Review – Dragonfly Song

Wendy Orr’s latest novel has the sweeping majesty of an epic novel and the thrill of a mid-grade fantasy that will win leagues of young new fans. Powerful, eloquent and moving, Dragonfly Song is a story you will never want to leave.

Dragonfly SongAt first glance, Dragonfly Song is not for the faint hearted, weighing in at nearly four hundred pages, however do not be disheartened for from the moment Aissa slips into existence, you will be enthralled and the pages will float effortlessly by. Aissa is the first-born daughter of the high priestess of an ancient island nation. She is however, imperfect and so is abandoned, thus determining not only her destiny but the fate of her island home and all its inhabitants, as well.

Aissa’s people are emerging from the time of flint and spears into the mythical Bronze Age. Her world possesses a strong Byzantine period feel for me at least, where hierarchy, occupation, and bloodline dictate survival. Having endured a childhood of servitude and persecution, Aissa is unaware of her own ancestry and link to the goddesses or even her true name until she is twelve years old. Her fellow islanders consider her the bad-luck child, a curse to all who cross her, and abhor her. Yet she is resourceful, curious, and oddly revered by the island’s animals (snakes, cats, bulls) and although mute from the age of four, she slowly begins to grasp the power she has to sing them to her biding.

It is this power that both exalts and alienates her to the Bull King and his Lady wife, the Mother. At the age of thirteen, Aissa finds herself in the land of the great Bull King, interned as a bull dancer, eventually dancing for her life and the freedom of further tributes (aka human sacrifices) against her island home.

Aissa is manOrr Wendy, preferred author photo, credit Roger Gouldy things: of pure blood, a priestess in the making, a talented bull dancer, spirited, obedient, loyal, a privy cleaner, displaced but above all, resilient. It is hard not to fret over her emotional well-being and want to call out encouragement for her. Her story is both bleak and horrifying at times but ultimately her tale of rising out of the quagmire of the downtrodden soars with optimism and promise.

Orr masters this with incredible ease. Her artistry with language is unforced and sublime. Part prose and part verse novel, I was utterly swept away by the beauty and tragedy of Aissa’s plight. The use of verse to relay Aissa’s internal dialogue and inner most dread and desires is genius and executed with such finesse I wished it never ended.

Dragonfly Song is an adventure story, a tale of daring and hope and a quest for love and acceptance that will have you weeping and cheering. Gripping, artful, and exciting, this novel has broad appeal for both male and female readers aged twelve and above.

03To discover the heart and soul behind the writing of this novel, see my Doodles and Drafts post with Wendy Orr, here.

Allen & Unwin June 2016

Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

We’re huge fans of Joe Hill’s new book The Fireman. With echoes of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, M. R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, it’s an epic unlike any we’ve seen this year, and definitely a must-read. Here’s what the team’s had to say:

Jon’s Review

9780575130722 (1)I am a sucker for a good end of the world novel but in recent years as there have been more and more of these stories published there have been less and less of them that have grabbed me. Justin Cronin’s The Passage totally blew me away (although the sequel did not have the same kick to it) and M. R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts was so original and thought-provoking in its mind-bendiness  and rule-bendiness I think I loved it even more that The Passage. But nothing has quite gripped the same way in this genre until now.

The Fireman takes everything that was epic about The Passage, combines it with all the thought-provoking elements of The Girl With All The Gifts and then goes to a whole new level. Joe Hill has written an end of the world novel that is grand, heroic and mind-blowing but at the same time deeply personal. It is a story of survival in all its immediacy and in all its elements. It is a 600+ page page-turner that you will not want to put down (or end) and will have you enthralled the entire time you are reading it.

As with most books in this genre it tells the story of a virus that threatens to wipe out humanity. But this is not a virus that turns people into zombies or vampires or some other form of mindless killing machines. It is a virus that make people catch fire. The story is told from the point of view of Harper Grayson, a school nurse. We witness the world slowly fall apart as the virus quickly spreads and the world reacts to its consequences. As a trained nurse Harper quickly volunteers to help those infected but as the world turns from bad to worse Harper’s focus is forced to change from trying to help others to fighting for her own survival and that of her unborn child. After becoming infected herself Harper must flee her old life including her husband. Aided but an almost mythical figure known as The Fireman, Harper discovers there may be hope for a new world, the only thing standing in the way is humanity itself.

I have never read Joe Hill before but fell instantly in love with his writing style. Hill captures the undying sense for survival amongst whatever ruins and tragedy is thrown at his heroes blending humour and horror, triumphs and tragedies in pitch perfect amounts depending on what he is trying to generate at different moments in the story. The virus and its nature is also explained as those who begin to survive work out different ways to appease it or even control it.

Joe Hill has written that rare novel that is clever, emotional and addictive. From the novel’s opening to its gripping finale Hill doesn’t miss a beat and I could easily turn around and pick this up from the beginning and start again right now. It will keep you guessing as the roller coaster ride careens up and down, fast and slow and around blind corners to an ending that is worthy of every page, every word that came before it. I haven’t ever read Stephen King before but you get a real sense the mantle is being passed on to the son with this novel. It is a truly special book that I hope is going to do big things. I can’t recommend this brilliant novel enough.

Simon’s Review

Cormac McCarthy’s literary masterpiece The Road presents a hopeless, post-apocalyptic world navigated by an adult and a child. The specifics of the extinction event are not clarified. It doesn’t matter why society crumbled, just that it has, because all that matters for its populace now is survival. The Road is a novel about the repercussions of the unspecified catastrophe that decimated society; decidedly post-crisis. Joe Hill’s The Fireman takes a different route, set at the very beginning of society’s decline, as the Dragonscale pandemic seizes hold, drawing patterns on people’s skin and eventually literally igniting them, causing them to spontaneously combust. Whereas the characters in The Road are surrounded by nothing but absolute despair, in The Fireman trappings of pre-pandemic lives still exist; tangible reminders of what once was. Both worlds are perpetually dangerous and unpredictable. And both novels are hallmarks of the narrative malleability of the post-apocalyptic concept.

Though operatic in scope, The Fireman is centred firmly around Harper Grayson, a school nurse who becomes a volunteer at her local hospital when society starts to decay, and school becomes a thing of the past. When Harper discovers she, too, is infected by Dragonscale — and pregnant! — she vows to bring her baby safely into the world. Her husband Jakob has other ideas, disgusted by the mere thought of bringing another human into a world such as this, and attacks Harper, determined to abort her life and their child’s. During her escape she encounters John Rockwood — the near-mythical figure known as The Fireman — who welcomes her into a secluded camp of infected survivors, who have learned to control their infection. Jakob, meanwhile, joins the Cremation Crews; marauders who kill the infected on sight. Thus, the board is set, the terrain unknown. Husband and wife are destined to meet again; the question is, in what circumstances?

Survival in a Dragonscale-infected world is unglamorous, and Joe Hill doesn’t pull any punches as he exposes readers to the bleak reality of a world beginning its rapid spiral. He showcases a warped evangelical religion based on ‘the bright’ – an aftereffect of the Dragonscale infection – and demonstrates, as these types of stories so often do, that man’s greatest threat to its own survival is itself rather than the wider crisis. The characters that populate these pages are diverse and vibrant, with distinct follies and histories. Harper is an empathetic heroine, far stronger than we (and she) first realise; desperately clinging onto survival against all odds, as everything she’s ever known degenerates. The Fireman is a mammoth tome: to work, it needs a superior protagonist, and Hill has granted his readers a supremely memorable one.

The Fireman is Joe Hill’s most ambitious novel yet, and will inevitably be compared to his father’s seminal work. The thing is, these comparisons are warranted. Hill’s latest novel is indeed reminiscent of Stephen King’s greatest work – but never derivative. Like King, Hill is a master storyteller – it’s in his blood, clearly – and this novel elevates him into a new literary stratosphere. It has been a long, long time since I was last able to lose myself in an epic like this.

BUY THE BOOK HERE.

[USE THE PROMO CODE FIREMAN FOR FREE SHIPPING]

Review: Fun Home

Fun HomeI bought Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home tragicomic some years ago despite not really having considered myself a graphic novel reader.

My purchasing decision came off the back of some glowing recommendations from people whose reading opinions I completely value. But then, as so often happens, the book got relegated to the books-I’ll-get-to-one-day shelf of good intentions.

I picked it up recently after a personally devastating few months that left me unable to tackle anything too arduous. After all, an image-led book with minimal but exquisite writing with subject matter about someone whose life was slightly more pear-shaped than my own seemed the fitting choice.

So I found myself reading the memoir about Bechdel’s upbringing and coming out. Her father, an emotionally distant obsessive house restorer, funeral home director, and English teacher, features heavily. He was gay in a time when it was wholly unacceptable to be so and the repercussions for the Bechdel family are enormous. The book also examines Bechdel’s realisation she too was gay and her emergence as a gay woman comfortable in her own skin.

Although covering subject matter vastly different from my own experiences, it proved the perfect book for an imperfect time: little enough text to give my racing mind a rest and strong enough images to help me enjoy the story in a not-too-taxing way.

At once sombre and blackly comic and containing richly wrought images I was admittedly too devastated to completely appreciate, Fun Home is unlike any book I’ve previously read.

‘Like many fathers,’ Bechdel writes, ‘mine could occasionally be prevailed upon for a spot of “Airplane”.’ That is, he was in some ways like any father. ‘…but it was impossible to tell if the minotaur lay beyond the next corner…And the constant tension was heightened by the fact that some encounters could be quite pleasant. His bursts of kindness were as incandescent as his tantrums were dark.’

Are You My Mother?Bechdel conveys the minutiae of life in ways that both provide insight and that seem bittersweet: ‘My mother must have bathed me hundreds of times. But it’s my father rinsing me off with the purple metal cup that I remember most clearly.’

Bechdel’s father died when she was 20 under circumstances that looked accidental but most likely involved suicide. This book is as much her attempt to reconcile his death as his life, and especially his emotional absence even when he was physically present.

It’s recently been turned into a Broadway production that is, by all accounts, utterly, transfixingly stellar.

In researching this blog I discovered that Bechdel has written a follow-up graphic novel. Named Are You My Mother?, a nod to the popular children’s book, it explores her relationship with her mother—something that would be complicated with any daughter and mother, but especially so given her mother was an aspiring actor trapped in a marriage to a man who was gay but who couldn’t openly be so.

It seems to fulfil the one part of the Fun Home story I felt was missing: her mother. Suffice to say, I’ll be ordering that one shortly. But this time, it’s unlikely it’ll go on my to-be-read-eventually book pile of good intentions.

(As a side note, Bechdel is widely credited with establishing the gender inequality-determining Bechdel Test, AKA the Bechdel–Wallace Test, with Bechdel preferring her friend Liz Wallace be co-credited for the concept.

Whichever name it’s called, the test involves asking whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. It was apparently intended as ‘a little lesbian joke in an alternative feminist newspaper’, but has since been adopted more widely. It’s presumably helped change both the number of women included in such works and how they’re portrayed.)

Georgie Donaghey in the Spotlight; ‘Lulu’ Makes her Debut

Georgie DonagheyIt’s not enough to just want something and hope that it will be delivered  to you on a silver platter. Unfortunately for most of us, life isn’t that simple. What we try to teach our kids is that you absolutely can achieve your aspirations, your goals, your dreams, but it takes work, persistence and determination. In this same fashion, this is all too true for first time picture book author, Georgie Donaghey. Her dedication to her writing, the foundation of the successful Creative Kids Tales for emerging authors, and the establishment of The Author’s Shelf, are all what make her journey to publication so inspiring.

Her new book, ‘Lulu’, gorgeously illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn, published by Dragon Tales Publishing, is simply scrumptious! Lulu; a sweet, ice-fishing polar bear, has a dream. A dream to dance. With courage and resolve, Lulu abounds success, but in the end she discovers that all the popularity in the world doesn’t compare to the comfort and affection of family and friends. And she enjoys the best of both worlds.

Read Dimity’s fab full review of the divine Lulu here.

Now, let’s take a peek into the creative mind of Georgie Donaghey.

Georgie & CharlotteCongratulations on the latest release of your first picture book, ‘Lulu’! How did you be celebrate its launch?  

With lots of family and writer friends at Sutherland Shire Library. Over 100 people attended.  It was like a dream.  Susanne Gervay launched Lulu, and I was joined by Deborah Abela, Emma Cameron, Di Bates, Bill Condon and lots of other well-wishers. I wanted to make sure my first launch was extra special so went a little crazy making polar bear cupcakes, chocolates, a Lulu slice (just like LCM’s), goody bags, craft activities such as colouring sheets, polar bear masks.  I read Lulu to the kids on an iceberg made from white faux fur and cushions.    

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

I am one of those crazy authors where their characters speak to them.  Lulu actually began in the playground of my daughter’s school.  I was tapping away on my iPad while waiting to do my first author talk to my daughter’s class, and the opening line popped into my head.  ‘Polar Bear’s life was quite cosy and nice, with mountains of fish and even more ice.’  Lulu’s name came during the publishing stage.  

How does ‘Lulu’ resonate with you?  

Lulu followed her dream no matter what obstacles were in her way.  I, like many other authors, have received too many rejections to count.  Instead of being discouraged I wear them like a badge of honor and continue to believe and follow my dreams.    

‘Lulu’ has a beautiful underlying theme of ambitiousness and following one’s dreams. What special message would you like Lulu’s readers to take away from the story?  

If you work hard and believe in your dreams, anything is possible.  

Lulu‘Lulu’ is written with a graceful poetic rhythm, perfectly suiting your charming polar bear dancer. Do you often write in rhyme, and is this your preferred style of writing?  

I’m not fond of rhyme only because you have to be spot on with it.  You can’t fool kids, the rhyme has to flow.  To publish a poorly written book is a disaster so I tried to fight the rhyme and just write Lulu as a story but clearly the rhyme won.  Would I do it again?  Well Lulu has a brother who has a story to tell and I am also working on another rhyming manuscript about an octopus.  Fingers crossed.    

What were your most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating ‘Lulu’?  

Challenging would be of course getting the rhyme just right.  I experienced both highs and lows from conception to launch.  You need a thick skin, and a lot of patience in this industry to deal with rejections and obstacles you face along the way.    

Lulu twinkledI love illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn‘s soft, pastel-looking textures and delicate shades of blues and pinks. What was it like collaborating with her? How much creative license did you allow Ann-Marie in the design process?  

As with most publishers the illustrator was appointed by the publisher.  There was no collaboration between Ann-Marie and I.  I think there was only one brief chat with Kaylene and then Ann-Marie just did her own thing.  Needless to say I am very happy with how Lulu turned out.  Ann-Marie is also a Director of Dragon Tales Publishing.  

How would you describe your first publishing experience with Dragon Tales Publishing?  

An experience to remember.  

Your literary websites ‘Creative Kids Tales’ and ‘The Author’s Shelf’ are fantastic resources for emerging authors and illustrators, and have brought their readers and listeners a plethora of inspirational information and entertainment over the past 4 years. What has been your most valuable piece of advice given or favourite experience with a visiting author?  

Thanks for the lovely comments.  Gosh! How long is a piece of string?  I loved chatting with all my guests on The Author’s Shelf and took something away from each interview.  Probably the stand-outs would have to be Posie Graeme-Evans (creator of McLeod’s Daughters, Hi5 and many other great Aussie dramas), Jackie French.  In fact Jackie and I had such a good time on air she came back for a second show.  
Tony Flowers & Nick Falk were fun to interview together.  Tony joined me in the studio and illustrated in between answering questions with Nick.  Andy Griffiths was a delight, and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants) was lots of fun too.  
For Creative Kids Tales I have interviewed 38 guests including Mem Fox, Graeme Base, Jacqueline Harvey, Kate Forsyth, Belinda Murrell, Leigh Hobbs, Nick Bland, Paul Jennings and many other household names.  That number is growing with guests lined up well into 2016.  
I have received lots of valuable tips over the last few years.  The best way to share them is via my Top Tips page http://www.creativekidstales.com.au/tips/top-tips.  One of the pages on CKT I am most proud of is the testimonials page.  Beautiful words from beautiful people …………  

Can you tell us a bit about your experience speaking at the 10th CYA Conference? What an exciting honour!  

I thought hosting a fortnightly radio show was nerve-racking and then chairing a panel at last year’s Kids & YA Festival at the NSW Writers’ Centre was enough to give me butterflies on my butterflies.  I have been to a few CYA’s now and have proudly worn the hat of chief tweeter.  Again this year I juggled tweeting and posting on Facebook for the duration of the conference.  Standing at that microphone and delivering my speech to 160 attendees was fun and nerve-racking.  My four minutes flew by, and I had many comments from attendees saying my journey resonated with them.  They were comforted by the fact our journeys were similar, and they were inspired to continue chasing their dreams.    

What’s next for Georgie Donaghey? What other projects do you have on the go?

I’m always setting the bar higher.  I have a lot of things planned for Creative Kids Tales, and The Author’s Shelf is beginning to take shape into something new and very exciting.  It’s a bit hush hush at the moment.  I’m writing, editing and submitting.  Fingers crossed I can announce my next book soon.    

Thank you for your insights into your publishing journey, Georgie! Looking forward to seeing more from you!

Thanks, Romi, it’s been a lot of fun.

Click on the links to get in touch with Georgie Donaghey at Creative Kids Tales and on Facebook.

Poignantly perfect picture books Part Two – The Stone Lion

The Stone LionWhen picture books have the ability to make your heart beat a little faster, fill your eyes with tears and send your spirits soaring. When they effortlessly harness thoughts and project feelings with poignant clarity; to say they are exceptional seems woefully insufficient. Rare are the picture books that can fit this bill, yet Margaret Wild has little trouble doing so.

The Stone Lion is her newest picture book with Ritva Voutila (mums with school aged kids may recognise her unique art from the dozens of Storylands Early Readers). The austere cover and title leave little Margaret Wilddoubt as to the subject matter but the subtle beauty of the regal, maned lion crouching upon his engraved stone pedestal (you can really feel it), spur the need to know more about him.

Wild cleverly chisels out a tale of unlikely heroes (the stone lion) and unseemly characters (homeless youths, librarians and gargoyles). There is also the subtle persuasion that hope is determined by the passing of time as shown by the illustrations of swirling leaves, fleeing birds and umbrellas adrift.The Stone Lion umbrella illo

The magnificent stone lion statue stationed outside the library dreams of a life more animated if only so he can ‘pounce and prowl and leap’. But one fateful snowy night, he is forced to re-evaluate his own desires when a baby is abandoned at his paws.

Ritva Voutilda’s beautiful, muted pastel illustrations mirror both the stone lion’s cold forlorn heart and the kernel of hope that Ritva Voutilabeats within us all. Miracles are easy to believe when they result in great change as The Stone Lion so ably demonstrates.

Using unadorned yet intensely sensitive language, Wild makes us feel something real for something which is unable to feel yet wants to in an incredible allegory about wanting more, accepting less and understanding the power of benevolence.

This is not a picture book brimming with rainbows and lollypops, and sunshine and happiness. But it does sing with a clear purity of heart that kindness is indeed its own reward. The Stone Lion is a picture book older readers will enjoy for its touching and profound celebration of humility.The Stone Lion library

It is truly exceptional.

Little Hare Books a Hardie Grant Egmont imprint April 2014