Monthly Archives: November 2011

Guest Author: Michael Pryor on The Extinction Gambit

It’s exciting to begin a new series. It’s like taking a first step through a secret door leading to places unknown with tantalising prospect of adventure awaiting. The release of ‘The Extinction Gambit’, the first book of ‘The Extraordinaires’, is just like that.

I also have a strange sensation that comes from leaving a series behind. In May 2011, ‘Hour of Need’ – the last book of ‘The Laws of Magic’ – was published. I’d worked on this series for more than eight years, and having it finally coming to an end was most peculiar. I’d lived with those characters for a long time, after all. I’d worked with them, I’d known their hopes, their dreams, their fears – and they’d been very patient with me as I subjected them to the bizarre, the dangerous and the embarrassing. Waving goodbye to them was sad. It was as if they were leaving home, going off and having more adventures and I wouldn’t be there to write about them.

And so, to ‘The Extinction Gambit’. Like ‘The Laws of Magic’, this new series is set in a world that is delightfully old-fashioned. It’s a world of manners and decorum, of society and class, of being dreadfully proper – and of some of the most stylish clothes you’re ever likely to see. Top hats anyone? Gorgeous lace? Silk capes and gloves?

Unlike ‘The Laws of Magic’, ‘The Extinction Gambit’ isn’t set in an alternative Edwardian world. It’s set fairly and squarely in London in 1908 – the time of the first London Olympic Games. The Olympics form the backdrop to a dizzying adventure that mostly takes place in the Demimonde, mysterious world that lies side by side with the ordinary world. The Demimonde is a world of magic, of lost legends and of sinister plots, of inhabitants who are startling, shadowy and highly unpredictable.

The main characters in ‘The Extinction Gambit’ are Kingsley Ward and Evadne Stephens. Kingsley is a young man, seventeen years old, who has decided to put his studies to one side and pursue a life in the theatre. He has always had a dream to be a stage magician. More than that, he wants to be an escapologist, one of that special breed of magician who escapes from handcuffs, from locked trunks, from straitjackets suspended over a pit of crocodiles. At his first ever professional engagement he meets Evadne Stephens, an astonishingly beautiful, outstandingly talented juggler, who also happens to be an albino and an inventor who delights in building frighteningly lethal weapons and other machines of destruction. She also makes an excellent cup of tea.

When Kingsley’s foster father is abducted, Kingsley hurries to find him. Evadne insists on coming along and soon proves her worth as they plunge into the Demimonde. They flee through drains, tunnels and along London’s long lost underground rivers. They battle ancient magic and strange devices. They encounter the last surviving Neanderthals who are fanatically determined to wipe out the human race. They are assaulted by a trio of immortal magicians who want Kingsley as part of their plan to enslave the world. They are assisted by a famous author who seems to have an agenda of his own.

None of this was what Kingsley had been imagining when he stepped onto the stage of the Alexandra Theatre, and it’s made more difficult for him as he constantly has to struggle with a side of him that is wild, uncontrollable and undeniably wolfish. This is only natural, of course, since he was raised by wolves as a young child.

In short, ‘The Extinction Gambit’ is a helter-skelter fantasy comedy adventure with sandwiches, at the appropriate time.

I’ve had a wonderful time writing ‘The Extinction Gambit’. As usual, I’ve had to undertake mountains of research, but this is almost as much fun as writing the actual story. I’ve uncovered surprising details about the underground geography of London, about the organisation of the Olympic Games and about the nature of Homo Neanderthalis. Much of this didn’t end up in the book, but nothing is ever wasted. After all, we have another two books to come in the series!

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The Extinction Gambit book trailer

One of my favourite Australian authors, Michael Pryor will be joining me on the blog tomorrow to talk about his new book, The Extinction Gambit, the first in his new series, The Extraordinaires.  I’m a huge fan of his Laws of Magic series (great mix of fantasy, history and political intrigue for kids/teens) so I’m eager to get my hands on a copy of The Extinction Gambit (due out December 1st).  To whet your appetite here is a book trailer for it that Michael himself produced.

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Six Days by Philip Webb

The recent trend in the publishing world of dystopian fiction is one that I am embracing whole-heartily.  I love the way different authors portray our future society, throwing in a corrupt ruler or organisation, a touch of romance and a mystery that their hero has to solve.  The majority of recent dystopian novels are set in America (or what was once America) so it was refreshing to read about a future Britain in Philip Webb’s Six Days.

Cass, her brother Wilbur, and their dad are Scavvs.  They work day in, day out ransacking what’s left of London, looking for a lost relic that no one has ever seen.  London is one of the only cities in the world left standing after the Quark Wars.  The Vlads have taken over control of the city and have forced those still alive to scavenge London to look for the ‘artifact.’  Cass’ brother, Wilbur, believes he knows where the artifact is and he’s determined to find it.  When Cass has to rescue her brother from what was once Big Ben, they meet a mysterious boy who looks nothing like a scav.  Not only is he not a scav, he’s also not of this world, and he knows the truth about the artifact that everyone is looking for.  This artifact has the power to begin and end life on earth and the Vlads will stop at nothing to get hold of it.

Six Days is an original, exciting mix of action, adventure, mystery and science fiction.  While I was reading it I was reminded of a quote from Shrek, ‘Ogres are like onions,’ because Six Days is also like an onion – there are so many layers to the story.  At first it seems like a dystopian story because you’ve got a future society ruled over by the invading Vlads. Then there’s the mystery of the artifact and the race to find it.  There’s also the story of where the artifact has come from and it’s link to the mysterious boy Cass meets in Big Ben.  All of these different parts come together in one incredible story that rockets along.  Cass is a fantastic narrator and will appeal equally to boys and girls (there’s no gushy romance to put guys off).  Philip Webb makes you really care for the characters and that’s what got me so engrossed in the story.  One of the reasons I like Six Days so much was because it’s not the first book in a trilogy, so Philip has packed so much into one book and you finish it satisfied that the story has come to a conclusion.  I can’t wait to see what Philip Webb writes next!

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My Top Books of 2011

It’s that time of the year when everyone is putting together their top books of the year lists.  In my library, Christchurch City Libraries, we’ve recently put together a Holiday Reading List, which gathers together the top books for children and young adults of 2011, as chosen by us librarians.  If you’d like to take a look just head to the Christchurch City Libraries website.

Reviewing books all year around makes me remember all the great books I’ve read during the year, as I can just go back through my blog to jog my memory.  So here are my Top 10 of 2011 lists:

Picture Books

  1. Don’t Worry Douglas – David Melling
  2. Marmaduke Duck and Bernadette Bear – Juliette MacIvor (NZ)
  3. Moon Cow – Kyle Mewburn (NZ)
  4. Bruiser – Gavin Bishop (NZ)
  5. Poo Bum – Stephanie
  6. Otto the Book Bear – Katie Cleminson
  7. Hester and Lester – Kyle Mewburn (NZ)
  8. Stuck – Oliver Jeffers
  9. Fancy Dress Farmyard – Nick Sharrat
  10. Press Here – Herve Tullet

Younger Readers (Top 5)

  1. Earwig and the Witch – Diana Wynne Jones
  2. Little Manfred – Michael Morpurgo
  3. T-wreck-asaurus – Kyle Mewburn (NZ)
  4. Sophie and the Shadow Woods – Linda Chapman and Lee Weatherly
  5. Do Not Push – Kyle Mewburn (NZ)

Older Readers

  1. Wonderstruck – Brian Selznick
  2. Death Bringer (Skulduggery Pleasant Book 6) – Derek Landy
  3. Northwood – Brian Falkner
  4. Not Bad for a Bad Lad – Michael Morpurgo
  5. Wolf in the Wardrobe – Susan Brocker
  6. Case of the Deadly Desperados – Caroline Lawrence
  7. Emerald Atlas – John Stephens
  8. AngelCreek– Sally Rippin
  9. Super Finn – Leonie Agnew
  10. Liesl and Po – Lauren Oliver

Young Adults

  1. Across the Universe – Beth Revis
  2. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  3. A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
  4. Mask of Destiny – Richard Newsome
  5. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Annabel Pitcher
  6. You Against Me – Jenny Downham
  7. Department 19 – Will Hill
  8. Yes – Deborah Burnside
  9. Heart of Danger – Fleur Beale (NZ)
  10.  Shelter – Harlan Coben

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Guest Post: New Zealand author Deborah Burnside

Deborah Burnside

The question was; Do you want to write a guest blog?

I said, YES…

I say yes to a lot of things because it makes life interesting and gives you things to write about.

Yes, I’d like to learn to belly dance and derby skate, yes I’d like to see the pilots flying the plane, yes I’d like to buy a ticket, yes I’ll get up extra early to take the special Colosseum tour (even though I am NOT a morning person).

You can see a theme here I hope?

That writers are spontaneous, curious and explorative people who may or may not write about all of the things they do, see or experience, but will likely always be doing interesting things that they could write about.

Although sometimes it’s the thing a writer hasn’t been able to do that turns up in their stories.

I live on a large rural block with my lovely husband, Malamute Blaze, three sons, their assorted friends, some sheep and cattle, various migratory birds, pesky rabbits and a wild, white cat with no ears.  A long time ago I said I wanted to turn our paddock into a maize maze – at the time we were leasing the land to a cropper who had planted maize and our son got lost in the maize.  While that was a terrifying experience, it made me think it would have been a whole lot easier to find him if there were paths through the maize.

“Then the cropper wouldn’t make any money, Deb.”  Said the lovely man.

“I know, but you could charge money to walk through the maize maze instead, before you harvested,” I said.

“Nobody would pay to do that.”  Said the lovely man.

“I think they would, I think we should do it here.”

The lovely man didn’t agree, “You are raising kids, singing, dancing, acting in Les Miserables, building a house and running a waste and recycling company…I think you are too busy to grow and operate a maize maze.”

Well, put like that I had to agree, because what the lovely man didn’t know was that I was also harbouring a secret desire to write books.

It was that seed of truth, that personal desire to grow a maize maze that made me give that thing to Marty in YES.

I love that YES, my new young adult book, is titled YES, because so many great things have happened in my life simply by saying YES.  It’s also an acronym for the Young Enterprise Scheme, something the characters in the book take part in and which is something I wish had been in High Schools when I was at school, as I cold started a business when I was 21.  I encourage anyone given the chance to participate in YES at their school to give it a go.

And all those other things I mentioned… well since 9/11 you can no longer visit pilots in cockpits.  The Colosseum  closed the lower levels in October this year indefinitely and they’d not been opened since the 1930s.  Learning to Belly Dance was fun, I met great people, got to perform at lots of public events and it gave me an idea for a scene in, On A Good Day.  Buying the wrong bus ticket in Turkey led me on an amazing (sometimes slightly hair-raising) adventure and personal tour of Istanbul by a local, which may yet end up in a book.  And Roller Derby has me loving bruises, blisters, grazes and speed and leaves me with the conundrum of what to call my skating alter ego.  I wanted Princess Slayer (Princess Leia – star wars) because my Mum used to put my hair in two buns when I was little, but thanks to the movie, Whip It that name is taken.

I’ll take some time thinking about my Derby name the same as I do when I name characters in stories… because I like names and words that mean more than one thing and I like my characters to be true to their names.

The newest character I am writing about is Cartograph, he takes a while to get his name, I’m not quite sure exactly what is happening in his story,  I know where it is and when it is and who is in it, but the rest is just a fabulous rollercoaster ride as I sit at the computer and say YES – today I’m writing.  How lucky am I?

Deborah Burnside

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10 Fairy Tales That Are Politically Incorrect

One of my wonderful followers, Tania, sent me a link to an interesting article that she published on her website recently.  The article highlights how fairy tales have evolved and been sanitised over time, and looks at how politically incorrect some of these fairy tales are.  It’s an interesting and humorous read so you should definitely check it out.  Here’s just a couple of examples from the article:

  • Red Riding Hood – “Sam ‘The Sham’ and the Pharaohs” admonished Red, singing that she shouldn’t “. . .go walking in these spooky old woods alone”. Good advice for a small child who was sent, unattended by a parent, to visit an aging relative who was probably in need of 24-hour in-home care. Of course, there is also the wolf, a stalker and an abuser of the elderly.
  • The Pied Piper – The Piper of the tale was obviously a cult-leader who had lured not only the rats, but also the children of the beleaguered township of Hamelin. The Pied Piper obviously had anger-management issues, which might have been addressed with classes and counseling in a modern version of the story.

Thanks for bringing it to my attention Tania!

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Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver

Imagine living in a world where the sun hasn’t shone for many months.  Because there is no sun, the colour has gone out of the world so everything is grey and gloomy, plants and trees have withered and everyone is miserable.  There is still magic in the world though and this magic has the power to change everything.

Liesl hasn’t left her house in several months.  After her father died, her cruel stepmother locked her in the tiny bedroom in the attic and she’s never allowed out.  Her only friends are the shadows and the mice, until one night a ghost appears.  His name is Po and he comes from a place called the Other Side. Will is an alchemist’s apprentice, helping his mean master gather the ingredients for his strange magical experiments.  One night Will makes a dangerous mistake when he accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing Liesl’s father’s ashes. Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws them together on an extraordinary journey.

Liesl and Po is one of the most unique and magical books I’ve read. Lauren Oliver’s writing is amazing and she transports you to this weird and wonderful world where the sun hasn’t shone for years and the colour has gone out of the world.  She writes in such a way that it makes you think she must have gone through the whole story picking out the perfect words to describe her characters and the world they live in.  Here’s her description of Will,

“He was wearing a large lumpy coat that came that came well past his knees and had, in fact, most recently belonged to someone twice his age and size.  He carried a wooden box – about the size of a loaf of bread – under one arm, and his hair was sticking up from his head at various odd angles and had in it the remains of hay and dried leaves…”

Lauren Oliver says in the authors note that she wrote Liesl and Po after the death of her best friend, so it is a bit dark in places.  She wrote it in two months and didn’t think it would be published, but I’m certainly glad it was.  If you like Kate DiCamillo’s books, like The Magician’s Elephant and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, you’ll love Liesl and Po.

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Picture Book Nook: Moon Cow by Kyle Mewburn

Kyle Mewburn deserves an award for being New Zealand’s hardest working children’s author this year.  He’s had so many books published in 2011, from picture books to junior fiction novels.  His Dinosaur Rescue series (with which he collaborates with the brilliant Donovan Bixley) is probably the best series for junior readers to come out of New Zealand in recent years.  Kyle’s latest book is a picture book about a cow that tries to make friends with the moon, called Moon Cow.

Milly the cow thinks that the moon must be lonely up there in the sky with no-one to talk to so she decides to try and make friends with it.  She stays up all night talking to the moon but “the moon didn’t say a word.”  All the other cows laugh at her, saying “Silly Milly Cow! Talking to the moon!”  Each night the moon gets brighter and closer as Milly talks, dances and juggles for the moon, but the moon stays silent. Will the moon ever talk to Milly and share its secrets with her?

Moon Cow is an absolutely stunning picture book.  It’s one of those picture books where the text and illustrations are perfectly matched.  Kyle’s story is gentle and touching, with just the right amount of humour.  As I was reading I thought that it had a similar feel to his award-winning Hill and HoleDeidre Copeland’s illustrations are what really make Moon Cow stand out for me.  The front cover really draws the reader in and makes you want to make friends with Milly.  I can just see children gushing over how cute Milly is, especially because of the way Deidre has drawn her eyes.  I love the way that Deidre’s illustrations glow on the page, especially the very last page with Milly and the moon by the lake.  The book’s designers should get some credit for the amazing job they have done on this book too.  My only negative is that a book of this quality should have been published in hardback.  Moon Cow will be a favourite with children and is sure to be a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards in 2012.


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Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

Does your granny smell like cabbage?  Does she like to play boring games like Scrabble? Do you think she’s boring?  If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions you probably don’t know her that well.  For all you know she could be a spy, a superhero or even an international jewel thief like Ben’s granny.

Every Friday night Ben gets sent to stay with his granny, while his parents go out to the movies or to watch Strictly Stars Dancing Live.  Ben thinks she’s boring and would rather be anywhere else than spending time with her.  Ben gets sick of eating his granny’s cabbage soup and decides to look in her cupboard for some real food.  He never thought he would discover the stash of priceless jewels in her biscuit tin.  When he confronts her to find out the truth, he discovers that his granny isn’t boring, she’s an international jewel thief.  Ben decides to help his granny pull off the crime of the century – break into the Tower of London and steal the crown jewels.

Gangsta Granny is a book that’s both really funny and a bit sad.  I’m sure your granny’s just a bit like Ben’s granny, even if she’s not a jewel thief.  If you ask her I’m sure some of her stories are just as interesting.  Ben’s parents seem like they don’t really care about him because they’re more interested in their dancing show than they are in him, but deep down they love him.  I love the way David Walliams writes because his stories are so different and his characters are really easy to relate too.  If you liked his other stories, like The Boy in the Dress, Mr Stink and Billionaire Boy, or you like Roald Dahl’s books, you’ll love Gangsta Granny.

(My review from the Christchurch Kids Blog)


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The never-ending dilema of the book blogger

One of the most exciting things about being a book blogger is that some very kind publishers send you review copies of their latest books.  You can pick and choose which ones you would like to review and sometimes they send you extras that you haven’t requested.  HarperCollins New Zealand are one of my favourite publishers to deal with, especially Bonnie, one of their brilliant publicists.  I never seem to run out of books to review and often have several piles that I keep thinking I have to get to.  There are times when I feel guilty because I haven’t got to X publisher’s new titles yet, so I find myself trying to read 2 of 3 books from different publishers at the same time.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all the amazing free books, but sometimes the ‘to be read’ piles can seem a bit daunting.

My biggest problem is that I still continue to buy books from local bookstores and through Amazon, Book Depository and, one of my favourite bookshops, Goldsboro Books (they have the most amazing selection of signed books, especially children’s).  While tidying my bookshelves yesterday I noticed the frightening large amount of books I’ve bought this year but still haven’t read.  Here’s just a small selection:

  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor
  • Ashfall – Mike Mullan
  • Sweetly – Jackson Pearce
  • This Dark Endeavor – Kenneth Oppel
  • Game Runner – B.R. Collins
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
  • The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean – David Almond
  • All These Things I’ve Done – Gabrielle Zevin
  • Ashes – Ilsa Black

I keep saying to myself that once December comes around I’ll have 2 months to catch up before the publishing world kick starts for the new year, but I’m not sure how this will work out for me.

Can anybody suggest what I should start on first?  What books have you bought this year but haven’t read yet?


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