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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Lesbian Teen Novels Week: Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash as a Lesbian Novel
Usually my reviews don't contain spoilers, but really discussing this book under this banner is kind of a spoiler, so I apologise for that.   I have seen this title on a few 'gay YA' type lists, so it's not a huge secret, but I suppose I feel a little odd about it as the lesbian content is so subtle, not the main point of the book, and isn't apparent from the start. I have to also say that this is part of what I love about this book. It isn't a lesbian novel in the sense of a novel about lesbianism, it just happens to feature a lesbian love story.

While I absolutely understand the need for gay kids (particularly, but also adults) to have 'coming out' stories, I also think it's really important for stories like this to exist. Stories that aren't 'about' being gay. There is no use of the word 'lesbian or any equivalent in this book. No-one talks about whether girls (or boys) should, can or ought to get together, although it does appear to be a society which sees heterosexuality as the norm (the traditional marriage pressure centred on property and family name is present). This - a novel where some characters just happen to have gay relationships, without discussion or concern about matters of sexuality - is the kind of book that is important for everyone to read. Seeing homosexual, (and bisexual) characters as part of a wider canvas is great for combatting heterosexist culture where only 'straight' is seen as normal.

Ash as a Teen Novel
Gorgeous cover, too (it's metallic IRL)
I originally bought this book for my daughter as a fairytale retelling. It does not disappoint. Combining parts of the 'Cinderella' story with Tam Lin-style legends of the fae, it weaves its plot around a mysterious and compelling wood; a rich rural folklore of faeries and herbal spellcraft; an orphaned stepchild and a selfish and superficial stepmother with ambition for her daughters. I thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in Ash's world. This is a sweeter tale than many of the dark fae stories currently on the market - the faeries are mysterious and dangerous, but are not obvious enemies here.

Overall, Ash was a great read - magical and compelling. The voice has an old-fashioned, fairytale feel to it - Lo has really captured the genre beautifully. The characters were interesting and not stock characters, whilst still fitting into the fairy tale world perfectly. I liked the (as far as I know) book-specific tradition of the royal hunt being led by a woman, and I have added Huntress to my wishlist.

Thanks to Portrait of a Woman for inspiring me to read this now.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Thrilling Thursday: looking forward to Soul Beach by Kate Harrison

Coming on September 1st, as part of the new Indigo line-up, Soul Beach sounds like a great contemporary read. It mixes murder with social media in what Wondrous Reads describes as "a thriller with many an intriguing twist ... creepy and unusual". Yesterday, the Wondrous Reads blog revealed the book's trailer, which is gorgeously tempting.

Here's the blurb:
When Alice Forster receives an email from her dead sister she assumes it must be a sick practical joke. Then an invitation arrives to the virtual world of Soul Beach, an idyllic online paradise of sun, sea and sand where Alice can finally talk to her sister again - and discover a new world of friendships, secrets and maybe even love . . . . But why is Soul Beach only inhabited by the young, the beautiful and the dead? Who really murdered Megan Forster? And could Alice be next?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Words on Wednesday: I'm going to dress up as a bitch

This is one of my favourite children's speech stories. When my now 7 yr old was 2, she uttered the above words at Halloween to inform us of her plans. Unfortunately, she found the word 'witch' too difficult to pronounce, and as was her tendency at the time, she simply inserted one of her favourite consonant sounds in place of the one she couldn't do.

Her preferred sounds were the bilabial plosives: 'b' and 'p' (feel free to use these examples, as I do, for initial language acquisition). This resulted in the similarly amusing description of Christmas as 'pisser'. Imagine our delight with the little one pointing out 'pisser trees' and 'pisser lights' everywhere we went...

What mispronunciation stories do you have?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Tuesday Tidings 2.0: it's lesbian teen novel week at Portrait of a Woman

click here for more info
I just found out via a serendipitous twitter link that the Portrait of a Woman blog is running a Lesbian Teen Novel Week this week (25th to 31st July). Time to read Malinda Lo's Ash, I think. My eldest read it last year and enjoyed it and I've been meaning to nick it off her bookshelves for a while now. It's clearly time.

Tuesday Tidings: this week's new additions to my library

I have a shiny new kindle this week, and I love it!

Things I love about it so far:
  • It really does look like a page and not like a screen, so no glare to cause eyestrain and no reflections in bright light.
  • It isn't as heavy as a biggish paperback - it's going to be great on the train when term starts again.
  • I've got lots of cool new books on it all at once. So, when reading on the train, if I finish a book I can just start another. How great is that?!
  • I made the font just a little bit bigger than the standard to help my poor tired (that's tired rather than ageing) eyes.
  • Although I know some people don't like the lack of page numbers, I rather like the percentage indicator (and can see that, given, the font size choice mentioned above, page numbers aren't really feasible).
The contents page of my kindle so far is an interesting demonstration of my reading tastes:
Hidden by Miriam Halahmy, YA
The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan, YA

Monday, 25 July 2011

Magical Monday: Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick (and a Midwinterblood sneak peek)

Title: Witch Hill
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Orion
Published: 2001
Genre: Children's gothic fantasy

Find it at Amazon UK

The Blurb says...
The fire was a family tragedy that will always haunt Jamie.

And there is something else going on in the village of Crownhill. Something terrifying to do with an evil old hag who gets into his dreams, a scared girl, the victim of a witch hunt. Jamie senses her presence all around. If only he could cross the barriers of time and save her . . .

A present-day boy, a seventeenth-century girl, an ancient crone: for a single moment their lives are fused by fire. And as the dark secrets of Crownhill and its witches are revealed, Jamie confronts his worst fears in order to free himself from the horrors of the past.

My verdict: haunting and lyrical. Highly recommended for 11+
This first person narrative of a boy who is trying to cope with disaster, interspersed with historical fragments, had me gripped from the start. It centres on Jamie, staying with relatives in the aftermath of a fire, but the story shifts to focus more and more on his creepy dream of an old hag, his new surroundings and their strange and oddly compelling folklore. Sedgwick's writing is lyrical and haunting, drawing you into the strangeness by rooting it all in visceral reality.

I will absolutely be seeking out a lot more of Sedgwick's work in the future and am looking forward to reading Midwinterblood, one of Indigo's new list, which will be out on October 6th.

I am always happy reading books which reference folklore and superstition, going beyond the obvious and weaving a range of ideas, beliefs and practices into a single narrative. That's one of the things I appreciated about Witch Hill, and since Midwinterblood ranges across over a thousand years, I am sure this will be just as satisfying.

Midwinterblood press release description:

What would you sacrifice for someone you've loved for ever?

Have you ever had the feeling that you've lived another life? Been somewhere that has felt totally familiar even when you've never been there before, or felt that you've known someone even though you are meeting them for the first time? Eric and Merle are lovers, tragically torn apart, but whose souls have been searching for each other for ten centuries, longing to be reunited ...

Witch Hill is my tenth British Books Challenge review

Friday, 22 July 2011

Family Friday: a welcome to my new nephew!

OK, so all Family Friday posts will not be this personal, but since we've visited the newest member of our family this week, I think I can be excused a bit of baby love.

Isn't he sweet? This is Adam at almost a fortnight old, being expertly cradled by my youngest, Freya.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Thrilling Thursday: Review of Shelter by Harlan Coben

What a thrilling start to this theme I've got for you! I was very excited to be invited to Indigo's launch for bloggers last week, and one of the books I picked up to review was the wonderful Shelter.

To be published by Indigo on Sept 15 2011

This is the first YA book by Harlan Coben, featuring his new 15 yr old character Mickey Bolitar, nephew of Coben’s well-known Myron Bolitar.

My verdict: a fab, gripping thriller for teens and adults alike.

Mickey Bolitar is in a new town and a new school, living with an uncle he barely knows, as his father is dead and his mother’s in rehab.  The book opens with an encounter with the local crazy lady (known as The Bat Lady) which freaks him out, and we learn that his new girlfriend, Ashley, has disappeared.  Clearly, he is driven to investigate.

The characters in the book are awesome and engaging. Mickey’s witty narration strikes a perfect balance of being cool whilst still having natural emotional reactions – Coben is not afraid to have his narrator show fear, allowing him to feel like a genuine teen in a highly unusual situation.  The friends he picks up to act as sidekicks are quirky and interesting characters in their own right, and I can’t wait to see how they develop in further books. But the plot, the action and the amazing blow-you-away ending are what you will really remember.

I’d read some of Coben’s adult Bolitar novels, although I’m not up to date (hanging head in shame), so I was looking forward to this and hoped it would be good. I did have some concerns about the way the series is going to build on his existing one: namely, that the troubleshooter uncle is rather a convenient plot device to fix any sticky moments.  O ye of little faith! This was absolutely not the case and Myron Bolitar is not a major player in the plot, nor does he ‘rescue’ Mickey or solve anything for him. If anything, he’s just the annoying 
parent-figure, and perhaps even more so as he doesn’t really have a relationship with Mickey.

Thank you to the fabulous Indigo team for providing me with the book for review.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Words on Wednesday: Blatantly

My students (and, I assume, other teens) tend not to use 'blatantly' in the same way I do. I've been telling Language classes for a few years now that there has possibly been some confusion and now merging between 'patently' and 'blatantly'.  To me, 'patently' means obviously, while 'blatantly' means in an unsubtle and obvious manner (which isn't quite the same as 'obviously'), while students use 'blatantly' as though it were synonymous with 'clearly'.  We also talk about how this is perhaps an example of bleaching (weakening the word's original meaning) or even broadening (since it used to mean a specific kind of obvious and is now used in the more general sense).

Poking around the internet and various reference books, I find that words such as 'flagrant' and 'unsubtle' are used in definitions of 'blatantly', while 'patently' is defined simply as 'obviously' or 'clearly' in most reference sources. However, some online sources (for example "Daily Writing Tips") define 'blatantly' as having a judgmental tone, making it similar to 'unashamedly', with the implication clearly that shame should be involved.

More interestingly still, Urban Dictionary - the source for youth and urban slang - simply equates 'blatant' with 'obvious', and includes the youth dialect versions of 'blate' and 'blates'. Finally, the Oxford Dictionaries site explains that 'blatantly' has been weakened in youth slang, to become a "stock intensifier".

It's not just me, then.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Tuesday Tidings: I'm back!

This is (like) me speeding through the term
So, the college year is over and I can breathe again. And, as promised, I've been thinking about my poor little ol' blog. I'll be posting more often (Mon - Fri) and will 'theme' my days. I'd read that as a blogging tip and thought it might be really restrictive, but then I remembered how much successful the A-Z in April was, and how actually having the 'limitation' of the letter each day gave me more to work with, rather than less.

I should have known that really, since it's a trick I use in teaching pretty regularly: restrictions and limitations are oddly freeing in writing. Duh. So much easier to help others learn than to do it for myself...

So Tuesday will henceforth be news day: Tuesday Tidings. And today's news is that I'm back and will recommence regular blogging. I'll be doing more book reviews, but will also be sneaking in other stuff that I'm interested in. Here's how my blogging week will go:

Magical Monday might be a review of a magical/mythical book; a folklore post, or some other magical topic.

Tuesday Tidings will feature short news pieces, comments on current affairs (I'll try to keep the education-policy-themed posts to a respectable level :) ), or just what's coming up on the blog.

Words on Wednesday will centre on language and writing. This will give me an excuse to comment on language topics, to review writing craft books, to link to some of the excellent craft blogs I follow, or just to share an interesting word-based story.

Thrilling Thursday could well include some reviews of thrillers, crime novels and the 'edgy' realistic teen stuff, along with anything else 'thrilling' that grabs me...

Family Friday will occasionally feature stuff about my family, or comments on family and parenting related stuff.  Oh, and book reviews of kids' (rather than teen) books, and maybe the odd parenting tome.

See you tomorrow for Words on Wednesday!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Where I've been

Marking. Marking. Marking. That's the reason for my poor neglected blog. But soon it will be the summer holidays and then I'll have time to do all the stuff I've been putting off all year and reorganise my wardrobe and tidy my desk and ... But first I'll sleep.

So, I do apologise for going rather quiet lately. It's always like this, at this time of year. I think I'll have loads of time, as half the students have finished college and things are a bit less fraught with the exams over. Except there's planning for next year and someone always has some bright idea that'll cause us a ton of extra admin and/or invalidate a load of planning we just did. Oh, and don't forget the reviews: how was this year? Did we really try hard enough? Couldn't we have done just a little bit more...? So, those bright and breezy end-of-term days are a complete myth and I have even less 'free' time than earlier in the year!

Anyway, since I'm giving you nothing here, you may want to go and check out the Awfully Big Blog Adventure Lit Fest, which happened this weekend. All the posts are there, and most of the competitions stay open until the 20th July. I was planning to do a review of it today, but I haven't got through half the posts yet - new stuff, every half an hour for a whole weekend is a lot of content! So far, I've managed to add a few books to my ever-growing wishlist, and I've seen some great videos of brilliant authors chatting about their books and various other stuff, and I've learnt some more useful stuff and gained some good ideas. So go check it out - it's well worth it.

Normal service will resume soon - or some new version of normality, once I can gather the time to give some serious thought to this blog.
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