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Sunday, June 30, 2019

'Raising Readers: How to nurture a child’s love of books' by Megan Daley

From the BLURB: 

Some kids refuse to read, others won’t stop – not even at the dinner table! Either way, many parents question the best way to support their child’s literacy journey. When can you start reading to your child? How do you find that special book to inspire a reluctant reader? How can you tell if a book is age appropriate? What can you do to keep your tween reading into their adolescent years? 

Award-winning teacher librarian Megan Daley has the answersto all these questions and more. She unpacks her fifteen years of experience into this personable and accessible guide, enhanced with up-to-date research and first-hand accounts from well-known Australian children’s authors. It also contains practical tips, such as suggested reading lists and instructions on how to run book-themed activities.

Raising Readers is a must-have guide for parents and educators to help the children in their lives fall in love with books.

'Raising Readers: How to nurture a child’s love of books' is the non-fiction how-to book that the Australian publishing industry needed - written by teacher librarian, 'Queensland Teacher Librarian of the Year' and recipient of the national Dromken Librarians Award AND blogger over at 'Children's Books Daily' - Megan Daley (phew!) 

This book was not written specifically for authors, but in my role as a literary agent, editor, author and youth-literature advocate that was the way I came to view this resource ... and though it was not intended as such, I found it to also be a great stockpile of info for new and emerging authors; so that's the point from which I'm reviewing it. 

Straight up in the introduction, Daley explains the purpose and usefulness of the book; 

'Raising Readers' is a guide for parents and a resource for educators. Like all good non-fiction books (my teacher librarian hat is on now), you can dip into this book as needed or you can read it from start to finish. I will walk you through each stage of a child's literacy development - from birth to adolescence - and offer advice, connect you with the right books at the right times, share pieces of wisdom from my literary friends, as well as some tips and tricks to ensure your family's or classroom's reading journeys are as memorable and as engaging as they can be.

All of which is true, and means this book is for *anyone* who cares about children becoming readers for life, and having their imaginations constantly expanded and nurtured. 

But there are ways that the book can be used as a call-to-arms and a guiding-light in lateral ways too, which I am sure Daley was also aware of when writing. Like how she constantly highlights throughout, the overwhelming importance of teacher librarians in schools and what a well-managed and cared-for library does to a school community, especially in improving literacy (something that literally *all* of the studies and science show correlates too). 

Coming from a family of mostly primary-school teachers from the public-schools sector, I know that not every school has a funded library, and not every child has access to what is essential learning and living in books. 'Raising Readers' has some great guides and how-to's in talking about the need for thoughtful library collections and teacher librarians to manage them, should any parent reading this want help in appealing to a school board or funding committee. While a chapter on 'Acknowledging and Reflecting Diversity' can even be used by those school communities for whom funding and access is *not* the issue, but broadening horizons and being mindful of inclusion *is.* 

Likewise for any educators and librarians struggling on ever-tightening budgets, Daley's words will be both balm and lightning-rod for talking-points and back-up! 

As Daley mentioned, the ability to dip in and out of the book is there, or even flick through and look for breakout-boxes offering lists of recommended-reads and activities, etc. Though I will say that some of the books listed did run a little old, dating from the 90s and early-00s ... but I guess this was an attempt to actually *not* date the book by only listing current "hot-reads" that may not stand the test of time like many "classics" Daley mentions. And, look, if you actually want to keep up-to-date on YouthLit trends (which you SHOULD, if Daley's messaging leaves any mark on you!) then use the ever-evolving and vital resource of her: Children's Books Daily blog - and the focus on #LoveOzYA and #LoveOzMG recs is truly fabulous! 

'Raising Readers' as I said,  is also an invaluable resource for new and emerging authors. I'd say that on the writing and creativity front, 'Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers' by Mary Kole (my FAVE!) is one-half of the conversation for the just-getting-started side, and Megan Daley's 'Raising Readers' is perfect for the next phase of an author's life, when they have to work and monetise their writing career. In this the final chapter of 'How-To Guides' is brilliant, particularly the section on 'How to host an author or illustrator visit'. 

In this, Daley will give authors some idea of what is expected of them (how to talk about their books in terms of curriculum, what kids get out of visits with creators etc.) but more importantly, Daley having shown "the stakes" as they are for teacher librarians and schools, gives authors an appreciation of how *on-point* their presentations and interactions have to be; how rehearsed (but not *too* rehearsed) fun, engaging, educational, and above all - worthwhile. Because schools and libraries work to tight-budgets, and sometimes they're even battling against wider communities and adults who don't yet understand the value and importance of investing in nurturing a love of reading in children, at all ages. 

Highly-highly recommend 'Raising Readers' for everyone and anyone who thinks that a world full of well-read kids engaged with their imagination and empathy is in everyone's best interests! 


Sunday, June 23, 2019

'The Last Widow' Will Trent #9 by Karin Slaughter

From the BLURB:

The routine of a family shopping trip is shattered when Michelle Spivey is snatched as she leaves the mall with her young daughter. The police search for her, her partner pleads for her release, but it's as if she disappeared into thin air.

A month later, on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, medical examiner Sara Linton is at lunch with her boyfriend Will Trent, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. But the serenity of the summer's day is broken by the wail of sirens.

Sara and Will are trained to run towards an emergency, not away from it. But on this one terrible day that instinct betrays them. Within hours the situation has spiralled out of control. And the fallout will lead them into the Appalachian mountains, to the terrible truth about really happened to Michelle, and to a remote compound where a radical group has murder in mind ...

‘The Last Widow’ is the ninth book in Karin Slaughter’s ongoing crime-thriller series, ‘Will Trent’.

It has been three years since we got a new ‘Will Trent’ instalment – and truth be told, last book ‘The Kept Woman’ didn’t quite tide me over satisfactorily. It read like a filler-book in the series, with little progress or advancement for the characters and their relationships – which is the whole reason I keep coming back to Slaughter, for the relationship of Will Trent and ‘Grant County’ expat, Sara Linton.

Well, I am happy to report that ‘The Last Widow’ left me a lot more satisfied – but also built my hunger and renewed my interest in this series overall, to the point where I know that I’m going to be painfully desperate for the tenth book  – which will probably be another three years coming!

Slaughter is very clever in how she sets up the parameters of this story – which hinges on an upcoming catastrophic event that none of our players know precisely what it is, only that it’s coming. There’s a countdown that the timeline hinges on, and from the get-go Slaughter uses it to set up the personal fractions and factions within the series world too.

We see a small window of time from both Sara and Will’s perspectives – the calm before the story – as they respectively deal with nuances in their relationship within an ordinary day. What’s brilliant is that we get the internals from both of them and see the same scene play out from both their perspectives – to realise that Will and Sara are currently out-of-step in their relationship, without even realising it. This is characterisation minutiae, and it’s Slaughter at her absolute best – because these small details will echo throughout the book, until they become loud as church-bells by the end.

From there, the book picks up a frenetic pace and a chilling whodunit – the crux of which I don’t want to give too much away, because it’s a great premise and plot for the entire book. You’d think a storyline like this when Will and Sara are on rocky ground, would further fracture them for readers but it actually does the opposite – solidifying their relationship, and what’s to come in the series.

I’ll only say that ‘The Last Widow’ is a book of the times. Slaughter has done her research – as always – but in doing so she’s looked into the dark-heart of the current American political and social climate, and it’s nor pretty. This book deals with Neo-Nazi’s, domestic terrorism and homebred militia. It’s honestly one of the most frightening scenarios and back-stories Slaughter has hit on in recently memory, for the very fact that it feels uncomfortable contemporary;

From what Faith could tell, most of the men were just looking for a reason to camp out, get away from their wives, and pretend they were more important than their actual lives as accountants or used car salesman would indicate. The more dangerous factions were steeped in the theories of the Posse Comitatus, who believed that the government should be violently overthrown and returned to white Christian men.
Apparently, they lacked access to photographs of the majority of the United States Congress, the president, the cabinet, and most of the judges packed onto state and federal courts.

Amidst all this are Sara and Will, caught up in these factions with far-right extremists – though I won’t say how. I will however, say that what Slaughter illuminates on the true-background of such groups is terrifying. And it essentially boils down to; war breeds home-grown terrorists. There is a direct correlation, in fact, between white nationalist domestic terrorists and those with US military-backgrounds; men who come home from war feeling disenfranchised, broken, and discarded by their government – who have seen up close how grassroots terrorist organisations work from their fighting abroad, then apply those “lessons” to their own disillusionment and anger. And the fact that the US Government knows about this correlation – a comprehensive report was gathered in 2009, but “conservative politicians and media outlets jumped on the report,” the backlash was so severe DHS publicly apologized for the report and dismantled the team responsible for tracking far-right threats.

This is the breeding ground for bad-guys in ‘The Last Widow’, and it sees Sara go toe-to-toe with a Neo-Nazi militiaman;

She asked, “You ever notice how George Clooney never goes around telling people how handsome he is?”
Dash raised his eyebrows, expectant.
“It makes me curious – if you’re really a patriot, do you have to put it in your name?”
Dash chuckled, shaking his head. “I wonder, Dr. Earnshaw, if I was a writer, how would I descrive you in a book?”
Sara had read books by men like Dash. He would list the colour of her hair, the size of her breasts and the shape of her ass.

There are so many little asides throughout this book, when Slaughter absolutely goes to town on the likes of khaki-clad Charlottesville Nazis, and media pundits who think racism should be given parity. It’s delicious, sinister, sometimes overwhelming but so very accurate as to be remarkable. This is Slaughter at the top of her game – taking the real world and distorting it with just enough truth to make the crime-thriller notes that most more astute.

‘The Last Widow’ was an absolute thrill from beginning to end – but the characterisations within are also bang on, and the best they’ve been in the ‘Will Trent’ series for a while now (certainly since Sara and Will solidified their romantic relationship.)

This is Karin Slaughter at her very best, and I just want more.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

'Things Without a Name' by Joanne Fedler

From the BLURB:

At 34, Faith has given up on love. Her cleavage is disappointing, her best friend is clinically depressed and her younger sister is getting breast implants as an engagement present. She used to think about falling in love, but that was a long time ago. Having heard one too many love-gone-wrong stories from the other side of her desk, Faith is worn thin by her work as a legal counsellor in a women’s crisis centre. Then one night, an odd twist of fate brings her to a suburban veterinary clinic where she wrings out years of unshed tears. It is a night that will slowly change the way she sees herself and begin the unearthing of long-buried family secrets so she can forgive herself for something she doesn’t remember, but that has shaped her into the woman she is today. Faith will finally understand what she has always needed to know: that before you can save others, you have to save yourself.

‘Things Without a Name’ is the 2008 novel by Joanne Fedler.

This novel was gifted to me and I really didn’t know what to expect, but I ended up *inhaling* it in about two-days, and now I’m looking around for anything and everything else the author has written!

First of all: this is not an ‘easy’ novel. Protagonist Faith is a woman dramatically altered by two deaths that book-ended her childhood. When we meet her, Faith is in her 30s and working as a legal counsellor at a women's rape and domestic abuse agency. And despite everything in her life pointing her to the contrary, Faith is still a woman who believes in love and the ability for one’s fortunes to change … which is exactly what happens when a strange sequence of events turns her world upside down.

Beyond seeing this as a ‘Women’s Fiction’ offering, I was really surprised at the heights and depths ‘Things Without a Name’ took me to. On the one hand it is a deeply moving and serious literary fiction novel, but on the other there is romance, a certain gossamer lightness, openness and hope that I think makes it a wonderful general-fiction offering.

For these reasons, I actually found Joanne Fedler to be reminiscent of Jodi Picoult for me – not necessarily in the voice and style of writing, but in the way they both take the personal and political to weave an incredible story. And the same way Picoult immerses herself in research for her books, I was impressed (but not in the least bit surprised) to learn of Fedler’s background as a volunteer legal counsellor at People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) before setting up and running a legal advocacy centre to end violence against women. She was also appointed by the then Minister for Justice to sit on a project committee of the Law Commission to design new domestic violence legislation.

That this is Fedler’s life absolutely sings through the story – sometimes in sombre tones, and then occasionally with a piercingly lovely tune. There is a tenderness and rawness to this story that I so appreciated;

I fantasized that by the time my little girl was a teenager, violence against women, like concentration camps and gas chambers, would be a shameful nightmare of history, a phase we’d look back on with lofty ‘it’s- hard-to-believe’s’ and ‘how-did-society-allow-it-to-happen’s?
At times it feels like we are circling the same hopeless strategies, never making it through this particular circle of hell.

And it makes the love within resonate that much louder and lovelier, because it’s hard-won for Faith and readers alike.

I’m going to pass this book around to friends and family, and hope they get the same jolt out of it that I did. A somewhat unassuming story – as some of the best ones are – that shook me and reassembled me in the best possible way. Magnificent.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

'Storm Cursed' Mercy Thompson, #11 by Patricia Briggs

From the BLURB: 

My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic. And a coyote shapeshifter . . . And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack. 

Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn't stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae. 

The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death. 

But we are pack, and we have given our word. We will die to keep it.

'Storm Cursed' is the eleventh (!!!!) book in Patricia Brigg's 'Mercy Thompson' series. 

Following on from 'Silence Fallen', 'Storm Cursed' is all about Mercy and the pack readjusting to a new world order in which Fae are public and deadly; but a coven of witches coming to town and wreaking havoc provides a sinister distraction for the entire Tri Cities area ... 

I really liked this storyline, straight off the bat. I hate, hate, HATE the Fae stuff and I was glad to see Briggs largely put that gangly, cumbersome back-story aside and focused on introducing a one-off "big bad" in the form of this witch coven. I especially liked this "episodic" supernatural quandary for Mercy and the gang, because it pulled in the vampires too - and everyone's favourite Stefan actually makes a satisfactory appearance! 

Yes, this instalment still feels like "filler" (as have the last four or so Mercy books of late) and Briggs is clearly still beholden to somehow making the Fae stuff work as the next story-arc even though it's dull, silly, and I still don't feel like I know any of the players or particularly care about them. 

But 'Storm Cursed' gave good pack interactions (though many of our fave werewolf regulars are missing, and the timeline slightly threw me - Mercy at one point has a chat with one of the pack about how she's still adjusting to Christy not being Adam's wife and I thought ... HOLD UP, haven't Adam and Mercy been married for an AGE by now?!) 

So, yes - this is a "filler" book but it's a largely enjoyable one ... even as I'm becoming increasingly worried about how much this series feels like its spinning its wheels. 

I'm having an increasingly mercurial relationship with Mercy Thompson. We're 11 books in now, which is around the time that I bailed out of Laurell K. Hamilton's 'Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter' and J.R. Ward's 'Black Dagger Brotherhood' series - which like Mercy, are all in the paranormal/urban fantasy realms. And the reason I left those two series (which are still ongoing) was becoming the same issue I found myself having with Briggs' Mercy .... namely; that the series had no end in sight (Briggs has also basically said she'll keep writing them as long as they keep selling and the publisher keeps asking for more) and it's a noticeable drop-off from where the series started out with tight storytelling, characterisation and a general sense of goal-posts being set up, and eventually reached. 

The main issue with Mercy is her romance with alpha werewolf Adam Hauptman was SUCH a huge part of the early books, and since their marriage it feels like they (and readers) are in stasis. I always state that I don't believe babies make for Happily Ever After, and that's the case here too - I don't feel the need for Mercy to be barefoot and pregnant for her story to take on gravitas and meaning - but each new instalment has them with fewer and fewer interactions (indeed, book #10 was literally all about Mercy being kidnapped and Adam working to save her - they were separated for the entire book) and it's what I miss most about those early books, was their general banter, heat and *togetherness*. 

I will say that this eleventh book does a much better job of giving us Adam and Mercy's marriage and more daily interactions - but I still feel like Briggs hasn't quite got back the *intimacy* of Adam and Mercy, or their heat. 

I keep coming back to this series for the relationships - and largely the relationship of Mercy and Adam - but it hasn't been clicking for me for about four books now, and I'm getting worried.


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