Night Country (the Hazel Wood series)

How easy is it to dip into a series where you haven’t read the first book?

That’s what I had to attempt when I began reading ‘Night Country’ by Melissa Albert. Fortunately, there were prompts and explanations about the main characters and settings early in the story which didn’t seem out of place – more like recollections, which helped a lot without seeming out of place.

(Of course, I also had a look at online summaries of ‘the Hazel Wood’ to get a clearer picture of what preceded this tale.)

Thus, Alice’s adventures (no, not that one) and struggles made sense – caught between 2 worlds – Hinterland and the human world. But restless, she feels she doesn’t belong in either world, and has many unanswered questions.

It seems when Alice previously escaped the bleak world of the Hinterland (a world of dark and tragic fairytales in ‘the Hazel Wood’) she also made it possible for many others to escape as ex-Stories. Beacause of this, in the real world, there is an unease.  Murders of Hinterland escapees occur around her.  Macabre murders. With body parts removed. And one of which she is actually blamed.

This leads to Alice’s battle with Hinterland. She tries to unravel what is happening around her; things which are not allowing her to live a normal life in the real world.

It seems she can never escape Hinterland because she IS Hinterland. 

Back in Hinterland, her rescuer and past love interest, Ellery Finch, attempts to get back to her in the real world of New York.  A strange traveller guides him through many shadowy locations as the Hinterland world crumbles. It seems the traveller is interested in the many objects he had saved from the crumbling buildings of Hinterland. Some of these prove valuable to Finch.

I love that Finch communicates with Alice through letters in a book. After all, she occasionally works and refuges in a bookshop. And he is able to use a magical pen to write a love letter to her in the inside cover of ‘I Capture the Castle’ – the only book he’d taken from Hinterland. However, the intricate ways these letters are delivered to Alice are dependent on where she is.

There is a lot of fantastic and supernatural activity that happens in ‘Night Country’. Melissa Albert has not only built many different worlds but has created fantasy characters with their own stories to inhabit them. Creative supernatural inventions, connections, openings and ways to travel between the worlds are scattered throughout this story, along with poetry and grim fairy tales and endings*.

How will Alice and Finch reconnect?

Are they simply implements in a bigger story?

What happens when worlds collide?

Here’s a review of ‘the Hazel Wood’ to give you some details of the first book (which I should have seen before reading ‘Night Country’) which might compel you to read ‘the Hazel Wood’ first:

The Hazel Wood series is a dark modern-day tale with creepy fairytale creatures.

Recommended for lovers of intricate fantasy. 14+

* There is a short story collection set in the same world – eagerly anticipated by Hazel Wood fans – ‘the original stories of Althea Proserpine (Alice’s grandmother) called Tales from the Hinterland – due for publication in 2020/21.

## Some graphic violence & language throughout. 

Atticus Van Tasticus (Younger Readers)

Suspend all normal thinking. Suspend being a normal ten-year-old. Atticus wants to be a pirate!

He may not have known that, on the morning of his tenth birthday; but once he found his gift of choice at his Grandnan’s, that’s what he wanted to be.

In this rollicking tale from Andrew Daddo, Atticus does indeed become the leader of his pirate ship – once he has gathered together a motley crew. It is a story which will be enjoyed by kids and parents alike with fabulous quirky illustrations from Stephen Michael King, and hilarious asides from many curious characters. (Can you identify a certain world leader among these characters?)

Daddo plays with fun crew members –  Stinkeye, Fishface, Hogbreath, Wrong Wat Warren and more – and fun Aussie phrases like “landing like a butterfly with sore feet” and “(his breath was) worse than a fur seal on a hot day”. (Clearly, there is a lot here from his experience of growing up in a household of 4 brothers and 1 sister, living near the sea…)

‘Atticus Van Tasticus: It’s a pirate life for me’ is the first in the series (with The Map of Half Maps also published, and The Treasure of Treasures is due out soon.) All the books are more than just words on a page, so pause and read the illustrations too. And pause and think about the inventiveness of the crew of the pirate ship, Grandnan.

Older readers and parents might like to actually hear thoughts from the author in this interview from last year when Atticus was first launched. (You will need Facebook access.).

And here’s a small book trailer introduction to the first book.

A fabulous example of NOT suspending your imagination, and letting it roll about as much as you want. And another marvellous collaboration between author and illustrator, each contributing their own amazing talents to a fun series. Recommended reading for 8+ and their families!

#Who is your favourite character in this series?

## Available as ebook.

Aurora Rising

In recent years, science fiction hasn’t been a genre I’ve read a lot – though many many years ago authors like Stephen Donaldson and Douglas Adams were favourites. ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir would have been the most recent sci-fi I have read. Thus, re-entering the genre was interesting.

‘Aurora Rising’ was a great re-introduction. It begins with A-grade student, Tyler Jones, missing his opportunity to hand-select the best of the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy for his team. Distracted by a girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space, his team is thus composed of the leftovers – supposed misfits. Then, their first assigned ‘mission’ as graduates becomes complicated by Aurora’s presence.

Set in 2380, it mixes 7 different characters together in a venture to find a prohibited colony/planet with the purpose behind Auri’s rescue. The mix is both clever and fun, as each one reveals differing skills and personalities.

Tyler is the Goldenboy, the leader. His twin sister, Scarlett, is both clever and charming at the right times. Alien, Cal, provides valuable universal insights and protections for the group, while Finian’s technological talents get the group in and out of many hairy situations. With support also from ace pilot Cat, and silent but strong Zila, a careful observer, the chosen team is rounded out.

Rescued Irish/Chinese, Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley (Auri for short) becomes the focus of much of their journey when it becomes clear that she is more than a 200-year-old teenager awoken from cryogenic sleep. Her extreme psychokinetic powers are gradually revealed, as the team seek the real purpose of the journey they were first assigned out of the Academy. Just as well, as it seems there are others in the galaxy who have dire plans for them all – destruction, obliteration!

Screengrab of Tyler from: http://amiekaufman.com/extras/

As well as having sci-fi elements, ‘Aurora Rising’ has great connections between the misfit team, wisecracking interactions among them, and some intriguing love/hate interests along the way. Almost like a sci-fi rom-com!

After reading ‘Aurora Rising’, those who are fans of co-authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (also through the Illuminae Files) will be ready for the next book in the Aurora series (Aurora Burning) due for release in May 2020. There was also news on Jay Kristoff’s website that Aurora Rising going to be adapted for television. Amie Kaufman also has a website where you can download some great images of the team, along with lots of other information on writing the Aurora series.

Are you ready to see how MGM will portray each of the team? Make sure you read the book(s) first!

# Already recognised as a New York Times bestseller, Aurora Rising is nominated for the 2020 Indie YA awards shortlist.

## Available as an ebook.

Revisit: the ‘Once’ series

As the 75-year commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz approached on January 2020, it was a good time to revisit the ‘Once’ series.

Written by 2018-19 Australian Children’s Laureate, Morris Gleitzman, this series has had world-renown for many years.* The first book, ‘Once’, was written in 2005 and presents Felix, a young Jewish boy, who sets off on a quest to find his parents in war-torn Poland.

What follows are several books which introduce the (younger) reader to the trials faced by those who suffered under the Nazi regime in World War II.

In spite of its tragic setting, among the events of World War II, and Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe, ‘Once’ (and the following titles) is also a story of hope and friendships that stood the test of these times.

As Felix tries to make sense of the Nazi’s book-burning (a shock when his parents are booksellers. Why would anyone do that?) and other even more atrocious activities, the realities of his life (first in an orphanage, then further afield) reveal the conditions for many people in Poland at this time.

The life of Janusz Korczak among Jewish  orphans inspired Morris to write this series

Felix’s view of life (as a ten-year-old) at first seems naive, but it enables him to have a somewhat positive perspective, as he hopes to track down his parents. However, as his story continues, different aspects of life under the Nazi regime become apparent – things like the increasingly cruel treatment of Jews AND anyone who might offer them help. As Felix’s understanding grows, there is more to be learned, each step of the way.

Author, Morris Gleitzman explains how his family background (his grandfather was a Polish Jew) lead
him to research and, ultimately, to write the ‘Once’ series:

My grandfather was a Jew from Krakow in Poland. As a young man he left Poland, decades before the Holocaust, and ended up living in England. But many members of his family stayed in Poland and most of them were killed by the Nazis.

So researching and writing Once became a personal journey. It took me to Poland for the first time. To the streets of Kazimierz, the ancient Jewish area of Krakow, and to the Jewish cemetery where I found a memorial with my family name on it… (From Morris Gleitzman website on ‘Once’.)

There are currently 6 books in this series – the final (?) title, ‘Always’, should be released later this year. Are you ready for it? Or are you like me, in need of a re-read of this important series?

* ‘Once’ has been translated into many different languages, and won the 2011 Katholischer Kinder- und Jugendbuchpreis, (the Catholic Children’s and Young People’s Book Award in Germany) among many other awards, national and international.

** Morris’ books have been published in about twenty countries, including the UK, the USA, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Indonesia, Czechoslovakia, Russia and China.

*** The publication order for the series is: Once (2005), Then (2009), Now (2010), After (2012), Soon (2015) and Maybe (2017) – though I’m sure I heard/read Morris state they can be read out of order, each book complete within itself…

**** Available as ebooks and audiobooks.

Sensing an audiobook – Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

‘Linger’ continues the Mercy Falls trilogy, and this time I’m “reading” it as an audiobook – and this is probably one of the best series to have as an audiobook. I am currently loving the change of voices as the story continues, introducing new characters and complications, emphasised even more by different voices.

Just as in ‘Shiver’, there is a fabulous awareness of senses as the story continues. I can smell the musky odour of the wolves, feel the heat and contortions as wolves and humans ‘shift’, and sense the anxieties of everyone as they try to understand the nature of what is happening to them all.

With the introductions of new characters, and in this audio verision, new voices, new tensions and new problems arise. Passing the reins to a younger wolf, Beck has passed on great responsibility to Sam, with new wolves being created and needing some guidance. The tensions of young love also add to to the problems to be resolved in ‘Linger’.

Throughout, there is the awakening of the senses of Grace – is she the next to be shifted to wolverine form?

Maggie Stiefvater uses words perfectly and accurately to portray this tale – and the readers of the audiobook greatly enhance this… (Though not sure whether I dislike Cole because of his voice or what he says.)

To be continued…

Self published – ‘Switched’

For those who have spent lots of time and angst waiting to have their manuscript accepted, here’s a lesson from an author who couldn’t wait –  a publishing sensation, with millions of copies of her books sold around the world – Amanda Hocking.

‘Switched’ is the first of these books, which began life as an ebook, then has been picked up with a big $ deal by publishers. Very fortunate for Hocking as she began it with a trilogy in mind…

It begins with a flashback, to Wendy’s birthday party as a six year old. Wendy behaves in an extremely precocious manner, to the extent of which her mother takes a knife to her to kill her! In the ensuing years, Wendy’s mother is send to an insane asylum, while Wendy and her older brother Matt go to live with their aunt.

The story resumes with Wendy beginning yet another school, following a string of moves, triggered by her aggressive and uncooperative behaviour at previous schools. This time she becomes aware of another peculiar student, Finn, who observes her intently, and who, in moves reminiscent of Edward (of Twilight fame), enters her life to explain her real nature….

Wendy is a changeling – a troll child, swapped at birth for her mother’s true child. Her mother’s instincts had been correct, and Wendy’s own perception of not really belonging has also been accurate. Finn comes along to take her back to her own ‘tribe’, the Trylls, and after some precaution, Wendy agrees it is probably best for all concerned (including her brother and aunt).

Thus, Wendy is transported to a new and different world – where new and different rules and traditions are to be learnt. Meeting her real mother for the first time is a somewhat frosty experience, and she natrually wonders about the choice she has made. It is later revealed that she has a privileged position as princess, but with, no doubt, attached risks and responsibilities. There is also a rival tribe, Vittra, to contend with (Team Edward/ Team Jacob?), while Wendy struggles with loyalties for her old familiy and understanding a newly discovered world.

While recognising her great break into the publishing world, astride her self publishing reknown, Hocking’s books have received mixed reviews. ‘Switched’ is the first of 3 books, which were optioned for film release this February (2011). Definitely a trilogy with appeal to girls, it may also hold interest to all young adults interested in watching the phenomenon of e-book -to book- to film as it might happen in the immediate future.

What are your opinons on “Switched’ – worth all the hype? Worthy of a film release? (Not all film options make it to the screen)

Is it another Twilight clone, or is it an original world you will be looking into more? (titles to follow are ‘Torn’ and ‘Ascend’).

Do you think it could inspire your urge to write (and self-publish)?