Encounters, edited by Maxine McArthur and Donna Maree Hanson

A good anthology offers range, depth and surprises. Each new story should offer something different. Encounters is an anthology which offers all these things – and more.

Encounters is the fourth annual anthology of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild and, as with previous antholgies, focusses on a single theme – encounters. The twenty stories in the book are the cream of the 95 submissions the Guild received from around Australia in response to its call for submissions.

The use of a theme does not make this a narrowly focussed collection. Rather, it provides an opportunty to see just how diverse responses to a theme can be. As well as the anticipated alien encounter stories which the theme seems to lean towards, there are encounters with vampires, ghostly visitors and more. As well, the settings offer variety – encounters occuring in space, on far-away planets, as well as at home or at school here on Earth. What really gives the anthology variety, however, is the range of styles offered by bringing together stories by twenty different authors – from known names like Richard Harland and Cory Daniells, to those for whom this is a first publication, such as Ben Payne.

Each story is complemented by an illustration by Les Petersen or Shane Parker and provides a brief biographical note about the author.The length of the stories makes them easily read in a single sitting.

A nice blend.

Encounters: An Anthology of Australian Speculative Fiction, edited by Maxine McArthur and Donna Maree Hanson
CSFG Publishing, 2004

Tev on Home Turf, by Brendan Murray

It’s the summer holidays and Tev is determined to enjoy them. Becky seems pretty keen to make sure of that for him. She’s pretty keen on him – and she has her own car and, for a while at least, a place of her own. Tev’s got it made.

But, just when it all looks so easy, Tev gets a phone call from his Tongan girlfirend, Siale. She’s coming to visit him. Tev looks set to have two girls on his hands – or a big choice to make.

Tev on Home Turf is a sequel to the succesful Tev and is sure to be as well received. The previous title was set in Tonga, where Tev was in unfamiliar territory. This new title is set back home in Western Australia’s south, but sees Tev still on unfamiliar territory – this time emotional territory – as he navigates the highs and lows of relationships and also faces other new challenges.

Tev on Home Turf is fast paced and, while dealing with some serious issues such as cultural difference, does so without being preachy or predictable.

A good read.

Tev on Home Turf, by Brendan Murray
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2004

Wolfblade, by Jennifer Fallon

Being a Hythrian princess gives Marla Wolfblade no power. She is just a bargaining chip – a body to be traded to the highest bidder, to provide her brother, the High Prince, with an heir. At the age of sixteen her marriage has been arranged, and there’s nothing she can do about it.

But Marla has more wit than anyone suspects and, with an unlikely aide – the dwarf Elezaar – her position slowly improves. Marla is determined to restore her family’s great name and real power. A fast learner, her astuteness surprises those who surround her.

But in a society where assassins walk freely and sorcerers plot for power, can one young princess really triumph and ensure the longevity of the Wolfblade line?

Wolfblade is a superb fantasy offering. The first in a planned trilogy, it is also a prequel to author Jennifer Fallon’s previous bestselling trilogy, The Demon Child.

Fallon creates a multi-layered and very believable society where politics and religion mingle, and the roles of every group in society are clearly defined. Plots and subplots are clear, but not predictable, and the reader is left satisifed but eager for the arrival of the next instalment in the trilogy.

An outstanding fantasy read.

Wolfblade; The Hythrun Chronicles Book One, by Jennifer Fallon
Voyager, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2004

African Folk Tales, By Simon M'zungu

Some audiobooks are recording of books being read aloud. Others are performances in their own right. African Folk Tales, new from ABC Audio, is definitely a performance.

Written and told by Simon M’zungu, the four tales on the CD are retellings of traditional African folktales and are interspersed with traditional songs.

The stories on offer include The Wise Judgement of Gava the Jackal, How Kamba the Tortoise Cracked His Shell, Toga the Zebra Meets Mambo Shumba, the King Lion and Tsuro and Gudo Attend Each Other’s Parties. Each tale focusses on a different animal character and delivers a moral or lesson.

This CD would be an excellent tool for classroom use – especially for units on folktales, storytelling or cultural diversity. It also makes entertaining private listening.

African Folktales, written and told by Simon M’zungu
ABC Audio, 2004

Audiobook Review: The Farmyard Box

Children love animal stories and this new four CD offering from ABC Audio features plenty of animal tales, perfect for young listeners aged 4 to 8.

The Farmyard Box contains three separate titles. Pigs ‘a Plenty features 40 minutes of stories and rhymes about – you guessed it – pigs, including traditional tales and rhymes such as The Three Litte Pigs and This Little Pig Went to Market, as well as picture book texts by David McPhail, Martin Waddell and Pat Hutchins.

Farmyard Fun, the second title, includes seven animal tales, again mixing the traditional with more contemporary tales. Stories include Bear and Chook, by Lisa Shanahan and Nighty Night, by Margaret Wild.

The final title in the set is Pony Tales. This two CD offering features the stories by Sheryn Dee, from the junior novels of the same name. There are eight stories in all, sharing the adventures of young Jessie and her horse Magic.

All three titles include lively voice talent (readers include Anna Steen, Andrew McFarlane and Terry Bader) as well as musical breaks. The reading and story selection make the CDs easy and enjoyable to listen to.

The set would be suitable for classroom use but would be just as good for private listening. It would also be perfect for car travel.

A fun set.

The Farmyard Box, by Various Authors
ABC Audio, 2004

Drowned Wednesday, by Garth Nix

He’d been expecting something to happen all day. He couldn’t believe it was already half past four on Wednesday afternoon and there was still no sign of weird creatures or strange events. Lady Wednesday only had dominion over her namesake day in the Secondary Realms, so whatever she planned to do to him had to happen before midnight. Seven and a half hours away…

It’s been an interesting start to the week for Arthur Penhaglion. Both Monday and Tuesday have seen him travel beyond his own world into the mysterious reaches of the House, where it seems he is destined to fulfill his role as Rightful Heir to the Keys to the Kingdom. His reluctance to take on the role is of no consequence.

Now, on Wednesday, he is in hospital with a broken leg and serious asthma. He knows, however, that that won’t stop him from being summoned back to the House. Sure enough, the summons comes and Arthur find himself being carried from the hospital on a ship which sails right into his room. Soon he is meeting the terrifying Drowned Wednesday and searching for the third key.

Along the way he meets pirates, talking rats and a giant whale with a massive eating problem. He must also track down his friend Leaf who has unwittingly been brought into the House along with Arthur.

Drowned Wednesday is the third book in the Keys to the Kingdom series by award winning fantasy author Garth Nix. Like the other offerings in the series to date, this one is fast paced and full of action and colourful characters. For those who have read the first two titles, this one is perhaps a little predictable, although there are differences in setting and characters. The predictability of the plot is likely to be less strinking for younger readers than for those in their teens.

Fantasy fans as young as ten will be drawn to the series.

Drowned Wednesday, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin, 2005

The Broken Book, by Susan Johnson

From a childhood in rural Australia, to cosmopolitan London and a rustic Greek isle, Katherine Elgin is a woman desperate to make her mark.

At heart she is a poet, but her literary career begins with a job for a Sydney newspaper. Later, she achieves some publication success but, throughout her life, she struggles to release the perfect story she believes is trapped within.

As she navigates the life of an artist, she also struggles with her real life – as mother of two and wife to another writer, who claims she is his muse, yet is both jealous and scornful of her.

Paralell with Elgin’s life is that of her character, Cressida Morley, whose story she struggles to tell. Perhaps it is her inability to make sense of her own life which prevents her from making sense of her character’s.

Cressida Morley is not a new character in Australian fiction. She first appeared in the work of Charmian Clift and, later, that of her husband George Johnston. Katherine Elgin, the writer character at the centre of The Broken Book is based on Clift, though this is not meant to be a biography.

This is a book with many levels, filled with characters who in turn have similar levels. The intertwining of the lives of a writer and her character leaves the reader guessing at what is fiction and what is real in these stories which are both left unfinished.

A compelling read.

The Broken Book, by Susan Johnson
Allen & Unwin, 2004

Fleur-De-Lis, by Isolde Martyn

Fleur de Montbullio is, at nineteen, living a quiet but hard life in hiding in the forest. Sick of being without food, without warmth and without her family, she welcomes the chance for a change when a dying man proposes marriage. Soon she is in Paris, a place which holds many opportunities – and just as many dangers.

Now a widow with debts to pay and a business to run, Fleur must work hard to change her fortunes. First though, she must navigate a society which is far removed from that of her youth. Should her upbringing as the child of a noble be discovered, her life may be at risk. A beautiful woman on her own in Paris, she attracts much interest but none is as exciting – or as dangerous – as the interest shown by Raoul de Villaret, a deputy of the Revolution and a man who has crossed Fleur’s path before.

Fleur-De-Lis is a gripping tale of romance, revolution and historical detail. Set in a time which many readers may have studied in highschool history, it gives a far more authentic and personal glimpse of this period of French history than any history book ever could.

A fascinating read.

Fleur-De-Lis, by Isolde Martyn
Pan, 2004

Drip Dry, by Ilsa Evans

Being a single mother with three children is bound to make Camilla a trifle busy – but when her family has a week full of births, birthdays, engagements and weddings, things seem to be spinning out of control.

First she has to navigate a birthday party for her six year old daughter, CJ where BOTH her ex-husbands are in attendance and where the guests manage to watch a video of Camilla in the shower. Then there’s a disappearing bathroom floor and the body her son, Ben, thinks he’s discovered under the house next door – the house which, coincidentally (or not) his father has just moved into. By week’s end Camilla won’t have the energy to celebrate her fortieth birthday. That’s if anyone remembers it in the whir of her mother’s wedding.

Drip Dry is a fast-moving, funny look at a week in this slightly mad, exceedingly normal mother’s life. A sequel to Ilsa Evan’s previous book, Spin Cycle, this one easily stands alone, although it will tempt readers to go back and read the first.

Not easy to put down.

Drip Dry, by Ilsa Evans
Pan Macmillan, 2004

Tibetan Ting-Sha, by Robert Beer

The ting-sha is a simple Tibetan insturument used in Buddhist rituals. One does not have to be Buddhist, however, to feel the power of this little insturment. In Tibetan Ting-Sha noted Buddhist artist and scholar Robert Beer provides a detailed background of the history and uses of the ting-sha, including an explanation of how they are made. He then goes on to show how anyone can use the instrument to create sacred sound in music, meditation and ritual.

The small format hard cover book comes complete with a pair of ting-sha, crafted by Tibetan craftsmen, so that the reader can experience and benefit from its delightful sound. The instrument does have a very captivating and spiritual sound.

This set would be a delightful gift.

Tibetn Ting-Sha, by Robert Beer
Pan Macmillan, 2004