Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

'The Moor' Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #4 by Laurie R. King

From the BLURB:

In the eerie wasteland of Dartmoor, Sherlock Holmes summons his devoted wife and partner, Mary Russell, from her studies at Oxford to aid the investigation of a death and some disturbing phenomena of a decidedly supernatural origin.

Through the mists of the moor there have been sightings of a spectral coach made of bones carrying a woman long-ago accused of murdering her husband--and of a hound with a single glowing eye. Returning to the scene of one of his most celebrated cases, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes and Russell investigate a mystery darker and more unforgiving than the moors themselves.

‘The Moor’ is the fourth book in historical mystery series ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ by Laurie R. King, first published in 1998.

For a little while there in 2014 I was seriously into King’s ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’. Having just discovered the series I tore through The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, A Monstrous Regiment of Women and A Letter of Mary in a matter of weeks and gave five-stars to all. And then I got to fourth book The Moor and reading it was slow-going … I couldn’t get into the story, which sees Mary and her now-husband Sherlock Holmes revisiting one of Watson’s famous tales (really Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s) The Hound of the Baskervilles. The mystery of this fourth book just wasn’t clicking for me, possibly because it felt like there was an over-reliance on the Conan Doyle original to ground the plot, whereas in the first few books of the series I’d been thoroughly enjoying the originality and Holmes’ determination to break away from his famous detective past.

I also found it hard to get into a reading groove with this book, because it lacked the chemistry between Mary and Holmes that I’d been so enjoying in the first three. Book one felt like a very platonic relationship between the two, in which they were both finding their footing with one another – but by book two it was clear there was more going on between them than just mentor/mentee, and as they became equal partners in investigations, you could really read the spark of romance between them. By book three they were very recently married, and it was fascinating reading them adjust. Book four actually has Mary and Holmes separated for a fair bit of the investigation into a ghostly carriage roaming the Moors, which worked to highlight that Mary is very much still her own woman and capable of functioning without her new husband, but means we’re not getting as much of that witty banter and cunning back-and-forth between them.

But since I started reading and then put aside ‘The Moor’, Laurie R King has released two more ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ books – ‘Dreaming Spies’ and ‘The Murder of Mary Russell’ – the 14th book in particular has been causing quite a buzz in the fandom community that has not gone unnoticed by me (the blurb promises, the series will “never be the same after this bombshell”). Thus, I’ve pushed myself to finish ‘The Moor’ so I can get back on track with this series with aims of getting to books #13 and #14. It was a slog, but I’m glad that on the other side of ‘The Moor’ is book number five, ‘O Jerusalem’ which I have on good authority is a favourite instalment for lots of ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ fans.

So I slogged through ‘The Moor’ – and eventually I must admit the very thing that was annoying me (an over-reliance on referencing Conan Doyle’s Baskervilles) became – if not endearing, – then certainly intriguing. Laurie R. King takes the opportunity of placing Sherlock Holmes in close proximity to, quite possibly, his most famous case as a way to examine how much he hates and rejects the fame and infamy that Watson’s stories have brought him. And it provides at least one nice opportunity for Mary Russell to come to Holmes’s defence;

‘My husband does not really enjoy talking about his old cases, Mr Ketteridge. It makes him uncomfortable.’ 
Most men, and certainly forceful men like Ketteridge, tend to overlook women unless they be unattached and attractive. I usually allow this because I often find it either amusing or convenient to be invisible.
On that level I appreciated ‘The Moor’ within the series and in expanding the universe of Mary Russell and Holmes. This book ended up feeling like burying the past, where in the beginning I had resented King’s bringing it too much to the fore;
 ‘Gould?’ Holmes laughed. ‘He’s the most gullible of the lot, full of the most awful balderdash. He’ll tell you how a neighbour’s horse panicked one night at the precise spot where a man would be killed some hours later, how another man carried on a conversation with his wife who was dying ten miles away, how – Revelations, visitations, spooks, you name it – he’s worse than Concan Doyle, with his fairies and his spiritualism.’

But I still found this mystery too slow going, and the sluggish pace (which seems in keeping with the ethos of locals Russell and Holmes find themselves in the company of) rather infuriating, and not conducive to a steady read. I also didn’t love that Russell and Holmes split up to investigate separately for a fairly good chunk of this story. All in all, this is not my favourite instalment but I have my suspicions (even just looking at Goodreads ratings!) that quite a few don’t love this particular addition to the series, and soldiered on as I now have to get to the other side and better instalments of ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

'Tomorrow When the War Began' - ABC television adaptation of John Marsden's series

Tomorrow When The War Began, Series 1 Ep 1:  
Celebrating end of year, Ellie takes her friends on a trip to a remote destination called 'Hell'. They return home to find their parents are missing, the phone network down and homes ransacked.
The first book in John Marsden’s ‘Tomorrow’ series, ‘Tomorrow When The War Began’ was first published in 1993. It became one of the most popular young adult series in Australia, concluding in 1999 with seven books in the core series, followed by a spin-off trilogy called ‘The Ellie Chronicles’ which ran from 2003-05. The series is a fictionalized account of an invasion of Australia by unknown (but usually vaguely Asia-Pacific) foreign forces, and the microcosm of a small town called Wirrawee and a group of local kids who are camping in the bush when their town is overrun with enemy combatants, and upon their return they decide to fight back against the invasion.

The first book of the series was turned into a highly successful Australia film in 2010 – starring Caitlin Stasey as protagonist Ellie Linton – and it ranks number 17 on the most successful Australia box office films of all time, thus far. After the success of the 2010 film fans eagerly awaited a sequel – certain that the film’s popularity would guarantee a franchise. And while there was a nebulous promise that the story would continue, it was never clear if that would be as film or TV series (and when the likes of Caitlin Stasey and Phoebe Tonkin from the 2010 film went onto great success in Hollywood, Australian fans were pretty certain the original cast wouldn’t be reassembled).

Then it was announced last year that ‘Tomorrow When The War Began’ (affectionately abbreviated and hashtagged to #TWTWB) would be coming to our small screens on ABC TV! This was huge news, extremely well-received. You really can’t underestimate what a beloved book series Marsden’s TWTWB is – becoming a staple of every Aussie teenager’s reading life. And it’s a series worth celebrating across generations – a series about teenagers taking matters into their own hands and fighting back, surviving on their wits, cunning and each other. It’s also a very nuanced series; with themes of man vs. nature, the morality of war and survival, and so much more.

TWTWB re-launching as a TV series at this point in time feels extremely appropriate, as refugee and asylum seeker debates rage in Australia and our Government seems to lack any comprehension of what has been happening (and is still at crisis-point) in places like Syria.

Watching the first episode of TWTWB, I’m reminded of this quote that’s been borne out of the refugee crisis – Just because it’s not happening here, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Echoed in this stunning British ad, which imagines war breaking out in the UK. This was another strength of Marsden’s TWTWB series – to ask one of the biggest what if’s? of young Australia readers. What if we were invaded? What if your family was locked up? What if you had to pick up a gun and fight back?

The first episode of TWTWB has brilliant duality to set-up the entire first installment of the book series. There’s a very clear before/after being introduced in this first episode as we see the core cast of seven pack up their camping gear and get ready for a trip into ‘Hell’ – a beautiful, secluded section of bushland. Their town of Wirrawee is celebrating a state fair with all the dressings, and they wave goodbye to the euphoric town as they take the track that leads them into the wilderness, for five-days of escape. But upon their return, Wirrawee is completely changed to a dark, barbed, battle-ground, and the end of this first episode does cover a pivotal moment for Ellie (Molly Daniels), when she is forced to defend herself and her friends.

It may seem like this first episode covers a lot of the first book’s content – but there’s plenty more to come in this six-part miniseries (and I’m not sure how deep into the book series the TV show will even cover, but I hope we get more seasons!). Aside from the eerie set-up of war (and there are some beautiful scenes, setting up the devastation) the characterisation in this first ep is spot-on. We very succinctly get the closeness and fractures beginning to show in relationship of best friends Ellie and Corrie (played, refreshingly by Madeleine Madden – who is also Zoe Preston in ABC3’s other brilliant series, Ready For This). Town larrikin Homer (Narek Arman) and posh new girl, Fiona (Madeleine Clunies-Ross) have nice push-pull chemistry. Fi’s parents (lovely to see Sibylla Budd as her mum, I’ve liked her since The Secret Life of Us!) are written to be a little closer to the political action it seems, and the hostile family environment is a clever touch. Robyn (Fantine Banulski) clearly has an unreciprocated crush on Lee (Jon Prasida) – and the fact that all this character chemistry is oh so subtly communicated in the first 46-minute episode is quite an impressive feat.

This is a fantastic start to a much-loved Aussie series. I got goosebumps just watching the brilliant opening-titles sequence, to be honest (and I was reminded that before Veronica Roth’s post-apocalyptic Chicago ferris wheel in Divergent, Aussie readers had the iconic Wirrawee wheel, a leftover relic of the fairground before the war began!). 

I also can’t help but think that re-franchising TWTWB as a TV series is a smart move – not least because other book-to-film franchises (okay, American ones – but still!) have been experiencing fatigue around multi-installments. It’s also not insane to think that other popular YA series enjoying success right now (again, American, but stick with me!) like The 100about a group of kids all alone without adult supervision and up against enemy combatants – that it’s a good idea to give Aussie teens their own version of this compelling survival story. I’ve long been asking where all the great YA TV adaptations are, and I’m thrilled that we now have ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’. It’s such a layered, subversive and complex book series – and from the looks of episode one that’s all going to translate beautifully to the small screen.

You can watch 'Tomorrow When the War Began' episodes on ABC iView 

The series airs on Saturday's at 7:30pm

Monday, April 11, 2016

'Where the Shoreline Used to be' Stories from Australia and Beyond, Edited by Pam McIntyre and Susan La Marca

From the BLURB:

A rich and unique collection of short fiction, poetry, illustration and song lyrics from Australia and beyond.

An encounter with a strange boy on a beach, a dog in space, a world of butterflies, a talking whale, two girls who take on the world, and a thousand silver ghosts . . . Like the pull of the tide, these stories and poems will draw you in and encourage you to explore.

Funny, dramatic and poignant by turns, and featuring both established writers and exciting new talent, Where the Shoreline Used to Be is a stunning collection that will challenge and excite your imagination.

Including: Shaun Tan • Scot Gardner • Arwa Abousamra • Trudy White • Kate Miller-Heidke • Keir Nuttall • Felicity Castagna • Amie Kaufman • Alice Pung • Gayle Kennedy • Davina Bell • Meg Caddy • Courtney Barnett • Barry Jonsberg • Meg McKinlay • Kyle Hughes-Odgers • Shivaun Plozza • Ali Cobby Eckermann • Margo Lanagan • Wil Wagner • Lizzie Wagner • Tony Birch • Leanne Hall • PM Freestone • Andrea Hirata

‘Where the Shoreline Used to be’ is a collection of short stories from Australia and beyond, edited by Pam McIntyre and Susan La Marca, who also edited the 2012 short story collection, ‘Things A Map Won't Show You’.

I loved McIntyre and La Marca’s first short story collection, and was so happy to see them come out with a second book that’s perfectly oriented for the schools market. There are long and short-short stories, poems and artwork within – all of which will stir the imaginings of young readers, and hopefully encourage them to dabble themselves in this wonderful medium.

As with ‘Map’, ‘Shoreline’ is pretty free-form thematically – these authors, poets and illustrators are allowed to run rampant with that beautiful title, though a sense of time more than place feels to have the slight upper hand.

Margo Lanagan’s ‘The Queen’s Notice’ is visceral and feral-delightful, reading like something of a ‘Romulus and Remus’ foundation myth;

It was true, he did smell, strongly and cleanly of deep earth and queen-favour. His mind was beginning to fill with other things, as a quick-tunnel trickles full of loose earth, but he still had the queen’s scene in all his skin-folds, creeping in his mouth-hairs, raw and clear, warm and sweet.
Margo Lanagan, The Queen’s Notice
Amie Kaufman’s autobiographical ‘I Swear This Part is True’, cuts to the very heart of storytelling in the first place, when it comes to our own histories;

We are our own myth makers, every one of us. This is why, when it comes to our stories, the manner of the telling matters very much. Tell it right, and you can shape and create a small part of yourself.
Amie Kaufman, I Swear This Part is True

Arwa Abousamra’s very personal ‘Muslim Footprint’ navigates her arrival in Australia at the age of nine. She came from Saudia Arabia where she was born but that wouldn’t recognise her citizenship – and then she goes through her years of schooling when she was both made to feel like an outsider, and proud of her heritage.

The whole book is full of delicious morsels – there’s not one story in there that I didn’t love. But to pick out a very few more …

Kate Miller-Heidke’s 2009 song ‘Caught in the Crowd’ has the lyrics reproduced, and as a poem it blends in beautifully with time setting – of those moments in school when you’re more than a little ashamed of the way you behaved. Those who’ve fallen in love with Shivaun Plozza’s debut novel ‘Frankie’, will revel in her short story here called ‘The Point’ – about the sheer awkwardness of being in close proximity to other people’s families while being an interloper on vacation with them. The opening line – ‘the caravan stinks of tinned pineapple,’ – was so evocative, I could feel the humidity from the page. One of my favourite Australian artists – Kyle Hughes-Odgers – illustrates a short story by Meg McKinlay (‘How To Make A Bird’).

Pam McIntyre and Susan La Marca have turned their keen editorial eyes to delivering another fantastic collection of Australian short stories that are perfect for school study, and pure enjoyment too.

| More