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Friday, July 31, 2020

Writing for a Middle Grade Audience with Danielle Binks

Hello Darling Readers,

Hello Darling Readers, It's been a while, but I wanted to jump on here and announce something very exciting that I've been working on - an online Middle Grade writing course! 

Yup; Kill Your Darlings (whom I've been writing for since 2012!) very kindly invited me to contribute to their spectacular roll-call of online writing workshops and I jumped at the chance. 

Back in 2016 I wrote about the rise of MG-lit in Australia for Books+Publishing; 'Unstuck in the middle'. And this week a follow-up to that 2016 piece came out; 'The golden age of middle-grade'. And I truly do believe the Australian landscape is seeing a huge surge in demand for the readership and we are in a 'Golden Age' - which is also why it's nice to have this writing workshop out there now, for those who want to grasp this opportunity and get serious about writing for this spectacular audience! 

Then there's also the fact of my literary agenting in this realm, and the release of my own MG title - 'The Year the Maps Changed.' 

So, yes - I'd like to think I know a thing or two, and now I can share that knowledge with you!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

'Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake' Love By Numbers #1 by Sarah MacLean

From the BLURB: 

A lady does not smoke cheroot. She does not ride astride. She does not fence or attend duels. She does not fire a pistol, and she never gambles at a gentlemen's club. 

Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules, rules that have left her unmarried—and more than a little unsatisfied. And so she's vowed to break the rules and live the life of pleasure she's been missing. 

But to dance every dance, to steal a midnight kiss—to do those things, Callie will need a willing partner. Someone who knows everything about rule-breaking. Someone like Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston—charming and devastatingly handsome, his wicked reputation matched only by his sinful smile. 

If she's not careful, she'll break the most important rule of all—the one that says that pleasure-seekers should never fall hopelessly, desperately in love.

Okay, so - in the first Melbourne lockdown I decided that *eventually* I'd get into a reading-rut that I'd need to be sucked out of and so I decided to finally invest in buying and reading all of Sarah MacLean's backlist books that I didn't own yet. 

I came to be a MacLean fan during her 'Scandal & Scoundrel' 2015-2017 series and owned all those books, as well as her most recent 'Bareknuckle Bastards' trilogy - so I needed to source and find this series 'Love by Numbers', 'Rules of Scoundrels' and her stand-alone YA regency romance (and debut book) 'The Season'. Via eBay and Booktopia I did it and then the deliveries slowly started trickling in and LUCKILY by Melbourne Lockdown 2.0 I owned literally *all* of her books. And boy, am I glad that past Danielle in a total 'Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure' move preempted that I'd need these books because I have indeed been in a RUT! 

It's a combination of course of the current circumstances, Netflix and Stan Australia being a comfort, 'Hamilton' having dropped and been watched on-repeat and just ... my short-term memory feels a little lagging lately. So I decided to just go easy on myself and see if I couldn't tempt my brain into reading with this book, 'Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake' and then - LO! - one day and night later I'm officially back and ready to tear through all of MacLean's book. 

'Nine Rules' is my favourite trope of historical romance - unrequited love, with a wallflower-spinster added into the mix who has been pining after a notorious rake for YEARS! This here is my catnip. Add in a surprise sister for the rake, and the wallflower-spinster determined to start a list of scandalous activities she wishes to complete (with the help of said rake) and I was HOOKED. 

This is MacLean's second-published book after YA stand-alone 'The Season' and there are a few tell-tale signs that she was finding her footing in this book. For one thing, it's quite long at 397-pages. For a paperback romance and definitely in comparison to her other books, this one is a little over-inflated ... and I started to feel that at around page 287 when I thought we'd entered into maybe one-too-many "he can't love me because I'm plain" woe-is-me moments between the heroine Calpurnia (Callie) and her rogue, Ralston. 

There's also a slight case of *everything but the kitchen sink* in terms of plots and secondary stories - but this was MacLean trying to establish a family trilogy based around Ralston, his twin-brother, and their long-lost sister so she's attempting to throw out enough intriguing life-rafts to pull readers in ... but I probably could have done without the "wooing me to win a bet" secondary story that starts unfolding properly in the latter-half and added to the plot's slight bloat. 

I also see a lot of criticism of this book centring around 'lots of sex, not enough romance' and for sure there are *lots* of sex-scenes in here (all very well done, and offering a tease of MacLean's future Queendom status in the genre for this very reason) but I can see why some people found them laborious to read through ... I think it's also that, this *is* one of my favourite tropes - unrequited love and spinster-meets-rogue; and for that reason I also occasionally found myself wanting more stuff that centred on those dynamics as opposed to just - working them out physically. 

Overall though, I loved this and it was exactly what I needed in the moment.


Monday, July 13, 2020

'A Longer Fall' Gunnie Rose #2 by Charlaine Harris

From the BLURB:

In this second thrilling installment of the GUNNIE ROSE series, Lizbeth Rose is hired onto a new crew for a seemingly easy protection job, transporting a crate into Dixie, just about the last part of the former United States of America she wants to visit. But what seemed like a straight-forward job turns into a massacre as the crate is stolen. Up against a wall in Dixie, where social norms have stepped back into the last century, Lizbeth has to go undercover with an old friend to retrieve the crate as what's inside can spark a rebellion, if she can get it back in time.

‘A Longer Fall’ is the second book in Charlaine Harris’ Western Paranormal ‘Gunnie Rose’ series – set in an alternate world-history timeline in which the Romanov family escape Russia and revolution with their lives, and would go on a land-grab of America after the influenza pandemic wiped out most of the powerful men in Washington and left a power-vacuum.

So … I read the first book ‘An Easy Death’ way back in 2018 and when I went to continue the series with ‘A Longer Fall’ I’d evidently forgotten a lot of the world-building because it hit me like a brick. That Harris – back in 2018 – was writing a skewed world-history in which the trajectories of revolution and pandemic skewed slightly and totally remade the world? Yah. Reading the second book in 2020, it slaps hard.

‘A Longer Fall’ picks up a while after ‘Death’ when our protagonist, Lizbeth (a gun-runner with companies-for-hire) is helping transport precious cargo on a train that suddenly explodes and is derailed, then raided by masked bandits. What follows is an ‘Indiana Jones’-esque storyline of trying to get a trunk to where it needs to be, and along the way grigori wizard Eli reappears when it so happens that the trunk Lizbeth and Co. were carrying, is of great significance to the Holy Russian Empire …

Someone recently asked me if they’d enjoy this series, given their only other Charlaine Harris read was the entire ‘Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire’ series and the way that ended left an (understandably) sour taste. I warned that ‘Gunnie Rose’ is perhaps the straight-up darkest of all Harris’s works; and even though all her books get there eventually, ‘Gunnie’ starts out dark in tone and then it’s a matter of brief glimpses of light getting in. One of those glimpses is the Russian wizard Eli, and his strange relationship with Lizbeth that’s built around their chance-encounters and clear sexual chemistry… but also a shared secret that Lizbeth has grigori blood in her veins.

Even though ‘Gunnie’ is the darkest in tone of all Harris’s books (beating out the previous ‘Midnight, Texas’ that I would have said had much more sinister southern gothic tones) I am so enjoying this ride. And ‘A Longer Fall’ especially – reading in 2020… it has HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ vibes meets ‘Indiana Jones’ for its vigilante, racial upheaval and culture-war undertones. I’m really impressed that Harris pulling on this one thread of history has unravelled so much of present-day society which is exactly what the best of fantasy and sci-fi should always do; hold a mirror up to the present world and make commentary through various mechanisms of almost absurdity.

I really enjoyed ‘A Longer Fall’, and can’t wait for ‘The Russian Cage’ coming in February 2021, which promises to send Lizbeth to the Holy Russian Empire (finally!). I really can’t see this series wrapping up in 3 books though, when the weight of the real world seems to be increasingly impressing on its relevance. I’m hoping for a full-blown multi-book series that continues to build this universe.


Monday, July 6, 2020

'Turbulence' by Thuy On

I’m trying to read more Poetry because it’s good for me.

I always encourage emerging writers to read outside their form/readership/genre to stretch their brains a bit, but I hadn’t been doing that myself lately and I needed to ... I’m in awe of poets. Their tight lines and pace, perfectly selected words & phrases just floor me.

One poetry collection I picked up recently was 'Turbulence' by Thuy On. It's all about sex, relationships, humour, heartbreak, rebirth, rejection and longing.
In this game of chance  
the dynamic chaos 
that whirlwinded us both 
whimpers and waits 
for pattern and tidy 

the idea was to be 
interwoven into narrative 
separate skeins 
gently plait bound 
singular becoming plural 

but your cameo sightings 
make us a poor play 
half-formed ghostings 
creaking on floorboards.

I found a lot of humour in this collection too - dark humour, for sure, but an ability to look at life and raise your eyebrow to it all. - like the final stanza in Perspective:

just a slice of the drama 
on reveal 
like a fingernail clipping of the moon.

I think this is a wonderful modern and deeply personal collection out of Australia and UWA Publishing, and I think there’s something for everyone here


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