasper Fforde creates a mystery novel with skewed social values, high level corruption, bureaucratic cover-ups, bad dreams, mindlessness and the ever-present fear of freezing to death, all set in a bleak yet frighteningly droll otherworld in Wales.

Perfect for the cold northern hemisphere and a cool read for the hot southern hemisphere.

SPOILER ALERT – Jasper Fforde should have his own genre, writing a review is difficult!  Please note the book contains references to real food brand names.

Jasper Fforde is known for creating strong female characters and in “Early Riser” he does not disappoint.  Aurora and Toccata immediately spring to mind but I won’t go into details.  Let’s just say they are not related to Thursday Next, although there are a couple of fan-fic moments.

In this speculative postmodern standalone, the protagonist is Charlie Worthing, a novice Winter Consul who has been trained to stay alive through the bleakest of winters.

Although rather young and innocent, Charlie is chosen to accompany notable Winter Consul and hero, Jack Logan, to the Douzey, a remote sector in the middle of snow-covered Wales.  It’s an honour but Charlie is not at all prepared for what awaits in frigid Sector Twelve.

Part of Charlie’s job is to deal with Tricksy Nightwalkers whose consciousness has been eroded by hibernation and, first up, there’s the care and delivery of a vacant Nightwalker Mrs Tiffen which causes an unexpected disaster.

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With a facial deformity which quickly earns him a nickname, poor Charlie learns dreaming is not encouraged.  Especially not about a mysterious blue Buick or a large beach parasol, part of the main “Early Riser” plot.  He floats in and out of another Charlie’s dream, and also has problems with a young woman, Jonesy, who takes a fancy to him and decides to create their own backstory as if they are an old married couple.

Winter Consuls carry a Thumper and a Bambi which are deadly guns or, for extra grunt, a Vortex Canon is deployed when necessary to blast snow and anything in it.  Thus Deputy Charlie begins Pantry Duty, guarding the winter pantry, under the tutelage of seasoned campaigner Fodder – and things get even weirder!

 

"Dark humour and entertaining pseudo geek-speak punctuate an otherwise intense novel which touches on community issues relevant today" GBW.

In “Early Riser” prominent themes are human relationships, mental health, bad coffee and sugary food as the isolated enclave carbo-load in preparation for the enforced SlumberDown.  Certain behaviour, although legal in this story, is reprehensible by our standards.  In Sector Twelve nothing is wasted, so-called Vacants become unpaid workers or body-farmed for those who have lost limbs due to rat gnawing or frost bite.

In most of Jasper Fforde’s tales, the world is run by an evil corporation and here we have HiberTech which supplies Morphenox drugs and encourages the growing of a winter “coat” for hibernation.  Charlie encounters The Notable Goodnight, shivers hearing the maybe-less-than-mythical Gronk, and has a shock meeting with posh Villains.  Snowy dangers abound, like WinterVolk and Campaigners For Real Sleep.  Classic Fforde!

I listened to the “Early Riser” audio book and narrator Thomas Hunt does a variety of accents which keep the pacing levels high.  His Attenborough-like chapter introductions are hilarious, a blend of hushed tones and Fforde’s dry wit.  Wales comes across as a kind of decimated never-never land, and I’m sure it’s not, but thankfully snow is a rare commodity in Australia otherwise I’d be shaking in my shoes.

+ PLUS Innovative story with a world in a world, the snowbound and the dream-state.
– MINUS Some repetition and some chapters are heavy with world-building.

Book rating 4-Star and recommended for readers who can handle comprehensively quirky writing.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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“Jasper Fforde writes…authentic tales of metafictional mystery and murder most horrid lashed with literary wit and a generous helping of humour.” by Niall Alexander of tor.com Fri Aug 3, 2018 1:30pm
https://www.tor.com/2018/08/03/book-reviews-early-riser-by-jasper-fforde/

Yes, Margaret Atwood Has Written Children’s Books

Who’d have thought it?  Margaret Eleanor Atwood (1939- ) author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin and more than forty other books of fiction, poetry, critical essays and a graphic novel has written children’s books.

Margaret Atwood also wears various hats, from activist through literary critic, inventor, environmentalist and award-winner with honours and degrees, yet for me this news was surprising.  Not so surprising is the quirky nature of her children’s stories!


 

♦  With grateful thanks to online friend and blogger BookJotter Paula Bardell-Hedley for alerting me to these little gems within a comprehensive list of Margaret Atwood’s literary output—

Up in the Tree (1978)
Anna’s Pet (with Joyce Barkhouse) (1980)
For the Birds (1990)
Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut (1995)
Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes (2003)
Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda (2004)
Up in the Tree (facsimile reprint) (2006)
Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery (2011)
A Trio of Tolerable Tales (illustrator Dušan Petričić) (2017)

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Being a kidlit fan, I immediately wanted to read several of those earlier Atwood books but found they (like this non-fiction For The Birds) were no longer in print, or libraries, but may be available through state archives or second-hand book merchants.  I will track down her first children’s book Up in the Tree (with her own illustrations and hand-lettering, quite possibly written for her young daughter) because the story intrigues me.

 

Along the way, Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery was adapted into the children’s television series The Wide World of Wandering Wenda aimed at early readers with different adventures using words, sounds, and language.

Happily, in 2017, three of Atwood’s books were re-published, printed and bound in Canada into one compilation A Trio of Tolerable Tales.  I was able to buy a new copy with Serbian Dušan Petričić gorgeous drawings.  Atwood’s alliteration is absolutely awesome!

  Here are my reviews of these alliteration-filled, tongue-twisting tales…read on….

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  Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes

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The reader follows the adventures of Ramsay and Ralph the red-nosed rat as they traverse various repulsive obstacles to find a round, Roman-vaulted rat hole leading to food nirvana – round red radishes ready to be devoured.  The radishes revolt and start to attack but thankfully owner Rillah comes on the scene.  She forgives their trespass and shows them around her romantic rectory, rotunda, rococo artworks and rumpus room.  There’s a bit of a ruckus with Rillah’s relatives Ron, Rollo and Ruby, so Ramsay & Co beat a hasty retreat back outside and romp rapturously under a radiant rainbow.  There is a very clever twist regarding the radishes and how they repel intruders!  A fun story which needs patience on the part of the reader, especially reading it out aloud for small children.  Laughs are guaranteed and you will marvel at how many ‘R’ words exist in the English language.  GBW.

 

 

  Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda

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Bashful Bob was abandoned in a basket outside a beauty parlour and nobody claimed him.  There is a neglected dog park across the street and the resident dogs are Bob’s best buddies.  There is a beagle, a boxer and a borzoi who believe “We must be benevolent” and they look after young Bob.  On the next block lives Doleful Dorinda.  She’d been dumped with despicable relatives who say “Dorinda is a dope” and make her sleep beside biohazard material.  Her food is awful and she is treated like a slave.  Finally Doleful Dorinda runs away and meets Bashful Bob on the vacant block.  You will have to read this story to find out how their names were turned into Brave Bob and Daring Dorinda but it makes a jolly rollicking tale especially if you like dogs!  The plot and resolution are more conventional, even with the proliferation of ‘B’ words.  A flowing, tangible fairytale and I found it easy to absorb.  GBW.

 

 

  Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery

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Wenda is a willowy child with wispy hair and wistful eyes.  Her parents are whisked away by a weird whirlwind and thereafter Wenda wanders aimlessly.  She makes friends with Wesley woodchuck and they share food scraps and wodges of wieners until one day they are kidnapped by Widow Wallop.  She takes them to her Wunderground Washery to “wash whites whiter than white” every day.  Between the drudgery, they feel sorry for Widow Wallop’s white Welsh ponies and three other waifs, Wilkinson, Wu and Wanapitai.  Together they plot their daring escape, only to encounter wolves along the way.  How will they evade Widow Wallop’s clutches now?  There is an unexpected reveal at the end!  I think some of the scenes may disturb younger children, particularly those with separation anxiety.  Older readers will chortle at the profuse ‘W’ words and idiosyncratic wordplay.  GBW.

 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 


QUOTATION:  “Comfort with reading begins in childhood, when parents or other loving adults read to children.  It creates a ‘safe’ place where — nevertheless — dangers can be explored (and, in children’s books, hopefully, overcome)…. I think my children’s books function as protected spaces for me.  I look at darker things quite a lot, but the kind of children’s books I write are light, and have happy endings…. That’s a relief, when I can manage it.”
—Margaret Atwood, author.


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♦  The interior of this book is printed on paper that contains 100% post-consumer recycled fibres, is acid-free and is processed chlorine-free so there’s nothing to worry about, Wenda.

‘Wakestone Hall’ A Scary Magical Finale

Stella Montgomery Bookcover 02

“Stella Montgomery is in disgrace.
The awful aunts, Aunt Condolence, Aunt Temperance and Aunt Deliverance, have sent her to Wakestone Hall, a grim boarding school where the disobedient are tamed and the wilful are made meek.
But when a friend disappears, Stella is determined to find her – no matter what danger she encounters.
Soon Stella is thrown headlong into the mysteries surrounding Wakestone Hall.
Will Stella save her friend in time? And will she discover – at long last – where she truly belongs?”

Stella Montgomery and Wakestone Hall – the intrigue draws to an exciting close!

Wakestone Hall is Book 3 in the Stella Montgomery Intrigues and this series has captured my imagination.  My inner child responded to the mysterious and creepy goings-on in the first two books, beautifully complemented by author Judith Rossell’s own illustrations of the Victorian era.  The third book is out now with a book launch due in a couple of days.  I can’t wait to read it!  GBW.

Stella Montgomery Three Book Series
On Sunday 28 October 2018 at 3pm The Little Bookroom, Melbourne, is proud to launch WAKESTONE HALL the third book in the Stella Montgomery trilogy by author and illustrator Judith Rossell.

InformationHarperCollins Publisher
Published:  22 October 2018
ISBN:  9780733338205
Imprint:  ABC Books – AU
Number Of Pages:  280
For Ages:  8+ years old
Children’s, Teenage & educational / Fantasy & magical realism (Children’s – Teenage)


SUGGESTION : READ THE FIRST TWO BOOKS BEFORE YOU SNEAK-A-PEEK AT THE CONCLUSION––read some Wakestone Hall pages here––
https://www.booktopia.com.au/wakestone-hall-judith-rossell/prod9780733338205.html

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Stella Montgomery Book Banner

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Read the book and find out the significance of the purple ribbon.

Top 10 Cool Quirky Authors with a Difference

When I discover an author with a quirky style, a neo-noir writing streak, I rejoice in their words.  It’s a delight to get away from mundane formats, tired classics and generic phrases so overworked in today’s writing scene.

I can remember when ‘dust motes’ were all the rage, not mere dust, it had to be motes floating in the sunlight.  Goodness knows why, padding perhaps.  I think it’s beneficial for both writer and reader to veer off in another direction occasionally.  Leave those tropes behind!

For bookish readers, I will list some of the absurdist fiction writers who have given me a literary lift and added a bit of sparkle to my jaded memory banks.  These 10 books impressed me with their originality and unique take on adult life, some with remarkable page layouts.

Numbered but NOT rated in order of preference:


Kelly Link Bookcover 04

1    Get In Trouble by Kelly Link

Quote “Richly imagined, intellectually teasing: these are not so much small fictions as windows on to entire worlds. A brilliant, giddying read” said Sarah Waters and I definitely agree.


Zane Lovitt The Midnight Promise

2    The Midnight Promise by Zane Lovitt

John Dorn is a private investigator solving human puzzles.  Complex and beautifully observed characters lead John towards his moment of truth as he strives to keep his promise.


An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

3    An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

Speculative erotica showing the best and worst of human nature through Liv as she ages alongside high technology innovation.  The transition to a state beyond age, to transcend the corporeal…


Jasper Fforde The Ayre Affair

4    The Eyre Affair Series by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next, a fearless woman who traverses a parallel universe inside books.  Created with breathtaking ingenuity, her literary world is more believable than most peregrinations.


A Visit From The Goon Squad

5    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Self-destruction with music in the background.  Intimate lives of several characters who reconnect again and again trying to escape the past, delay the future and defy their fate.


Don't Tell Mum I Work On Oil Rigs

6    Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs…She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse by Paul Carter

Gritty, masculine and rather shocking true story of working on oil rigs in the ocean.  Horrible, humorous happenings written down in easily digestible form so that you can’t stop reading.


Atomic City by Sally Breen

7    Atomic City by Sally Breen

A stylised contemporary story set on the glittering Gold Coast, Queensland.  Chameleon Jade gets a new identity and with her grifting partner she dares to swindle the Casino swindlers. 


The Godson by Robert G Barrett

8    Les Norton Series by Robert G. Barrett

Les Norton, a red-headed country lad, works in the big city, fights men, wows women, loves the beach, is either an Aussie icon or a yobbo but each adventure guarantees a twist.


The Lucky Galah Bookcover

9    The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen

Lucky, a galah in a remote coastal town, receives transmissions from a satellite dish beaming messages between Apollo 11 and Houston, Texas, which co-mingle with the community psyche.


Dead Writers in Rehab by Paul B Davies

10    Dead Writers in Rehab by Paul Bassett Davies

Foster James is supposedly in rehab but he’s probably dead.  A dystopian must-read, loaded with satire, dark humour, sexual tension and famous writers like Coleridge and Hemingway.


I think my Top 10 list will suffice . . . oops, I just have to add ‘A Dirty Job’ by Christopher Moore and ‘Insomniac City: New York, Oliver Sachs and Me’ by Bill Hayes and ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders and ‘Human Croquet’ by Kate Atkinson.  I love any book by Terry Pratchett and DBC Pierre and there are further ingenious authors I could name (and so could you!) but I will stop here.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

What the World needs now. . .writers who care

An illuminating review of Trent Dalton author of ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ and his discussion with Matthew Condon during the Brisbane Writers Festival 2018.  June Perkins does justice to the subject and pays tribute to Trent, her own parents and the value of education.  Read on… Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Pearlz Dreaming

So the absolute highlight of the Brisbane Writers Festival for me was the talk I attended by Trent Dalton.

I saw Trent a few weeks ago on Q and A, on the ABC, as well as Sofie Laguna, and was so impressed by the way they both conducted themselves on the panel I set out to look up their books.

When I heard Trent would be attending and presenting at the Brisbane writer’s festival he went right to the top of my must-attend sessions.

When Trent entered the room there were huge cheers.  He pumped the air with his fist, and yet there was no ego in that fist pump.  It was more like a boxer, who has triumphed over a huge battle in his life, and is now saying thank you to an appreciative crowd.  A Rocky moment, part of a montage.  He thanked us for choosing to attend…

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Reflections on WAM Writers’ Festival

An enlightening literary look at events on the Victorian/New South Wales border; interesting books and even more interesting authors, and a bookshop with the perfect name.

Life after Sixty-Five

Having written the first draft of my Memoir for my own need to make sense of the estrangement from one of my sons and subsequent personal upheaval, I was in the middle of a couple of years of therapy in 2016 when I attended the WAM Writers’ Festival. There was a focus on Memoir Writing and one of the published authors, Helena Pastor, had experienced this situation with her eldest son. I wanted to hear what she had to say about her book “Wild Boys: A Parent’s Story of Tough Love“, and how she found the words that were past the raw pain and confusion, which no-one would want to read. I came to realise at that time, I was still too immersed in my own recovery.

It was the previous year when Jessie Cole was featured in an interview by Jason Steger, formerly of the ABC’s long-running…

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Elly Griffiths Forensic Archaeology Series

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Sample of this 10-book series with book 11 The Stone Circle due 2019.

I love binge-reading!  When I discover a good author like Elly Griffiths who has ten books in her crime oeuvre, I am ready, willing and able to read all.  The archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway mystery series fits the bill nicely.  To quote the Independent ‘The perfect ratio of anticipation, shock and surprise’.

Elly Griffiths is the pen name of Domenica de Rosa; she has written other novels under her real name.  I like the historical and archaeological authenticity of this series which could be due to the fact that she’s married to Andrew Maxted, curator of archaeology at Brighton Museum.

I enjoyed the earlier books and then the later ones shown above.  I loved ‘The Ghost Fields’ WWII story and found award-winning ‘The Chalk Pit’ quite fascinating.  I struggled with ‘The Outcast Dead’ subject matter although it is fitting.  I must mention the clever yet sneaky outcome of ‘The Dying Fall’ which has a touch of Hollywood about it.

The stories mainly revolve around Norfolk UK, tidal marshlands, excavations (with an occasional nod to ‘Time Team’) coastal regions and fictional University of North Norfolk where Ruth Galloway works.  She is also a police adviser.  The relationships of the key players are intriguingly tricky because of love triangles, children, 21st century parenting, murder and mystical goings-on.

Rather than a book review, I thought I’d do a quick character overview:

  • Dr Ruth Galloway lives on the Saltmarsh, lectures in forensic archeology, makes ground-breaking discoveries, and likes old bones and her cat Flint.
  • Fast-driving policeman DCI Harry Nelson moved with his family from Blackpool to Norfolk and doesn’t really like the place but he’s a born copper.
  • Two glamorous women, Michelle Nelson is wife of DCI Nelson, and Shona MacLean is Ruth’s bestie.
  • Michael Malone (aka Cathbad) brings enjoyable highlights to each plot with his spiritual insights, Druid instincts and flowing cloak.
  • Part of Nelson’s team are police officers DS David Clough ‘old school’ and DS Judy Johnson ‘graduate’ who don’t always share the same views.
  • Phil Trent, professor of archaeology at UNN, worries about funding but loves TV cameras, publicity and himself.

As I dug and sifted through the series, I noticed less archeology and gradual changes to the main characters but that’s the grit which makes these books human and relatable.  There’s drama in their lives; a rocky layer or two over a conspiracy waiting to be uncovered.

Elly Griffiths has a nice knack of getting you up-to-speed with each book while revealing a ‘fresh’ crime involving the living and the desiccated.  At one stage I quibbled over her use of Anglo male names like Max, Dan, Tim, Tom, Ted, Bob, well, you get my drift…but this has improved and the VIP reviews keep on coming:

"I refuse to apologise for being in love with Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson, one of my favourite current crime series . . . a pleasure from start to finish"
Val McDermid.

"I adore the Elly Griffiths series and have eagerly read each book. I love seeing how the recurring characters are living and working out their relationships"
Joyce of joycesmysteryandfictionbookreviews

I’m waiting for book 11 ‘The Stone Circle’ but don’t you hang around, start reading!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Elly Griffiths UK Author
Elly Griffiths ‘The Chalk Pit’ and something evil is waiting in the dark tunnels under Norwich – forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway had better watch her step https://www.hachette.com.au/elly-griffiths/the-chalk-pit

‘The Incredible Book Eating Boy’ by Oliver Jeffers

My picture book review
My bonus picture book lesson
My link to Just Awesome Picture Books


THE REVIEW:

Book Sliced Up on Plate with KnifeHenry is a boy who likes eating books.  He absorbs knowledge as he happily munches his way to becoming the smartest boy on earth.  Everything goes well until there’s an internal rebellion.  Share Henry’s journey as he discovers something better than eating books.

Award-winning Oliver Jeffers’ concept is clever and I found his plot madly appealing.  The illustrations are unique and show creative grunge like an old diary or well-used notebook.  For me, although the story has the potential to be scary, it is handled in an adventurous way with Henry supported by believable characters which adds intertextuality to an otherwise imprudent tale.

I think The Incredible Book Eating Boy is best suited for small group readings or child-and-parent because there’s a lot happening and the visual literacy may need some explanation for younger children.

All in all, a praiseworthy picture book with a good message for 4 – 8 years range to which I give a 5-Star rating.  GBW.


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I discovered this book on Just Awesome Picture Books! Check the website https://justawesomepicturebooks.com/

THE LESSON:

In my opinion, less is more!  Wordy picture books tire the reader and the listener.  The illustrations should highlight the uncluttered wording.  The words push the narrative forward and the child uses their imagination from the visual cues.

It’s a common fallacy that picture books are easy to write.  This is far from the truth because the very minimalist nature of picture books means that every single word has to be perfectly rendered.  Learn more about writing for children from author Jen Storer of Girl & Duck.

As a general guide, here are some basics:

A children’s picture book is 32-pages but 8 pages are used for endpapers and book information.  The story is over 24 pages or 12 spreads of text and illustrations which span two opened pages at a time.  These pages can be half-page spreads, single-page spreads, double-page spreads or vignettes.  A number of vignettes are used in The Incredible Book Eating Boy.

There is symmetrical, complementary and contradictory illustration approaches and I think The Incredible Book Eating Boy is approached in a complementary manner.  Oliver Jeffers plays around with the location of text to good effect.

Board books, pop-ups and novelty may have no words, just illustrations.
Young picture books are aimed at 2 to 5-year-olds with 200 to 400 wordcount.
Trade (general readership) picture books are suitable for 3 to 8-year-old children with 500 to 600 wordcount.
Picture story books for older children 6 to 10-year-olds with 1000 to 3000 words are often non-fiction.
Chapter book fiction over 3500 words are suitable for competent readers, with a sliding age range due to small sketches and quirky touches often added between the pages to enhance the reading experience.
YA (young adult) are the more tailored books suitable for older teenagers.

Something different.  A theatre performance video of the book at The Joan, Penrith’s premier performing arts centre The Incredible Book Eating Boy production.  The cast use song, movement and puppetry to bring Oliver Jeffers’ much loved story to life on stage.

Enjoy eating, er, reading this picture book with that special little someone.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Jane Milburn Slow Clothing Advocate

Slow Clothing reflects author and refashion advocate Jane Milburn’s own unique style, independent of “fast fashion” trends.  Upcycled from denim jeans, the dress Jane wore during her talk at a local BCC library had the potential to look strange but was distinctive and quite beguiling.

Jane, sustainability consultant and founder of Textile Beat, touched on several key elements during her talk––environmentally unfriendly fabrics and dyes; sweat shop labour; landfill; passive fashion; synthetic vs natural fibre; signature style and minimal wardrobe.  Hot topics included recycle by exchange, shopping tips, Sew It Again mending and creating new from old.  Jane tends to hoard fabric offcuts and used buttons, and has a passion for real cotton thread.

Rethinking clothing culture doesn’t mean wearing your clothes until they fall apart at the seams, it means mindful immersion, repairing and refashioning your garments.

An attentive audience, Jane encouraged us to make thoughtful, ethical, informed choices to reduce our clothing footprint on the world.  Until recently, she regularly visited charity shops for secondhand garments but is currently resisting the temptation and working with what she’s got.  “We believe secondhand is the new organic and mending is good for the soul.  In return, we are liberated and satisfied.”

In her book Slow Clothing: finding meaning in what we wear Jane shares insights and upcycling advice.  She has created templates like Upcycled Collar and History Skirt, guiding home sewing conversion of a beloved garment to reflect the changes in our lives.

To provide meaning and story to her own favourite pieces, Jane Milburn restyles and sews her clothing by hand.  Currently testing t-shirt cotton drawstrings as an alternative to underwear elastic (elastic is made from synthetics) Jane stitches everything by hand.

Help! I can hear you say, nobody has hand-sewn an outfit since the mid-twentieth century––except maybe Vivienne Westwood––but don’t panic, Jane’s book provides testimonials, illustrations and clear instructions for eco-dyes and upside-down jumper skirts through to sewing on a button.  Eco-fashionistas unite!

Although Slow Clothing is a multifaceted, easy-to-read book with positive chapter headings (Purpose, Authenticity, Creativity, Action, Autonomy, Reflection) amid the ingenious apparel, I am missing a frivolous note, perhaps a ball gown?  On a serious mission, Jane has created a Slow Clothing Manifesto with ten tags to keep in mind when out shopping: think, natural, quality, local, few, care, make, revive, adapt, salvage.

IMG_20180723_091617Quotes from Jane embody the Slow Clothing philosophy “Slow Clothing brings wholeness through living simply, creatively and fairly” and “We buy thoughtfully, gain skills, and care for what we wear as an embodiment of ourselves.”  Personally I am hoping to see people clutching their Slow Clothing Manifesto cards at an op shop near me.

The current trail Jane Milburn is blazing makes fascinating reading.  Arts Queensland, meeting VIPs, War on Waste ABCTV, visiting 103-year-old Misao Jo in Osaka, hosting a Clothing Repair Café, conducting workshops and championing natural-fibre, Jane says “It has been personally satisfying to see the uptake of upcycling as a conscious practice with many young people interested in its potential for customising their clothes.”

Unfortunately I didn’t get to ask Jane Milburn how we go about combating the greed of designer labels.  But the clear message is––help reduce landfill by upcycling your clothes to reflect your own unique style.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

24 Stories: of Hope for Survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire

My emotions overcame me when I read this piece…read for yourself…

Book Jotter

by Kathy Burke (Editor)

24 STORIES COVERMy routine was much as usual on the morning of Wednesday 14th June 2017: I arose early for work, fed the chickens, settled myself at the kitchen table for my first cuppa of the day and switched the TV on to watch BBC News.

For several seconds I stared vacantly at the screen, unable to comprehend the shocking nature of the images I was seeing. There was a man sobbing incoherently to a reporter and then emergency services vehicles were shown illuminating huddles of grim-faced onlookers in their flickering lights. It began to make sense when the picture jumped to a high-rise block of flats of the sort you find in cities throughout the UK, except this one had taken on the appearance of an immense Chinese lantern burning uncontrollably over a sleeping city.

This was Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey Brutalist-style construct in North Kensington…

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North Wales Folk Tales for Children

For anyone, young or old, who know dragons do exist and not just in their dreams…

The Opinionated Reader

31297500Title: North Wales Folk Tales For Children

Writer: Fiona Collins

Publishing House: The History Press

Date of Publication: May 2nd 2016

Rating: 4 stars

”…under the stone, two dragons are curled up, fast asleep. All day, they sleep, but at night they wake, and then they fight. Their battle destroys your tower each night.”

Wales, lovely, mysterious, mythical Wales… A land of heroes and gods, a place where myth and history walk hand-in-hand only to be lost in times unrecorded, misty and shadowy. This beautiful little book is dedicated to the Northern part of Cymru, home to the legendary area of Snowdonia and Ynys Môn and to three World Heritage sites.

Σχετική εικόνα

(Porth Dafarch Cove, Anglesey)

Known once as the Kingdom of Gwynedd, North Wales has an endless wealth of traditions and folklore. We will meet a giant and a giantess who fight over a hammer. A clever boy named Gareth (…Wales…

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‘The Last Dragonslayer’ by Jasper Fforde

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The Last Dragonslayer novels by Jasper Fforde

While Thursday Next lives in a parallel universe, The Last Dragonslayer is set in a world of myths, illusions and modern magic.

Orphan Jennifer Strange, a practical teenager, runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management with eccentric magicians who create irregular spells.  But magic and dragons are losing power and Jennifer discovers evil King Snodd IV wants to grab the Dragonlands, 350 acres of prime real estate.  Jennifer dislikes the King’s greed and so does the last Dragonslayer, an old wizard named Brian who controls dragons with an ancient sword.

Helped by her cool friend Tiger Prawns, and a metal-munching Quarkbeast with frighteningly sharp teeth, Jennifer rallies to protect the Dragonlands.  Meanwhile, wizard Brian is hatching a secret plan.  Jennifer doesn’t realise she is part of that plan.

This is the first book in Last Dragonslayer/Kazam Chronicles by Jasper Fforde and I loved reading their vital quest.  Suitable for 12 years and up, the second and third books are The Song Of The Quarkbeast and The Eye Of Zoltar.  There will be a fourth book in the series but at this stage only working titles have been released; possibly Humans vs Trolls or The Strange And The Wizard or The Great Troll War.  Guess we’ll just have to wait for the next quirky edition!

Author Jasper Fforde

Publisher Hodder & Stoughton UK

Movie by Mallinson Television Productions on Vimeo screened by Sky1

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

The Last Dragonslayer Jennifer Strange