Tremontaine - season one - coverARC Review:

Title: Tremontaine (The Complete Season 1) (The World of Riverside #0.5)

Authors: Ellen Kushner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant, Paul Witcover

Publisher and Year:  Serial Box, 2016

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, romance, serial fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Welcome to Tremontaine, the prequel to Ellen Kushner’s beloved Riverside series that began with Swordspoint! A Duchess whose beauty is matched only by her cunning; her husband’s dangerous affair with a handsome scholar; a foreigner in a playground of swordplay and secrets; and a mathematical genius on the brink of revolution—when long-buried lies threaten to come to light, betrayal and treachery know no bounds with stakes this high. Mind your manners and enjoy the chocolate in a dance of sparkling wit and political intrigue.

Tremontaine is an episodic serial presented by Serial Box Publishing. This collected omnibus edition gathers all 16 episodes from Season 1.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

What isn’t to love about sword wielding women, politics, hot chocolate, frocks, parties, manners and physics? The serial format of Tremontaine works very well, it’s clear that the background world and universe of Ellen Kushner’s is beloved by all the authors that are invited to play in the world for this story. I’d fallen off the appeal of epic fantasy for a while, but between this and An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows, I’m excited about this genre again!

In particular I love epic fantasy that involves complex political intrigue and lots of diplomacy, talking around things, layers, and consequences too far reaching to see clearly. I also love characters that are engaging and interesting, sometimes I love the because I identify with them, and sometimes because I’d love to fall in love with them, and other times because they seem so wonderfully wicked – there are all these kinds of characters in Tremontaine and more.

I should point out that I haven’t actually read the other novels that this one is a prequel for, but given how much I enjoyed this book I will absolutely be looking forward to Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword!  This is a short review, mainly because I loved it without reservation, the story, worldbuilding, characters, blending of authorial styles were all fantastic and delivered to me an exceptional reading experience. More fantasy like this, with diverse characters who are queer, not all white, who come from different backgrounds and storylines with ‘villains’ who are complex and interesting characters too – you can’t just think of their wickedness, instead it’s tempered with compassion for them, sympathy and understanding for how they’ve gotten into the narrative dilemma they’re in. I really can’t wait for Season 2.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #9

Title: An Accident of Stars (The Manifold Worlds #1)

Author: Foz Meadows

Publisher and Year:  Angry Robot, 2016

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, queer fiction

 

An Accident of Stars - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016.

An Accident of Stars is a very solid debut novel from Foz Meadows, it truly brings epic and portal fantasy to life. This book is equal parts the start of an epic story and a coming of age story. This is also a story that disabuses you of the notion that nothing *truly* bad can happen to your heroe(s) in a novel, because there are consequences experienced by protagonist Saffron, and other key characters throughout the novel.  There’s a depth and realism to the story because of this commitment in storytelling, and yet it doesn’t ever approach ‘grim dark’ to me, just solid storytelling.

One of the things I love most about this book is the sheer diversity of characters in this novel, they come from so many different backgrounds, they have different experiences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, skin colour, cultural backgrounds. Rather than being mashed together uncomfortably, these elements come together quite seamlessly in the central rebel compound where Saffron finds herself in the beginning of the novel. I loved that an older woman, who was far from perfect was the rebel leader. There are so many women in this book, and the male characters all came with personalities that I am interested in, with stories of theirs I wanted to explore – rarer than you  might suppose these days. This novel is a triumph to diversity – I’m sure there are improvements, nothing can be everything to everyone but I think this makes a good effort at doing so.

There is a lot going on in the story, as the readers we share in Saffron’s confusion as things unfold – twists and turns in how things affect the rebels, the potential impact on Saffron her self. There’s physical, emotional and political battles involved in this story – it’s multifaceted which gives the story depth, things happen do not happen in a vacuum or in isolation. The storytelling well thought out and executed, making this a satisfying read.

If I have one criticism it is that the book is a debut novel and the writing does reflect this, I found it clunky in places, and in others it threw me out of the reading experience. This is a minor criticism though as overall it is a well polished first novel, and everyone is allowed to grow over time. There is always a starting point – this is an excellent one. I also thought this book was nicely self-contained, you don’t *have* to read the next book if you don’t want to or don’t like series. There’s the opening and minor-cliffhanger for more story but you could absolutely ignore that without any issue. I am looking forward to the next book though because I’m interested to see where the characters go from here and how the broader story unfolds.

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I’m glad I was reading my interview with Justine Larbalestier during the day time when the sun was out because her insight into psychopaths and in particular women who are psychopaths is truly chilling!  I interviewed Justine as part of Snapshot 2016 and the interview is reposted here from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016


Justine Larbalestier author photoJustine Larbalestier is an Australian–American author of eight novels, two anthologies and one scholarly work of non-fiction, many essays, blog posts, tweets, and a handful of short stories.

Her most recent book, My Sister Rosa, is about a seventeen-year-old Australian boy whose ten-year-old sister is a psychopath. It’s set in New York City and published by Allen and Unwin in Australia/New Zealand and will be published on 15 November 2016 by Soho Teen in North America.

My previous novel, Razorhurst, takes place on a winter’s day in 1932 when Dymphna Campbell, a gangster’s moll, and Kelpie, a street urchin who can see ghosts, meet over the dead body of Dymphna’s latest lover, Jimmy Palmer. Of her other books the most popular are the novel Liar and the Zombies Versus Unicorns anthology which she edited with Holly Black.

Justine lives in Sydney, Australia where she gardens, boxes, and watches too much cricket, and also in New York City, where her game of choice is basketball. She’s a season ticket holder for the New York Liberty.

 

You were a WisCon 2016 Guest of Honour, what was it like returning to Wiscon having previously attended as a regular con-goer in comparison to attending as a guest? Also, what was your favourite part of the experience?

It was strange. Though I was once a regular con-goer there, I hadn’t been in ten years. Last time I was there YA had almost no profile. I was asked, “What is YA?” Some folks were sneery, “Why would you write about teens? Ewww.”  Which is part of why I stopped going. But ten years later that had totally changed. I felt very welcomed and there were many other YA writers and readers there.

Aside from being a co-GoH with Nalo Hopkinson and Sofia Samatar, who are both incredible, my favourite thing was doing a panel on evil women with Mikki Kendall. She’s been doing research on female serial killers and I’ve been researching psychopathic women. She’s one of the smartest, wittiest writers around, as well as being an historian. It was the most informative fun ever. I wish all my panels were with her.

Razorhurst - coverYou’ve been working through the ideas surrounding ‘evil women’ in your recent writing. What have you most enjoyed exploring about the concept of evil so far?

I’m fascinated by the idea that women are naturally good on the one hand, yet on the other, there’s all the stuff about women being diabolical temptresses on the other. I’ve long been obsessed with Femme Fatales. I watched too many Films Noir, I guess. Razorhurst was my first book that featured one, but it won’t be my last. (To be clear, I don’t think any group is naturally good or bad. Google Australia’s Katherine Knight if you want a really gruesome example of a woman killer.)

For a long time there was a belief that there weren’t women serial killers. Or, rather, that they were rare. Possibly because women aren’t seen as capable of that level of violence? Spoiler: they are. But it’s becoming apparent that many female serial killers were simply overlooked because they mostly don’t kill in a showy way. No chopping up bodies, no taunting letters to the police. The women don’t want to be caught. They tend to work as carers and poison/suffocate their victims. Not many people realise that Arsenic and Old Lace was actually based on a real life case and that that real life case was absolutely typical of how women serially kill. Women also tend to get away with their murders more often because their kills look more like natural causes.

The same thing with female psychopaths. Experts say that for every twenty male psychopaths there is only one female one. But when I tried to find where that figure came from it, turned out it pretty much comes out of thin air. Experts don’t know how many female psychopaths there are because little research has been done on them. I suspect female psychopaths are under-diagnosed.

The evil women that are part of our mythologies tends to be evil in terms of their roles as wives/girlfriends and mothers: Medea, Jezebel, Delilah etc. Even when women are being evil to other women in those stories it’s usually because they’re in competition for men. A lot of fictional depiction of female evil assumes heterosexuality and probably wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test. The obvious exception being all those evil lesbians, but they’re seen as evil because of their rejection as men, so it’s still an evil understood in terms of mainstream understandings of sexuality. I.e. the only reason you would turn your back on men as a woman would be because you’re evil.

I’ll stop now as this is turning into a long-arse essay but, as you can tell, I have loads to say on this topic. Hence my writing yet another book about a female psychopath. This time she’s seventeen, rather than ten as in My Sister Rosa, and it’s from her point of view, not from that of her old brother.

My Sister Rosa - cover

Aside from the psychological thriller you’re currently working on, do you have anything speculative in the works?

The kind of psychological thrillers I’m writing are monster novels, which I think are definitely part of speculative fiction. Psychopaths have been figured as monsters for decades now. In fact, I’d argue that most monsters in horror, science fiction, thrillers etc. are human, and when they’re not like, for example, the Godzilla movies, it’s often the evil military trying to fight them, who are the real monsters. With good reason, we fear ourselves the most. And the psychopath, the person with no empathy and no remorse, is kind of the distillation of our fears about our fellow humans.

I do not mean that psychopaths are literally monsters. Just that they’re figured that way in the genre and, let’s be honest, in much reporting of real life cases. What interests me the most about the way we see psychopaths is that they are human. So how do we deal with that? Not very well. How do we deal with the fact that a great deal of the evil inflicted on humans is inflicted by humans who aren’t psychopaths. We don’t.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

This is so hard because I know many brilliant Australian authors but if I praise some of them I’ll be leaving others out. I also worry people will think I’m recommending them because they’re my friends, which I would never do, but it’s what some assume. Besides I recommend my friends’ books on Twitter often.

So I’ll recommend two Aussie writers I’ve never met. Check out Ambelin Kwaymullina. She has a fantastic YA trilogy, The Tribe, that’s not like anything else out there. In non-fiction I loved Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling by Larissa Behrendt, which is a witty, well-researched account of the Eliza Fraser story, but this time including Indigenous versions of what happened. It’s the best kind of history because it made me rethink what I thought I knew. A must read.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Honestly, on most long plane flights there’s already an author sitting next to me. On the other side of me I think I’d prefer to have an interesting person from a completely different field. Lately, I’ve taken to questioning folks about the most common accidents in their occupation so I can figure out “accidental” ways my psychopath could bump people off. So sitting next to an expert on accidental deaths would be the best thing ever.

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The mysterious man who has his fingers in many pies, from Worldcon to the Aurealis Awards. PRK is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever had the fortune to meet and the chance to interview him is pretty amazing. This interview was conducted as part of Snapshot 2016 and is reposted from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


PRK Smaug interview photoPRK is a long time speculative fiction enthusiast who regularly escaped to Middle Earth during primary school. Since then he’s become more omnivorous in his spec-fic reading, enjoying and reviewing works in a wide variety of genres including fantasy, science fiction, horror, cyberpunk and paranormal romance. PRK is an IT Geek by day, which provides him the means to fund his spec-fic habit and devour whatever books he can get his hands on. Contributing to spec-fic in Australia, PRK runs conventions as a hobby, and is on the Board of the Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation, where he is the convenor for the Aurealis Awards. You’ll usually find him roaming the corridors at Swancon and Continuum, or online via Twitter: @prkaye or his website: http://www.prkaye.com/

 

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about running conventions in Australia over the past several years?

I think the most surprising thing I’ve learned is that the community passion and sheer volume of institutional knowledge in the community have frequently lead to a quality of convention organisation beyond that I’ve seen from many professionally run conferences. Conventions like Swancon, Continuum and Conflux are run by volunteers and it’s incredible to see the kind of events that our community produces, out of love for the genre.

You were recently one of the readers for the inaugural Sarah Douglas Award for the Aurealis Awards, what was it like to read so many books for that award and did it give you particular insight into what makes a good series?

It was both incredibly challenging based on the number of novels and incredibly rewarding to read that many series. Reading specifically for series really highlighted, for me, the difference between using the same characters and world with a different plot versus growing and evolving the characters and/or world in a way that a single novel doesn’t readily allow for. In addition, all the novels in the series have to work together to build a story that’s vaster than just the sum of the individual novels. Having read for the Sarah Douglas Award, I’m convinced that the differences between good standalone novels and novels that make up a good series result in the latter being under represented in awards, and I hope to see more series based awards in the future.

There are rumours that one of your long term plans is to bring Worldcon to Perth, Australia. What attracts you to the idea of a Perth Worldcon?

Worldcon is such a fantastic experience for both fans and professionals alike that I want to make it accessible to as many people as possible. The last Australian Worldcon was in 2010, and there’s a growing number of fans and professionals who haven’t experienced a Worldcon. Australia has thriving and varied speculative fiction communities, with Western Australia’s Swancon running over over 40 years – I’ve been told it’s the longest continuously running speculative fiction convention in the Southern Hemisphere. With over 40 years of experienced convention runners and fannish traditions, hosting in Perth would provide a fantastic opportunity for the Australian community to experience Worldcon, and also be a different and unique experience for the International community, compared to previous Melbourne based Worldcons.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I really enjoyed Season one of Cleverman. It was a fantastic use of science fiction targeted at a mainstream audience which examined and commented on the racism prevalent in Australian society and our government’s policies. While distressing in some areas, it didn’t hold back on showing the human impact that policies and attitudes can have. Despite, or perhaps because of that, it also provided a strong and powerful representation of Aboriginal people struggling with the impact of, and fighting back against, injustice.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

I hate small talk on planes, people rarely want to be there – they’re either on their way to or from somewhere, and it’s a closed environment with no ability to leave if a conversation turns out to be distressing. Besides, I’d much rather an empty seat for the extra space! So let’s say it was at a convention bar instead, where anyone was free to enter or leave as they pleased. I’d absolutely love to talk with Mary Shelley.

It would be fascinating to discuss with her the current state of speculative fiction, all the sub genres, and her thoughts on the development of it, from the context of Frankenstein. I’d also love to hear Shelly’s thoughts and experiences of the genre over such an extended lifetime (assuming that’s how this has worked, rather than a sudden resurrection), and also her predictions for the future of the genre.

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Marianne de Pierres remains one of the most versatile authors writing in the Australian scene, she’s not afraid to tackle any kind of story that takes hold of her and she’s always up for trying something new. Plus, she’s also great fun to have around! This interview is part of Snapshot 2016 and is reposted from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Marianne de Pierres Comic Con 2016 author photoMarianne de Pierres received the 2014 Curtin University Distinguished Australian Alumni Award for significant and valuable contributions to society. This award was granted in recognition of her feminist speculative fiction. She is the author of the award-winning Sentients of Orion and Peacemaker series. Her young adult Night Creatures trilogy was listed as a Recommended Read by both the Stella Prize and Victoria Premier’s Literary Award panels. Under the pseudonym Marianne Delacourt, she has also written a series of crime novels for which she has received a Davitt Award. She is a writing educator and mentor, a proponent of Transmedia, and has been involved in several successful creative partnerships.

You’re working on feminist science fiction for your PhD project, what is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your research and reading so far?

The short answer is “everything”. It’s been a wonderful and soaring learning curve for me: from Donna Haraway’s cyber-feminsim through to the post-feminist theorists. More specifically though, my topic examines how certain female speculative fiction authors imagine future feminism in their work. The most surprising discovery is the conclusion that I’m beginning to draw from an analysis of three particular texts. I’m using vN by Madeline Ashby, God’s War by Kameron Hurley, and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes as my case studies. Though set in vastly different worlds and written in diverse styles, there are some strong commonalities in their subtexts. But you’ll have to read my exegesis to find out what those are! No spoilers yet.

Sharp Shooter - coverThe recent re-release of ‘Sharp Shooter’ internationally is so exciting and I’m so looking forward to the release of the fourth novel in the series! Can you give us a hint of what we can expect from Tara’s next adventure?

Thanks Ju! I am also really thrilled that Twelfth Planet Press have picked up the Tara Sharp series for their Deadlines imprint. The books are being re-released over the course of this year with new covers, and each one has been revised, and in some instances new material has been added. Cathy Larsen is producing some splendid new artwork. Book 4 will be out around November and is titled Sharp Edge. Things are ‘hotting up’ between Tara and Nick Tozzi and she’s not sure she can handle it, so (in usual fashion) she plunges into her latest adventure to avoid having to make decisions. This means helping her ex-fiancée, Garth, with a money laundering problem and disentangling herself from the bikie gang to whom she owes a favour. Cass and she also move out of Lilac Street. Everyone’s lives are evolving.

One of your strengths as an author has been your ability to work across genres, from YA and urban fantasy to science fiction, crime and dystopia. Do you have a favourite amongst the genres you’ve written in and are there any you’d still like to try out?

Funny you should mention that! Once my PhD novel is complete, I plan to work on a biography about a man named Colonel Herman Thorn, who lived in early 19th Century New York and Paris. I’m so obsessed with this story that for the first time in my life, I feel compelled to write non-fiction, and I refuse to be daunted by the fact that it’s a new genre for me.

In terms of my previous fictions… as long as it’s speculative, I love it! No favourites there. 🙂

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Pamela Hart’s (aka Freeman) historical novels are some of the best world building I’ve read. Pamela’s a terrific writer in all genres, but I agree with her husband (author Stephen Hart) who says she’s really found her niche here.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Octavia Butler. I’d be interested in pretty much anything she had to do or say.

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Ambelin Kwaymullina writes the kind of books you fall in love with, at least *I* did and so it was a particular privilege to interview her. This interview is part of Snapshot 2016 and has been reposted from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Ambelin Kwaymullina author photoAmbelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and law academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is the author of the dystopian series The Tribe for young adults, and has also written and illustrated a number of award-winning picture books. Find out more about Ambelin at her website: www.ambelin-kwaymullina.com.au.

In one of your interviews for #LoveOzLit, you refer to a need to trust the story and to not get in its way. I also notice that much of your work features the element of transformation and I wondered if that was deliberate or if it relates to your trusting the story you’re working on?

In my culture, everything lives, including stories. That means to tell a story is a profound responsibility, and part of that responsibility is allowing the story to honour its own truths. Stories, like all life, are capable of unexpected transformations. Another part of that responsibility is to understand that not all stories are yours to tell – we all occupy a particular position in this world and that position informs our understanding but also places limits upon it, especially when it comes to the stories of cultures and identities not our own.

Are there any speculative projects (writing, art, appearances) that you’re working on presently that you can share any details with us?

I’m working on a new novel (YA, spec fic). It’s not part of The Tribe series – but like The Tribe series, it’s a work of Indigenous Futurisms, which is a form of storytelling where Indigenous creators use the spec fic genre to challenge colonialism and imagine Indigenous futures.

The Tribe Series - covers

In recent years you’ve written for The Wheeler Centre about Indigenous storytellers, power and privilege, about Aboriginal storytelling and young people, and about the need for diverse stories in Australia. Have you noticed any changes in the number or nature of Indigenous storytellers and stories being produced and distributed to wider audiences since then?

Nope.

Indigenous publishers (like Magabala Books) continue to do amazing work, and some small presses (like Fremantle Press and University of Queensland Press) also publish a significant list of Indigenous voices. But there’s been no fundamental shift in the literary industry more generally, either in relation to Indigenous authors or other diverse voices. Here’s the thing: as I’ve said before, a lack of diversity in literature is not a ‘diversity problem’. It’s a privilege problem, in that it is being caused by structures, behaviours and attitudes that consistently privilege one set of voices over another. That means that change is required at an individual and systemic level to address privilege before diverse voices will ever have a real chance of being heard. And this change needs to encompass the entire industry, not just publishers (as recent conversations in the US over the role of reviewers reminds us).

Part of this change involves being informed. I blogged recently about some things editors should know when editing books with Indigenous content, but much of what I said applies to the literary industry more generally.

What Australian work have you loved recently?
Cleverman!

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
My friend from across the sea, fellow speculative fiction writer Zetta Elliott. We have only ever met in cyber-space and it would be so nice to connect in person.

Invisible Library - coverARC Review:

Title: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1)

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Publisher and Year:  ROC, 2016 (US edition)

Genre: urban fantasy, fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

The first installment of an adventure featuring stolen books, secret agents and forbidden societies – think Doctor Who with librarian spies!

Irene must be at the top of her game or she’ll be off the case – permanently…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book – it’s what you call a ‘rollicking good read’! The story and characters were just fantastic and hooked me from the beginning. I also love the idea of an inter dimensional Library with all the knowledge and spy librarians! Such an awesome concept and I’m delighted by the surge in books about libraries and librarians and how awesome they are lately!

In regard to this particular book and its story, I enjoyed the alternate London universe quite a lot, with magic being a likely threat and having to navigate unfamiliar politics – and without the resources one could usually expect. I’m very keen to see how the story continues and also whether we will get to peek into other dimensions and worlds that the Library is interested in!

My only thought is that the romance in this book was a bit clunky and I wanted to believe in it a little more from both sides. I’m hoping that element improves in subsequent books as the characters and story develops further. I think this is in part to Irene’s perceived immaturity – even though she has a quite extended lifespan, much of it has been spent in the Library confines and less being out in the world – or at least, that’s the only conclusion I can come to? I want a bit more growth from her overall. Kai plays the part of mysterious super-attractive side kick character really well – it’s not often the super-attractive character is the sidekick actually so that bit I particularly like.

I enjoyed The Invisible Library a lot and can’t wait to read more about the story and these characters! It was the right book at the right time – adventure and fantasy and just light and fluffy enough but also with enough depth to really have me enjoy the reading experience. Sometimes I think it’s as much the right book for the right mood/occasion as it is excellent writing/story/characters. The latter things are important, but if you’re not in the mood for a super crunchy thinky read then you’re not, and similarly if you want that and try to read something super fluffy, you’ll be disappointed. This book is not super crunchy, complex and deep – nor would I want it to be. It’s entertaining and full of adventure and All The Cool Things – because if you got to work for a magical library wouldn’t enjoying all the cool stuff be partly the point?

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Glenda Larke is the kind of author that readers like myself adore, there are books and plenty of them in nice reassuring series with epic overarching storylines. There’s sweeping world vistas with magnificent histories and characters you’ve plenty of time to fall in love with. I’m so pleased that I had the chance to interview Glenda for Snapshot 2016. This interview is reposted from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Glenda Larke author photoGlenda was born in Western Australia, on a farm where bathwater was pumped up from the Canning River and the dunny was across the back lawn, in an age when the radio was so large it stood on the floor and the family car had running boards you could hitch a ride on. She now lives on the coast just south of Perth — in the years between, she has taught English to engineering students in Tunisia and adults in Vienna, and worked on avifaunal conservation everywhere from the heart of Borneo to islands in the South China Sea. She has also published four trilogies and a standalone fantasy and has won multiple Australia awards. Her most recently published book, The Fall of the Dagger, brings The Forsaken Lands trilogy to a close. 

 

Congratulations on your winning the inaugural Sara Douglass Series Award for your Watergivers trilogy! You are well known for the series you have written now, and as this award focuses specifically on series, what do you think makes a great series that is different from simply writing a great novel?

Thank you!

Winning was a tremendous thrill, unbelievable when I think of the calibre of much of the competition, and I take my hat off to the judges who had such an enormous volume of books to read. I wish could have been at the ceremony, but I was actually walking my newborn granddaughter up and down in New York at the time…

A trilogy, or even a long series like G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice, is actually just one very long book. That’s the basic difference: length. The Watergivers exceeded half a million words.

The length enables a writer to invent a world with a vast history and a panoramic landscape, colour it with magic and villainy, and then people it with a cast of characters of every hue, religious belief and social status. If it is well-written, it is wonderfully immersive for a reader in a way a shorter book cannot be. From a writer’s point of view, it’s maddeningly complex — like trying to weave cloth of a thousand hues without the aid of a loom.

A series can also be a number of short books with the same characters and a storyline that comes to a conclusion with the end of each book. Possibly that’s a tad easier, although I doubt it. Either way, those award judges had a tough task!

Watergivers Trilogy - covers

You were recently a guest for Supanova, what was your favourite part of the experience and did it give you insight into what Australian fans are reading and looking for?

Frankly, I love everything about Supanova. It’s such a circus of creative genius, a mix of writers, artists, film makers, actors and geeks and fans, a glorious hotch-potch of fantasy madness! The best part is simply sitting behind the writers’ desk, watching the costumed fantasy enthusiasts walk past and chatting to anyone who stops, whether they have ever heard of me or not. And if I have to describe Australian fans, it would be to say that they are a really varied lot and defy categorisation.

Now that you’ve concluded your ‘Forsaken Lands’ trilogy, are you able to give us a hint of any other project that we can look forward to?

 I’m working on a new book, at a snail’s pace, I fear. (I don’t have a contract at the moment.) It’s tentatively called Redweaver Dawning, and it uses (and subverts!) the trope of the changeling, the stolen baby who ends up being the heir to the throne. That’s always seemed a very unlikely scenario to me, and I am having great fun with it.
What Australian work have you loved recently?

I’ve been reading some urban fantasy for a change: Keri Arthur’s Chasing the Shadows (lots of mayhem in San Francisco) and Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen and The Dark Days Club (urban fantasy a la Jane Austen). Also Ben Peek’s fantasy epic The Godless, which is a worldbuilding tour de force.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

J.K. Rowling because that would mean I’d be travelling in first class comfort? 

(Oh, I must say, I don’t like the idea of sitting next to anyone, author or otherwise, who’s dead.)

Ok, seriously: Ursula le Guin. Because. I mean, who wouldn’t want to share a journey with a SF author of such legendary status and strong moral positions?

I’ve been reading some urban fantasy for a change: Keri Arthur’s Chasing the Shadows (lots of mayhem in San Francisco) and Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen and The Dark Days Club (urban fantasy a la Jane Austen). Also Ben Peek’s fantasy epic The Godless, which is a worldbuilding tour de force.

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Another day, another awesome interview for Snapshot 2016. This time I’m interviewing the lovely K.A. Bedford whose writing is as insightful as he is. This interview is reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Adrian Bedford author photoK.A. Bedford is a sometime writer living in Ballajura, Western Australia, with his lovely and long-suffering wife Michelle, and their dog Freckle. He’s the author of several sf novels, including Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, Eclipse, and, his most recent release, Black Light (2015). Time Machines and Eclipse won Best Novel at the Aurealis Awards in their years, and Time Machines was shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award in its year.

 

Your novel ‘Black Light’ has been very well received and very different from your previous novels, what inspired you towrite a historical supernatural novel this time?

Thank you! I did not set out to write a historical supernatural novel “this time”. I wrote the original draft of a book that featured the original version of the Ruth Black character, the brainy but wronged wife of a mysteriously disappeared “diplomat”, in the late 80s. Then I had another go with the character, still trying to get a clear fix on her, in a book in 1996 (it was one of the two books I originally sent to the publisher in Canada (the other being my space opera/detective novel Orbital Burn; and they rejected Mrs Black but quite liked the story about the sad talking beagle)).

But in 2001, after my third book, Hydrogen Steel, was written, I found myself coming back to Mrs Black, this time with a much sharper idea of who she was and what she was about. She was a writer of science fiction novels, her husband was killed in a great war, she was independently wealthy, and burning with the suspicion that something about her late husband’s death was not as she had been informed. I wrote a complete draft, but I knew it had problems — problems I didn’t, at the time, know how to fix, so I put it aside on a floppy disk–which was then lost.

A few years ago, at a time when I was thinking about giving up on writing, I came across this ancient, dusty stack of floppies, and was going to toss them. But I wanted to just see what was on them first. I bought a USB floppy drive (my current PC doesn’t read them), and started going through them–and discovered the original Black Light draft, complete. I read it, and it was quite okay. The problems were fixable, so I fixed them. I changed the setting to Western Australia, a slightly alternate version where magic of a sort can coexist with science. Where elves who’ve found themselves here because of all the British and Irish immigrants brought them here with their cultural baggage and mythology, struggle in the savage heat and with the wrong sorts of trees, and become monstrous and angry.

Then a weird thing happened. I thought I had a decent book on my hands, but wasn’t sure. I asked very nicely if my friend Georgia Richter at Fremantle Press would mind just having a read, to see if it read okay. I knew Georgia from when Fremantle produced their edition of Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait. She said yes, and I sent it, grateful for her help.

Next thing she rings me one morning to tell me she wants to buy the book, she loves the book, and when can I come down to Fremantle to talk to them about it?

So you could say it’s been in the works a long, long, looooong time!

Black Light - cover (courtesy of Fremantle Press)

If you were to go to another country on an expenses paid trip to research a novel, where would you most like to go and why?

Antarctica. I’ve always wanted to go. It would most likely be very bad for emotionally, with the light and the isolation, but the place itself, the extremity of it, fascinates me the way Mars fascinates me, as if it were another planet helpfully stuck on the bottom of our own. I’ve been fascinated about Antarctica my whole life, and it is number one on my list of places to visit. I know it’s possible to do artist-in-residency gigs down there, but I have no idea what I’d actually write about. I loved Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica novel (though a bit didactic in the end), and other books about Antarctic explorers, notably Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South.

I’ve been following your candid discussion on dealing with health and mental health issues recently, your honesty has allowed insight into something not discussed so openly often. What prompted you to share your experiences so openly and have you found it to be beneficial?

Beneficial, yes, absolutely, because in writing about it, even on Facebook in front of friends, is like journalling, it allows me to think my way through what’s happening (and not happening), and how it feels. It’s a window into a situation many people would never previously have seen or experienced. It helps me process stuff.

Why do it, though, in the first place? Because it’s something happening to me. It’s my life. There’s no reason to keep it secret. In 2012 I shattered my left elbow when I fell on a concrete floor. I reported on the entire experience from the first day all the way through to the end of rehab, when I finally got full movement in my arm back. There was no shame in having a broken arm that needed fixing, and I strongly believe there is none in what’s happening to me now, as I make my way through depression and mental illness in a psychiatric hospital. It’s no different. I’m working on regaining full function in my mind, and my life. I’ve been plagued with depression all my life, since I was a kid. For most of that time I was acutely aware of the notorious stigma that surrounds mental illness. My reporting of my struggles now is my way of striking back against that stigma. No matter how personal, how private, how intense, it gets. Because there’s nothing shameful about it.

There is one weird and disturbing thing about my current situation: my mental health has been declining since late last year, culminating in what is now my second hospital stay this year. But I’ve barely written a word, and worse, have had no desire to write a word, for some time now. The writing part of my mind has, apparently, gone. As if removed. As if writing is a thing I used to do. There’s just a silence where previously there was always “radio chatter” from that part of my mind, with characters and stories and plans and ideas. Now there’s nothing. My doctors have an idea it might all be due to very low testosterone. We’ll find out.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Lee Battersby’s Magrit novel for younger readers was wonderful. I loved it very much for its mysterious sadness, for its plucky protagonist, its bony antagonist, and for the way, on every page, you could feel the author’s deep love for his own children.

Which author (living or dead) would you mostlike to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Gosh, I really wouldn’t. I’d be worried about too many things, about disturbing them, or bothering them, interrupting their concentration if they were trying to work, or sleep if they were trying to rest. I wouldn’t want anybody bothering me in the reverse situation, so I wouldn’t do the same to anyone else.

 

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My interview with Stephanie Lai, and as you can see I get to interview some of the most awesome Stephanie types in Australia! I conducted this interview as part of Snapshot 2016, reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Stephanie Lai author photoStephanie Lai is a Chinese-Australian writer and occasional translator. She has published long meandering thinkpieces in Peril Magazine, the Toast, the Lifted Brow and Overland. Recently, her short fiction has appeared in the Review of Australian Fiction, Cranky Ladies of History, and In Your Face. Despite loathing time travel, her defence of Perpugilliam Brown can be found in Companion Piece (2015). She is an amateur infrastructure nerd and has a professional interest in climate change adaptation and sustainability. You can find her on twitter @yiduiqie, at stephanielai.net, or talking about pop culture and drop bears at no-award.net

Congratulations on your Artist Residency in Singapore! What excites you most about getting to spend three months concentrating on your creative work?

Thank you! Only EVERYTHING. I’ve never had the chance to really sit and just focus on my practice before, undistracted by calling my mum or cleaning up after the cat or visiting my friends who coincidentally have days off work. So the idea that I’ll be able to just sit and work is intimidating but so exciting, too. I’m also very excited about exploring something that is so personally important to me (the impact of traditional culture and cultural identity on how people interact with climate change information/instructions, particularly in Asian communities), and that has an impact on both my professional day job and my writing. Although I’m going to be working on community research for a research memoir, I expect the understandings and learnings and all the fun stuff will have an impact on my science fiction, too – so it’ll just mean even more climate change fiction about Chinese-Australian ladies. 😀

The residency is facilitated by Asialink Arts and located at Grey Projects in Singapore, and my grant is through the Malcolm Robertson Foundation.

Cranky Ladies of History - coverYour story about lady pirate extraordinaire Cheng Shih in Cranky Ladies of History was fantastic, and barely scraped the surface of how awesome she was historically. Is there a chance that you would consider writing more of her story in future?

Yes. I desperately want to look at how Cheng Shih’s domain and reign would have changed in a silkpunk world; or a world where she truly was the (Water) Dragon of the South Seas.  My piece in Cranky Ladies was very much set in our world as we understand it, and I’d like to explore that in a science fiction or fantasy setting.

If you had the opportunity to edit an anthology of your choice what kind of project would you want to put out into the world?

South East Asian climate change SFF written by South East Asians. Our islands will be impacted, and in many ways are already being impacted (our first climate change refugees are coming from the Pacific, from Tuvulu and Kiribati), and I’m interested in how people envision that. And in creating more spaces for South East Asian SFF.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Since last year’s Snapshot I’ve really loved Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure) and The Family Law by Ben Law, which wasn’t published recently but was a delight. I’ve also appreciated, rather than loved, a book by my housemate’s dad (Putting Stories to Work, Shawn Callahan, self-pub), which is about great using stories in business and not-profit contexts to change hearts and minds, and has really helped my professional storytelling practice (Storytelling is such an important part of climate change communication, and one which is often overlooked).

I am really looking forward to reading The Island Will Sink by Briohny Doyle, which just came out last week through The Lifted Brow.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

I don’t talk to strangers on long flights! But I guess in the spirit of this question, my answer is either Pu Songling, Ted Chiang, or Maxine Beneba Clarke.

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My interview with Stephanie Gunn is the second of the interviews I conducted for Snapshot 2016, reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Stephanie Gunn author photoStephanie Gunn is a speculative fiction writer and reviewer. Once upon a time she was a scientist, but life had other ideas, and now she spends her days surrounded in words in one way or another. She has had work nominated for the Aurealis, Ditmar and Tin Duck Awards, and is currently at work on several contemporary fantasy novels. She lives in Perth with her husband and son, and requisite cat, who cares not for books except as surfaces to sit on. You can find her online at stephaniegunn.com.

 

How would you describe your Defying Doomsday story ‘To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath’ for people who may not know what to expect from an anthology about a dystopian future featuring disabled and chronically ill protagonists?

To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath is a story about sisters who survive a devastating flu pandemic. The sisters consist of a set of twins, both of whom have cystic fibrosis—one of whom has had a lung transplant—and their older sister. The three of them initially survived the pandemic by going into isolation on a remote farm with their uncle and mother; both adults died after the pandemic, leaving the sisters to survive alone.Defying Doomsday - cover

The idea for the story came from a long fascination with pandemics (I blame early reading of Stephen King’s The Stand, but I also have a background in microbiology and genetics, and had thought of going into epidemiology) and the idea of who would be likely to survive in a global pandemic. The idea is that the strong survive, of course, and those who happen to be immune, but what if that strength and/or immunity came with a chronic illness? And for that chronic illness to be something like cystic fibrosis, which requires an enormous amount of medical support, was an idea I couldn’t shake.

People with chronic illnesses and disabilities are taught to be survivors in this world, usually by necessity, and not always given the support and respect due to them. I wanted very much to show these sisters supporting each other, and in the end, to give them hope. To let them defy everything.

We’re about half way through our reading/blogging project ‘Journey Through the Twelve Planets’, what have you discovered about the Twelve Planets collection that you didn’t know when we started?

The main thing I’ve discovered is the sheer quality of the collections in the Twelve Planets. I read most of the first half of the Planets when they were released, and I knew that they were all good, but reading them back to back has really shown just how impressive they all are. We’re seven books in now, and there hasn’t been a single story or novella that’s been sub-par. It’s really put into perspective how damn good the female writers showcased are, and given me a whole new level of respect for Twelfth Planet Press and Alisa Krasnostein (and frankly, I already had an enormous amount of respect for both).

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.

In your 2015 wrap up blog post you talk about writing goals and achievements in 2015, how is 2016 shaping up in relation to the goals and plans still on your list?

This has been a bit of a frustrating year for me. I’ve been focusing a lot on developing my skill as a novel writer, and learning as much as I can about story structure and outlining. I’ve always been a hardcore pantser, and I’ve wanted very much to streamline my methodology to—in theory—make novel writing a faster process for me. I’ve definitely moved very much to being an outliner now, but novel writing is still frustratingly slow. It takes me a fair amount of time to craft a short story as well, and for both I need many, many drafts, so I’m at the point where I probably just need to accept that mine is a slow process.

I had a lot of plans coming into this year. I wanted to outline and finish a first draft of a new novel, which has been extremely slow in coming. I do have about two thirds of a draft by now, but it’s been extremely frustrating, especially since I wanted to have this done in the first half of the year so I can redraft another novel, which is edging close to being submittable.

I’ve also had one short story published so far (To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath, in Defying Doomsday), which I am incredibly proud of (and still, quite frankly, somewhat stunned to be published in that anthology!), and I have another novella forthcoming in Aurum from Ticonderoga Press. So it’s not a total loss, even though I feel like I’ve only accomplished a tiny fraction of what I wanted to.

 What Australian work have you loved recently?

All of the Twelve Planets collections read to date have been amazing, and I encourage anyone who hasn’t read them to pick up copies of them all. I was also floored by how amazing Lisa L. Hannett’s debut novel Lament for the Afterlife, as well as Louise Katz’s The Orchid Nursery. I’m biased, since I have a story in it, but Defying Doomsday, edited by Holly Kench and Tsana Dolichva, was amazing, and I want to make particular note of “Tea Party” by Lauren E. Mitchell. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, was also incredible, and I’m looking forward to the sequel later this year.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

This is a tough one, mostly because I’m a massive introvert who would most likely be sitting with headphones in for the whole time! If I have to pick someone, it would probably be Kameron Hurley, just because of her sheer talent, grit honesty about the writing life. I think that would be a very worthwhile trip.

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This is the first of the interviews I conducted for Snapshot 2016 with the always lovely Sean Williams, reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Sean Williams - Photo by James BraundSean Williams is an award-winning, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of over forty novels and one hundred stories, including some set in the Star Wars and Doctor Who universes, and some written with Garth Nix. He lives up the road from the Australia’s finest chocolate factory with his family and a pet plastic fish.

Although your Twinmaker series concluded with the release of ‘Fall/Hollowgirl’ last year, it looks like this universe still has a hold on you. Is there more to come from within the Twinmaker universe?

The Twinmaker universe, and the idea of the matter transmitter, definitely still has a tight grip on me. Apart from the fantasy landscape of The Stone Mage and the Sea, which I’ve returned to more than a dozen times, this is the world I’ve most visited, with four novels and over forty short stories so far, plus a PhD thesis to prove that I’m taking it all very seriously.:) I have a couple of stories yet to come, and there are still ideas kicking around. One is to write a non-fiction book on the rise and fall and rise of the teleporter. If I could drop everything in order to do that, I would. Then I’d be done with it. Maybe.

Because, honestly, this has been obsession for more years than I care to count. The first “serious” story I ever wrote, i.e. thinking that I might actually have a shot at being a writer, was a matter transmitter story. That was in 1989. Going back even further to 1978, I wrote a mammoth epic, or so it seemed when I was eleven years old, and it too featured a matter transmitter. If anyone’s looking for recurring tropes in my work, this would be the one that stands out. I would justify this obsession by saying that it’s the ultimate science fiction trope, the one that allows an author to explore every imaginable idea, except for travel back in time (and hell, Michael Crichton used it to do even that). But really it’s because I think it’s cool … and the ideas it generates just keep on coming.

Fall - Twinmaker - cover

You’re well known for writing science fiction and dystopia, and I’m a particular fan of your fantasy work. Do you think you’ll continue to work across genres?

Most likely. I’ve always liked moving across genres and styles. It keeps me from getting stale–or so I tell myself. Maybe it’s really just to keep me from getting bored. One thing that’s stopped me from writing much horror lately is the feeling that, if I’ve played with a trope once, it’s time to move on. Of course, given the answer to the question above, some tropes comprehensively break that rule. I’ve also come back to some styles or worlds many times over, but only when I feel like I have something more to say about or with them.

Forthcoming projects include my first ever published 1st-person novel, my first mainstream novel, and my first medieval fantasy (co-written with Garth Nix). At the same time, I have a space opera novel kicking around, and I’m actively researching another book set in the world of the Books of the Change. Plus the non-fiction book on matter transmitters. So there’s lots of old and new stuff to keep me interested for a while yet.

In your blog you mention two YA novels that you’re writing. What is it that draws you to YA?

The first of the two YA novels is In My Mind, a first-person novel set in the present day that uses speculative elements to explore social anxiety and chronic pain; that’s sold in the US, and I’m editing it at the moment. The second is Impossible Music, a mainstream novel about deafness and music. It earned an Australia Council Grant (for which I’m incredibly grateful, times being tough) and is still in the research phase. Both are very personal novels, dealing with things that are very close to me, or things I have suffered myself (particularly In My Mind, which was difficult to write as a result). They’re topics I find easier to write about in YA because they speak to the age I was when I discovered/endured them in real life. More or less. These aren’t memoirs, but they do come from very intimate spaces that I don’t normally foreground in my fiction.

In general, I find a freshness, a vividness, a rawness, and an immediacy to YA fiction that is very appealing to me. As genre writer, and reader, I am drawn to stories that pull few punches in terms of plotting and characterisation. Themes, subtext and style are equally important, but I don’t want them foregrounded to the point where they seem to become the point, if that makes sense. Finding the right balance between the many facets of storytelling is one of the most challenging things about being a writer–and a reader as well. There’s nothing more rewarding than finally getting it right.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Justine Larbalestier’s My Sister Rosa, Jaclyn Moriarty’s The Colours of Madeleine series, Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, Deb Biancotti’s Waking in Winter, Anna Smaill’sThe Chimes, Zeroes by the fabulous Westerfeld/Lanagan/Biancotti trio. I’m also going on a bit of an Elizabeth Knox binge lately; her Dreamhunter duet really hit the spot. (I’m conflating a couple of New Zealanders with the Australians here, but I figure it’s okay to be inclusive. Hopefully!)

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

I wish I’d met Robert Anton Wilson when he was alive, so I guess that’s my answer. It would be fair to say that his Schroedinger’s Cat books literally changed my life (more than Illuminatus! although he’s more famous for them). I was a teenager thinking thoughts that didn’t really fit into the box I was living in, and here was the guy writing about exactly those things, but with a sense of humour and wonder sorely lacking in the other pundits I’d stumbled across. He had a joyous knack of telling stories that underpinned everything he wrote. If I had the opportunity to hear some of those stories in person, I would take it in a flash.

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I’m reposting this from the Australian SF Snapshot Project because this year I’m participating as one of the interviewers and over the coming two weeks I’ll be posting several interviews I’ve conducted with Australian creators.  Yay for #Snapshot2016!


The Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot has taken place five times in the past 11 years. In 2005, Ben Peek spent a frantic week interviewing 43 people in the Australian spec fic scene, and since then, it’s grown every time, now taking a team of interviewers working together to accomplish.

From August 1 to August 14 2016, this year’s team of interviewers have their turn. Rivqa Berger, Greg Chapman, Tsana Dolichva, Marisol Dunham, Nick Evans, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Stephanie Gunn, Ju Landéesse, David McDonald, Belle McQuattie, Matthew Morrison, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Matthew Summers and Tehani Wessely scoured the country (and a bit beyond) to bring you this year’s Snapshot.

You can follow all the action here at the Snapshot site, via Twitter @AustSFSnapshot or on Facebook, and follow our interviewing team to keep up with all the happenings!

You can find the past five Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2014.

 

Sharp Shooter - coverI reviewed Marianne Delacourt’s Sharp Shooter last year and fell in love with the Tara Sharp series. In honour of the series being re-released through the Deadlines imprint by Twelfth Planet Press, here’s my original review for Sharp Shooter, complete with a shiny new cover!

This re-release means Tara Sharp is global for the first time ever. It also goes without saying that I can’t wait to get my hands on the brand new book four that’s due out later this year!

WINNER of the Davitt Award 2010 Best Crime Novel and nominated for Ned Kelly Award 2010 Best First Crime Novel

Book 2 – SHARP TURN, coming 2016!
Book 3 – TOO SHARP, coming 2016!
Book 4 – SHARP EDGE, coming late 2016!

Blurb from Goodreads:

When she tries to turn her inconvenient secret into a paying gig, her first job lands her in the middle of a tug of war between the biggest, baddest crime lord in town and the hottest business man Tara has ever met.

With only a narcoleptic ex-roadie, her pet galah and a vanilla slice for back up, Tara is ready to take on trouble with a capital ‘T’.

Sharp Shooter is a hilarious, action-packed novel and Tara Sharp is Triple F: Funny. Fast. Feisty.

 

My Review:

It took me way too long to get to this book, because I’m not a crime reader. But, what I mean is that I’m not a *serious* crime reader, I don’t want the heavy stuff (without the magic), but light and fluffy? I’m all over that. I loved how recognisable Perth was in this book to me, and the characters with their friendship were delightful. I loved the way Tara’s story starts out and she’s kind of fumbling her way through things but managing to make them work in the end. I devoured this and immediately went to the next book.

 

Book of Phoenix - coverReview:

Title: The Book of Phoenix (Who Fears Death #0.1)

Author: Nnedi Okorafor 

Publisher and Year: Daw, 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, fantasy, magical realism, dystopia

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A fiery spirit dances from the pages of the Great Book. She brings the aroma of scorched sand and ozone. She has a story to tell….

The Book of Phoenix is a unique work of magical futurism. A prequel to the highly acclaimed, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death, it features the rise of another of Nnedi Okorafor’s powerful, memorable, superhuman women.

Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.

But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.

 

My Review:

Sometimes you get to read a book like The Book of Phoenix and simply go: Wow. What an incredible story. I couldn’t put this down once I started, it was such a compelling read. I loved Phoenix’s character and her self discovery as the story unfolds.  I love the way that this is a story of a dystopia, and yet is not without hope – it’s not so grim that I can’t bear to read. I wish more authors remembered the importance of emotional pay off with something like dystopias – you have to want something out of it, and for me that’s always some kind of emotional salve for the pain and awfulness experienced. The Book of Phoenix is a book about humanity and heroes, of saving and destroying the world

Another aspect of this book that I loved was its anger. There is such a profound rage that is a fundamental and crucial part of this story and its telling. This anger was part of what made the book so compelling but it wasn’t rage without focus, instead it was rage that both confronts and invites you to also be angry. And I was, and I revelled in it – not something I usually say about the experience of anger. The way anger works in The Book of Phoenix is masterful.

I also loved the other romantic threads that weave through the story. I loved Phoenix’s connection with Saeed and their romance together, it felt very real to me even though they are engineered beyond ordinary human constraints. I also loved that even after Phoenix though Saeed lost to her, she did not give up on love, but instead found it unexpectedly in a new place, in a new life she had created… even if that was a short lived joy it was also one that felt very real. That Saeed is returned to her is at no point twee, it makes sense and is believable – all of their interactions and conversations together are. I felt for them and breathed with them. Lastly, I loved the romance with the narrator in the beginning of the story with his wife as nomads and how his going off to wander was a part of how their love for one another endured. There was such a rich tapestry that explored love in this book – friendship, mother love, Earth love, and more.

I cannot say enough good things about this story, it’s one of the best things I’ve read this year, I highly recommend this – and I look forward to the other stories in this universe.

 

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #8

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Showtime (Twelve Planets #5)

Author: Narelle M. Harris

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2012

Genre: speculative fiction, urban fantasy, fantasy, horror

 

 

 

 

Showtime - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Family drama can be found anywhere: in kitchens, in cafes. Derelict hotels, showground rides. Even dungeons far below ruined Hungarian castles. (Okay, especially in Hungarian dungeons.)

Old family fights can go on forever, especially if you’re undead. If an opportunity came to save someone else’s family, the way you couldn’t save your own, would you take it?

Your family might include ghosts, or zombies, or vampires. Maybe they just have allergies. Nobody’s perfect.

Family history can weigh on the present like a stone. But the thing about families is, you can’t escape them. Not ever. And mostly, you don’t want to.

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


And here is the  moment you’ve all been waiting for, I found a horror story that was truly chilling but that I really enjoyed reading and loved the hell out of! Maybe I can do this reading horror thing afterall! Showtime is the fifth collection in the Twelve Planets project orchestrated by Twelfth Planet Press and it is another fine addition to the series. I really enjoyed this book and the stories. I must also report that much to my amusement when I was reading the introduction, it reminded me of Seanan McGuire’s voice/tone well before I knew she did actually write the introduction. I was reminded quite strongly of interviews I’ve listened to recently, her voice was incredibly strong in my mind. I laughed out loud when I realised that it really was McGuire speaking.

Stalemate

This story has the honour of being the horror story that could, and did chill me in my reading of it, and yet utterly thrill me too. On the surface I could really empathise with both mother and daughter and the confrontation they were having, the difficulty in both needing each other, dealing with each other’s foibles and the frustration involved. And then there’s a twist and it’s not a simple confrontation at all. I can’t say much more without spoiling things, but I only saw part of the twist coming but it came back for seconds and was brilliant. The writing of this story was very tight and both the character of Helen and her mother Olivia came alive in my mind as I read.

What is particularly interesting for me on a personal level about this story is that I was truly chilled by it, but not scared – and didn’t struggle with reading it at all. This is quite unexpected for me as I’m quite susceptible to horror and as part of this project I’m quite gingerly picking my pathway through what horror I can actually read, without suffering, and more importantly: enjoy reading. This story absolutely meets those measures.

Thrall

This story is such a great play on so much of vampire fiction in all directions, it was amusing on quite a dark level and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Erzsebet was brilliant and delightfully cunning in the way she came to deal with the vampire she and her family were bound to. I laughed several times listening to a frustrated vampire recount the difficulty in engaging and dealing with the modern world – being mistaken for a ‘Granny groper’ while trying to poach a victim for her blood, all captured on smartphone. I think that this is one of my favourite was This was a great shift in tone from the previous story and was an excellent ‘unicorn chaser’.

The Truth About Brains

So, I have a thing about zombies. I hate them. I hate them with every fibre of my being. And yet, every so often, something comes along and I like it *despite* the zombies in it counting against it. This is one such story. Kids, siblings and antics including unexpected accidents and zombification, otherwise known as, messing with magic when you should know better. And yet, at the end of the day parents are there to pick up the pieces, and fix things – albeit in unexpected ways. I was so surprised to laugh at this story, it was so charming. Again, subverting what is both funny, horrific, and involves genuinely touching family themes.

Showtime

I’m in the middle of reading Harris’ novel The Opposite of Life at the moment which I am enjoying a lot and this story revisits those characters in a lovely vignette that emphasises the friendship between Gary and Lissa, who for various reasons around nostalgia, decide to go to the Melbourne Royal Show. Instead of the woodchipping demonstration, they find the haunted house and old enemies causing trouble. Lissa being Lissa steps in and Gary backs her up against the monsters. I could absolutely imagine these two doing this pretty much anywhere they turn up together, planning a quiet afternoon doing something and hanging out, saving someone’s life instead. I particularly liked the conversation between Lissa and the little girl she saved about bravery and acknowledging the child’s truth directly to her. It’s a tiny thing but I one I appreciated a lot.

I really enjoyed this collection a lot, as a whole I think – I can’t actually pick a favourite story from it, they are all excellent! I love the central theme of family that runs throughout the book. Although none of the stories are connected directly, they all resonate with that same thematic element of family exploring the joys and tribulations of dealing with family, all with a supernatural twist. As an exploration of family themes, I’m hard pressed to think of a book that does a better job of considering some of the difficult concepts shared here, mother and daughter love that is as fraught as the love is deep, that frustration and love that comes from being a sibling and finding your younger brother annoying as hell – and yet, you don’t really want him dead. Being the matriarch of a line and being done with old curses, wanting freedom and hope for your family into the future, and supporting a child’s bravery and truth, appreciating chosen family in friendship. Congratulations to Harris and Twelfth Planet Press on such a well rounded read that demonstrates Harris’ talent so well.

Gifted Thief - coverARC Review:

Title: Gifted Thief (Highland Magic #1) 

Author: Helen Harper

Publisher and Year: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016

Genre: urban fantasy, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Orphan. Runaway. Thief.

Since the moment I was ripped from my mother’s womb, I’ve been an outcast amongst my own kind. The Sidhe might possess magical Gifts, unbelievable wealth and unfathomable power but I don’t want a thing to do with them. I ran away from their lands in the Highlands of Scotland when I was eleven years old and I’ve never looked back. I don’t need a Clan. I’ve got my own family of highly skilled thieves who mean more to me than any Sidhe ever could.

Unfortunately for me, the playboy heir to the Moncrieffe Clan has something I desperately need. To get it back, I’m going to have to plunge myself back into that world, no matter what the consequences may be. I suppose it’s just as well I have sense of humour. I think I’m going to need it.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I really liked the premise of this story, I found Integrity to be an engaging protagonist overall. I am quite interested to follow through reading the series to find out what happens – the mystery of the series has me successfully hooked. The writing is quite clunky and I agree with other reviews that mention that it throws you into things without the benefit of some worldbuilding/background that would contextualise things a little better. I want a clearer view of the landscape the protagonist is in.

I love thief stories as much as I love stories about the fae and the sidhe, so this book absolutely pressed my buttons! I think it delivered what it promised generally, but definitely did not exceed expectations. Of particular note, I loved the group of friends – their camaraderie was believable and went a long way to me warming to the story overall. I liked Integrity’s confidence but at other times she irked me – I’m not sure if this is her character or the writing. Her sense of humour I appreciated but thought the execution was clumsy.

Actually, that really sums up my whole  review: the premise and story were great and hooked me, the execution was clumsy and I’m hoping that these improve for subsequent books. I love urban fantasy, particularly when there’s a unique take on it, and this book certainly provides that, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I was hoping. I didn’t fall in love with it. I did like it, and liked it enough to keep reading.

Central Station - coverARC Review:

Title: Central Station

Author: Lavie Tidhar

Publisher and Year: Tachyon Publications, 2016

Genre: science fiction, mosaic novel

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper.

When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return.

Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change.

At Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive…and even evolve.

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This book is a series of stories, they connect to give you a bigger sense of the place, Central Station. The stories connect, but the connections are not obvious, the whole novel is an exercise in subtlety. I liked it and appreciated it, but I didn’t fall in love with it. I loved the array of characters, cultures, real and imagined from the robotniks with their robotic religion, to the description of a futuristic Tel Aviv that was so vivid, I could almost see it.

I am a person who really thrives plot to link and align the concepts being explored – I want to see those not just through the characters eyes, but in the way that fits in with a bigger narrative. That said, the mosaic format was executed beautifully and the characters each fully realised and bursting from the page. These characters evoke emotion, from the weight of ancestral memory being passed along each generation becoming something of a curse, to the way it feels to be unable to connect to the central data stream in a society that is embedded in shared data. What if you’re a vampire who feeds on that data, bleeding it dry from others? There’s such complexity offered in this book, I don’t think my words can do it justice.

Reading this book is an experience, and trying to review it is difficult, it defies words on the page – you need to be in the pages of the book, immersed and experiencing it. Telling someone about it later doesn’t seem to convey what is truly excellent about the book. And it is excellent. I enjoyed it a lot… but I wasn’t immersed in it, I didn’t fall in love with it. I’m still not sure why, because I love the Central Station that the author imagines, but that was my favourite part more than anything else.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #7

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti (Twelve Planets #4

Author: Deborah Biancotti

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: speculative fiction, mystery, crime, urban fantasy

 

 

Bad Power - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Hate superheroes?
Yeah. They probably hate you, too.

‘There are two kinds of people with lawyers on tap, Mr Grey. The powerful and the corrupt.’
‘Thank you.’
‘For implying you’re powerful?’
‘For imagining those are two different groups.’

From Crawford Award nominee Deborah Biancotti comes this sinister short story suite, a pocketbook police procedural, set in a world where the victories are only relative, and the defeats are absolute. Bad Power celebrates the worst kind of powers both supernatural and otherwise, in the interlinked tales of five people — and how far they’ll go.

If you like Haven and Heroes, you’ll love Bad Power.

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


I can positively say that the anthologies that utilise a shared universe in which to tell stories in a collection is one of my favourite ways to read short stories (whether novelettes, short stories, flash pieces, or novellas). Biancotti has delivered a very tight collection that weaves together beautifully. I almost didn’t like this collection much until I realised that I’d have lapped up every moment if it was in television form – and it’s like something clicked for me and I was in love.

I feel like in some ways these stories explore the idea of super-powers and the assumption that these encourage the emergence of heroes who do good in the world. Biancotti explores a more realistic and somewhat darker exploration of the idea of powers  – we’re all individuals after all, and not all of us are Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman. It’s not even like we’re all villains either – Biancotti deftly melts away the archetypes that go with the presentation of stories involving super powers and explores instead the ordinary ways of corruption, of getting by and are more about capitalism than making a difference to others. This is truly a unique exploration of super powers and a thorough dressing down of the idea of the super hero.

I would like to read more stories featuring Detective Palmer, who threads each of the stories, although I think they tie together in ways that are much more satisfying than her appearance alone. Her character interests me and her adventures in law enforcement, the weird cases she catches appeals to me a lot. She leaps of the page in a way that I love best from characters I read.

I think in this case I can’t look at the stories individually because it was only when I thought of them together in context that these stories came together as they were supposed to for me. I think this is partly that I’m less familiar with crime reading overall, especially gritty crime that tends toward the dark – this much more closely matches my television watching habits so that’s partly the lens through which I’m considering my review.

I didn’t find myself feeling sympathetic towards Grey or Webb as characters, the personality of Webb’s mother was quite chilling. I’m really sad that the old woman ended up dead – I was really taken with her character, and yet her death had weight and meaning for me as a reader – I missed her. It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that Crossing the Bridge was my favourite story of the collection – it brought a fulmination to Palmer’s character in connection with a character we’re newly introduced to, but who represents  the idea of optimism and that just because several people with powers are evil, jerks or simply opportunistic and amoral if otherwise benign, not everyone is and occasionally you get someone who really does want to make a difference, and has the power to do.

This is my first introduction to Biancotti’s work actually, and I really enjoyed the read. However, it is unlike anything else I’ve read before and sometimes that lack of familiarity meant I found it harder to slide into the story and immerse myself. I’m not much of a crime reader – particularly where it’s darker and a bit more gritty. However, the speculative element to this story really rounded it out for me as an experience I could really enjoy and trust in the individual narratives and their connection to one another to show me a good time.

Bad Power is another fantastic addition to the Twelve Planets series by Twelfth Planet Press and truly shows the versatility of the Press in the work it produces while maintaining a consistently high quality calibre of stories published. I have a not so secret hope that Biancotti may return to this universe, and in particular the character of Detective Palmer as I’d enjoy being able to continue reading about her adventures. That to me is really a sign of how much I enjoyed this collection – the world and its characters living beyond the reading of the last page.

 

All the Birds in the Sky - coverSword and Laser Bookclub: March

Title: All the Birds in the Sky

Author: Charlie Jane Anders

Publisher: Tor Books, 2016

Genre: Young adult, dystopia, urban fantasy, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

 

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book, I enjoyed the easy-reading start that matched up with the age and experience of the children involved and how gradually as they became older and more complex, so did the writing and the story. I’m also a fan of near future stuff that is hopeful as well as cautionary and I thought Anders balanced this well. Plus, it was great to read a story that looked at the intersection of magic and science as necessary for fixing global catastrophe and also at the ideas of balance, giving too much, taking too much, and giving up too soon.

I felt like all the key elements of the story were also reflected in the relationship between Patricia and Laurence, up to and including their imperfect friendship, and that imperfection and their ability to fail one another made them seem particularly real as protagonists to me. Also, I really appreciated the resolution of the book where AI Peregrine (one of my favourite parts of the book) was joined with the tree – how two all encompassing entities were still after connection in the end. I love that kind of message.

I adored the quirky descriptions of San Francisco, I was reminded why it’s a place I’d love to visit someday! Plus, across the book there were so many characters and it was nice to just enjoy that not all of them were white, or middle class, and straight. It was pretty subtle, as it should be – especially where queerness or poverty or whiteness aren’t critical to the story. Most reviews for this book struggle to put it into words, and I have to agree with that – it’s enjoyable and whimsical, playful and serious with genuine depth. But there were still some loose story ends that I wasn’t really satisfied with, plus there seemed to be too little information about Patricia and Laurances respective specialised schooling once they parted ways – given the way the story went I’d have thought there would be some time spent on that. Overall, this was a satisfying stand alone read, it’s wonderfully speculative without being overladen or heavy handed and would suit those who enjoy stand alone novels, modern fantasy with no medieval anything in sight, and those who aren’t necessarily particular fans of speculative fiction.

Every Heart a Doorway - coverARC Review:

Title: Every Heart a Doorway

Author: Seanan McGuire

Publisher and Year: Tor, 2016

Genre: fantasy, young adult, new adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

How have I not read any of Seanan McGure’s work before?! Especially given my love of urban fantasy?! In any case, this was my first foray into McGuire’s work and I could not put the book down. Every Heart a Doorway is simply magnificent and is an instant favourite for 2016, without question.

Every Heart a Doorway has one of the most interesting fantasy premises I’ve come across in a long time and it’s beautifully executed. The world building for the story is sublime and I want to read so many more stories set in this universe! Not only were the setting and world building engaging, the characters leapt off the page and brought the story to life for me. I could imagine their voices, the way they looked, everything so clearly.

My heart went out to Nancy and I was particularly taken by her experience having tumbled into a world that wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, as some of the worlds in the books were described, but one that is more silent, deeper and a bit darker. I am absolutely a fan of sunshine, unicorns and rainbows without question, but my experience of that is enhanced when there is shadow and darkness to the lightheartedness. I also love how well McGuire demonstrates that sunshine and rainbows do not inherently equal benevolence or fairness, and that the darker or creepier worlds are not necessarily malevolent or evil.

What especially struck me about this novella, and I think it’s an aspect that makes this particularly good reading for young/new adults is the way in which Nancy experiences isolation and difficulty with her family after she returns from her world. Nancy’s experience parallels the experience of many who are struggling personally with something that their families don’t or can’t understand. Across the experiences of other characters in the novel like Kade, Jack, Jill and Sumi, the concept of family and the relationship with family as being complex, fraught and difficult on several levels is explored including having family, not having family, being loved and wanted, or unwanted and misunderstood by family.

Additionally, the novella includes a spectrum of characters with different experiences, not all of them are white, one is asexual and another is transgender, and this too mirrors the experience of people reading who want to see themselves in fiction, and see how other characters think about their lives, feelings and experiences and process them. I sincerely wish I had a book like this for when I was growing up, I needed this book growing up and I needed it now to look back on my past and growing up and the impact of being misunderstood and out of place on me. That profound sense of not belonging so much that you lose yourself in fantasy trying to cope – for the characters in the story that’s more literal than metaphorical but it really hit home for me. Wanting to belong and trying to find that place, finding it and losing it, trying to find a new sense of home and belonging afterwards. This story is profound on several levels.

I also love the overt feminism of the story in considering why there are so many more girls than boys who go through secret doors into hidden worlds. The idea of boys being too loud to be easily missed, and the expectations and assumptions about how boys play and what will happen to them versus the way in which we seek to protect girls, but also how we impose upon them a silence and stillness that means that it is easier for them to be misplaced, should they find a door and go wandering. This is a pointed commentary and it draws on the generalisations bound up in traditional gender roles reflecting not only a bitter truth contained within, but also the constraint that is imposed upon people to be, to not be, to conform a certain way.

I have no criticisms to level at this novella, as one reviewer put it: it’s damn near perfect. It packs an emotional punch, it’s beautifully written, the length is accessible – it’s neither too long nor too short and it leaves you wanting more. I am my own doorway, I am the only one who gets to choose my story and I make the decisions that govern my narrative. Every Heart a Doorway will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

 

Steal the Sky ARC Review:

Title: Steal the Sky

Author: Megan O’Keefe

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot Books, 2016

Genre: fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Detan Honding, a wanted conman of noble birth and ignoble tongue, has found himself in the oasis city of Aransa. He and his trusted companion Tibs may have pulled off one too many cons against the city’s elite and need to make a quick escape. They set their sights on their biggest heist yet—the gorgeous airship of the exiled commodore Thratia.

But in the middle of his scheme, a face changer known as a doppel starts murdering key members of Aransa’s government. The sudden paranoia makes Detan’s plans of stealing Thratia’s ship that much harder. And with this sudden power vacuum, Thratia can solidify her power and wreak havoc against the Empire. But the doppel isn’t working for Thratia and has her own intentions. Did Detan accidentally walk into a revolution and a crusade? He has to be careful—there’s a reason most people think he’s dead. And if his dangerous secret gets revealed, he has a lot more to worry about than a stolen airship.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is a great novel filled with the grand adventures of an anti-hero with unlikely allies, amidst a fantasy-steampunk setting. The worldbuilding in this novel is fantastic, I really got a sense of the city of Aransa and its surrounds. Another reviewer commented that in some ways, this book reminded them of ‘Firefly’ – the doomed-but-fabled television series, and I have to say I can see the resemblance. It’s not exactly a space western but it is a fantasy-steampunk-western and so it has that similar feel about it.

At first it was Ripka whom I liked best – although I was thrown for a bit with the doppelganger impersonation of her for a bit. I liked Tibs immediately and was glad that we got a nice chunk of his story in this book and not just a focus on Detan. It took me a little bit for Detan, the main protagonist to grow on me, but he’s such an interesting contradiction of personality and the way he interacts with the story makes it twisty and fascinating. About the only character who had little impact on me was Thratia – as a villain she was a little two-dimensional and the other characters’ fear of her didn’t quite translate to me as the reader – maybe this will become more apparent with time, but I feel like her history is what made her scary, not her present activities in Aransa. Those who came after Detan from the Empire were more villainous than Thratia, who by comparison was just coldly political with an amoral streak.

I got a sense that in this first book we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of those who are talented with sellium gas, and the ends to which those in power would seek to use and so it would seem, abuse, them. They were the real villains of the story and there’s some nice seeds of an epic story being told in this book. In this particular story, the focus is on Detan’s interactions with Pelkaia, the doppel. Pelkaia is highly skilled with her talents in using sellium, with a background in its use before it was commandeered as a protected resource for the Empire – all those talented with sellium are required to work in that industry, no choice involved and no way out (save death or injury). Pelkaia rebels against his, having worked the system herself and also lost her son to what she thought was an accident. The loss of her son compels Pelkaia to revenge, which is what has her cross paths with Detan, impersonate Ripka and seek to steal from Thratia.

This story had great layers to it – from the heist of the airship, Detan’s history, Pelkaia’s revenge for the death of her son, and how these all ultimately link together, there’s a lot to enjoy! Also, lots to dig into and it’s got great scope as a series – I’m really looking forward to the next book! If you enjoyed ‘Firefly’, like steampunk in your fantasy, or like adventure stories, heist stories, or stories about loyalty then this is well worth your time.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #6

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Thief of Lives (Twelve Planets #3)

Author: Lucy Sussex

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, collection, anthology

 

Thief of Lies - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Why are certain subjects so difficult to talk about?
What is justice?
Why do writers think that other people’s lives are fair game?
And what do we really know about the first chemist?

A story about history, women, science (and also the demonic); a crime story, based upon a true crime; a realist satire of the supposedly sex-savvy; and a story exploring lies, and the space between the real and the unreal. Welcome to the worlds of Lucy Sussex, and to her many varied modes.

 

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


Another really solid addition to the Twelve Planets collection by Twelfth Planet Press. This book wasn’t my favourite, but Sussex has been on my ‘to read’ list in my head for quite a while so I’m pleased to finally read some of her work. Overall I enjoyed this collection, but I didn’t fall into it the way I did with both Nightsiders and Love and Romanpunk. I do think this is a great introduction to Sussex’s work and her talent across different genres and styles of writing.

Alchemy

The first story in the collection is Alchemy, and it’s my favourite of the collection. I love Tapputi’s character, her quiet strength and being utterly grounded in her world. I love the observation of her throughout her life by Azuzel and how drawn he his to her and the potential he sees in her in a history-making sense. This is a story that I think demonstrates boundaries really well – in a kind of abstract but also literal sense. Azuzel makes an offer, after observing Tapput, she refuses and he respects her decision. He returns to observe her, still drawn to her ‘once in a generation’ mind and offers again – years later, and respects her again and possibly more when she still refuses. I definitely got the sense of Azuzel as an immortal entity wafting throughout time and history acting, interacting, observing but lacking earthly substance without that alchemical connection. Stories like this one are amongst those I particularly enjoy – the connection (romantic or not) between an otherworldly character and a worldly character (using broad definitions), it just presses a big emotional satisfaction button for me.

Fountain of Justice

Fountain of Justice was an interesting story, and it didn’t really work for me but I did like Meg’s character. The story didn’t quite fulfil the premise for me, although I was engaged by the ideas behind the story – all of them separately were interesting, but I don’t feel like they came together as a whole in the end.  I did love the idea of the fountain being the agent of justice, and also that sometimes needs must and the official rules and version of things may be different from certain truths.

The Subject of O

The Subject of O is a story where I loved the premise and enjoyed the story but it didn’t get under my skin and it didn’t stay with me. On the surface, lots about this story is my jam – female sexuality, invisibility and uncovering the ordinary in society. But while I loved the way Petra considered female sexuality and orgasms, and the truth around communicating them (or not) with the person you’re having sex with, it was a bit meh for me. Maybe it’s simply that this is a subject in which I’ve thought and thought and over-thought, or that I’m not sure. It also occurs to me that the story is intended to be satirical and that tends to be hit and miss for me.

Thief of Lives

Thief of Lives is an ‘Inception-like’ story, it’s the story in which the title of the collection is taken from, and features a book of the same name within. That part tickles me quite a lot. Actually, I really loved the dark and urban style fantasy involved here and I think my real complaint with this story is that it was merely a taste and I wanted a novel with these characters, with this universe. It was really engaging although at times hard to follow, but overall really satisfying.

 


*A note for those tracking numbers, the 5th book I read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge was ‘Innocence Lost’ by Patty Jansen, but since I didn’t enjoy it I’ve only reviewed it on Goodreads.

 

How does one write about women and equal rights in 2016? It’s traditional to start these posts off with a celebratory phrase, but also a cautionary one.

It feels like we’re still saying the same things over time and again. How do you stand up again on March 8 and say “Happy International Women’s Day, we have so much to celebrate, and so much work yet to be done”, again?

My eternal optimism at least, grows tired. Rallying cries and motivational statements abound but at least for me this year, they’re equal parts inspiring and heartening as they are tired, and somewhat depressing. What do I even mean by this?

Well, I’m never going to fail to be astounded and inspired by the boundless enthusiasm of those who bring new energy to this fight, to this journey for equality. I’m also never going to lose my abiding respect and admiration for those who keep speaking out, speaking up about equality for years – seemingly tireless.

But. And it’s a big one. It’s still the same stuff and it seems like overall so little has shifted. The conversation about women, about equality is still one where many of us are jumping up and down to emphasise the importance of intersectionality. We’re adamant about the importance of less white women speaking for a supposedly global homogenous population of women – we’re not homogenous, and equality looks like many different things across global groups. But how are we making it possible for women from across different cultural groups and ethnicities to speak and be heard? Also, what about making the voices of women who have disabilities – visible and invisible, heard? Or simply, what about making it possible, without a huge cost of energy, for those people with disabilities to attend events without going three rounds with organisers about the realities of accessibility?

Globally we’re still divided on the importance of trans* and non-gender-binary people’s experience of oppression – and I’m not the only one who is just so tired of explaining why this is relevant to women, to equality and yes, to International Women’s Day. For all the visibility of something like IWD, there remains so much invisibility for various women, and people whose experiences are reflective or related to the kind of equality sought by, represented by International Women’s Day.

The theme for IWD 2016 is ‘Pledge for Parity’. It’s a worthy theme, more nuanced than some I’ve seen. And it encompasses so much – parity in terms of equal pay, equal representation in leadership, business, politics, policy, health, technology, and science. Also, parity in the experience of safety in homes and society at large, equality in recognition for talent and achievement, in publishing and critique, in creation of art, music and performance. Parity also relates to choice, and ditching the trap of ‘having it all’ instead for the idea that you can choose for yourself, and what you choose should be respected. Parity means being able to choose the work you do, the contributions you make to society, your choice to parent, your choice of partnership and around family experiences, around community and culture. And recognising also… choice does not occur in a vacuum. Until we address the surrounding culture – at every level, globally – choices will continue to be informed by the same limitations to equality we currently experience.

My underlying point to these statements is of course that, women no matter their background or ability, trans* and non-gender-binary people, do actually have a right to expect their societies to reflect their lives and also to be liveable for them. This is fundamentally about changing societies, not accommodations reluctantly made by existing monolithic societies. And therein lies my fatigue around the conversation about feminism, intersectionality and equality; because this is the conversation we’re not really having. Right now we can only point directly to where minority groups lack equality, preferably in hard statistics because who can trust personal stories and experiences – who can trust one hundred (thousand) of them?

Even then, caveats are necessary to recognise that of course not everything is bad, not everyone from various groups is contributing to the harm (and isn’t that statement the crux of missing the whole point?). The moment we point to an aspect of society that needs to shift and change, the need for others to comment and derail the conversation to become about everything the conversation was not about occurs every time. I’m not the only one fatigued by that first or second comment to any discussion I initiate or participate in that requires the acknowledgement that often really does boil down to ‘#notallmen’.

Going back to the idea various individuals have that they’re not personally contributing to the harm, the most frustrating thing about this is simply that: they are. We all are in our way – that’s what it means to live in an unequal society. I am frustrated because I can never get past the defensiveness and the need for ego stroking here. It often seems impossible to get to the next point which is: we all contribute to the harm an unequal society imposes on others, but we also all have the ability to become aware of this and to contribute to changes that will result in a society that becomes more equal. And no, there is no immediate ‘do it once and you’re done’ fix. It’s incremental, it’s ongoing and glacial. It’s what we mean when we say that feminism and the fight for equality is like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.

The challenge remains that: we’re still trying to work out how to do this. It’s like trying to ‘see air’ without changing the context under which you’re ‘seeing’ it. That’s the conversation that it seems like we’re still not *quite* having. Although my optimism is leaking through here when I say that, a conversation of that kind on a global level seems closer than ever before. But not close enough.

So here’s my toast to *all* women, all trans*, all non-gender-binary people, all those with disabilities visible and invisible, for their hard work, dedication, belief in the seemingly impossible, their trust in me and in others, their hope, their hard and thankless work to create change. Here’s my toast to the discoverers, the ground-breakers, the thinkers, creatives, performers, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, surveyors, engineers, astronomers, dreamers, artists, health professionals, carers, cleaners, parents, lovers, writers, politicians, cooks, the daring, the innocent, the cynical, the brave, the injured, the fearful, those who are struggling. Here’s to immigrants and refugees, asylum seekers and those who grab with both hands any chance for survival, to create a safer life for themselves and their families. Although we are still so far from equality, your bravery, compassion, and optimism humbles me and together I assert that a future of equality is possible, because we cannot be dissuaded and our number swells day by day.

2016 presents itself in an unusual way, in that there are actually several movies being released this year that I want to see. It seems like forever since that’s happened! Anyway, I thought I’d share an (incomplete) list of movies I’m looking forward to this year (assuming they’re all actually going to release this year). Pretty much geeky and speculative content entirely. Also, all Hollywood releases – this is a list that can be described as ‘low hanging fruit’ being comprised of what I’ve actually heard of. Please feel free to link me to indie and world cinema things that would be worth following up – I don’t have a rec avenue for these generally so suggestions are welcome. So with caveats and qualifiers aside, a bunch of trailers:

Deadpool

I have to be one of the few people in my circle who hasn’t seen this yet, but I really can’t wait! I’m so looking forward to this – I have been since I saw the concept thing that Reynolds did several years back championing this movie’s cause. I don’t know why I’m so into this movie, but I blame a bunch of it on being a fan of Reynolds.

Zootopia

This film looks awesome, and I’m cautiously hopeful that it will be as good as all the critcs seem to think it is so far, given it has 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s from 131 reviews at the time of writing this – not bad at all in my opinion.

Through the Looking Glass

I really enjoyed the first movie, I adored it. I love the sound that is suggested musically by this trailer – the trailer really did just grab me and I want to be in the cinema watching this. I am quite sad to watch it knowing that it was one of Rickman’s last roles before his death, but will enjoy his magnificent voice all the more because of this I suspect.

Ghostbusters

I’m just so excited about this in a way I never was about the originals (Bill Murrary notwithstanding). Whatever Kate McKinnon is doing in this? She fucking nailed it – I want to watch this on the strength of her alone, I’m all ‘shut up and take my money!’ about this.

Finding Dory

Maybe the only thing I need to say about this  movie is the fact that Dory was my favourite character from Finding Nemo. A whole movie ab out Dory? I’m there.

Suicide Squad

Not sure why I’m drawn to this, but I am. I am hoping that it’s not another Sucker Punch. That’s probably too much to hope for, but I do really enjoy Will Smith in pretty much anything he’s in.

Hail, Caesar!

I know there’s a new trailer for this, but I like this one better. This looks like the kind of Coen brothers film that I might actually like – the charming ones! Like The Hudsucker Proxy. The trailer charms me and I just really want to like it. A friend had a theory about Coen brothers’ films, that they take in turns as the lead for a project and that informs the tone of the movie. Whichever brother it is that does the occasional charming films: those are the ones I like. This one looks like one of those.

Captain America: Civil War

I’ve been enjoying the Marvel movies more and more actually – not because they’re actually especially good exactly. But I love series. I love the unfolding of story and how it’s kind of all linked together and part of the same universe. Aside from that, I blame Fangirl Happy Hour for how excited I am about this film pretty  much entirely,  I’m sure they will not be sorry about this 😛

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Actually this one I’m only interested in Wonder Woman. But yes, I am interested enough to watch the whole thing just for her. Desperately hoping that it’s actually decent and not just two hours of gratuitous man-pain (aka most Batman and Superman movies).

Star Trek: Beyond

I don’t have high hopes for this (and I haven’t managed to watch the previous one yet if I’m honest). But, I always want to hope? And I love Zoe Quinn… I’m probably asking too much for this. I also love the director for their work on the Fast and Furious movies – but I can’t see how that won’t contribute to the movie missing the whole point of Star Trek. We’re re-watching Voyager at the moment and the best episodes invariably seem to be the ones that don’t involve action based conflict at all, but ideas conflict that requires deep thinking to resolve, and may not have a ‘right’ answer. I’m sure the action will be pretty, but I’m not sure it will be a Star Trek film, not really.

X-Men: Apocalypse

I don’t know how I haven’t seen the most recent one before this movie, but it’s on my list to watch soon. I am looking forward to this, mostly because despite everything I continue to be an X-Men fan. I want to be more hopeful than I am.

Star Wars: Rogue One

No trailer for this, but I enjoyed The Force Awakens so much that I’m already excited about this!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

It feels like forever since the last Harry Potter movie came out. I’m so ready to return to this universe! Also, MAGICAL CREATURES!

It’s honestly unlikely I *can* attend the cinema for all of these, but I’m hopeful that the ones I’m pining most for I can make it, *fingers crossed*. In any case, I’m sure there’s disappointment and delight ahead and it will be interesting to see what happens where. Also reiterating, the list isn’t comprehensive – it’s from a list I made up off the top of my head a couple of weeks ago. Feel free to suggest others with trailer links if they exist! Especially if they’re Indie or World cinema based.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #4

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Love and Romanpunk (Twelve Planets #2)

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: fantasy, alternate history, historical fiction, urban fantasy,

 

Love and Romanpunk - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Thousands of years ago, Julia Agrippina wrote the true history of her family, the Caesars. The document was lost, or destroyed, almost immediately.
(It included more monsters than you might think.)

Hundreds of years ago, Fanny and Mary ran away from London with a debauched poet and his sister.
(If it was the poet you are thinking of, the story would have ended far more happily, and with fewer people having their throats bitten out.)

Sometime in the near future, a community will live in a replica Roman city built in the Australian bush. It’s a sight to behold.
(Shame about the manticores.)

Further in the future, the last man who guards the secret history of the world will discover that the past has a way of coming around to bite you.
(He didn’t even know she had a thing for pointy teeth.)

The world is in greater danger than you ever suspected. Women named Julia are stronger than they appear. Don’t let your little brother make out with silver-eyed blondes. Immortal heroes really don’t fancy teenage girls. When love dies, there’s still opera. Family is everything. Monsters are everywhere. Yes, you do have to wear the damned toga.

History is not what you think it is.

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


I like to think that I’m someone who appreciates history. I like to think I have an interest. If I’m honest, it’s an interest where I’m easily distracted and I’ve rarely taken the time or opportunity to dig deep into the history of something and really become immersed. So reading this collection by Tansy I see what comes out of the possibility of such immersion – where you come out the other side of what can be factually established, what is theorised, what evidence tells us (what little there is for women’s history at least), and into the realm of pure speculation. The result is glorious.

I’ve seen several comments about how this collection is what decided people on becoming a Tansy fangirl – and I can really see why! I am a fangirl already (the Creature Court series really hooked me). These stories, although set in the same overarching universe are distinct from each other and self contained. However they also create an overall narrative that is a joy in the unfolding as you the reader discover.

Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary

At first I was a little bit lost when I started this story, but I soon found my feet. I’ve got no familiarity with Roman history – beyond that Julius Caesar existed. Getting to read something of the family history of Caesar – heavily fictionalised or not was really interesting. I also love the way in which adding the supernatural and mythological elements to this family history also speculates about the nature of the history and the events surrounding the family. This was thoroughly charming as a story and I fell in love with the idea that being a ‘Julia’ was something special. How neatly is the context of women in Roman society explained here? We have the ordinary and the extraordinary contextualised alongside one another so beautifully, this particular thing I admire a whole lot.

Lamia Victoriana

Once again my lack of familiarity with the history where the story is set meant I was scrambling for a little while – I’ve no doubt if you’re familiar with the Wollstonecraft family history that there are additional layers of joyful discovery contained within this piece. It doesn’t disappoint if like me, you don’t have that background. Fanny and Mary are interesting, and I love this tiny look into their lives and of happiness in amidst the supernatural glimpsed. I’m a little enamoured of a vampire story from the point of view of being the food, the prey, the needed one. When this story ended I wondered how or if it would fit into the bigger context of the narrative begun in the previous story and though it’s subtle, looking back after finishing all the stories I can see and appreciate the links a whole lot.  I love the queerness in this story, the lush connection between Fanny and the Poet’s sister was so sweetly erotic, unapologetic and without guilt. And yet, also so very subtle – I loved it.

The Patrician 

Here I hit my stride because we leave the past behind and instead we’re in a present day alternate Australia where a replica Roman City has been built and is staffed by residents for tourists who play the part of Romans. Here we meet Clea Majora, my favourite character in the book (though Julia Agrippina comes a very close second). I love the strange relationship that evolves between Clea and Julius, friendship, curiosity and discovery in between bouts of fighting monsters. I love the sense that the real world is never quite enough for Clea, and yet she’s not so restless that she needs to leave her daily life behind completely.

I love the idea that for once a woman at age fifty and above is still considered young, and that someone thousands of years old as Julius is presented to us, only starts to think of her as a romantic companion at that point – that she’s too young before. This trope is one that is abused most often and is often well and truly into creepy territory in modern urban fantasy. It’s not that it’s impossible, just that it is so often badly done, explained flippantly or explanations make it *more* creepy and not less. The evolution of Clea and Julius’ connection is my favourite part of this story. More urban fantasy romances spanning the ages like this please!

Last of the Romanpunks

And here we have both a conclusion and a beginning. On the one hand, I feel like Clea should probably have known better than to leave artefacts of supernatural Roman history lying around easily picked up. On the other hand, it was all supposedly dealt with, so I don’t blame her too much. It was such a difference to see through Sebastian’s eyes the unfolding of this story, but also his memories of his grandmother Clea’s adventures and stories. I love that he’s resourceful and recognises an awesome Julia when he finds her. Not only does he find a Julia to help him to save the day from a Romanpunk themed airship filled with lamia descend upon the cities below to wreak havoc, but the original Julia Agrippina joins in through Sebastian in order to continue trying to set right the wrongs of her family and their history. This story brings together all the elements of the previous stories, winds them down and then leaves us with the kind of conclusion which is really just another beginning. That’s rather delightful actually as I could read Tansy’s portrayal of Julia Agrippina any day!


In conclusion, this collection was beautifully put together. It delivers a wonderful experience for the reader comprised of separate, bite-sized chunks of story while also creating a deeper narrative that threads throughout all of the stories. I learned something and I got to immerse myself in a world and characters that I loved fleetingly but deeply. This book is the second of the twelve books in this collection and like Nightsiders which I previously reviewed, it’s an exceptional addition to the project and is also a book that I’m calling one of my best reads of 2016. Yes, in February. I loved this book so very much – it reminds me that even though I’m a terrible student of history I love to appreciate others’ expertise in the field, especially when they create such fictional delights such as this.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #3

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Nightsiders (Twelve Planets #1)

Author: Sue Isle

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: science fiction, dystopia, young adult

 

Nightsiders - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

In a future world of extreme climate change, Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, has been abandoned. Most people were evacuated to the East by the late ’30s and organised infrastructure and services have gone.

A few thousand obstinate and independent souls cling to the city and to the southern towns. Living mostly by night to endure the fierce temperatures, they are creating a new culture in defiance of official expectations. A teenage girl stolen from her family as a child; a troupe of street actors who affect their new culture with memories of the old; a boy born into the wrong body; and a teacher who is pushed into the role of guide tell the story of The Nightside.

 

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


 

This book is the first of the Twelve Planets, single author collections produced by Twelfth Planet Press and is a strong start to such a unique project. This collection by Sue Isle features four interwoven stories, each complete in its own way and each contributing to a larger sense of a dystopian future Australia. This world is painted so vividly and I join the chorus of others who hope that the author may venture back into this universe with a novel at some stage.

The Painted Girl

What I most appreciated about this story is that we’re introduced to the world of Nightside through the eyes of Kyra who is both young and confused. In some ways her understanding of the world around her is solid and broad, but in other ways there are many unknowns and her naivety shows. I appreciated that Kyra’s understanding of things centred around rules – but that where you were and who you were engaging with meant the rules may be different. I also liked that it is kindness, that Kyra reached out to Alicia that motivated the girl from the Drainers to help her in turn when Nerina turned against her.

This story is a subtle introduction to post apocalyptic Perth, called the Nightside because only the Drainers walk the day time any longer. The story that Isle has written presents both harsh realities of a broken-down society post apocalypse but also connection and hope, how people come together and work together too. Of particular note is the idea of choice, for Kyra, who has had so little choice in her life. The notion of choice is what lingers after this story has finished. The Painted Girl is a fantastic introduction to this world and its stories.

Nation of the Night

This was one of my favourite stories of the collection. Ash is such an interesting character and following his journey to pursue self-hood was powerful. In the present day, pursuit of identity presentation and representation, aspects of gender and the sexed body are fraught and difficult to achieve. In this story Isle explores what it may look like for a transgendered person in a post-apocalyptic society, where medical care is much more scarce and choices seem both more and less limited.

What really stayed with me was the difference between the present I am reading from, and the present in which Ash finds himself. Although many of the difficulties that exist outside the book in the present day, still exist in some form for Ash, the simple acceptance of him by Prof. Daniel, the doctor and those he meets in Melbourne. The question is only around his capacity to make adult decisions about himself, his body and his life – not interrogating the truth of his experience of self and gender. Such a sharp commentary on the state of things here in my present as a reader.

My only criticism with this story was that although the journey to Melbourne and home again was described as difficult that didn’t really seem to be the case. Instead, it was that Ash was an outsider in Melbourne, even as a temporary visitor that seemed more difficult to navigate – the lack of accommodation, lack of familiarity with the city and it’s particular rules. Additionally, even the constraints on the doctor in doing the favour for Ash in performing the surgery, what was possible and what his recovery would look like.

I appreciated the New Zealand family and their point of view that Ash met. Their experience and point of view provided more context as to the Eastern States and how the evacuation from the West had affected them. How, the city was trying to keep people out because of overcrowding and limited resources, how some people were lesser than others as immigrants and what the effect of this was. How, Nightside might seem like a better life to some if you found you couldn’t keep things together in Melbourne. That juxtaposition of difficulty and nod to the idea of the grass being greener on the other side was well done I thought. I found myself wanting to know what happened to the family as Ash headed home back to Perth, ending the story.

Paper Dragons

One of the themes that I thought this story highlighted, was the nature of interdependency, connection and reliance on others for shared wellbeing. The Elders rely on others to help support them, and they in turn provide support, care and knowledge. I am curious as to how Tom’s play troupe came together and why it holds such importance in their small community – there seems like there’s a story there. Not that I dispute the importance of story and community in a society like Nightside, just it seems interesting that it is prominent and held with such respect alongside survival activities – as though it is of equal importance. The why of that is interesting to me and I wish that had been explored more.

Although it’s suggested that the pages that Shani finds of a screenplay could stir up more trouble than they are worth (is the title a reflection of this I wonder?), the trouble itself doesn’t really manifest. Although the Elders do leave their houses and come to see the play – but I’m never sure what actually makes this play different from the rest put on by Tom’s troupe – why is it that the youngsters putting on the play is what shifts the balance and awakens the Elders somewhat?

I feel like this is a story of questions, that this is a story that provokes but doesn’t satisfy and that is perhaps one of the points. So much is unknown, by the youngsters, so much is forgotten or painful to the Elders, what they create together is the in-between. This is an intriguing story and I loved that we got to see Ash again, back from Melbourne and happier in himself and also accepted by the others.

 The Schoolteacher’s Tale

My other stand out favourite from the collection. I loved the way that we started the book with a confused young girl, who introduced the reader to Nightside, and that the collection ends with the story of Miss Wakeling an old woman adapting for a the future and being confronted with the need for change. I love that Shani and Itch are getting married, and have sought out the Aboriginal Elders out on the fringe of the Nightside, specifically because they see the importance of change and growing together, sharing knowledge and moving forward. There was so much hope in this story, and so much suggestion of coming together in a way that hadn’t happened before. I also love that the notion of knowledge and school and what education is useful in a dystopian future? This was such a great ending to the collection and also seemed like a beginning. I would love a novel from Miss Wakeling’s point of view about her journey out to the sea.

Overall 

There was so much to enjoy about these stories, diverse characters and situations, points of view, parallels to the present day that were nicely pointed. I loved that both Melbourne and Perth were so recognisable to me! I love that the apocalypse has already prompted adaptive changes from the inhabitants of Nightside – the children see better in the dark for example. There are so many women here and they are simply capable and interesting in their own way – even Nerina who is cast as perhaps the only unlikable character in the book. I almost didn’t notice this because it just seemed so normal and comfortable to read – and then I remembered how rare that is. Also, I love that this is not a gritty story of horror-survival but one of massive change, but still with community at its heart. I just want to reiterate how  much I’d love a novel from this world, it’s so interesting and I want to spend more time here.

Ever since I started my part time job I’ve been powering through podcasts like there’s no tomorrow, it’s been grand actually. I also have a plan for when I’m working less (and stop entirely) that involves long walks and podcasts; that too will be grand. I talked a while back about podcasts I’d fallen in love with – but that was all the way back in October. Time for an update!

Galactic Suburbia IconGalactic Suburbia

There’s a strange, wonderful thing that happens when you start listening to the back catalogue of a podcast that has been running as long as Galactic Suburbia has been. I started out listening to all of 2015, then I finished that and went back to 2014 and then just yesterday finished 2013. I love all the episodes and look forward to them every fortnight, but recently I particularly enjoyed episode #135, the Star Wars VII Spoilerific – it was glorious. What I noticed was the progression of conversation, the way certain topics resurface – but in a new light, for new reasons, and how conversations that were more recent draw on conversations from past episodes. The whole effect is like getting to appreciate the many layers of something and see them individually and as a whole. It’s been rather marvellous I have to say.

I’ve never really been focused on reading from the same year of publication or for awards (my own experience of awards related organisation broke me for quite a long time, much longer than I’d have thought, I’m hoping that’s mostly done with). Until last year that is where I started to get the idea of what that excitement of reading in the year of publication was. Very possibly I’ll read more books published in 2016 in 2016 than I’ve achieved in any other year! I’ve also managed to go back and fill gaps on previous award shortlists and winners that I’m interested in – taking advantage of the time passed, recommendations given and reviews posted. I’m reaping the rewards from this massively.

Outer Alliance IconThe Outer Alliance

I’ve been exploring Tor.com lately and this is one of the things I discovered, my plan is  mainly to listen to the episodes with guests who sound interesting, or who I admire or who are on my reading list. I’m not certain if this podcast has ended or is on hiatus (or something else), entirely. However, so far I’ve listened to episode #50 talking about Glittership with Keffy Kehrli and that’s another on my list of things to look up and try. I also listened to episode #47, an interview with Susan Jane Bigelow – who is on my to-read list thanks to Fangirl Happy Hour. Those were minutes of listening well spent, I loved friendly style of Julia’s interviewing and am especially supportive of her idea that there should be more space cats. I definitely added more to my reading list, such as (Angel in the Attic by Rebecca Tregaron) from this podcast and look forward to listening to more past episodes in the catalogue.

Midnight in Karachi BannerMidnight in Karachi

Also from Tor.com and on my ‘try this’ list for quite a while. Another one where to start off with, I’ll look particularly to listen to authors I admire or those who are on my to-read list. I listened to Midnight in Karachi and fell in love with Mahvesh Murad’s interviewing style and the intelligence and eloquence that are hallmarks of this podcast. So far, I’ve listened to episode #11 her interview with Genevieve Valentine (and added The Girls of the Kingfisher Club to my reading list), episode #13 and her interview with Nnedi Okorafor, episode #15 with Frances Hardinge, episode 17 with Naomi Novik, and episode 19 with Daniel José Older. Such awesome guests and interviews so far!

Tea & Jeopardy IconTea & Jeopardy

I also listened to a bunch of the back catalogue of Tea & Jeopardy because it’s short, sweet, thoroughly entertaining and light hearted. Also I was in the mood for a bit of a story which comes with this podcast. I listened to episode #3 with writer Paul Cornell, episode #4 with literary agent Jennifer Udden, and episode #5 with SFX editor Dave Bradley. I’m so charmed by this show.

Sheep Might Fly IconSheep Might Fly

A new podcast! And a new favourite! First episode with Tansy Rayner Roberts reading her fiction starting with part 1 of Fake Geek Girl from Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 14, Issue 4. I am hooked!

Fangirl Happy Hour IconFangirl Happy Hour

This was my best podcast discovery of 2015 and I just keep wanting to hug it. Recent episodes I’ve listened to include episode #31 – High Five Awards 2015, episode #32 – No Fucks Given 2016 and the 2016 Hugo Season Quick Shot. I was getting all excited about participating in the Hugo Awards this year, but the exchange rate is so terrible that I can’t afford the supporting membership to enable that. Maybe next year instead. I’ve held off on episodes 33 and 34 because I have homework first. Namely, watching Jessica Jones and reading Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. Also have to decide how much I care about Agent Carter season 2 spoilers.


 

So that’s what I’ve been listening to! This isn’t all the podcasts I’m following, but it’s the ones I’ve listened to in the past week or so.  If you have any recommendations based on these that you think I’d particularly enjoy, let know in the comments 🙂

It’s finally time to talk about what my enquiry for 2016  will be.

If you’re new to my blog and have no idea what I mean by theme, it refers to my personal practice of engaging in a gentle year long enquiry that is more subconscious and occurs in the background rather than involving overt and specific actions over the course of the year. It’s about a guiding idea of focus and thoughtfulness – I wrote about this in more detail if you are interested.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith - 2014

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith – 2014

My theme is Chrysalis, like what butterfly pupae go through as part of their metamorphosis. Unusually, I’ve had this word since late December last year, after a conversation with one of my best friends – she mentioned it idly but that tiny little inner bell I associate with intuition, pinged and I took note. Interestingly, at the time I didn’t realise that I’d spoken about butterflies and transformation when I wrote about Becoming in February last year. Chrysalis seems fitting and feels right because it’s not a dramatic change from Becoming, it’s more of a transition to a different enquiry, a shifting of focus ever so slightly. I’m still in the process of, I’m not done yet, transformation is incomplete and I’m not ready to emerge.

On @Dilettantiquity’s advice when we had our annual theme conversation (and this year we’ve pledged to vidchat much more frequently), I looked up Chrysalis on wikipdedia and youtube. What I learned reinforced how well this theme fits for the year ahead. This is not a theme I’m excited about per se, it’s a theme that feels like a warm blanket, it feels like a nest, and like self-protection and self-care. Given how grinding last year was, this makes sense to me. Given the likelihood that this year will be similar in several respects, this also makes sense to me. I’m especially enchanted by the association of the cast off skin hardening, something like armour and becoming somewhat metallic in appearance.

If last year was a much more inward year than I expected, then this one is presenting itself as more inward focusing still. I’m okay with that, up to a point and I’ve put in place gentle steps to avoid feeling lonely and cut off socially when things are hard later on. I expect I’ll remain very low in social energy throughout the year, but that easy social activity with people I’m close to in low-stress settings will be a world of good. And so I’ve asked people to gently check in with me and make socialising easy if they can. I feel like I’ve already given my future self a huge gift by having this conversation with some of my closest friends in Melbourne, because right now I have the forethought and the energy to put it in place, and later I expect I’ll value this previous effort and hopefully I and my beloved friendships will reap those rewards. It is pretty clear to me that I am a person in ebb at the moment, rather than flow or abundance. This is all good and well, part of balance.

Even in an inwardly focused year, there are aspects of my life that I’d like to put some energy into, that I hope I’ll learn something about through my enquiry. Chrysalis will be interesting – I have no idea what to expect from it, and just because my associations with it suggest self-protection and self-care and so on, the actuality may look vastly different. There’s always something amazing and unexpected that occurs as a result of letting the enquiry just be there in the background working away at your subconscious. Still, here are some things that are important to me that I’m putting energy towards this year.

Reading, Media and Fandom

Although I was so very exhausted at the end of last year, I also found a lot of joy and solace in reading, in media – especially podcasts and feeling more connected to fandom in general than I have for several years. I’m really hoping to continue to nurture this! I wrote about reading goals I have, they’re very similar to those I had last year where I’m seeking to improve on some aspects but not using these as a stick to beat myself with. I’m focusing not just on number goals but on participation, community and sharing. Yay bookclubs!

I want to continue to listen to and revel in the podcasts I’ve fallen in love with – they helped me through last year so much! Also, they’re the perfect motivation to go for a good long walk which I need help with, so yay! I also want to enjoy the reading and blogging projects I’ve instigated, because the projects themselves are super awesome, and I adore the people I’ll be doing them with. I enjoyed reviewing books I was reading massively last year. It was so much fun and I felt much more connected to what I was reading!  I want to continue with a similar level of reviewing here, but I’m also giving myself permission to review directly on Goodreads for some books too if that’s what I want.

I use reading for stress relief, for pleasure and leisure and as part of my bedtime routine – those things mean that I do read fiction throughout the year, not just study books and it’s been one of my best mechanisms for self-care for several years although its importance to me is something I’ve sometimes taken for granted.

Midwifery - art, science, care - quoteMidwifery

I just want to do well. I want to do well, I want to learn. I want to be the best midwife I can be. I want to regain my confidence on prac. I want to explore how to rework an essay from last year into a piece I can submit somewhere as a formal publication piece. How do people actually learn to do this? I’m halfway through my second undergraduate and I have no idea. I want to pass all my units with good marks. And along with regaining confidence, I want to impress the hospitals I’ll be doing pracs at while I’m there – and I must remember to ask for recommendations ahead of third year and interview preparation stuff. Also I’ll have my halfway degree review this semester and I must  somehow get past being petrified about it. I’m so passionate about midwifery and feminism, their importance to healthcare, to women, and to families. I want this so much it *hurts*. Although this is second on my list behind reading, it’s one of my key priorities for the year and everything else needs to work around it.

Self Care and Development

A slight change in focus for this topic this year. I want to focus on self-care and resources to shore up my own resilience to stress and difficulty. I’m looking less at things that are about pushing my boundaries and painful growth – they may happen anyway, but I’m not going searching for it, it’s not an overt priority. So, gentleness, small things, joyful things, connection, health.

I want to maintain connection and the chance to be social with loved ones this year, I expect this will be hard with scheduling between classes, prac, assessment, exams and energy levels. But I’m doing what I can to promote the success of this by asking for help from those I’m close to in Melbourne so that catching up is as easy as possible. I also want to go to Continuum, I’ve got my supporting membership – just need to make it full and I’m good to go! Bonus if I can stay in the hotel for at least a couple of nights, but that’s wishful and a bonus. Going to the convention last year was one of the best things about the year and I hope this year yields similar joy.

I want my partners to have a better year in all the same ways I want to have a better year – less stress that is hard to manage, less mental health concern and more coping. Less energy needed for coping. I want to smile seeing them enjoying things more and I want to do everything I can to contribute to their joy. I love our household and I want it to continue to be the haven and sanctuary that we rely on and trust each other with. I want to do fun house things and enjoy family rituals around events/times of the year that add to whimsical joy. I want there to be more photos of me, more photos of us together – there are no recent photos of us together and since it makes me feel sad, I’d like to remedy this.

I want to do some de-cluttering and organising of my stuff that’s still packed (mainly because I don’t have bookshelves, but not entirely). I might ask for help from someone to come and keep me company while I do it (I don’t mind doing it and I don’t think it will be emotionally hard, just company during would be a great impetus to get it done. I would like to come across bookshelves that I like and work for the small amount of space I have in my room for them – I want to unpack some of my books so I can read them. This is about my bedroom as an optimal nest, for relaxing and quiet time, but also study, depending on what’s needed.

I want to try and get to some Wheeler Centre events and other easily accessible and cheap/free things throughout the year in Melbourne. I enjoyed this when I was able to manage it last year and it made me feel more connected to my beloved city and less like I had to miss out on everything because of budget. I’ve already booked in for some things in February and March that I’m looking forward to as well, so this is on track already. Melbourne-ness, I want to enjoy it, because I am so in love with this city.

Health stuff, I just want to do the best I can and gently followthrough on things as needed. I’m dealing with some reflux stuff that’s unpleasant, but my doctor is awesome so I’m in great hands. The rheumatologist at the Royal Melbourne has been great and is happy to provide specialist support even though I don’t need much to help manage and improve what is possible with my hypermobility – I don’t have anything that would qualify as a chronic health issue with any degree of seriousness – the steps I’m taking is to keep it that way. My pain is very manageable and fatigue is rare.

I want to increase my activity levels, not just for the physical benefits, but also to find ways of prompting the emotional benefits. I enjoy walking and would like to see how I go with swimming – I find exertion triggering/distressing and I’m aiming to avoid dealing with that bucket of stuff at present. My plan is to use podcasts to help with motivation for walks – I am really enjoying listening to them and short of an actual person to talk to, they’re excellent company for walking. Also, there is a huge and beautiful park local to me that I can also take better advantage of. Plus, zoo visits – I have a membership and enjoy casual visits to see what’s happening and changing with the zoo. Plus, walking distance from my house so actually pleasurable excercise!

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.I want to continue to keep up my blogging efforts, both here and my ‘5 things a day’ effort on my Dreamwidth journal. I’m looking forward to the blogging review projects that I’m involved in like the Journey Through the Twelve Planets, I’ve wanted to do something like these for ages so they’re definitely a priority in this area. I also want to review books and write about fannish things if the mood strikes. I want to talk about movies and television, about podcasts and new-to-me stuff! I want to try and host the DUFC once, I want to write about feminism pretty much at all, and same about midwifery if possible. I want to blog about cooking and family thoughts – poly stuff and budget stuff. I have a bunch of ideas noted down – hopefully I’ll find some time to write about them. And if not, that’s okay too.

I would like to make it back to Perth this year, to see partners, chosen family and friends – and I’d like it to be any other time than Summer. I am hoping to have Kaneda over here for our 19th anniversary – I didn’t get to see him at all in 2015. I’d also like to make a to visit other friends who live elsewhere – Adelaide, Sydney or Brisbane maybe? This is a wishful thing as it’s not likely possible with budget constraints, but I’m making space for it. I want to spend a few days with Mum – I didn’t manage that at all last year mainly because of study things and related stress, plus work. I’d also love to do a few days away in regional Victoria by myself on the cheap as part of my plan for self care – I’ve figured out that in a bunch of ways I need to be away from home for it to be a holiday, preferably where I don’t have to make my own food.

Also, I still want to get my license. I want to get past this. I want it because it will make prac and followthrough things easier, it will give me the chance to apply to do the continuity of care program prac next year for my course. It will give me a sense of achievement to have *finally* done it. I still want to take a mini-road trip by myself to celebrate. I think the way to get through this is to do a couple of lessons about passing the test. In the meantime, I need to encourage Ral and Fox to take me out driving so I can get comfortable with my own sense of competency again. This is one of the harder goals I have for this year, but I really want to get it done this time.

Cooking

This focus is as  much on framing as anything. My major household contribution is around management of meal planning and food decisions, and a hefty chunk of the cooking. Mostly I enjoy this! Some days it’s a bit harder. There’s a lot I enjoy about cooking and I’ve discovered I really like trying new recipes. I also like revisiting familiar ones and just *knowing* what they’ll give me. Sometimes I’m creatively minded to make up something to cook, but it’s not how I operate generally at present. So I’d like to continue to have meal planning work for us, to minimise groceries needed and food wasted. I’d like to continue to have lunches for uni/work easily organised. I’m encouraging Fox to cook more often this year and I’m aiming to get him confident with stir fries, soups and basic stews/casseroles. I would like to keep trying new recipes, but also spread out the rotation of familiar recipes that we liked and that worked well for us in the past couple of years.

I’d like to have people over for dinner as part of my easy socialising desires – especially if on those nights I can encourage Ral and Fox to cook sometimes. Maybe I’m also interested in a monthly dinner that is a general social invite alla the Friday Night Meatballs concept, although I can’t imagine preparing the same dish every single Friday, and maybe Sunday night would work better schedule wise given it would be almost Fox’s weekend and a chance for something easy/low key to be really lovely. The key is ease and connection. I want to increase the amount of meals we eat that are vegetarian and vegan, but again, I don’t want this to be a stick to beat myself with. I want to continue making our own stock – it’s such a time-saver and makes the dishes we cook taste better – the bone broths especially, but there’s no reason not to have veggie stock given it’s largely made out of scraps, so less waste. I also want to see if I can manage one preserving effort of some description this year, although honestly this is a bonus goal.


So that’s my current thinking with Chrysalis – it’s very me focused, and very much looking at ways to promote my sense of wellbeing while managing my obligations and commitments. This focus feels right to me, as at present I still feel too close to burnout for comfort, I’m still exhausted, still feeling acute stress and not ready for everything to start again. But, I will do the best I can – I am surrounded by the most amazing partners, chosen family and friends. Plus, I’m not afraid of asking for help or seeking support where it’s available. I want to get through this year whole, I want to avoid feeling burned out and damaged if that’s at all possible given how intense second semester will be. I want to appreciate the many small moments of joy and use them to help me through the harder bits.

A final note, a huge thank you to Kim C. Smith over at Nature is my Therapy for letting me use her gorgeous photo of the monarch butterfly chrysalis as part of my post. She has some incredible nature photography that’s well worth a look.

 

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badge

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #2

Escape YA Bookclub Profile ImageEscape Club Bookclub: January

Title: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)

Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016

Genre: Young adult, dystopia, science fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Illuminae - coverMy Review:

What an interesting format this book comes in! I was engaged by the confidential file release style of storytelling, it was interesting and let the story unfold in an unusual way. I will say that it is not very accessible, the art is gorgeous but hard to appreciate if you’re not great at holding books, or reading it on a phone screen (as I was). There were sections I skipped because I couldn’t zoom in to read some of the artistic text. However, I enjoyed the story so much that it didn’t do much to take away from the experience for me. I think this is perhaps something that the publisher would do well to consider for the future books – please keep the art, but please make it more accessible.

I really liked Kady as a protagonist, she was an interesting mix of typical teenage angst mixed with the trauma of having her whole life fall apart, both when the illegal colony was attacked and at several points while on the ship. This is an intense read – the suspense of the story is gripping and at times I found I needed to either put it down for a bit or keep reading because of the story intensity. I was so invested in finding out what happened, what was happening as the story unfolded. I thought it raised some interesting notions about AI, about hacking and government, transparency, authority and ethics in crisis situations.

I didn’t much care for Kady’s boyfriend, at no point did he come across as anything other than a jock that was largely incapable of an original thought, if not for Kady. However, that said the way in which the romance was portrayed, the having broken apart but finding that the circumstance and familiarity amidst horror drew them back together made sense to me. And, it also makes sense to me, that the crisis being all it was drew them even closer and more attached as time went on – especially given they were separated by being on different ships and so couldn’t physically get to one another (or grate on one another) in person.

The ethics of the story are complex (and spoilery).

— (spoilers) —

While Kady has a strong sense of the moral right and good thing to do, I think that the story provides good context for the other points of view. Is it the fact that the AI destroyed a ship in accordance with its programming to preserve the best chance of survival for the fleet based on its own logical deduction without human input, or the destruction of the ship itself that is the crime? Is it both? I appreciated that there was no obvious easy answer and that while Kady didn’t grapple with this herself so much, other people did and their points of view are presented as part of the documentation that tells the story.

— (end spoilers) —

Interestingly, the worldbuilding for this book is minimal – which works for the story. There is an illegal colony, there are ships in space – it’s a big area of space, and there’s a station the ships head toward the long way around because of damage to technology. We know little more about the greater context of the society (societies?) on a larger scale, how government and business and politics work, what races and factions are involved. It’s largely a mystery and while I wondered about it while reading, it’s not relevant to the story. Only what is relevant to the story and immediate situation is shared and it works to emphasise the insular nature of the tiny fleet clinging to survival.

The story could seem implausible, outlandish. However, I was reminded both of ‘Alien’ and also ‘Gravity’ while I was reading – and those descriptions could easily be applied to both of those media. What is also similar is the quality of the storytelling and how compelling it is – my suspension of disbelief was thoroughly engaged and I was absolutely caught up in the action, heart in mouth right to the end. And then I felt like I’d lost a friend because it was just ended and there was no more.

The book draws on tropes, the chosen one succeeding against the odds is probably the most gratuitous one. However, overall I think it executes the use of them reasonably well, and pink haired teenagers are hardly an unusual concept – it just seemed to be part of who Kady was and the authors successfully brought her to life for me, where perhaps in other situations the make up of her character might have annoyed or disappointed me more. The character relationships are presented as heteronormative, people as cisgendered and no one appeared to have any kind of disability. Similarly, I don’t recall any discussion of race and so the default may be assumed as ‘white’ given nothing is done to subvert or draw attention to this fact. Having noted these things and that I hope future books address these points. I also hope we get to see more of Kady in the books to come – I’ll be avidly looking forward to more in this series.

This year, I’m calling my reading commitments what they are: goals. This approach worked really well for me last year and I’m already so excited about the reading I’m going to be doing this year! My goals have evolved rather than changed dramatically, some things look the same and other things are different,  but all draw on the same themes. Namely, I don’t tend to go for exclusive reading challenges, or incredibly time pressured ones.

I like challenges that encourage me to read more, to enjoy reading, and to try things I might otherwise have missed. I have also long admired the friends of mine who’ve done re-reads and reviewing challenges around those so I’m going to take on my own this year! I am not including any study related reading goals this year. It was heavy going last year and I barely had time to think let alone do much beyond shoving things in my bibliography for assessment pieces, and that’s not the kind of sharing I’m interested in.

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2016Overall Reading Goal:

Once again I’ve input my overall reading goal for 2016 into Goodreads as 75. I managed this last year, but it was a bit of a push at the end. This year might look similar by then – we’ll see. It seems to be enough of a stretch without making me feel bad about not reading enough.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016:Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badge

I signed up again! I love this challenge! Last year I read and reviewed 17 books. This year building on that, (and because of related goals), I’m aiming to read and review 15 books (at least). I love that this challenge is so flexible, it invites you to read more Australian women and does so at very small commitments – 4, 6, or 10 books as suggestions. It invites you to review the books you read because reviews of women’s work is drastically under represented and reviews help authors (and publishers) do well. This challenge seeks to correct a bias in the best possible way, by creating something fun and inviting people to form a community and participate. The challenge has been running for several years and every time the number of people participating grows, the number of books read and reviewed grows, the number of Australian women authors discovered, rediscovered and recommended grows. I highly recommend it as a nice reading challenge starting off point, also because Australian women produce books of exceptional quality.

Read with Diversity in Mind

I want to continue to improve reading diversely, Australian Indigenous writers, writers from non-white backgrounds and ethnicities, writers with disabilities – and a broader spectrum of writers within this umbrella too, writers who are not cisgendered and writers who are not straight but identify as some flavour of queer. I usually manage a smattering of these and I want that to continue and to continue that in a more conscious way even if I don’t manage to improve my numbers of diverse authors read this year. This also relates to reading stories with diverse voices, not just reading authors with these traits. Although, I will always focus on stories that aren’t appropriative as part of this.

Participate in Bookclubs

This is a new thing, but I’ve been dabbling and I’m really enjoying it! So, I’m going to include it as part of my goals this year, basically just to participate. I like these as a chance to read books that are likely already on my ever expanding ‘to-read’ list, or to add them if they should be there. Plus, the chance to see what other people thought about books and think about my own reading critically, but in community.

Escape YA Bookclub

This is the YA bookclub run by Marianne de Pierres. I really enjoyed participating last year, although I only got to a couple of the books (and still plan to read some). It was also enjoyable to read more YA fiction which I haven’t read much of in recent years, but actually really enjoy.

Vaginal Fantasy Bookclub

This is Felicia Day’s bookclub and it’s been running for a while and is hugely popular. The books read for the club are romance novels, though often with a speculative bent and those are the ones I’m aiming to participate with. There’s a monthly vid hangout stream to join in with too which I’m looking forward to having read this month’s book Radiance by Grace Draven.

Our Shared Shelf Bookclub

This is the new bookclub run by Emma Watson. This bookclub is about feminism. It’s just beginning and I’ll be interested to see what books are read – I have high hopes for it being a thoughtful and intersectional selection. The enthusiasm for the club is enjoyable too.

Sword and Laser Bookclub

This one I found through VF and I’m pretty excited to join in – it looks like a great opportunity to find out about books I might have missed, and a prompt to read ones I’ve got sitting on my ‘to-read’ list already. Currently, 693 – how am I ever going to get this number to go down (so I can add to it with wild abandon again of course!)?

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.Undertake and Manage the Journey Through Twelve Planets Reading Challenge

Steph and I realised via Twitter that we both planned to read the Twelve Planets short story collections by Australian women authors produced by Twelfth Planet Press this year. So, we decided to do it together and review them! Then we decided to make it a challenge so others could join in if they liked! We’ve just created a separate blog space to collate all the reviews, plus do interviews and giveaways and the like. If you’re interested, you can join in for the whole twelve books (one a month), or just join in with the books you’re most interested in. Also if you previously reviewed any of the books, we’ll happily include your reviews when we’re rounding them up!

Undertake another Secret Unannouced Reading Project (SURP)

I won’t say much about this right now as it’s a group project and we’re still working out how this is going to look. This is a project that will likely extend into next year as well though, that’s worth mentioning now. It’s a rereading group project and I’m ridiculously excited about it. I can’t wait to say more!

Unpack and Read Some of My Physical Books

This is recycled from last year, I still want to do it. In order to do this, I need bookshelves but I haven’t found any that are what I want  and/or affordable (a mixture of a dilemma). I have very little space for a bookshelf in any case, so it would be a selective unpacking, or a rotating one. Or something. Suggestions that are good for narrow spaces, in dark wood and cheap available in Melbourne very much appreciated (No wider than your standard Billy bookscase, and bonus if it’s skinnier and taller (I have a step ladder!)

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.Here’s to the beginning of an exciting year and a Journey Through the Twelve Planets!

Steph and I have put together a blog to collate reviews plus any other interviews, giveaways and extra content throughout the year. We’ve started things off by talking a little about what led us to take on this challenge.

Our reviews of the first collection Nightsiders by Sue Isle will be going up at the end of the month, and then at the end of each month thereafter. You can join in at any time, feel free to join us for the entire challenge, or or at any point throughout the year if some books interest you more than others. Additionally, if you’ve previously reviewed any books in the collection, link us as we progress and we’ll include your reviews with the others.

It’s taken longer than I wanted to get to this point where writing was possible. But that happens sometimes and I just needed to go with it. Last week I had my annual conversation with @dilettantiquity about our theme stuff. We have a unique insight and understanding of each other in part because we are so very very different, but there are strong similarities too. I love our relationship and even if this is the only conversation we manage in a year (and recently this has been the case), it is one of the best conversations I’ll have all year. Guaranteed.

Often when we talk, it’s to sort out what maybe the year ahead will bring – a theme for the new year can sometimes be elusive. This time for us, we needed much of the time to talk through the year we’d just been through and what our 2015 enquiry had looked like at the end of things. For me, at the start of the conversation, I didn’t know at all. And then we talked it through, and it all became clearer and now, I can write about it.

First of all, I have such an appreciation for me of January 2015 writing about Becoming for the first time, being so optimistic, hopeful and determined. I love that person, she’s ace! The year I hoped for was so far from what actually happened, so many things about the aims I put forth to focus on yielded unexpected results – some involved no results at all, some were merely different, and others changed me.

Mostly what I can describe 2015 as is, a continuous grind that never, ever let up. When I wrote up my end of year meme post for my Dreamwidth journal, I was struck that there were few really big good things. There was my first baby catch back in January, and Continuum in June, getting a part time job that is actually pretty great in September so more money for the last part of the year in our budget, and Christmas with chosen family in December. They’re moderately big, big compared to everything else, but not that big.

The continual good things were my partners, especially Ral and Fox and our determination to have a good life together as a family and household. That was easier only on some days and mostly just hard because of circumstances. We worked hard at managing on one income between three of us, and that income is not an easy one because Fox is pretty much at the end of his tether with this job, but we need it and so he perseveres. Med school for Ral seems to be an unusual method of torture that tries to talk you out of something you’re passionate about, good at, really worked hard to do, and yet get there and it’s like walking on broken glass the whole time. He perseveres too amidst several difficulties, and despite being awful this year was less awful for him than last which is a win. I’m so very proud of them and I love my Bat and Fox so very much. 

Baturday Fox cub close up

We balanced focusing on making sure all the essentials were paid for first, with then afterwards trying to say yes to each other for little things and treats – a game, a cheap dinner out, a new piece of clothing/shoes/my favourite moisturiser. We also focused a lot on kindness with each other, on making home safe and a haven for each other, on being there for each other and sharing the load – being flexible with that because coping varied considerably. We did the best we could and mostly it worked, most of the time – I think that sounds like faint praise when really given everything that we dealt with, it was pretty wondrous.

So Becoming as an enquiry was less about my journey around midwifery and taking on the qualities and actions of a new qualification and career, less around personal self expression and surety. Instead, it was more about Becoming a household that is even more tightly knit, and one that makes do and works hard at that. It was about Becoming more familiar (and less) with dealing with the effects of mental illness and what that looks like as something ongoing without resorting to blame or resentment. Becoming was about making space – in that way of pouring energy into spacemaking to facilitate home, safety and care. And it was also about my Becoming a midwife and being rattled around in that journey throughout the year – it was gruelling and my confidence remains quite shaken.

Essentially this was a much more inward facing year than I’d originally anticipated – I thought it would be more outward projecting. Inwardly there was lots of digging deep for more energy, for coping, for life administration, for health matters, for mental health (mine and partners), for emotional labour, domestic management, for balancing it all. That’s mostly what I remember, constantly steeling myself and seeking to dig deeper. But I managed. We managed. We all came through it, more or less in one piece. We know that eventually it won’t be this hard and that things will be better. In the meantime, we keep digging in and doing the best we can.

Looking more specifically at aims I had or goals I wanted to achieve:

Reading, Media and Fandom

My biggest area of success last year – by far! And an expansion in scope! I already wrote my wrap up post about my reading commitments from the beginning of last year. They went really well overall. I met my overall reading goal of 75 books (although some of them were shorter). There was more diversity although not as much as I’d have liked. I joined a site as a reviewer and have been enjoying the process of reviewing ARCs – it’s a little different than simply reading for pleasure, but I enjoyed it massively and reviewed much more often than I have any other year.

From Ashes Into Light cover Beast's Garden cover Hexomancy cover

I did more tracking of my non-fiction reading for uni – in short it was a lot. I posted some of it, but unless I have the energy to comment on the things it’s just a bibliography, and while pretty, isn’t that interesting. I absolutely wowed myself with reading and reviewing 17 books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge too! I also had a huge number of books on my ‘favourites’ for the year which was awesome and I also got to write an end of year wrap up for those.

A Trifle Dead - cover The Dreamer's Pool - cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverVision in Silver - cover Ancillary Sword - cover

Mythmaker coverMy favourite movies of the year included Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, both movies that just… elated me on a feminist and fan level in so many ways! Is this what it looks like when you get to be the target audience?

There was also some great television that I watched, new to me but mostly not new in 2015. My favourite was Steven Universe, just everything about it in every way. Followed by Librarians and Elementary both wonderful, as was Rizzoli and Isles, Major Crimes and Castle. I’ve also finally started on Agent Carter, Supergirl and Jessica Jones and am also really enjoying Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary.

This was also the year that I got back into podcasts in a huge way! I’ve long meant to get back to listening to Galactic Suburbia regularly and they introduced me to Fangirl Happy Hour which I am so delighted with I can’t even describe. I just want to be friends with both of the hosts and talk about All The Things! Fangirl led me to Tea & Jeopardy and Rocket Talk both of which I am also enjoying immensely. Thanks to all of these I experienced the great book recommendation deluge of 2015, my current ‘to-read’ list stands at 687 at the time of writing and I think it actually doubled this year.


Shifting Shadows - cover
Cranky Ladies of History - coverPrudence - coverThe Price You Pay is Red - coverThe Long and Silent Ever After - cover The Bloody Little Slipper - cover

 

 

 

 

Midwifery

I worked so hard last year on this degree, on this new career I am pursuing. I am so passionate about it and determined. I want to be the best midwife I can be. It was a hard year, but I got really good marks overall. However, my end of semester prac didn’t work out and I have to repeat that which added a year to the degree. This meant a lighter second semester – although honestly it didn’t feel like it. The experience of needing to repeat a unit, especially given the reasons was hard to deal with and has left me really raw. The gravity of what I’m taking on continues to gr

ow inside my head and heart but I also still have the sense that I can really do this, that this is possible. I’m still really enjoying the anatomy and science aspect of things, working hard and doing well. I’m excelling in the cultural studies/sociology side of things though several of the topics were gruelling.

We dealt with hard topics termination, abortion, pregnancy loss – all of these early and late and the contextual reasoning, the medical side, the legal side, the emotional side – as carers and looking at women’s perspectives. We looked at medicines and their impact, their benefits and always the weighing of benefits against side effects. I also learned fascinating things, like the formation of an embryo and its layers, what happens in the first 2 weeks, 8 weeks of life, when congenital abnormalities are most likely to surface, why and the effects depending on what happens. We spent a lot of time on breastfeeding, but equally, as much time on choice and supporting women who don’t breastfeed. Much of the time was spent looking at all the ways in which the whole idea of how infant feeding happens in modern society is a no-win game no matter what. And my heart goes out to all women feeding their babies, however they do so because there seems no way in which it is not a loaded choice – pretty much every day. I hope I am equal to supporting and encouraging women given all of the context. We looked more deeply into pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood disorders other disorders and issues related to pregnancy including vaccinations, preventable diseases and their effect on pregnancy/infants and sexual health impacts.

I’m impressed with my cohort – we all work so very hard. Their dedication is as obvious as my own and I think any one of them will be amazing midwives. I do wish I wasn’t the only outward/overt feminist. It was a huge year – so much to learn, question, agree and disagree with – this is really barely skimming the surface.

Cooking

Another area of overt success – for the most part. I did a lot of cooking and mostly it was focused specifically on family meals and everyday eating. This included more concentrated effort on taking lunches to uni/work – which was mostly successful too. Having said that we did have some amazing feasts with friends over. I got to try a bunch of new recipes, added new favourites to my rotation and encouraged Fox to continue learning to cook. He had quite a stressful year so this was a very small target between us, but I think he did really well – he cooked pretty regularly and became more confident in the dishes he was able to produce. Making our own stock continued to be one of the best things for making easy food – I can only imagine how many litres of it we went through – maybe 50L ish each for chicken, beef and vegetable?

I did use more of the cookbooks I have – I cooked a little from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, but not nearly as much as I want to. We spent a concentrated month doing a bunch of dishes from Land of Plenty by Fuscia Dunlop and that was absolutely outstanding. I’m so in love with Sichuan food! I cooked a bit from Jamie Oliver’s older books but sometimes he and I disagree on what is ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ (I’m sure I’m not alone in this). The downside of using the physical books is that it’s not as easy to put into my meal plan (a google to-do list of no frills and all awesomeness). I mean, I put the name, the title and the page in there – but it’s not as easy to click through and see if we need any last minute shopping items.

Meal planning was the big success this year, it’s one of the ways in which we got through the leanest fortnights budget wise, and still managed to eat good and interesting food. Previously Ral and Fox struggled to plan ahead food and didn’t much see the point, but seeing the difference it made to our grocery spending, and the reduction in stress because most of the decisions were already made, most of the shopping already done was pretty convincing. We fell away from it in the last couple of months of the year – but given exams, assessments and illness it’s not surprising. Also I think it’s a little different in Summer and we haven’t quite gotten the knack of it – it’s improving in the most recent iteration.

I was delighted to discover the awesomeness of Instagram (you can find me as the usual username there) and regularly photographed the meals I made. It was a delight and I’ve got such a great visual record of how much effort I put into cooking, and the joy that yielded as far as delicious eating is concerned. I spent a little of the year doing more bread-making as well as making my own creme-fraiche. I also made a batch of preserved lemons. Tiny forays into preserving, but ones I’m pleased with, and I hope to continue improving this.

Homemade Pizza with Slow Cooked Broccoli and Buffalo Mozzarella - Oct 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Petits Pois à la Française Redux Quinoa, Broccolini, Snowpea and Cashew Salad - Nov 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015

Blogging

I blogged awesomely last year! I maintained my streak of ‘5 Things About Today’ posts on my Dreamwidth journal – I’m well into the 400s now! I also posted more regularly here, mostly book reviews, but I posted an update on my theme and also on meal planning/budget stuff. Plus I hosted the Down Under Feminists Carnival. I’d have liked more energy to write about feminism stuff, media stuff, and feel like I could write more about midwifery but those things needed too much energy that I just didn’t have. And there will be time again for them later. I’m proud of my efforts – I sincerely met this goal even if there were topical aspects I wanted to cover more.

Self Development

Oh this topic. This largely is what gave in the year just gone. I just didn’t have energy leftover for a bunch of this. I didn’t get my license – I was just too stressed to get over the humps. I need to get comfortable with being familiar with driving again – I’m not driving often enough at present for that. I also think I need to do a driving lesson or two on passing the test. I know I’m a competent driver, but actually doing the test is just a stress barrier I’ve noped out of several times. I still want all the things I wanted at the beginning of last year regarding having my license, but it just didn’t happen.

Unexpectedly, I ended up with a job in September! I’m doing similar stuff to what I’ve done before – content management for websites. The organisation is as far from government and public service as is possible and I’m loving it because of that. I like the perks of this style of organisation – an ad agency. They’re actively seeking to retain people so we have free drinks and snacks, a coffee cart on the floor with super cheap and amazing coffee. Plus everyone is enthusiastic and works hard – it’s actually really nice to be around. I get to feel competent and valued, plus earn money to contribute to the household! I’ve been doing that mostly part time but with chunks of full time and it may continue ad hoc throughout the year until I hit the point of study where I just don’t have a day free to do that any more – we’ll see. I’d like to keep doing it as long as possible as the extra money makes a huge difference right now. Working has meant I could replace clothes and shoes that badly needed replacing, I got a portable air-conditioner for my room – the heat sink of the house which has meant dealing with the heat this Summer just that much easier. Mostly it’s gone on groceries of the non-meal-planning kind, because that fell away when I had less time, and that too is worthwhile and a luxury.

SeClouded Leopard Close Uplf-expression and letting myself be myself. I think this took a hit this year, but there were things. I got my hair cut short and am enjoying it immensely. I replaced clothes and while my style is still a little bit all over the place, I like the clothes I have and have acquired – especially my dresses with POCKETS! I bought more things with cats on them to wear! If I was a cat, I’d be this cat.

I didn’t do dancing, yoga or Pilates, but I did do a reasonable amount of walking – not as much as I’d liked. I visited the zoo quite a lot. Sexuality largely wasn’t a priority – mostly I expect because of stress. But I love my partners and feel loved by them in return. Actually, we all had a hard year last year which seems uncanny given the number of us.

Socialising

I did manage social stuff this year, I made a concerted effort and it paid off. I felt like I still missed opportunities to enjoy time with friends and loved ones, but I also know how limited my energy was. I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life, I have the best friends both here in Melbourne and elsewhere, I treasure you all so very much.

Community stuff, it really didn’t happen – something had to give and I just noped out of this in the end. There is only so  much time and energy – I am not doing so well in having enough energy for myself and those immediate in my life, so it isn’t realistic to think I can volunteer extra time and energy. Actually, I expect this will just have to wait until I’m no longer studying.


How to conclude after all of that? An epic post if ever there was one, but I feel like in writing this I’m properly putting 2015 to rest. And that’s necessary because it’s time to embark on my theme for 2016, which is less of a clear beginning and more of a transition. But for a genuine transition to take place, there has to be reflection, evaluation, an accounting to oneself, an awareness of how far you’ve come, who you are at the end of all this and how to face forward for the future. If you’ve gotten all the way to the end of this thank you, it means a lot. Next will be the reveal of my 2016 theme, but that post is still percolating. Finally, if you’ve done any kind of new year theme, focus, word, resolution write up, please let me know – I’d love to read it. Also, if you want to do something but are not sure how, feel free to comment and ask me, I’m happy to talk about it and share thoughts.

In the Blood - coverARC Review:

Title: In the Blood

Author: R.L. Martinez

Publisher and Year: Lake Water Press, 2016

Genre: epic fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

The Warrior
The war between Dosalyn and Roanaan has ended, but a new battle begins for prisoner-of-war, Ottilde Dominax. Dreams of her witchbreed twin sister are visions of death and betrayal. Driven by their grim warning, she escapes her captors and races across nations to save her sister.

But she may arrive too late…

The Witch
Oriabel Dominax has kept her healing magic secret while she cares for her family’s struggling estate. But the arrival of a new lord with secrets of his own, the discovery of a dark and addictive magic, and threats from a cruel blackmailer push Oriabel closer to disaster.

Through it all, the Witch’s Tree calls…

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Every so often you come across a book that reminds you why you love a genre, and Into the Blood really reminded me why I love reading epic fantasy. This story has two female protagonists who are so very different from one another, but united by sisterly love. Their story involves struggles that are generally outside of their control with real elements of sacrifice. I couldn’t put this down once I started and I cannot *wait* for the following book(s)! While reading this, I was reminded of Juliet Marillier’s writing and stories, the quality is lyrical, magical, mysterious and compelling.

I particularly identified with Oriabel, but I loved how forthright and determined Otthilde was! By contrast, Oriabel is optimistic and has a steadfastness that serves her well in service to her community – even though they don’t appreciate her. Hito seems almost too good to be true as a character, but his flaw in rushing to believe the worst of Oriabel balanced that somewhat, and also shows the relative immaturity of their relationship at the time. I am also keen to discover more about the villain and their grand plan to lead Otthilde and Oriabel astray – the end of this book was quite the conclusion and it is self contained, but in that ‘first step in a journey’ kind of way. I am eager to see  what happens next!

While this book has strong characters and an engaging plot, the worldbuilding is a little sparse and I didn’t really get a sense of the realm in which Oriabel and Otthilde lived, or the distance the latter travelled. I have some understanding  of the political context of the story, but not actually how the two realms are divided on a broad scale or on the scale of the local populace. Also, the war seems to be quite important but I don’t remember discovering what the point of the war at all was aside from a general urge toward conquest. I hope that over the next book(s) that the worldbuilding improves and becomes clearer – I can sense a potential for more that I don’t think was quite achieved in this book. I did get a much stronger sense of Oriabel’s community, it’s size and how it fit together.

This was a great start to a series and is a great addition to the epic fantasy genre.

 

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #1

TAustralian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badgeitle: Who’s Afraid?

Author: Maria Lewis

Publisher and Year: Hachette Australia , 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, paranormal romance

 

 

 

 Who's Afraid - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

This is the story of Tommi, a young Scottish woman living an ordinary life, who stumbles violently into her birthright as the world’s most powerful werewolf. The sudden appearance of a dark, mysterious (and very attractive) guardian further confuses her as her powers begin to develop and she begins to understand that her life can never be the same again. The reader will be swept up in Tommi’s journey as she’s thrown into the middle of a centuries-old battle and a world peopled with expert warriors and vicious enemies – this is the start of a series – and a world – you will fall in love with.

 

 

My review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

New urban fantasy from an Australian author? Count me in! If this is the beginning of a new urban fantasy trend in Australia then I’m all for it. First of all, I have to mention the excellent cover! Features the protagonist! Looks like the character described in the book! Not in an impossible and ridiculous Sexy Pose ™! Fantastic! Also love the title which is a nice play on words about wolves which amused me given the context of the story featuring werewolves.

I enjoyed a lot about this book, I really liked Tommi as a protagonist. I appreciated her strengths and flaws, I appreciated her sense of self within her family. I absolutely loved her friendships and friendship group. I thought the way Tommi’s casual relationship with Poc was portrayed was thoughtful and insightful – not all relationships have to be the forever romance kind. Overall I appreciated most of the relationships in the book. I thought the potential relationship between Tommi and Lorcan was well written and came together in a way that worked for the actual story – it wasn’t an instalove thing, and the story didn’t bend reality around their falling in love. Right now we have lust and complicated feelings of companionship; it makes sense and it’s realistic. This approach by Lewis shows Tommi’s relative emotional maturity as well which also goes a long way to offsetting the age difference between her and Lorcan. If I have any disappointment in character development it’s probably with Lorcan, he remains a bit too much of a fantasy and not really part of the reality of the story for meat this point.

This might be a weird thing to comment on, but I enjoyed reading about Tommi’s  job – not that it was an integral part of the story exactly, but it was interesting and unique to read about and definitely added to my sense of getting to know Tommi as a person. I loved that she’d been training in martial arts for a long time – that it was something she’d used to deal with her anger/temper for a long time. The background of this went a long way to balancing out her proficiency in her training with Lorcan – she already had a solid background so being good at parts of it made sense. I thought that her reactions to things that happened to her were also really well written, realistically portrayed. Everyone *wants* to think that they’ll react just as they want to when the bad thing happens – and you just can’t know that it’s true, and more often than not, it doesn’t happen the way you imagine it.

What I disliked quite a lot about the book was the portrayal of Tommi’s Maori relatives. One villain from an unknown past I can understand, even if from an Indigenous racial minority. However, there was a broad strokes portrayal of the entire family group as ‘the bad guys’ which is frankly a racist trope and leaves me feeling distinctly uncomfortable. This could have been offset if Tommi had interacted with other Maori groups shapeshifters or not, but she doesn’t and so we’re left with Maori’s as villains which I’m not okay with. I’m particularly disappointed with this aspect because one of the reasons I was looking forward to reading the book is because it featured an Indigenous People and my initial impression was that they were part of the story but not necessarily the villains. Also, if they’re such a large family clan of shapeshifters – they can’t all be villains, that makes no sense. Maybe some of this will be address in following books in the series, I’m hopeful of this and definitely want to continue reading. However, I can’t not comment on my disappointment with how the Maori characters were treated as villainous tropes.

So little time! So much reflection to do on the year past, and also casting on, so to speak, for the year ahead. In the beginning of 2015 I wrote about reading goals I had for the year, and since it was quite a detailed list I wanted to see where I ended up with all of it.

Overall I think I pitched my goals well, I met my overall reading goal, I did make improvements to my diverse author reading but there’s still room for a lot of improvement there. I read more short fiction this year than ever before and enjoyed it, so even though that wasn’t on my list of goals, it’s worth a mention. I reviewed so much more this year than ever before and I really enjoyed it – I’m already looking forward to my reviewing in 2016! Also, expect a post on my 2016 reading goals.

I’m loving reading everyone’s end of year reading and media round up lists, loving reading about people’s reading goals for this year and people are so excited about stuff – it’s so awesome!

Specific goals I outlined:

Completed! I managed to just barely exceed it – but this may be because some books were smaller than others. Anyway, I’m really pleased I managed it!

I well and truly exceeded this! I read AND reviewed a whopping 17 books! Here’s my wrap up post if you missed it.

  • Increase the number of books by Indigenous Australian authors that I read, and review these books.

I did indeed increase the number of books I read by Indigenous authors, and I reviewed all of them. I read 3 books by Indigenous authors, not as much as I could have hoped but I’ve still got things on my ‘to-read’ list and I’ll continue to try and improve on this.

Books by Indigenous authors I reviewed include: 

Skin Painting - cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow - cover The Foretelling of Georgie Spider - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Read at least 10 books by authors from other various non-white backgrounds and ethnicities and review at least 5 of those.

I don’t know how I did on this in terms of numbers, I can definitely say I increased the number of books I read by non-white authors, but not whether it was 10. I did review many more books than I have in past years, including a couple that were by non-white authors but I think this will continue to be an area I need to improve upon – I have added many books to my ‘to-read’ list to help this. Also worth noting that I only read ~75 books in 2015, and most of that was comfort reading while studying – mostly paranormal romance.

Books I reviewed by non-white authors include: 

Falling in Love with Hominids - coverGrace of Kings - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Participate in the Escape Club YA Bookclub on Goodreads by reading the books I’m interested in and participating in the discussion.

I didn’t manage to read as many of the books as I’d hoped, but I did read some of them and participate. I did read at least one book I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up, which was the nicest thing to come out of it (and there are probably still some others on my ‘to-read’ list. I really enjoyed the experience and look forward to a new year of reading in the group.

  • Track the reading I do for my academic studies in Midwifery both books and articles. Also, try and write at least 3 blog posts per semester about my studies and the readings.
  • Publish a list of all the academic articles I read for my study in 2015.

I did track the reading I did and I did bucket loads of reading for essay research. I feel like I almost drowned in the reading I did. I still have fairly vivid recall on a bunch of the stuff I read for my end of year essays. I didn’t write about stuff as I’d originally intended because of an experience I had mid year with being open about what I was learning and so on. The result was to just not discuss it and that’s still where I’m at.

  • Unpack my books and read at least 5 of the books I inherited from my best friend and haven’t picked up to read yet.

I did not do this, I reaaaaaalllly need bookshelves to do this. Hopefully a 2016 thing!

 

I need to preface this post by first saying that many of the books I read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, but because there were a whopping 18 books on my ‘best of 2015’ shelf, I decided that I would cover only those that weren’t in my AWW wrap up post. Expediency! Also, many of these I didn’t blog a full review for so it fits rather well I think overall.

Quickly in a list the books from my AWW reading that were on my best of 2015 list included: Peacemaker and Mythmaker by Marianne de Pierres, The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, A Trifle Dead and The Blackmail Blend by Livia Day, The Disappearance of Ember Crow and The Foretelling of Georgie Spider by Ambelin Kwaymullina, and The Dreamer’s Pool and The Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier.

This was a great year of reading for me, I got to read some truly exceptional books. Even though my overall reading count was lowish, I read with more intentionality and I reviewed much more than I ever have before – and I really enjoyed it. Some of the books I’m going to highlight are books in the middle of a series, some of them are series where each book is a consistent favourite, but there are a couple where a singular book in a series I’m enjoying generally is exceptional.

This year and last year had a much larger  number of favourites, not sure if that’s me getting better at picking books, or just chance but we’ll see what 2016 shows in about 12 months on that subject. Onto the list, in no particular order!

From Ashes Into Light by Gudron Mouw

From Ashes Into Light cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The poetic style of prose from this book really stays with me. I loved the three points of view and the way the story was told. It’s hard to say specific things about this book because it kind of defies them, but it comes from within the point of view where those who come from dominant privilege should listen, and really take in the story that is being offered. This is a beautiful book coming out in 2016 and I highly recommend it as someone privileged to read the ARC.

 

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1) by Gail Carriger

Prudence - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having spent last year reading the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger I have been *so* excited about reading about Prudence! I also thought that Primrose was awesome and I love, love, love seeing the continuation of a universe over an extended period of time, transitioning to new characters. Prudence is such an interesting character – I love her youth and enthusiasm, the antics she gets up to and the adventures she has. I love the ensemble cast of this novel. I will say that my love of this novel comes with a caveat around the British colonisation of India because although this is a historical thing, it’s also a racist thing and it did make me feel uncomfortable.

 

Vision in Silver (The Others #3) by Anne Bishop

Vision in Silver - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a very long time fan of Anne Bishop’s fantasy works, this new series by her is one I’m enjoying massively. I love series that involve engagement between humans and mythological/supernatural/otherworldly and this series plays on that idea further by making the humans the minority. I love the characters in this, I love that they are in many ways strange even to each other but that they have accord and work together. It’s a nice commentary on where we probably need to be on a global scale as community. Any way, it’s darker urban fantasy and I adore it.

 

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was such a strong and interesting collection to read! Once again I was reminded that given the right context, I do really enjoy short fiction. I savoured this book, I really enjoyed it and I tried to let all the words seep into my bones. Before this collection I was unfamilar with Hopkinson’s work – but she’d been on my ‘to-read’ list for absolutely ages! I’m so glad I got a chance to read this collection because I really got a sense of her writing, the kind of stories she wanted to tell. I’m so glad I had an opportunity to read this, it’s easily one of the best things I read this year.

 

Balance of Trade (Liaden Universe #3) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Balance of Trade - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of those situations where it only clicked what all the fuss about this series was in this book. The first two books were perfectly good reads but they didn’t thrill me like this one did. I loved Jethri’s story, I loved the politics of the trading and families. Trading intrigue is such a button for me and this book truly brought that awesome.

 

Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson (Mercy Thompson Universe) by Patricia Briggs

Shifting Shadows - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been reading the Mercy Thompson books for a long time now, and I truly love them. Mercy is such an interesting character and she’s grown and changed so much since the series began. These short stories  were such a delight to read and I really felt like I got to know Mercy and others in the ensemble of characters much better. It is a beautiful addition to the series that slides lovely tidbits into the timeline in between books.

 

Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2) by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first book of this series was magnificent, although it took a little while for me to truly be drawn into the story. That wasn’t the case with this book – I fell in head first and didn’t emerge until the end. I loved the exploration of colonialism and the way it impacts people, the way it affects power and those in charge. I loved that we get to see more of who Breq is and see how she relates more to those around her. I did especially also like that there was more tea in this book. I can’t wait for book three!

 

Cranky Ladies of History – anthology edited by Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Cranky Ladies of History - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This anthology is glorious! Everything you ever wanted in a fictional account giving insight into women from history who have been overlooked. There’s so much to love about this anthology and it just delivers story after story that pack huge punches! The collection is diverse in many ways and is highly recommended.

 

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (The Vorkosigan Saga #16) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This will be brief because the book isn’t out yet and I don’t want to spoil people. I loved every moment of this book, it’s beautifully character driven, the story is personal to the characters and the domestic focus is unique and welcome. This book made me fall in love with Cordelia as a character all over again as well as gain deeper insight into who she is and what she wants now in her life after everything that’s already happened. I also fell in love with the series all over again and am already planning a reread!

And that’s it, that’s the list for 2015! Happy reading in 2016 everyone!

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeIt’s a new year of reading! Once again I’m excited to join in the Australian Women Writers Challenge and I invite any readers to do the same. The aim is to raise the profile of women writers in Australia and to increase the reviews for these books and authors too. It’s a low key challenge, the focus is enjoyment of reading and discovering new awesome books. You can pick your own level, choose to read or also to review and there’s heaps of support and suggestions for books to read via the AWW group on Goodreads.

This year I’ve already earmarked a number of books to read for the challenge, so I’ve set my own goal to read and review at least 15 books this year. I also hope to continue reading more diversely in various ways including (but not limited to) queerness, disability, Indigenous authors and other non-white authors.

If you decide to join in the fun, do let me know so I can wave pompoms in your direction and also follow your reviews if you’re doing them!

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 badgeI’ve been staring down this post as my deadline before the end of the year for a couple of weeks now, and I’m so pleased I’m going to get it done. I didn’t really think through what it would mean to abandon reviewing as I went in the last couple of weeks of December so as to focus on achieving my reading goals, because wow there were a lot of reviews to do in a short space of time! And yet, I DID IT! I’M HERE! YAY!

I announced that I was joining the challenge again in January with my Reading Goals for 2015 post, which was ambitious but I’m really happy with where I’ve ended up, but for this post I’m concentrating specifically on the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Also, it probably goes without saying, but I’m looking forward to signing up for 2016 as well! Maybe you’d like to join in? Choose your effort level, choose what works for you, read and review, read and skip reviewing – it’s all possible! I’ve read so many books that I otherwise might have passed over and enjoyed them so much – we have such talented writers here in Australia!

Back in January I pledged at the Miles level – to read 6 books and review 4. Well! I set it low deliberately because with study I had no idea how things were actually going to go. As it turns out, I’ve well and truly surpassed that goal by reading and reviewing 17 books by Australian women writers. I don’t even know how I did that! But I’m delighted! I also did read more diversely than I have before, although not as diversely as I’d like to manage in future.  Also worth mentioning that I didn’t rate any of the books I read for this less than 4 stars – they were all such great reads.

So what did I read and what did I think? Attempt at succinct summary in 3… 2… 1…

The Tara Sharp Series by Marianne Delacourt

Sharp Shooter - cover

Sharp Turn - cover

Stage Fright - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This series convinced me that I enjoy reading crime – as long as it’s seriously entertaining and not too heavy. Tara Sharp is an awesome protagonist and I loved these books! I’m so glad to hear that Twelfth Planet Press will be reprinting these and bringing out book 4 – I can’t wait!

 

Leopard Dreaming by A.A. Bell

Leopard Dreaming - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third and final book in the series about Mira Chambers and her diamond eyes gave me a very satisfying ending to everything. Mira became herself in full force in this book, her independence and future plans well established and finally, respected. This was such a unique series to read and I enjoyed it a lot.

 

Peacemaker and Mythmaker by Marianne de Pierres

Peacemaker - cover

Mythmaker cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These books do exciting things with urban fantasy, ecological dystopia and a kind of western-punk genre. It’s the best kind of genre bending story that hooks you in and doesn’t let go. I love the protagonist Virgin Jackson, her sidekick Nate Sixkiller (not that he’d like to be called a sidekick by any means), and the rest of the ensemble cast. All the characters and the setting are brought to life so vividly and I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

 

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Beast's Garden cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book was one of my absolute stand out best books I read this year. This book is a retelling of the Grimm Brothers ‘Beauty and the Beast’ set in Berlin at the onset of World War II.  I usually shy away from books about any of the World Wars, and especially anything to do with Nazi Germany. However, this book is so beautifully written, so meticulously researched and tells you a story that gives you a small glimpse into what it might have been like to live in Berlin during that horrifying time. It’s never gratuitous but it also doesn’t flinch from what really happened to people, especially Jewish people, during World War II.

The Dreamer’s Pool and The Tower  of Thorns by Juliet Marillier 

The Dreamer's Pool - cover Tower of Thorns - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These books are the first two in the new series ‘Blackthorn and Grim’ by Juliet Marillier. These characters have had a hard life and have been given a second chance by one of the Others, in return for a seven year bond – a good behaviour bond if you will. They set about making a life to wait it out, trying to come to terms with everything. These characters are so interesting, my heart aches for them and I want so much for them a good life. I love their friendship and care for one another, their abiding respect – even if they’re somewhat difficult to get along with generally, they compliment each other well. I love the way they go about solving mysteries, seeing clearly, seeking justice and remain wary of a community that values them. This story is beautifully layered and Marillier’s writing is as always, a joy.

 

The Disappearance of Ember Crow and The Foretelling of Georgie Spider by Ambelin Kwaymullina

The Disappearance of Ember Crow - cover The Foretelling of Georgie Spider - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambelin Kwaymullina is one of my favourite author discoveries in recent years, her writing is so very good  and her stories, so very compelling. These two books make up the final two in her Tribe series, and once I started them I couldn’t put them down. Post-apocalyptic but it’s not grim, young adult but it doesn’t lack complexity in the story, the characters or the moral and cultural landscape of the story.  I loved these books with all my heart, they’re new favourites and already I can’t wait to reread them.

 

Skin Painting by Elizabeth Hodgson

Skin Painting - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A verse memoir by an Aboriginal woman about her life, about Australia, about Aboriginality and Australia… so many things, so many words and thoughts. That’s what I’m left with but her words are so much more beautiful. This collection is vulnerable, assertive and unapologetic. This is about as far outside my comfort zone as I’ve ever read, and I really loved this book. It will stay with me for years to come and I hope many more people read it.

The Starkin Crown Series by Kate Forsyth

The Starthorn Tree - cover The Wildkin's Curse - cover The Starkin Crown - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This trilogy is an epic fantasy young adult series from Kate Forsyth and it was a joy to read. I loved the characters and their quests, their friendships and interactions with one another. I loved the romance and the growing up, the coming of age and the taking on responsibilities, facing destiny, making choices – this series has it all. Light reading that is adventure filled, emotionally satisfying and reminds you why you love to read.

A Trifle Dead and The Blackmail Blend by Livia Day

A Trifle Dead - cover The Blackmail Blend - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A crime and mystery series, with dessert on the side. Seriously this is the most adorable series and one of my favourite things I read this year! Tabitha Darling is the most delightful of protagonists and I just want to be best friends with her. Not just because of her cooking either (although sure, it’s a factor). Set in Hobart, this series is about Tabitha who is more of an accidental detective than anything, she knows everyone and notices things and trouble just seems to kind of find her. Awesome series from Livia Day and Twelfth Planet Press, I hope there are many more to come (can’t wait to read the new book in the series Drowned Vanilla).

So 2015 is the year where I finally realised that I do like reading crime/mysteries afterall (although my youthful penchant for Trixie Belden should have clued me into that). I don’t like true crime or scary, gritty, thriller or true crime books, I like entertaining mysteries and crime – crime with fluff and even better if it’s fantastical and speculative. The Spindle City Mysteries are a most excellent example of what I’m coming to recognise as my taste in crime/mysteries. These stories are set in a universe of classic fairytales and have a noir feel to them, with a side of comedy to round them out.

The Bloody Little Slipper - coverTitle: The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper (Spindle City Mysteries #1)

Author: Carlie St George

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“It was half past eleven when I saw her. She was standing at the top of the staircase, with restless fingers and defiant eyes, wrapped in blue silk that clung to her hips.”

Jimmy Prince is a private detective with a tendency to make bad decisions, take on hopeless cases, and ask too many questions. But no one is answering his inquiries about Ella, the mysterious dame who slipped into the Prince family gala, stayed for a dance, then disappeared at midnight leaving just a single bloody glass slipper behind.

With the help of his trusty assistant Jack (a street-savvy teen runaway who is as tough as she is resourceful), Jimmy finally catches a break when one of Spindle City’s most powerful players, the Godmother, lets slip that Ella is part of a much larger conspiracy and not at all who she seems. With every new clue, Jimmy finds himself a step farther down a path that threatens to uncover some of the city’s best kept, and most deadly, secrets.

In Spindle City, all kinds of tales get told… for a price. Asking the wrong question is a guaranteed one-way ticket to the long and silent ever after.

Taking on this new case might just be Jimmy Prince’s biggest mistake yet.

 

My review:

The Case of the Bloody Little Slipper caught my eye when I wanted to read and support more short fiction publishing and in particular wanted to support Book Smugglers Publishing. Fairytales in a noir crime setting sounded interesting and so I gave it a try. The cover itself drew my interest looking very reminiscent of Cinderella, but also hinting toward the noir style of the story. From the first I was transported into the universe of Spindle City, because the language was so markedly difference. This took a little getting used to, and some guessing at times but it was worth it and I felt immersed in the life of Jimmy Prince trying to solve the mystery of Ella.

I love the idea of ‘Prince Charming’ actually being dysfunctional, not too pretty and although that idealistic moral standard is definitely present in Jimmy, it’s definitely sarcastic and a little tarnished. Jimmy was a great protagonist to explore Spindle City along with his sidekick Jack whose story I’m really intrigued by! Ella as the disenfranchised, disinherited orphan is beautifully retold, retaining the mystery of the original fairytale while also giving her greater depth without the singular romantic focus. This story was refreshing and I just let myself enjoy the mystery unfolding – I’m less about guessing where mysteries and crime solving stories are going, and more about enjoying the ride.

St George has created a solid foundation in The Case of the Bloody Little Slipper with the Spindle City universe and I enjoyed every moment and couldn’t wait to read more!

 

The Price You Pay is Red - coverTitle: The Price You Pay is Red (Spindle City Mysteries #2)

Author: Carlie St George

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“All women are dangerous,” Rose said. “Anyone underestimated is.”

When Jimmy Prince–excessively stubborn gumshoe and maker of terrible life choices–stumbles on the corpse of Spindle City’s darling actress and heiress Sarah “Snow” White, he and street-savvy sidekick Jack are once again on a case that threatens to expose ugly truths from Spindle’s dark underbelly. Turns out Snow’s death is no ordinary open-and-shut case involving something as mundane as a jealous coworker or spurned lover. Her murder points to a much deeper, insidious plot that involves some of Spindle’s biggest criminals–as well as some of its greatest, most celebrated citizens.

At stake is a rumored vaccine that could save thousands of lives from the Pins & Needles plague–a disease for which there is no cure, and that has already affected Jimmy’s friends and family in irreparable ways. But as Jimmy Prince knows all too well, hope is for saps, and The Spindle is not a city for those who believe in happy endings. Even when they want to, above everything else.

 

My review:

While we first met Sarah ‘Snow’ White in The Case of the Bloody Little Slipper, she wasn’t much part of that story and I hoped that St George would revisit her story later on. Wish granted! (Just like a fairytale really, complete with bitter edge). A story focused on the Snow White of Spindle City, but unfortunately she’s dead – and why? The impression we’d received in the first book was that she was something of a shallow actress, out to make a living and thumb her nose at her stepmother (lovely nod to the fairytale there).

Here in The Price You Pay is Red we discover there’s more to Sarah than we thought, and yet this is bittersweet because Sarah is already dead. We learn more about the ‘Pins and Needles’ disease that has ravaged Spindle City and that Sarah was likely killed because of something she had to do with a potential vaccine to the fatal wasting disease. This is near and dear to Jimmy’s past based on his own historical relationships.

Overall this  book was much less fairytale retold and much more noir crime  mystery, but that’s not a criticism, it brings that genre to life for me in a way that I may otherwise have never appreciated. Lovely continuation of the Spindle City mysteries.

 

The Long and Silent Ever After - coverTitle: The Long and Silent Ever After (Spindle City Mysteries #3)

Author: Carlie St George

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“Hello, Prince,” the Godmother said. “I’m calling in that favor.”

When Rose Briar–cabaret singer, drug lord, and notorious secret-keeper–disappears without a trace from her club, The Poisoned Apple, Jimmy Prince and Jack are on the case once again. This time, the duo may have bitten off more than they can chew, as their investigation drags them into the path of the Spindle’s greatest and most formidable criminal–one who got her nickname for her tendency to burn her enemies alive.

It doesn’t help that Jimmy is having a hard time focusing on the case, torn between his head’s desire to do the right thing, and his heart’s insistence for that one person who always has three gats, a pen, and a smile at the ready.

But in Spindle City, the long and silent ever after waits for no one–and it’s Jimmy’s turn to dance with dragon.

 

My review:

How awesome are the titles for these mysteries? So freaking awesome. The titles alone make me want to read these books – that happens less and less I find, so I’m especially charmed. While this is the last of the Spindle City mysteries currently planned, I sincerely hope that this changes and that there are more to come because these stories are so wonderful and entertaining to read! I want to enjoy this unique universe and its characters for several books to come – this is truly a great candidate for an expanded universe.

I love that queerness, partnership and friendship feature strongly in this book – more so than romance or rather the romance is subtle, it’s not the main focus but it’s sweetly there to enjoy. I love that this book features more of Rose Red and also the Godmother – who in this universe is not the benevolent creature we’re used to. This story has more intrigue, more adventure and we also see Jimmy deal with his own pride, illness and mortality.

If there had to be a book where things ended (or more hopefully paused) then this is a great book to do that. The story satisfies and you get to feel like you’ve gotten a really good taste of what this universe and its stories are all about. I love the way in which Carlie St George has so beautifully created this noir fairytale sub-genre, the quasi-gritty stylised noir aspect maps surprisingly well to traditional fairytales and they come to life in a whole new way. (Am I the only one who thinks this would also make a great television adaption?) Congratulations to St George and Book Smugglers Publishing on a truly awesome series of books, I enjoyed them so very much and am recommending them far and wide.

A Trifle Dead - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #16

Title: A Trifle Dead (Café La Femme #1)

Author: Livia Day

Publisher and Year: Deadlines, 2013

Genre: mystery, crime, cooking

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Tabitha Darling has always had a dab hand for pastry and a knack for getting into trouble. Which was fine when she was a tearaway teen, but not so useful now she’s trying to run a hipster urban cafe, invent the perfect trendy dessert, and stop feeding the many (oh so unfashionable) policemen in her life.

When a dead muso is found in the flat upstairs, Tabitha does her best (honestly) not to interfere with the investigation, despite the cute Scottish blogger who keeps angling for her help. Her superpower is gossip, not solving murder mysteries, and those are totally not the same thing, right?

But as that strange death turns into a string of random crimes across the city of Hobart, Tabitha can’t shake the unsettling feeling that maybe, for once, it really is ALL ABOUT HER.

And maybe she’s figured out the deadly truth a trifle late…

 

My review:

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I discovered that I like crime novels just fine if they’re not too serious, not too horror filled, and about good winning out over the baddies. The Café La Femme series delivers exactly what I want out of a crime and mystery novel, with extra delicious dessert geekery on the side. A Trifle Dead is a great title and play on words, Tabitha Darling is a brilliant protagonist and a character that I just want to make friends with so much! And not just because being friends with her would involve tea and cake! (Although do you need more reasons?)

I’m in love with the Hobart setting, with the café and the various people that Tabitha knows and spends time with. I love that she accidentally ends up chasing the mystery of the dead muso in the apartment above her cafe, and the way her way with people, including the fact that she seems to know everyone, works for her ability to get to the bottom of things. And, it’s not like she means to get in trouble… but she’s also usually quite good at getting herself out of it, but when she’s not, her friends (some of them are police) are there to help.

The writing in this book just lets you melt into the story (like icing in your mouth, really) and I was swept up into it and barely noticed time passing until all the pages were done. This book was sweetly romantic and with great friendships and emotional engagement, but it was also funny – and I laughed out loud a few times. Entertainment, an interesting mystery that I enjoyed watching Tabitha unravel, characters I adore, a setting that makes me long to visit Hobart spun together with writing that is just gorgeous. I can’t recommend this book (and this series) enough – I hope there are so many more books to come!

 

The Blackmail Blend - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #17

Title: The Blackmail Blend (Café La Femme #1.5)

Author: Livia Day

Publisher and Year: Deadlines, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, cooking

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Six romance writers
Five secrets
Four poison pen letters
Three stolen manuscripts
Two undercover journalists
One over-complicated love life
Way too many teacups and tiny sandwiches

This shouldn’t be a recipe for mayhem and murder, but Tabitha Darling has been burned once before and she knows the signs that she’s about to fall into another crime scene.At least she doesn’t have to worry about love triangles any more. Right? RIGHT?

 

My review:

I was so bereft with the ending of the first book – you know that feeling, where the book has ended and there’s no more story left to read! I very nearly went back to the beginning again, but this novella staved off this need and provided that extra helping (of dessert of course) to get me through. Gosh I love these books! Also, how can I not love books that make me want to review them using as many dessert references as I possibly can?!

I was so amused at the whole idea of a romance writers retreat crime mystery that I was almost beside myself with amusement! And then there was Tabitha’s high tea discovery, plus her very own tea blend. Favourite characters return in this and I can’t be the only one who wishes it was a full novel and not a short, but maybe I’m just wishful…

I loved how Tabitha tried as hard as possible to not do any kind of mystery solving or detecting, and that trouble found her anyway. I also appreciated that the events of the first book are still having an impact on her life, how she goes about things which plays into how this mystery unfolds. As with the first book, the resolution of things is not clear cut but is tied up nicely leaving you well and truly satisfied with everything, and wishing you had a high tea like Tabitha’s of your own you could go to.

One of those times where I bundle reviews together because it fits better.

The Starthorn Tree - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #13

Title: The Starthorn Tree (The Starkin Crown #1)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2005

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

The kingdom of Estelliana is troubled. The young starkin count is trapped in a cursed sleep, and not even the light from the Astonomer’s Tower, built from precious glass by the bound hearthkin, can rouse him.

 

My review:

I fell into this book and didn’t surface again until I’d read all three in the series. I loved the characters, loved the world building and the story that they told together. I was especially charmed by the goats in this book, I thought they were absolutely adorable and I loved that they too got to be heroes. Adventure, magic, mystery, fighting against the odds, friendship, a kingdom in peril, hints of romance – this book has them all. It’s clear this book is setting up a series, but it’s also self-contained and ties up nicely at the end – but lingers with a sense of, the job isn’t done yet, there’s more to come.

I read this right when I was fatigued from pretty much everything and it reminded  me how much I love reading and of imagining. This is not a heavy book, that’s to it’s credit – it’s not a book that’s all fluff and no substance either, it’s satisfying on an emotional and imaginative level to read, delivers everything it promises and doesn’t tie you into knots in the process. This is escapist fantasy and it’s marvellous.

 

AuThe Wildkin's Curse - coverstralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #14

Title: The Wildkin’s Curse (The Starkin Crown #2)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Pan Macmillan, 2010

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“Three times a babe shall be born,
between star-crowned and iron-bound.
First, the sower of seeds, the soothsayer,
though lame, he must travel far.
Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker,
Though broken himself he shall be.
Last, the smallest and the greatest –
in him, the blood of wise and wild,
farseeing ones and starseeing ones.
Though he must be lost before he can find,
Though, before he sees, he must be blind,
If he can find and if he can see,
The true king of all he shall be.”

Merry, Zed and Liliana – three children born between those of hearthkin blood and starkin blood – are on a perilous quest to the Palace of Zarissa. Amid the splendour and treachery of court, they watch and wait: planning the rescue of Princess Rosalina, held captive in the dazzling Tower of Stars.

And as their pasts and presents unfold, their destinies become clear.

 

My review:

I rather love fantasy stories involving prophecy, and also those that continue a story with characters that descend from those who appeared in the first book. The Wildkin’s Curse does both of these things, and does both of them well. I love the nature of this quest, I love how the characters meet and come to appreciate one another – also how they balance and temper one another for the quest. This story involves much more political intrigue than the previous book, but it builds beautifully onto the story from the first book, taking us deeper into how the curse came about and why it’s necessary to break it.

Again, Kate Forsyth’s writing draws you into the story deeply and you don’t notice time passing while you’re turning pages. I love that we get a deeper sense of worldbuilding – beyond the kingdom featured in the original book, now seeing something of the greater realm. Again this story is complete and self-contained within the book, though it’s clear it leads on from the first, and that there remains more story left untold for the third book. I picked this up directly after finishing the first book, and similarly couldn’t put it down.

 

The Starkin Crown - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #15

Title: The Starkin Crown (The Starkin Crown #3)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Pan Macmillan, 2011

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Prince Peregrine, rightful heir to the starkin and wildkin crowns, longs for adventure. But Vernisha the Vile, who seized the starkin throne, seeks to destroy Peregrine, his family, and all the wildkin of Ziva.

With Stormlinn Castle under attack, Peregrine flees with his best friend, Jack, and Lady Grizelda – a starkin girl. Together they seek the Spear of the Storm King – the long-lost weapon which, it is prophesied, will destroy the starkin throne.

But a hunter is on their tail and someone close doesn’t want them to succeed…

 

My review:

Prince Peregrine in this seemed somehow much younger than the other children in the previous books, he seems more innocent and naive. That said, he has a health condition and his parents and grandparents have all been through gruelling quests of their own, so their protectiveness for him makes sense. Nevertheless, destiny and prophecy have a habit of messing with the best of parental protectiveness and Peregrine ends up off on his own adventure.

I really love Molly as a character for her forthrightness and practicality. I found Grizelda an interesting character because I wanted to like her, wanted her to be ‘good’ and yet there was so much about her and her story that didn’t ring true, didn’t come about. This story doesn’t take place on as big a scale as the previous book, not in terms of place or distance. However, as far as ideas go it’s an escalation – the final part of the prophecy falls into place and the day will either be won or lost once and for all – that’s huge! Especially when it’s resting on the shoulders of sheltered children. And yet, they rise to the challenge beautifully and this is ultimately a very satisfying conclusion to the series.

Skin Painting - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #12

Title: Skin Painting

Author: Elizabeth Hodgson

Publisher and Year: University of Queensland Press, 2009

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Brave, haunting, and evocative, this powerful volume presents its poetry in the form of a memoir. From the poet’s early experiences in an institution and the effect of this on her family to the illustration of her strength and independence as an adult, this biographical collection helps make the Aboriginal experience accessible and resonant. Exploring themes of art, identity, sexuality, and loneliness, this compendium is both universal and intimate.

 

My review:

This book is a verse memoir, and is well outside my usual reading fare which is firmly speculative in nature. And I loved this book, I’ve never read poetry before that could and was meant to be read by turning each page like a story. Hodgson writes beautifully, her poetry is evocative, reflective, vulnerable and unapologetic. I can’t pick out any particular favourite piece, just that as a whole reading experience it was meaningful and intimate… a glimpse into a life and lives whose voices have been silenced for so long.

I’m so glad I read this book, it’s left me thinking and with lots of Feelings about how we as the dominant population treat Indigenous Australian peoples. Although this is a picture somewhat in the past… I know that it is reflective also of present truths and experiences. We’re perpetuating the same painful oppression over again, it’s painfully obvious to me as I turn the pages. I don’t even know how we do better, tiny small steps from  my own individual space seem so futile and meaningless, but I have to hope they contribute to something bigger, like a dripping tap. The affirmative, assertive, statement driven final poem brings this book to a triumphant close that looks to a future where equality and respect are possible – the possibility is demanded and that too is fitting.

 

The Dreamer's Pool - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #11

Title: The Dreamer’s Pool (Blackthorn and Grim #1)

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: ROC, 2014

Genre: fantasy, historical fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help. Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.

With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

 

My review:

Somehow I thought I’d already reviewed this book, but I was mistaken and so you’ll see that I reviewed the second book first, oops! This is a brilliant new series from Marillier, such an interesting premise that engages with promises to the fae, with rebuilding a life, with building friendship and community ties, learning to trust again while recovering from deep betrayal. This book has it all and this series is full of promise.

Blackthorn is an interesting protagonist, she’s not young, nor beautiful, she has no optimism and indeed seemingly places little value in her life or what is to come. Watching her wrestle with the desire to live and the struggle that keeping bond with the fae lord in exchange for his help in saving her is fascinating. Watching her engage cynically but with candid truth – with herself and with Grim grabs you from the first and makes you want to know more of her story, makes you feel for her in all her pain, and also makes you hope for her, that she can grow and heal from her past. Grim is more of a mystery in this book, though it’s clear he’s suffered and has little thought to his own future except looking after Blackthorn. Watching the beginnings of this friendship grow is truly satisfying and the platonic way in which they become companions is unique and so refreshing. I love romance, but I think that friendship is also an enduring and wonderful thing to explore in fiction and I want to see more of it.

The mystery that Blackthorn and Grim come face to face with is two fold, one mystery is something of an opportunity for the credibility of their teamwork and problem solving to be established, but also for them to come to the notice of the local ruling lord Oran. And here is where there is a lovely romance that sets the tone for the book – and my heart just went out to Oran with the struggle he had with meeting Flidais, not knowing why or how she’d changed so much between the letters they’d exchanged and her arrival overshadowed by tragedy. The letters exchanged between Oran and Flidais were so delightful and one of my favourite aspects of the book! I thought that the way in which the mystery of Flidais’ unfolded wonderfully – I wasn’t absolutely sure what had happened until the last, though I did guess it had to do with the pool in the forest. The story was so satisfying and it was a wonderful introduction to characters I will enjoy reading about for any following books in this series.

The Foretelling of Georgie Spider - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #10

Title: The Foretelling of Georgie Spider (The Tribe #3)

Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, mythology, science fiction, dystopia, eco-dystopia, post-apocolyptic, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A storm was stretching out across futures to swallow everything in nothing, and it was growing larger, which meant it was getting nearer… Georgie Spider has foretold the end of the world, and the only one who can stop it is Ashala Wolf. But Georgie has also foreseen Ashala’s death. As the world shifts around the Tribe, Ashala fights to protect those she loves from old enemies and new threats. And Georgie fights to save Ashala. Georgie Spider can see the future. But can she change it?

 

My review:

I went straight onto the third book from reading the second and I’m so glad I was able to do this because I don’t know how I’d have waited  for the stunning conclusion to this series! Wow. I loved this book, I loved this series, I hope that it is being read and loved by so many people across Australia and the world because it’s well deserved. I have fallen in love with Ambelin Kwaymullina’s writing style – I don’t think I’ve had a writer crush develop this quickly since I came late to Juliet Marillier’s work! And that’s a reasonable comparison to make in terms of the quality of writing, how beautiful the prose is and how much it draws you deeply into the story, allows you to feel like you really know the characters, almost like you’re in the story yourself. The worldbuilding in this series is also astounding, I can picture this post-apocalyptic world, the cities and the society and the Firstwood, and the way this comes to life in my imagination is absolutely a testament to Kwaymullina’s skill.

And the story! Oh the story! I loved Georgie in the first book, and I’m so glad she’s got her own book and she gets to be a hero in her own way! I love the way this story was put together, both happening in the present, and happening in the past – this really emphasises Georgie’s connection to her ability and how time is a bit fuzzy for her. I love the way that she focuses on what she considers important, but also discovers more about herself. I loved getting to know Georgie, and through her, also Daniel. This book is not as simple as the premise simply to save Ashala  Wolf, it’s about an idea, about change, about the future and about making a difference. Everything comes together in such an interesting way, it’s less twisty than book 2, but the story has you absolutely in its grasp from the first page and you just have to see how it all comes together, how the story concludes.

Stories of The Tribe talk of a post apocalyptic world in flux, a world where although society has embraced many positive changes there still remains inequality, greed, power mongering and malice. What an interesting way Kwaymullina has explored the potential growths and changes in our society in this fictional nearish future book. This book and this series will keep me thinking and questioning for a long time to come. It’s deep and it digs in, the book and this series have something important to say for all who read and I hope they’re left thinking, questioning, looking deeper as I have been.

I hope there are many more awesome books from Ambelin Kwaymullina, I want to read them all, a hundred times over. I’ll be revisiting this series for sure, and I’m absolutely certain I’ll see and learn new things with a second and any subsequent readings.

 

The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #9

Title: The Disappearance of Ember Crow (The Tribe #2)

Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2013

Genre: urban fantasy, mythology, science fiction, dystopia, eco-dystopia, post-apocolyptic, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“However this ends, you’re probably going to find out some things about me, and they’re not nice things. But, Ash, even after you know, do you think you could remember the good? And whatever you end up discovering – try to think of me kindly. If you can.”

Ember Crow is missing. To find her friend, Ashala Wolf must control her increasingly erratic and dangerous Sleepwalking ability and leave the Firstwood. But Ashala doesn’t realise that Ember is harbouring terrible secrets and is trying to shield the Tribe and all Illegals from a devastating new threat – her own past.

 

My review:

Given how much I loved the first book in this series The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, it’s ridiculous how long it took me to get my hands on the next books in the series! And I’m so very glad I did – this is a brilliant follow up to the first book, I am so in love with this series, with this world, with Kwaymullina’s writing. Wow. Australian speculative fiction doesn’t get much better than this honestly. And I say speculative fiction because this series crosses genres, it’s a bit of several things – enough a little of several things to lay some claim to them, it does so beautifully.

This book picks up not long after the events in the first book, Ashala is still trying to come to terms with things, especially that her Sleepwalking ability isn’t exactly working right. However, with Ember missing needs must and she returns to her sense of self and goes looking. I can’t say much about this book and the story without spoiling things, only that this book takes the story in an unexpected direction, delightfully twisty and I didn’t see any of it coming! We do get more of a glimpse of how the present world of the books came to be, the philosophy and the idea of the Balance as universal governing principle.  I loved that we got to learn more about who Ember is as a person and understand her connection to the Tribe, to the world at large and just how much a role her story plays in the overarching story across the books.

I love that this book is also a story about the struggle for political change, the struggle to make things better, the struggle for equality that parallels so many conversations we’re having now in our real day-to-day lives. Kwaymullina highlights astutely and with insight the conversation about Othering and society, what it means, what happens and suggests that everyone is part of the Balance – abilities or not, but also, this mirrors the idea that either we all have human rights, or we don’t… there’s no actual in-between that makes any sense.

 

Tower of Thorns - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #8

Title: Tower of Thorns (Blackthorn and Grim #2)

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: ROC, 2015

Genre: fantasy, historical fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn’s bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking out Blackthorn and Grim.

Lady Geiléis, a noblewoman from the northern border, has asked for the prince of Dalriada’s help in expelling a howling creature from an old tower on her land—one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. Casting a blight over the entire district, and impossible to drive out by ordinary means, it threatens both the safety and the sanity of all who live nearby. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim.

As Blackthorn and Grim begin to put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest is about to become a life and death struggle—a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.

 

My review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tower of Thorns is an exceptional follow up to the first book in this series! I’ve been a fan of Marillier’s writing for the past couple of years and have been devouring all the books as I can, this book is a wonderful addition to her brilliant bibliography. Marillier’s writing and characterisation is deft and subtle, it’s easy to feel like you’re getting to know the characters – even background characters through her writing. Settings and places from history and mythology come to life through her lyrical prose, it’s just breathtaking.

Blackthorn and Grim are wonderful characters and I deeply appreciate them, their companionship, caring and respect for one another. I love how well they work together as a team and solve things. What I love about this series is that although there is an overarching story arc, so far each book also involves a self contained story that is complete within the book. I think that this approach allows the books to standalone reasonably but also allows me to enjoy the flexibility of the characters and their adventures, while also following the greater story across the series.

This story involving Lady Geleis and the curse was intriguing – from the first we know that she’s an unreliable co-narrator, that she’s trying to get Blackthorn to do something according to her own agenda, twisting the conditions to make it all fit. It was also interesting to see Blackthorn’s friend from her previous life turn up – and it always did seem ‘too convenient’ that he was around and had this grand plan to avenge her past and the women she wanted to stand up for. I really appreciated the monks and their care and sharing, how they sought connection with Grim and to help him move past the grief from his own past. I also really enjoyed Lady Geleis telling her story within the story as part of the curse – that was fantastic and added a wonderful layer to the bigger story being told in the present. There were several lovely threads to this story and they were woven together so beautifully with the story overall so very satisfying. Reading this book for me, was like hearing it be told as stories were long ago, around a fire in the evening – changing with each telling and teller.

Tower of Thorns was a joy to read and is a pleasure for me to review. Here’s to the next book in the series (and to everything else from Marillier too!)

 

The Brontë Plot - coverTitle: The Brontë Plot

Author: Katherine Reay

Publisher and Year: Thomas Nelson, 2015

Genre: literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious measures to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy’s secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt, and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James’s wealthy grandmother Helen hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy’s predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen’s wisdom, as Helen confronts the ghosts of her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters’ beloved heroines, who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of change.

Now Lucy must go back into her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that’s been waiting for her all along.

 

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed this book but it was a little bland for me – I have not been an avid reader of Victorian fiction though I admire the Austens and Brontës and their work. This is the kind of story that is absolutely gorgeous if you are a reader of these kinds of books that the story delights in so much, it’s a perfectly matched read. There is a great deal of enjoyment that wasn’t open to me as someone who knew of, but hadn’t read much of, these Victorian novelists.

I liked Lucy as a character, I like how she was flawed and how she grew and how she interrogated herself and her motives. I also really appreciated Helen with her desire to journey before it was too late, to experience things – although I didn’t find it particularly believable that she would take Lucy with her, I feel like their friendship would have needed to be more cemented before that could have made more sense in the context of the story.

James is one of those annoying male characters who comes across as always having the moral right of things, and anyone who steps outside those lines – however well meaning he is, is dropped like a hot potato. This isn’t to say his feelings of being wronged weren’t reasonable to a degree but I felt uncomfortable with the level to which the mistakes Lucy made were held over her by him – there were other parties who had more reason to do that and didn’t, so it cast him in a poor light. He’s one of my least favourite literary boyfriends because he comes across so entitled and while that’s realistic to the world outside of books, I get enough of that outside of books and it’d be great not to roll my eyes while reading a book.

Maybe by now you’re wondering if I even liked this book – I did, it was a solid and pleasant read. Lucy and Helen really really make the book for me, and in particular their trip to the UK. I also thought Sid was a great character, and I really liked his design philosophy even if I’ll never be able to afford him.

Dragonfriend - coverTitle: Dragonfriend (Dragonfriend #1)

Author: Mark Secchia

Publisher and Year: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015

Genre: epic fantasy, YA

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Stabbed. Burned by a dragon. Abandoned for the windrocs to pick over. The traitor Ra’aba tried to silence Hualiama forever. But he reckoned without the strength of a dragonet’s paw, and the courage of a girl who refused to die.

Only an extraordinary friendship will save Hualiama’s beloved kingdom of Fra’anior and restore the King to the Onyx Throne. Flicker, the valiant dragonet. Hualiama, a foundling, adopted into the royal family. The power of a friendship which paid the ultimate price.

This is the tale of Hualiama Dragonfriend, and a love which became legend.

 

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but I was in the mood for a story involving dragons – and in particular where they were awesome and not the Enemy. Dragonfriend is a gorgeous book and story, the protagonist Hualiama – Lia – is fantastic! I really enjoyed this book from start to finish.

I loved the characters in this book and the way they interact with Lia – in particular the dragons Flicker and Grandion. I loved the depth of friendship and caring between these characters and the way that grows and changes over time. I love the way they learn to value each other and the background and culture they come from – all different! I love the way Lia gets to forge her own path on her own terms – and no one seems to think that’s unusual short of her family (and I expect there’s more to tell there).

The story is action filled and weaves between goals that are ‘the right thing’ with at least some sense of moral obligation and also heart goals that involve Lia being her own person and creating her preferred life for herself. I love that while this is a story of Lia discovering her origins, it’s not filled with self pity, I like the way she as a character emotionally engages with things as it’s both believable and moving for her character – neither too mature or too over-dramatic. Finally, I love the martial arts form she learns – and although it seems like her proficiency with it grows way too quickly, I appreciate that she’s been dancing a lot longer than she has been fighting, but that the style is based specifically on dancing. I love the strength in that idea and of course dancing martial arts is not a new thing, but I think it’s used particularly well here for Lia.

The names in this book are typical epic fantasy in style – not unexpected but made me roll my eyes a little. Still, everything was consistent and worked well with the overall worldbuilding in the book. I’m fascinated by the series of islands and I’m looking forward to reading more in the series not only to find out what happens in the story, but also to explore more of the world and its peoples.

For me, this book was a perfect fantasy story. It had all the elements I was looking for in the story, it was tightly written with a great plot, interesting protagonist and supporting characters with great relationship dynamics, and the world building was engaging. I’ve been deliberately reading a lot less books by male authors – in many cases because I haven’t been enjoying them as much, they haven’t been giving me the kind of stories I fall in love with. However, Secchia has done a superb job overcoming any resistance I might have had, this book was a genuine pleasure to read. There’s so much I enjoyed about this book and although it came as a surprise, it was a very welcome one. I’ll be looking forward to reading the next book most certainly!

Grace of Kings - coverTitle: Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1)

Author: Ken Liu

Publisher and Year: Simon and Schuster, 2015

Genre: epic fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.

 

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading epic fantasy, but it’s still a genre I really delight in. I delighted in this book an awful lot – Liu’s writing is something to truly behold. His prose is beautiful, careful and paints the story he tells vividly. I love the sweeping majesty of the story, love the long ranging story that unfolds over decades – it was magnificent! While I rolled my eyes at Mata’s character often, I really enjoyed reading Kuni’s point of view and his conflicts within himself as he is carried along by the story, much like the dandelion he identifies with. The plot and intrigue of this book are intricate and deadly – absolute power and the ambition for it, the having of it and the outcomes of all of it.

Because all of the characters are so deeply invested in their states, their people, their vision you as the reader become invested and attached to the fate of all of it. I was really drawn into the ruler-vision scale of things, and particularly from Kuni because he also always maintained understanding of how power impacts on the individual. Being afraid of the power you hold, what you can do with it and the responsibility – Kuni is an excellent example of someone wrestling with all of these things and wanting to the best he can.

I felt so let down by this book because there was such a lack where female characters are concerned. And the lack is not because Liu is unskilled in the way he writes them, just that they come across as an afterthought at best. Kuni appreciates the women in his life and in society generally – better than his various counterparts certainly and yet it makes my teeth hurt because it’s a bit heavy handed and comes across as though ‘cookies’ are being sought for having an insightful male character who ‘realises women are people too’ and this takes place throughout the book when there simply could have been female characters – any of the awesome ones we meet late in the book.

We followed Mata and Kuni’s life from childhood we didn’t do that for Jia, we don’t meet Soto until later, Gin Mazita also doesn’t enter until later.  Any of these point of views alongside the two male protagonists would have been amazing, because as characters they were amazing and so were their stories! It’s so heart rending. It’s worse in some ways than the complete lack of characters – it’s like salt in a very old wound that remains raw and open.  And Princess Kikomi? What a fucking raw deal she got! I was so excited when I first started to read about her, and then before we’d even gotten into her part in the story she’s fucking dead and forgotten.

Books like this are so hard to review because what disappoints is a deep hurt and it colours the entire experience of reading and the wonderful things you enjoyed are less memorable and shiny. So I’m left overall with an experience of ‘meh’ when in many ways this book was extraordinary, inspiring, and a deep abiding reading experience. Except for the way the female characters featured, it’s not a minor point but a major one that sours the whole performance. Which is also to say that while I really enjoyed reading this book overall, I was also content with where it ended, happy with that ending as a total resolution and I don’t think I’ll be picking up the next books in the series (not without some serious recommendations from those I trust anyway).

 

Winter Wolf - coverTitle: Winter Wolf

Author: Rachel M. Raithby

Publisher and Year: Rachel M. Raithby, 2014

Genre: YA, urban fantasy, romance

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Katalina Winter was prepared for life to change when she turned eighteen—but she never expected to actually change.

Learning that her birth parents were purebred wolf shifters is shocking enough. Now she’s expected to take her place in their unfamiliar world. Caught between two warring packs, Katalina must learn fast. One pack, led by the father she has only just met, wants to control her—and the other one wants her dead.

However, there is one bright spot to shifting, and his name is Bass Evernight. Tall, dark, and oh-so-handsome, Bass is the wolf that Katalina craves. He’s also strictly forbidden: a member of Dark Shadow, Bass is the son of her father’s mortal enemy. Yet deep down inside, Katalina’s new primal instincts howl that Bass is her mate. Can their love bring an end to the brutal war that has raged for so long, or will it spark the fighting around them into an all-consuming fire?

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

If like me  you have a taste for the kind of urban fantasy that has a romance bent to it but is largely fluffy and entertaining, this book is a great choice. I liked the way that the romance began, although it was an instant connection it was one that fitted the characters involved. I found that the romance was quite heavy handed in how it continued – way deeper and more committed and permanent seeming than really makes sense for the age of the characters, particularly considering what Katalina was going through.

I enjoyed this story but was uncomfortable with how Katalina’s adoptive parents were essentially fridged to make way for the story – I think there are plenty of ways the story could have happened that didn’t involve fridging the inconvenient set of parents to give Katalina  motivation for her story. That said, I thought the way the story handled Katalina’s grief, the importance of her parents to her and how her extended adoptive family treated her was well done. I appreciated the way that her birth family handled her reintroduction to them badly – several times, but that Katalina never let them get away with the bad behaviour and called them on it. I like that she won’t be told how her life is going to be and who it’s going to be with. This book is a nice contrast to some of the other YA romance books I’ve read of late in that it had good examples of boundary setting, healthy relationships – both romantic and non-romantic. It’s not problem-free, but it was a damn sight better than what I’ve come across and I appreciated that a lot.

I like that both Bass and Katalina are uninterested in the feud and it’s continuation – they may be in the honeymoon phase of their relationship but it does make sense with how they want things to be better in their respective packs so they can enjoy being in love together. I’m disappointed that any sense of life or ambition outside of the pack for Katalina seems impossible once she finds out she’s a wolf shapeshifter – surely the prospect of college and a career isn’t so ridiculous? Katalina has an independent nature and I think it would have been very much in her character to still want to go to college and explore her options.

This was a quick urban fantasy read that was very enjoyable, it avoided making a bunch of mistakes in relationship dynamics in the romance that I’ve seen too often and hate, but the setup of the story and the romance weren’t without issues that should be examined critically. Overall this was an enjoyable and satisfying fluffy read.

Queen of the Deep - coverTitle: Queen of the Deep

Author: Kay Kenyon

Publisher and Year: Winterset Books, 2015

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

On the streets of New York, Jane Gray meets an intriguing man who claims to be the impossible: an imaginary playmate from her childhood: Prince Starling. Determined to know the truth, Jane tracks him into another realm.

This is the world of the Palazzo, a magical ship which is both a colossal steam vessel and a Renaissance kingdom. Ruling over its denizens–both human and otherwise–is an exotic and dangerous queen. Jane must find her way home, but the path is hopelessly lost.

Promising romance, the enigmatic Prince Starling and big-hearted crime lord Niccolo vie for Jane’s heart. But she has her eye on the pilot house. Who–or what–guides the Palazzo, and what is the urgent secret of its endless voyage? As a shocking destination looms into view, Jane must choose both a lover and a ship’s course, one that may avoid the end of all things.

 

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The start of this book from the point of view of a child-Jane Gray was fantastic and I got hooked quite quickly. The next part of things where Jane is an adult before the rest of the story really starts to get going is a a little clunky, it threw me out of the story a little bit until Jane finds herself in Palazzo and then I was back in as deep as before.

I really found the world of Palazzo to be interesting – a cruise ship, where everyone has been convinced by their leader that it’s not a ship at all is fascinating! As is the way the social systems on Palazzo – it was so intriguing to read about and watch Jane navigate them.  The story was well developed and executed, but the characters at times weren’t quite all there for me – I wanted a bit more development from them to really enjoy how they were in their world(s) – particularly Jane’s friendship with her best friend – it’s not quite all there, you’re *told* it’s deep rather than shown and I thought that was the case for other aspects of character and relationships too – like Niccolo de Citta not being the scoundrel he was initially painted.

The story and worldbuilding make up for some of the ways in which this book seems clumsy.  At times I thought this was a YA story because of the narrative flow and the writing, but it’s not really geared toward being a YA book. It’s almost a fairytale, but it never quite succeeds at that. The overarching story is intricate and I enjoyed the unravelling of the mystery and the resolution a lot.

I enjoyed this book and it was a light and entertaining read. If you like the kind of fantasy that has an urban touch but isn’t really within that sub-genre this is a great read. The central protagonist is likeable and her determination is admirable. My favourite part  of the book was still the beginning, I don’t think the book quite lived up to the promise of that beginning, but it was well worth reading.

What is a re-review? Well, since I reviewed this book the author has revised the work and invited me to reread the novel. I accepted and since my experience of reading was so different I’m reviewing it anew. This review replaces the previous one, but I have left it published to show the difference in reading experience.

Nirvana coverTitle: Nirvana (Nirvana #1)

Author: J.R. Stewart

Publisher and Year: Blue Moon Publishers, 2015

Genre: YA, dystopian science fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

When the real world is emptied of all that you love, how can you keep yourself from dependence on the virtual?

Animal activist and punk rock star Larissa Kenders lives in a dystopian world where the real and the virtual intermingle. After the disappearance of her soulmate, Andrew, Kenders finds solace by escaping to Nirvana, a virtual world controlled by Hexagon. In Nirvana, anyone’s deepest desires may be realized – even visits with Andrew.

Although Kenders knows that this version of Andrew is virtual, when he asks for her assistance revealing Hexagon’s dark secret, she cannot help but comply. Soon after, Kenders and her closest allies find themselves in a battle with Hexagon, the very institution they have been taught to trust. After uncovering much more than she expected, Kenders’ biggest challenge is determining what is real – and what is virtual.

Nirvana is a fast-paced, page-turning young adult novel combining elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance. Part of a trilogy, this book introduces readers to a young woman who refuses to give up on the man she loves, even if it means taking on an entire government to do so.

 

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

What a difference this revision makes to the experience of reading this book! It’s not like a whole new story, but the story that was first presented is executed much better, is more confident, more compelling and many of the confusing elements have been addressed.

Further, where previously I found Kenders to be lacking and one-dimensional as a protagonist, this revision sees her much more fleshed out and a much more interesting protagonist and one I enjoyed reading about much more. Her own history, interests, plans, thoughts and feelings are much more in evidence – she exists for herself now and not presented through the eyes of (male) others. I love that the reader gets to experience her band and her politics more thoroughly – it sets up her reasons for doing things so much better than before and I believe in her desire to create change, to make things better, and to find the truth.

Her relationship with Andrew remains as sweet as before, but is much better fleshed out now. Their connection seems more solid and I can see the life they’ve built together much better. I also think that the way Andrew communicates with Kenders through Nirvana is much more realistic and it furthers the plot much better than before. I love that Prof de Mario is a woman and I hope in future books we get to know her better. H

Also, I love the revision to Serge’s character as previously I disliked him, his protective streak coming across as wholly too creepy with his desire for a romantic relationship with Kenders. That romantic tension remains but now it has a deeper ring of authenticity and avoids being creepy. This is such a relief to me as a reader as creepy relationship dynamics are off-putting to me as a reader, particularly in YA novels, and are also surprisingly prevalent. I’m much happier when a book explores problematic dynamics, but also shows them to be problematic, complex and even better if they also show better, healthier dynamics as well.

Once again the plot of this book really drew me in, the near-ish future, the dystopia and the devastation of the natural world. The corporate secrecy, profiteering at the expense of people and society, and obscene control is very well written, and when you add the potential that technology such as virtual reality holds, with a corporate society that monitors and maintains constant surveillance of their population, true terror blooms. This is all technology and corporate tactics in use *now*, the only futurism in the book is extrapolating and imagining that to a likely outcome. I could see so much of present society in this – and could imagine the future as this book painted it, it’s grim indeed. However, where there is oppression there is also resistance and that is the ultimate message of the book and it sets up the story for future books really well.

I’m not usually one to reread books that I’m not in love with wholeheartedly however, I’m so glad I reread and re-reviewed this book because it went from a book I liked, but wasn’t all that well executed to a much tighter, better story that I really enjoyed so much more and want to recommend more.

 

From Ashes Into Light coverTitle: From Ashes Into Light

Author: Gudrun Mouw

Publisher and Year: Raincloud Press, 2016

Genre: speculative fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

From Ashes into Light is a transpersonal tale of epic tragedy, spirituality, family, and personal redemption. It is told through three distinct voices: the hauntingly tragic story of Ruth, a Jewish adolescent during Kristallnacht in Austria, Saqapaya, a stalwart Native American from coastal California during the time of the Spanish conquest, and Friede Mai.

Friede is born during World War II to a Bavarian soldier and a East-Prussian mother. As those around her struggle with the inevitable chaos and paradox of war, Friede opens her heart to gruesome enemies, at times saving herself and family members from atrocities.

With war behind them, the Mai family immigrates to the US, where Friede, her veteran father and ex-refugee mother, struggle with the reverberations of trauma. Friede is unable to find inner freedom until she meets her spiritual guide, a Rabbi, who helps her see that the voices from the past are teachers and the horrors of history are also beacons of light.

The three electric characters weave a narrative of raw consciousness, a moving example of transforming the ripple of suffering through the incredible strength of vulnerability.

 

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Some books are such a privilege to read, they are deep and transcendent, they move you on a deep and personal level. From Ashes Into Light is one such book, it is truly exquisite.

The writing in this book is poetic, it’s  lyrical and it seems to flow as you breathe in and out, one breath to the next. At first I was almost confused by the three different story lines, but they weave together beautifully through the eyes of the phoenix and each story becomes part of a bigger subtle narrative. What I took from this story is that we are all connected, past and present as humanity. We all experience the world in our own way, we all strive to overcome, to learn, to grow, to redeem, to survive. This three-way point of view tale gives such a deep, yet subtle insight into this and I am sure that many others will each take something unique from their reading of the story, it’s that kind of book.

Reading this was transcendent, whatever that elusive quality of books they call ‘literary’ is, this book has it  to spare, it is such a satisfying, confronting, compelling book to read. I don’t think it is possible to be a white person from a colonial background to read this book and not be uncomfortable, as it is written from a very different cultural context, from within persecution, from within discrimination, from oppression, from betrayal and more. The harm visited upon people from war, from the holocaust, from colonisation is very clear in this book and I valued the opportunity to read from these points of view, to hear these voices and simply to listen, to learn a different context from the one history is so fond of telling me.

Sometimes the reading of a book changes you, sometimes you can identify that change, and sometimes you can’t and the experience of reading the book stays with you. This book, with it’s interwoven story through the eyes of the phoenix will stay with me for a long time to come and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Unhidden coverTitle: Unhidden (The Gatekeeper #1)

Author: Dina Given

Publisher and Year: Team D Enterprises, 2014

Genre: urban fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

It’s not always easy to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys, especially when your heroine is a trained killer and she may be falling in love with her evil hunter…

Emma Hayes, a former military Special Forces Operative turned mercenary-for-hire, finds her tightly controlled world turned upside down when she is attacked by horrible monsters.

Emma must use every skill in her arsenal to stay alive as she tries to solve the mystery of why she has been targeted. Her list of enemies keeps growing – from Zane Shayde, an evil Mage, to a secret branch of the US government – and she doesn’t know if there is anyone left she can trust.

To complicate matters further, Emma is inexplicably drawn to Zane in a way she doesn’t quite understand, even knowing her life is forfeit if captured. Who is he and why does he have this affect on her? How can she fight a being that calls to her, body and soul?

Emma is left haunted by questions, doubts and fears as to why she has been targeted, when they will come for her next, and how she will possibly be able to survive against an enemy she doesn’t understand.

 

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Unhidden is a straight up urban fantasy and it’s a great solid read. Emma is an interesting protagonist, she’s independent and smart, interesting and not a people person. I like the way the story unfolds – there’s a lot of action and you don’t get the explanation all at once, you figure it out as Emma figures it out.

The supporting characters were also interesting, I liked that there wasn’t actually a romantic triangle between Emma, Alex and Zane – but that they are connected from the past and that this past still keeps them looking out for one another, even if Zane has been brainwashed by the enemy and works for them. I like that Emma’s romance with Zane comes largely from memory, and I like the way that was shared with the reader – nothing creepy happened and it sucks that I need to say that but it’s true.

Emma is competent and skilled in her story and that has to be one of the things I like most, at no point is her skill played down, her experience – she plans and organises and strategises, she owns the weapons cache. All of this sets up the context of the story where Emma still doesn’t know what’s going on or why things are happening as they are better, she’s  not weakened as a protagonist, she doesn’t become a puppet. I also like that she doesn’t go off by herself to work alone, she recognises her allies as such and respects them – even if she’s also clear she doesn’t trust them.

I found the action and the execution of the plot really satisfying in this book, things didn’t come too easily, the ‘big bad’ wasn’t defeated easily and there were costs, consequences and moral quandaries. This book incorporated a bunch of what I really enjoy about urban fantasy, in an entertaining package that wasn’t too heavy. This is exactly the kind of book and series I read during semester because it doesn’t demand too much of me, and instead gives me the chance to escape, enjoy and fantasise.

 

Last of the Firedrakes coverTitle: Last of the Firedrakes (Avalonia Chronicles #1)

Author: Farah Oomerbhoy

Publisher and Year: Wise Ink Creative Publishing, 2015

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

16-year-old Aurora Darlington is an orphan. Mistreated by her adopted family and bullied at school, she dreams of running away and being free. But when she is kidnapped and dragged through a portal into a magical world, suddenly her old life doesn’t seem so bad.

Avalonia is a dangerous land ruled by powerful mages and a cruel, selfish queen who will do anything to control all seven kingdoms—including killing anyone who stands in her way. Thrust headlong into this new, magical world, Aurora’s arrival sets plans in motion that threaten to destroy all she holds dear.

With the help of a young fae, a magical pegasus, and a handsome mage, Aurora journeys across Avalonia to learn the truth about her past and unleash the power within herself. Kingdoms collide as a complicated web of political intrigue and ancient magic lead Aurora to unravel a shocking secret that will change her life forever.

 

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book, it’s a great debut novel from Oomerbhoy and I look forward to the release of the rest of the series. The Last of the Firedrakes is a magical coming of age story, it’s filled with adventure and fairytale majesty complete with a pegasus. This book reminded me a lot of the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce – the same kind of over the top magical elements, but done just right so I don’t mind that the protagonist is super powerful, pretty and endowed with all kinds of special-ness. Aurora’s story is interesting right from the beginning, and although she’s thrust into a world she had no idea existed, she starts to learn the ropes pretty  quickly.  Things come together for her, sure, but she navigates conflicts and adverse events herself and in her own way – I really like that. I loved that she made mistakes and learned from it, I love that she grew as a person and went from scared and freaked out to being able to contemplate her role in Avolonia.

I also quite enjoyed the teenage romance feel of things, it didn’t quite come across as ‘instalove’ the way it can often do in young adult books, particularly YA fantasy, instead it was like a teenage crush that hit, and then unfolded bit by bit, complete with finding out that the other person does indeed ‘like’ you that way too. It was cute. I was pleased at Aurora’s emotional maturity as the story progressed and her feelings for Rafe grew. In finding out that a genuine relationship in the open was impossible she sticks to her principles and boundaries – more books should do this. While I don’t think this romantic plot is finished by any means, I hope they don’t end up together, I hope that this is one of those times where choosing the right thing is hard, doesn’t really feel great and you wonder. I wish more YA books explored complicated ways in which romance  and relationships happen – this is a good start and I hope it continues that way.

I read this book as I finished studying for and sitting my end of semester exam and it was a welcome joy to read, lighthearted and uplifting, optimistic and very much forces of good seeking to triumph for the good of all, with their help, over forces of evil which seek domination. This book is the perfect description of a sometimes food – a reward, sweet, satisfying and beautiful – but not something you’d subsist on. I find it a little harder to get into epic/high fantasy style books these days – in theory I love them, but they’ve disappointed me so often in the past. This book definitely doesn’t disappoint and it gets me excited about fantasy, magic, dragons and castles again which is a lovely feeling.

I also love the way that, even though Aurora is a long lost princess, has super-powerful magic, and is striking if not beautiful, she has flaws, there are consequences for her mistakes, the bounty she discovers in herself doesn’t magically ‘fix’ everything and sometimes causes more issues and it seems to highlight that message that the grass is not always greener, and that beauty and power are not the be-all and end-all. At least, that was one of the things I took away from the book, because Aurora is also always trying to be a better person, she tries to give people the benefit of the doubt even when they’re unkind, she treats people around her well regardless of their status/position – not perfectly, but she’s still a teenager and still figuring things out – that shows and the whole package is awesome.

This is not a book of twists or surprises, you get exactly what you expect from this fantasy story about a girl who finds out she’s a long lost princess. This isn’t a bad thing, this is one of the strengths of the book – you can just enjoy it and trust that it’s going to deliver this experience, perhaps even exceed your expectations. Where it could perhaps do better is that all the characters present as able-bodied, neurotypical, and straight. The implications of racial elements are hinted at with discussion of how the fae are treated, but it’s not looked at in any real depth, although there is potential for this. This book with this kind of fantasy plot is not a surprise or a revelation, but it takes what you expect from this story form and delivers it with an awesome teenage protagonist that you enjoy cheering for.

Last of the Firedrakes was such a joy to read.

Geekomancy coverTitle: Geekomancy (Ree Reyes #1)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2012

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire the Slayer in this original urban fantasy eBook about Geekomancers—humans that derive supernatural powers from pop culture.

Ree Reyes’s life was easier when all she had to worry about was scraping together tips from her gig as a barista and comicshop slave to pursue her ambitions as a screenwriter.

When a scruffy-looking guy storms into the shop looking for a comic like his life depends on it, Ree writes it off as just another day in the land of the geeks. Until a gigantic BOOM echoes from the alley a minute later, and Ree follows the rabbit hole down into her town’s magical flip-side. Here, astral cowboy hackers fight trolls, rubber-suited werewolves, and elegant Gothic Lolita witches while wielding nostalgia-powered props.

Ree joins Eastwood (aka Scruffy Guy), investigating a mysterious string of teen suicides as she tries to recover from her own drag-your-heart-through-jagged-glass breakup. But as she digs deeper, Ree discovers Eastwood may not be the knight-in-cardboard armor she thought. Will Ree be able to stop the suicides, save Eastwood from himself, and somehow keep her job?

My review: 

There’s a lot to appreciate about this book, it revels in geekery in a way I can completely get behind. However, it is definitely a debut novel and suffers from some of the clunky-ness that I’ve associated with those at times. I liked this book, enjoyed reading it, but didn’t love it. I grabbed it from Google Books because I was invited to review the third book and wanted to read the others beforehand. It was definitely worth reading! And I definitely enjoyed it enough to keep reading the series.

I love Ree as a character, she came across really realistically to me. City mid-twenties woman, working, trying to become a screen writer, huge geek, dealing with the aftermath of a breakup. I loved the way she interacted with her friends over this – the way her friendships came across was one of my favourite parts of this novel! I loved the Rhyming Ladies and really enjoyed their supporting roles in the story. I also loved Ree’s Dad and I adore how supportive he is, takes the supernatural in his stride and supports his daughter. Ree is entirely the reason I kept reading, even though the initial writing was quite clunky and explained more than showed me and let me immerse myself in the story – that did improve. Ree is absolutely the kind of urban fantasy heroine that I can really get behind, she’s unique and interesting, her own person and not a cut out of anything – but I love that she recognises all the tropes and pop cultural references, it’s a bit tongue in cheek and I was quite amused by it.

I hated Eastwood’s character, if he’d been the protagonist or if Ree had liked him more I’d have been put off the series entirely. However, I adored Drake! He’s interesting, unique and I love the way he comes to this x-mancy world with his own brand of steampunk and science from a kind of Victorian era. Drake rocks. Drake is everything I ever want in a support character, and he’s not the burly hyper-masculine type of character either, he’s a much more interesting, unique male character that doesn’t rely on tropes of masculinity – it’s not his strength that matches up well with Ree, but his willingness to work with her, listen and be an awesome team capitalising on their mutual strengths. This was my other favourite aspect of this book (and series).

I really enjoyed this, it was so much fun and even though I didn’t get half the references, I appreciated the book being utterly full of them and I revelled in Ree’s enjoyment of pop culture. My geek is different to her geek but it definitely left me feeling somewhat validated in my own experience of geekery.

 

Celebromancy coverTitle: Celebromancy (Ree Reyes #2)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Fame has a magic all its own in the no-gossip-barred follow-up to Geekomancy. Ree Reyes gets her big screenwriting break, only to discover just how broken Hollywood actually is.

Things are looking up for urban fantasista Ree Reyes. She’s using her love of pop culture to fight monsters and protect her hometown as a Geekomancer, and now a real-live production company is shooting her television pilot script.

But nothing is easy in show business. When an invisible figure attacks the leading lady of the show, former-child star-turned-current-hot-mess Jane Konrad, Ree begins a school-of-hard-knocks education in the power of Celebromancy.

Attempting to help Jane Geekomancy-style with Jedi mind tricks and X-Men infiltration techniques, Ree learns more about movie magic than she ever intended. She also learns that real life has the craziest plots: not only must she lift a Hollywood-strength curse, but she needs to save her pilot, negotiate a bizarre love rhombus, and fight monsters straight out of the silver screen. All this without anyone getting killed or, worse, banished to the D-List.

My review: 

This book picks up soon after events in Geekomancy finish. One of Ree’s major dreams looks like it’s about to become true with a screenplay of hers having been picked up to shoot a pilot for pitching. I love that the show itself is not as much the focus and instead the business of getting it made is. I love Jane as a character and I found the magic division of celebromancy really interesting – and seems way too close to the truth of the cult of celebrity we see in play via  the media. Well played Underwood!

Ree and Drake continue to be one of my favourite hero pairings, they work so well together. I found the romantic tension believable and I loved the way Ree made a point of dealing with her issues herself and not making them someone else’s problem. I also really loved the romantic fling she ends up in with Jane – I loved the spontaneity of how it happened, I could really picture them together as the story unfolded. In this story Ree is mostly the hero of the story messing with her tv show and big deal, she does call Drake in to help, and others but it’s mostly about Ree saving the day and actually, I really fucking love that. I love Ree.

I continue to love the geekery – I love the way it’s pointed out that different people with different focuses to their x-mancy have a different set of specialised knowledge. That little moment was one of my favourite things. I also think that Underwood hits a better writing stride here, it’s far less clunky and explainy, things just happen and you’re taken up for the ride.  The queerness included in the book is delightful, it’s underplayed where necessary which comes across very genuine and natural, but it’s also a key part of what drives Ree’s motivation for the plot and saving Jane – I think it just works without being heavy handed.

Another great thing was a distinct minimising of Eastwood. I just dislike his character so much – I think that we’re actually supposed to do that, but it doesn’t really make for fun reading. On the other hand, I really liked Grognard and the tavern and that Ree gets to have another job that’s not with Eastwood. I’d absolutely frequent a tavern like this (not that I’d drink beer… but the cider sounds nice).

 

Attack the Geek coverTitle: Attack the Geek (Ree Reyes #2.5)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A side quest novella in the bestselling Geekomancy urban fantasy series—when D&D style adventures go from the tabletop to real life, look out!

Ree Reyes, urban fantasy heroine of Geekomancy, is working her regular barista/drink-slinger shift at Grognard’s when it all goes wrong. Everything.

As with Geekomancy (pop culture magic!) and its sequel Celebromancy (celebrity magic!), Attack of the Geek is perfect for anyone who wants to visit a world “where all the books and shows and movies and games [that you] love are a source of power, not only in psychological terms, but in practical, villain-pounding ones” (Marie Brennan, award-winning author of the Onyx Court Series).

My review: 

I really enjoyed this side quest, I especially liked the epic wave battling with all the other characters helping out. I adored getting to know Grognard better too! This was an out and out hero battle story and these are not usually to my taste, but I really enjoyed this. Ree continues to be an awesome protagonist and I adore her massively! I still hate Eastwood.

I was surprised when Lucretia turned out to be the villain, but not surprised that she used someone else to give up the rest of the crew – I was surprised that she involved so many that weren’t directly related to her grievances – it kind of goes against the way the community manages itself. However, I did like how people reacted and banded together.

This isn’t a big plotty novel, that’s not it’s point, it’s a fun little tangent that does further the overall story, but without taking itself too seriously. It’s a chance to see Ree demonstrate her awesomeness (and the others too).

 

Hexomancy coverTitle: Hexomancy (Ree Reyes #3)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

When Ree’s long time nemesis Lucretia is finally brought to trial and found guilty for the deadly attack on Grognard’s, the Geekomancer community breathes a collective sigh of relief. But Ree and her crew soon discover that Lucretia has three very angry, very dangerous sisters who won’t rest until Eastwood—a fellow Geekomancer—is killed.

What follows is an adventure packed with epic battles, a bit of romance, and enough geeky W00t moments to fill your monthly quota of adventure and fun.

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Finally I reached the book that I set out to review in the first place! I’m not sorry though because I enjoyed the ride so very much. While the first book in this series was quite clunky, as the series and the writer developed it improved greatly – as is often the case. I’m almost always willing to forgive first-book-clunk, if the story or characters are worth it. Ree is definitely one of those characters, she’s become a favourite for me and I love reading about her adventures!

Hexomancy picks up not long after the battle at Grognard’s in Attack the Geek. While Lucretia is held accountable for her actions (via a rather epic duel fought by Ree), trouble soon escalates as Lucretia has sisters who keep coming to finish off Eastwood. Now, personally, I don’t mind this – because I still really dislike his character. Part of how much I like Ree is that she also doesn’t like him much and trusts him even less. The plot of this book is as epic as the one in Celebromancy, and that really works for the kind of magic we’re talking about here – no half measures. I loved the differences in attack style between the different sisters and once again it was great to see Ree and Drake teamed together.

I’m also delighted that the romantic tension was address more directly in this book, I’m impressed at the way the breakup was handled and how Ree comes clean about her new secret life with her friends. I like their reactions too – it really came across to me as believable. Love, connection, and expectation of honesty and respect – and making amends, showing forgiveness when people mess up, recognising that inevitably, they do. It was great. Loved Drake’s realisations and love the way there’s still such a culture clash between Drake and Ree. This book spans much more time than the previous ones – months, almost a year as opposed to a few days or weeks and so it was nice to see the way Ree and Drake’s relationship developed over this time as well as how they were working to beat the sisters.

I appreciated the way the end game became cyber, from Eastwood’s old life. I am also pretty impressed with how one of the long story threads was incorporated into the is book arc and was resolved. The demon was back and was defeated, but not without a price – but it’s also one that makes sense and is one I like given the rest of what has come before in the story. Eastwood redeems himself here (but I still don’t like him).

Ree grows as a character, so does Drake. Grognard opens up more and the whole universe just becomes so much more like an old friend. This is not a standalone book, it benefits from being read as a series and I’m glad I decided to grab the books via Google Books to read them before reviewing book 3. The writing and voice in this book is much more confident, much smoother. I still really enjoy all the pop culture references – and I really like that Ree is developing her style of geekomancy with the media and power ups that she finds most useful – and I love that they’re the in between ones for maximal effect and not about showing off for the sake of it.

This is a great urban fantasy series, especially if you enjoy geek humour – I would suggest that you don’t have to get all the in-jokes or references to appreciate it, but that might be just me. If that kind of thing does bother you, this might not be for you. This book, this series was epic, awesome, fluffy, entertaining and satisfying on both story and character levels. I also really liked the covers, they look like how I’d imagine Ree to look and she’s not dressed or posed in ways that make me angry – she looks like a hero, my kind of hero.

Beast's Garden coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #7

Title: The Beast’s Garden

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Random House Australia, 2015

Genre: historical fiction, romance, fantasy, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.

 

My review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Beast’s Garden is one of my best books of 2015. This book is superbly written, deeply researched and provides insight into a time in history that is both complicated and horrifying. This is also my seventh review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015, which might be my most number of reviews yet!

Personally, I’m easily disturbed which leaves me unable to sleep and I avoid stimulus that is likely to put me into that state of upset and insomnia. World War II (and war in general) is one of those topics that I try to avoid more than passing detail on. However, being a fan of Forsyth’s writing meant that I took a chance on this book and its World War II setting – right in the heart of the action, Berlin no less! What a chance to take, it was so rewarding. This is not an easy book to read, this is not a comforting book to read, and it shouldn’t be. That’s not it’s purpose. It’s a retelling of a fairytale, but it’s not lighthearted and it’s much more in the tradition of the traditional cautional tales approach to fairytales. This book is not for everyone, but it is a book that is well worth reading. It tells of the atrocities of the war, of the concentration camps, of the dehumanising of Jewish people in Germany and Nazi occupied territory. While the telling is not gratuitous, it is honest and does not shy away from the genuine telling of these horrors. Despite my usual tendency to avoid this kind of experience, I am grateful to have read this book, it’s so meticulously researched, so carefully and beautifully written. It gives some small insight into events from a time that is in many ways removed from where we find ourselves today.

What I loved about this book was that through this story about these characters and these historical events, I got a much deeper understanding of history that was much more personal than what is covered in history classes generally. I got a tiny sense of what it might have been like to live through this war in Berlin, some understanding of how slowly and quickly things changed, what horror and endurance was involved in survival, the way Jewish people were demonised and made to be less than human beings. I got some tiny insight into real comprehension of the word ‘holocaust’ and ‘genocide’. I got insight into the realness of people involved in the various events, willing and unwilling. The normalcy of people carrying out orders was in many ways striking, although the mere idea of the Gestapo remains a faceless/nameless horror to me and that I cannot comprehend.

The success of this story comes from how it is told. It is a story of Ava and her family, her friends, and eventually of her husband. Through Ava’s eyes everything unfolds and I felt very connected to her experiences  and emotional responses to events. I could almost picture sitting in rooms with her where political rebellion – treason – was planned, anguish wailed, and silence kept lest discovery be made. Leo is the ‘Beast’ of this tale, and he’s an interesting character – through him I could see the twisted nature of political ideals, being in too deep, but trying to do the right thing covertly.

Leo and Ava’s romance is a thread of gentleness and beauty amongst the rest of the events surrounding them. It unfolds awkwardly and with obvious difficulty being that Leo is a Nazi and Ava questions her ability to trust him at all. What I really found interesting about their relationship and it seemed very realistic for the time events taking place is that they married in haste, they knew each other but not deeply – they cared, perhaps were smitten, but it was largely a means to protect Ava from persecution. As the war and their early marriage unfolds, they keep secrets from one another – secrets they each believe are a necessity and yet it is so very satisfying for the reader when they come to terms and realise they are on the same side together, they believe the same things and are committed to the same goals. This kind of experience gives a depth to this romance that can be lacking in other books, it’s partly about trust and commitment, about communication but also about growing together, deliberately.

World War II was a true horror visited upon the human race, it was gratuitous and obscene, it seems from here so much a dark time. And although it seems so very far removed from where we are today, I cannot help but look at what we in Australia are doing to our First Peoples and refugees and asylum seekers. That’s another aspect of what I got out of this book, the inescapable sense of how deep an impact that war had on people, on families, societies, cultures… surely it is a lesson we’ve learned and should not need to learn again. I hope that I do not hope in vain.

The Beast’s Garden is a deep book, a demanding book, and it is so very rewarding to read. Although I tried to discipline myself to not read it before going to sleep at night, I honestly couldn’t put it down once I started, it was so compelling. I originally finished this book in mid-September, but I loved it so much, and felt so strongly about it that it’s only now that I’ve had the brain space to be able to do justice to a review (I hope!). I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

 

 

This time I’m going to try and bunch them up in the general fortnightish organisation that they started out in… we’ll see how that goes. The point of meal planning for me, for our little poly family comes down to a few things:

  • Saving money on groceries
  • Eating really well, really delicious food that is exciting, and doesn’t make us feel like we’re missing out on eating out by being poor.
  • Avoiding the temptation of takeaway which invariably is not as satisfying as going out to a proper restaurant and/or I could have made a decent version myself.
  • Teaching Fox to cook, hoping he comes to enjoy it as much as I do in his own way.
  • Getting to try out awesome recipes and enjoy the results, also to devise my own recipes and improvements on things.

19th September Meal Plan:

  • Pasta Piselli – pasta, peas, chicken broth and parmesan. A simple pasta, but not my favourite of these although it was perfectly tasty.
  • Spiced lamb cutlets with sweet potato and spinach risotto – this was in part to use up a sweet potato and spinach I had, but also I had lamb racks in the freezer I’d gotten cheap on a previous shop. It turned out really well and reminded me why I love lamb cutlets so much even if they’re usually too expensive to indulge in. Delicious little morsals – ours were spiced with a lavender salt that goes so well with either lamb or beef.
  • Yottam Ottolenghi’s Pastitsio – this recipe took a bit for me to get to, but my goodness, when I did…. Wow. On the strength of how good this tasted, I bought his new recipe book Nopi (on special). This was glorious – first time I think I’ve ever made a ‘proper’ Bechamel sauce, and now I get why you may want to bother with that. The sauce was beautifully flavoured and uniquely flavoured – not like any cottage pie or Bolognaise I’ve seen in other recipes or made before. I *highly* recommend this recipe, it’s so delicious and worth the effort. We used maccaroni as that’s what we had, and it worked well – any small tube like pasta works well I think. (The other recipes on this link are also intriguing).
  • Boosted JookBoosted Jook – this is the first time I’ve really tried any kind of congee, because mostly the options on offer involve seafood which is not appealing at all to me. I used the leftover Christmas turkey carcass I’d been saving and looking to use up, as the bone flavouring and wow it was delicious. We added Chinese sausage in ours with coriander and chilli – it was just so unbelievably good. I can absolutely see why people have this as a go-to thing for when they’re sick, it’s perfect for it. Also easy to make and really variable depending on the flavourings you have on hand, or are inspired by.
  • Proscuitto and Mushroom Spaghetti Bolognaise – this was a great recipe, simple and a nice twice on the usual Bolognaise pasta, but not in ways that are super expensive as the amount of prosciutto is pretty small, and it’s fairly cheap from the markets.
  • Chicken Peratal – interesting looking curry in a different style from those we’ve made before. It was really flavourful and I really love making things from whole spices rather than ‘use x curry paste’.
  • Cacio e Pepe – one of the simple pastas that is often a last minute ‘cbf’ lifesaver. It’s simple, flavourful and there’s very little to it – somehow these recipes are always the ones that pack more flavour from tiny beginnings. Love it.
  • Lamb Shanks with Creamy Parmesan Risoni – this is one that we didn’t do because the weather turned too hot to contemplate shanks and slow cooking. It is still a recipe I want to make though.
  • Chicken Provencale – This was a great recipe, flavourful and worth the effort of roasting the capsicums (I say this even though I didn’t have to do the roasting – Ral cooked most of this fortnight as I was in essay hell).
  • Indian Lamb Curry, with goat – we didn’t get to this for the same reason we didn’t make the lamb shanks. The weather was hot enough that the idea just didn’t work. Dear Melbourne, never change with your mercurial weather, I love you so.
  • Balsamic Lamb Salad – this remains on the meal plan – it’s been pushed forward a couple of times now, no particular reason, it just hasn’t appealed to make specifically yet.
  • Blood Orange and Vanilla Panna Cotta – a dessert I made because blood oranges are in season and are glorious! Also, creamy gelled desserts are the best – this one made with agar is also vegetarian friendly. My first time using agar and it’s awesome, would love some agar powder rather than the bars though.

3rd October Meal Plan

  • Open Lasange with Mushrooms, Tarragon and Goat's CurdOpen Lasagne with Mushrooms, Tarragon and Goat’s Curd – this was glorious! We made our own pasta and everything, it was just amazing. The mushrooms were so flavourful, the tarragon and goats cheese a perfect compliment. I want to try this style of lasagne with other flavourings too as it was both light and satisfying, but a much better style of lasagne for Summer.
  • Beef skewers with broccoli, capsicum and red onion on the BBQ, turned out fantastic, despite the fact that we forgot that we’d planned to drizzle them after cooking with balsamic vinegar. Served with a classic potato salad – so very good on a warm night.
  • Ricotta and Chive Gnocchi – we finally got to making this! We’d planned to fry it, but I didn’t in the end as the sauce I’d made to go with it was ready – I’d planned to brown butter and sage, but didn’t have any sage or pumpkin at the time. We had *heaps* of gnocchi left over too.
  • Citrus, Ginger and Tofu Salad – we tweaked this a bit and it was a stir fry rather than a salad but it was really tasty, the tofu was baked and took in the flavourings really well, definitely want to make this again over the warmer months.
  • Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Corn and Cilantro – or red capsicum soup with corn and coriander. This came together on a day where nothing seemed to quite go smoothly, but it was so worth it once we served it up. All the flavour came together beautifully and the lightly sautéed corn was just perfect.
  • Petits Pois à la Française Redux – this recipe has become a new favourite, grilled lettuce? Who knew?! We managed to get fresh peas for this and some really nice free range bacon. The creamy buttermilk dressing was light and brought everything together and it was just such a good dinner. Especially when we added poached chicken breast to it – want to make this again and again!
  • Gluten Free Peanut Sauce – the plan was to make this into something impromptu, but it’s still on the list at present and we haven’t made it yet. It’s a good option for ‘cbf’ nights as it’s easy and generally we have the ingredients for it to hand, and something to add to it to make it a meal.
  • Pomegranate Roast Lamb – we used pomegranate molasses instead of the fruit for this. The roast was cooked perfectly but the marinade didn’t really penetrate and so this was a little average for my taste. The dinner was overall great though because of the quality of the roast, but it wasn’t because of the recipe.
  • Chicken Marsala – this was fantastic, the chicken and sauce went perfectly with the spaghetti and I felt like I was eating from an Italian restaurant.
  • Roy Finamore’s Broccoli Cooked Forever – which I served on homemade pizza bases with buffalo mozarella added just as it came out of the oven. This broccoli recipe is divine – it’s rich and flavourful, decadent and with a hint of spice. I made mine with capers instead of anchovies so it’s also vegetarian (and easily vegan if you forgo the cheese).
  • Spanish Tomato Soup with Serrano HamSalmorejo – Cold Spanish Soup with Serrano Ham – I tweaked my approach to this recipe as I was using canned tomatoes, and so I cooked it up together for a bit and then let it come down pretty much to room temperature while I made the garnishes. It’s a great texture and flavoured soup, the garnishes really add to it and I can imagine that actually served cold that it’d be amazing!

I’ve just done the meal plan for the next fortnight, but mostly the recipes are from recipe books in the house and are not easy to link to. Maybe I’ll write a few up if I like them well enough. I also think I’ve finally managed to find the one place in my house to photograph meals that doesn’t yield an overt yellowing of the light. No idea why it happens but anyway, hopefully I’ll get better at photographing things and making them prettier (soft goal, I’m not attached to this, only to actually taking pictures and sharing them).

Nirvana coverTitle: Nirvana (Nirvana #1)

Author: J.R. Stewart

Publisher and Year: Blue Moon Publishers, 2015

Genre: YA, dystopian science fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

When the real world is emptied of all that you love, how can you keep yourself from dependence on the virtual?

Animal activist and punk rock star Larissa Kenders lives in a dystopian world where the real and the virtual intermingle. After the disappearance of her soulmate, Andrew, Kenders finds solace by escaping to Nirvana, a virtual world controlled by Hexagon. In Nirvana, anyone’s deepest desires may be realized – even visits with Andrew.

Although Kenders knows that this version of Andrew is virtual, when he asks for her assistance revealing Hexagon’s dark secret, she cannot help but comply. Soon after, Kenders and her closest allies find themselves in a battle with Hexagon, the very institution they have been taught to trust. After uncovering much more than she expected, Kenders’ biggest challenge is determining what is real – and what is virtual.

Nirvana is a fast-paced, page-turning young adult novel combining elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance. Part of a trilogy, this book introduces readers to a young woman who refuses to give up on the man she loves, even if it means taking on an entire government to do so.

My review: 

I loved the sound of this book, and I love the cover art. It’s gorgeous. I also really love the premise and synopsis – this is a great example of a book that captures the interest of the idle browser.

I liked the book and enjoyed reading it, the unique dystopian view is compelling and interesting, I liked the world building and would enjoy reading more in this world. Stewart has done an excellent job presenting a possible future governed by corporate interests over civil governance and environmental disaster. I thought that it was a little confused as to the fact that the ‘Enemy’ and the war was a propaganda campaign, but once that became clear I stopped wondering why the story was one-sided and why I hadn’t seen any interaction with the so-called enemy yet.

The narrative about the corporate secrecy, control, and profiteering is what worked best with this book, this element of the plot worked brilliantly. Unfortunately, it’s hard to connect with Kenders as a protagonist because despite her being the first person narrator of the story, she remains largely presented only through the eyes of the other male characters. From her dead husband, to the Corporal, her long time best friend Serge.

What affects connection with Kenders the most is that her crushing grief leaves her one dimensional – everything is about Andrew and it becomes much more his story, despite his absence than Kenders’. I also didn’t like the creepy control interaction going on with Serge trying to ‘protect’ her but also manipulate her into accepting a deeper relationship with him. I could do with much less creepy relationship dynamics in general in YA books – but since they’re a real threat every day I can get past that, but not without seeing better, healthier dynamics demonstrated – and relationships with dead/missing partners doesn’t really count for that. I really loved the setup of the book, the setup of the romance, Kenders and her band, Andrew trying to get to know her and get past crappy one-liners. I like how they connected and spent time together, and how the love between them blossomed was gorgeous! What I didn’t like is that by the time the present-day story takes place, that romance has subsumed all of Kenders feelings and personality – I know from the first part of the book that she’s not cardboard, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that. I don’t feel like she got to be as awesome as she was set up to be.

I really wanted the intrigue of the story to take me deeper and to bring Kenders out of her grief, have her discover more, and act on the knowledge she uncovers, the book focuses too much on the romantic plot element which to a point is satisfying and believable, but becomes forced and takes over what is really engaging and interesting about the story. I wanted to know more about Nirvana, about Hexagon, about how things got the way they are and what the other secondary characters like the Corporal, the psychologist and Serge think of things – it was there, but I wanted more of that and less of Kenders’ pining. Also, her familial backstory as a motivator is relevant but it was dwelt on in a way that I didn’t find that relevant to the central story. The presentation of this dystopia seems highly plausible, but other than Andrew’s disappearance I wonder what the big threat is – is it further environmental catastrophe and even scarcer resources, is it from Hexagon? Throughout the book that remained unclear to me.

While some books get by purely on characters, this book relies heavily on plot, which Stewert executes deftly. I’m left wanting answers to questions raised by the book and I look forward to the next book.

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

NetGalley Review

An eARC of these books was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I do have to note outright that I do not recommend these books, they are problematic in ways that are never resolved. It’s not romance, it’s rape culture with badly drawn tropes. These are directed toward a YA market, and given my issues with the story and characters, find this quite disturbing. 

Under Different Stars coverTitle: Under Different Stars (Kricket #1)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2013

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kricket Hollowell is normally not one to wish upon stars; she believes they’re rarely in her favor. Well versed at dodging caseworkers from Chicago’s foster care system, the past few years on her own have made Kricket an expert at the art of survival and blending in. With her 18th birthday fast approaching, she dreams of the day when she can stop running and find what her heart needs most: a home.

Trey Allairis hates Earth and doubts that anyone from his world can thrive here. What he’s learning of Kricket and her existence away from her true home only confirms his theory. But, when he and Kricket lie together under the stars of Ethar, counting them all may be easier than letting her go.

Kyon Ensin’s secrets number the stars; he knows more about Kricket’s gifts than anyone and plans to possess her because of them. He also knows she’s more valuable than any fire in the night sky. He’ll move the heavens and align them all in order to make her his own.

When everything in their world can be broken, will Kricket rely upon love to save her under different stars?

My review: 

Kricket is an interesting heroine, although seems to hit all the tropes for both looks and intelligence, plus a hard-luck past. Still, I like the way she engages, like the way the story begins. The writing tends toward info dumping, and it’s a bit slow in places, filled with tropes but not well done. I love tropes done well, but a lot of these made me cringe. Overall I quite liked the alternate universe in which Kricket finds herself. I read this because I was invested in her struggles (despite the make up of her character – although that was tempered somewhat by the fact that apparently that’s run of the mill in this alternate universe. Yes, I’m applying ‘handwavium’* with abandon here).

I kept reading this book (and the subsequent ones) because of some of the more disturbing plot elements and relationship dynamics that I hoped would be addressed. Relevant to my review for this book is the way that Kricket doesn’t seem to be able to make choices for herself and she ends up in various situations that aren’t great because of others’ who make decisions on her behalf. It’s very overtly gender essentialist although Kricket says all the right things about demanding independence – practically all the characters she meets who are male fall over themselves to be with her or have sex with her, and few end up having any genuine respect for her. Add that to the overdone over-protective streak of some of the characters once they decide she’s not the enemy and that they actually like/love her and want to look out for her, it doesn’t sit well. Kricket may not be a damsel in distress, but the other characters in the story try very hard to put her in that box.

And although in her own voice she rails against this – it’s frustrating to read. It’s also not an example I’d like to pass onto young people about how to navigate that kind of thing. Secondly, the development of the romance between Kricket and Trey is frankly unbelievable, I didn’t get the connection between them much at all – healthy respect and even friendship the way the other soldiers treated her, sure. But not romance. And on that note, while I’m good at handwaving and I’ve definitely done so for relationships I found problematic in other books, this romance didn’t sit right with me because of the differences in power dynamics as well as age and experience. Age and experience I can overlook in various contexts if it’s handled well, but I don’t think it was here and as such it came across as creepy – if less creepy than Kyon’s obsession with Kricket.

Overall I kept reading because I desperately wanted to read how things were addressed, dealt with, acknowledged, how Kricket empowered herself and what she did to get there. I could absolutely have gotten behind that. But… that’s not what happened in the first book. So I went onto the second, hoping that it was a bigger story building into something I could enjoy more and appreciate better.

 


Sea of Stars coverTitle: 
Sea of Stars (Kricket #2)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Kricket Hollowell was looking for her place in the world when she discovered that the universe was bigger—and more dangerous—than she had ever dreamed. Now, whisked across space to the planet Ethar, Kricket learns that her genetic ability to see the future makes her a sought-after commodity…and the catalyst for war between her star-crossed parents’ clans. According to Alameedan prophecy, one house will rise to power and the other will be completely wiped out, and Kricket’s precognition is believed to be the weapon that will tip the scales.

A target of both the Rafe and the Alameeda houses, Kricket finds protection—and a home—in the arms of Trey, her Etharian bodyguard-turned-boyfriend. But her visions of what’s to come disturb her deeply, especially since she must discover whether the gift of foresight will allow her to rewrite the future, or if her fate is as immovable as the stars.

My review: 

Book 2 of this series starts off looking up, but I felt like by the end it doesn’t really go anywhere. There are some nice character interaction moments, and I liked that Kricket got to save everyone once. I enjoyed that Kricket’s meeting with Charisma – Trey’s ex partner – was positive, although it did come across as a little saccharine. Also what the actual fuck is with the patriarchal nature of this worldset? It’s not actually worse than Earth on Ethar, but some of the overt views are really crap and again… it’s not something I’d want to give to other young adults as an example of dealing with this kind of stuff.

Aside from the few moments early on where Kricket gets to save herself and the others, she remains very much a commodity and I feel like this fact is reinforced well and truly above and beyond what is necessary. I don’t feel like her companions were effective in objecting to her status as someone seen as a commodity by others in their world. Also, in the end she ends up in the hands of the violent sociopath Kyon anyway. And is coerced into being a reluctant informant. I read speculative fiction because there’s enough of the real world to deal with on a daily basis, but this is straight out of something in my news feed. It’s nasty and insidious and is presented as though Kricket is a heroine for dealing with things, Kyon is presented as being insane but also as something of an antihero to sympathise with, Giffen is out to use her straight up – but at least he’s honest about it. Kricket’s so-called father is essentially meaningless in the story and the writing failed to give me any investment in the war at large overall – it was too impersonal and Kricket’s experiences were largely too removed from the war happening for it to be meaningful.

Again in reading this book I was left with a desperate sense of wanting it to be part of a larger story where Kricket gets to triumph for herself and the nasty, insidious, rape culture aspects of the story would be owned and dealt with in some way I could stomach. It didn’t happen, but I proceeded to the third book hoping, because it does read as though there’s a build up to some momentous event.

 

Darken the Stars coverTitle: Darken the Stars (Kricket #3)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kyon Ensin finally has what he’s always wanted: possession of Kricket Hollowell, the priestess who foresees the future. Together, their combined power will be unrivaled. Kricket, however, doesn’t crave the crown of Ethar—she has an unbreakable desire to live life on her own terms, a life that she desperately wants to share with her love, Trey Allairis.

As conspiracies rage in the war for Ethar, Kricket’s so-called allies want to use her as a spy. Even those held closest cannot be trusted—including Astrid, her sister, and Giffen, a member of a mysterious order with a hidden agenda. But Kricket’s resolve will not allow her to be used as anyone’s pawn, even as the Brotherhood sharpens its plans to cut out her heart.

As the destiny prophesied by her mother approaches, Kricket will backtrack through her fiery future to reshape it. For she knows one thing above all else: the only person she can truly count on is herself.

My review: 

I very nearly did not finish this book because the rape culture and romanticising of domestic/intimate partner violence was a significant part of the story throughout most of the book. It sat really uncomfortably with me. At this point having invested two previous books, I was quite invested in Kricket as a character (having long handwaved the badly drawn tropes of her character make up), but it was just grim to read – and not in a good way. It’s like watching some of the worst elements of society unfold before you, but painted in pretty colours as though it will hide the ugliness. Plenty of people think these books are the best ever, that they’re super romantic and so on so clearly that’s worked but I’m reading this with constant discomfort.

I liked that Kricket managed to escape with another of the priestesses back to Earth. The ending is both satisfying and leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth – it’s not the empowerment I’d wanted for Kricket, but it is freedom and one she’s chosen. At no point do any of the relationships that Kricket is invested in really come through for her, not her sister, not her father, not Trey or the soldiers, certainly not Kyon. It’s just her surrounded by a whole lot of betrayal and sacrificial expectations. I feel like Kricket both simultaneously rejected and embraced the martyrdom of the story outcome, it’s part of the bad taste I think.

I doubt this is the end of the series, but I doubt I can be convinced to read any others. I can deal with this ending and write this whole experience of this series off as a bad idea, and evidence that just because you can read a book, and just because you hope that it will all come out in the wash, doesn’t mean you should read it, doesn’t mean the crap will be addressed. I should know that already, but apparently it’s one of those lessons you need to learn more than once.

I do not recommend these books at all. They do not take you to a good place, they do not leave you in a good place. They are not good examples of pretty much anything for young adult readers. The tropes are badly drawn and anything interesting is overwhelmed by the creepy rape culture factor. I’ve gone to the trouble to share my reviews and write up this post because I think it is incredibly important to challenge problematic things and to say what’s not okay about them.

 

*Handwavium refers to my ability and perceived need to handwave elements of something that I either find unbelievable, out of place, badly used tropes, or sometimes even offensive. (If I stopped watching and reading anything that was problematic well, I would read and watch very little, and that’s not how I roll, considered criticism and engagement for the win.)

Mythmaker coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #6

Title: Mythmaker (Peacemaker 2)

Author: Marianne de Pierres

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot, 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, environmental fiction, dystopia

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for an organisation called GJIC with Nate Sixkiller as her immediate boss. Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another. Then there’s the escalation of Mythos sightings, and the bounty on her head. Oddly, the strange and dangerous Hamish Burns is the only one she can rely on. Virgin’s life gets… untidy.

My review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

What a great continuation from PeacemakerMythmaker is the new book in this series and it picks up where the last book left off with Birrimun Park still under threat by Mythos, a largely unknown enemy. This book, this series has such grand style about it! Fantastic characters that live up to their outlandish names, government conspiracy, political intrigue, environmental dystopia, the unknown alien enemy, tiny hints of romance – but nothing trite or easy. This book reminds me of Lois McMaster Bujold in the way it blends different sub-genres to get the best telling of a story, and I devoured every word and was left desperately wishing for more! Book two of a series, Mythmaker benefits greatly from reading Peacemaker first, as it builds on the story begun in book one and is clearly working towards a grand conclusion. Having read much of de Pierres’ work, it will be well worth the wait! I reviewed Peacemaker  not long ago if the sound of this series interests you.

This book evokes a believable imagining of a near-future Australian not-quite dystopia. The supercity setting with overpopulation and one remaining nature reserve in Birrimun Park seems real enough to send chills down your spine. One of the elements I particularly liked about Mythmaker was how technology was both an ally and an enemy. Issues with lack of citizen privacy exist, there’s a sense of constant surveillance or close to it, but it also seems to be something that can be manoeuvred around. And similarly, there are limits to the information that can be easily obtained by the agency Virgin is working for with Nate Sixkiller. In this book, technology is used as tool and not as a crutch for the story, something that isn’t always done well but here it’s quite apparent. It’s also clear that the government agency that Virgin is forced to join forces with isn’t telling her everything, but she has great friends and the odd unlikely ally or two that help her get to the bottom of things. This too is what is satisfying, a cast of characters and not one lone hero with the weight of the world on their shoulders – there are always other people involved.

I love the way Virgin isn’t satisfied with being put in a place and told to do a certain thing. She takes the role she’s been given and the constraints and uses them to do things her own way. Also, I really love the way Caro’s role in the story and as Virgin’s friend is continued and expanded as it feels very real to me. This is something that I’ve noticed particularly with de Pierres’ writing is that she writes friendship beautifully, it’s deeply satisfying. If you’re someone who reads for great friendship, then you can’t go past the friendships and character dynamics created in this book, and others by the author (I’d particularly recommend the Tara Sharp books for friendship dynamics, and the Sentients of Orion series for intricate, complex and compelling character dynamics).  All of the characters and not just the protagonists in this series are colourful and so deftly written I can almost picture them as I read, almost hear their voices when they speak – like Papa Brise, Chef Dab, Caro and Greta. I love this and it’s often what has me fall in love with a book or series.

More and more this style of urban fantasy is what I’m drawn to. Stories of a city, stories of a place, but not an old-world foreign, medieval style place. I love the weave of fantasy with modernity! And I love the way that books like this can project into the future the concerns of the present, the consequences of our lack of environmental foresight, the threat of corporate and government oversight and what that change in the context of citizenship and freedom may look like. I love the Australia that is at the heart of this book, it’s a layered mythology that is anything but stereotypical. Instead, it comes across as familiar to those of us who live here, and I think creates an inside view and sense of knowing for readers from beyond Australia’s shores; not in a way that evokes typical imagery or landmarks, it’s deeper and more subtle than that.

If you are looking for unique, beautifully written urban fantasy. This series is for you, Peacemaker and Mythmaker are visionary and deeply satisfying books to read. Mythmaker continues what Peacemaker started ramping up the action, with even higher stakes, doesn’t let up and definitely doesn’t disappoint.

 

I work in an agency doing content things, it’s a dynamic place to work and is busy and quite open – very collaborative and has lots of informal space usage encouraged. I *love* this about it. I also love that most of us use headphones for when we want to get stuck into something and not engage outwardly (also useful for when the music playing is not to your taste).  That means that aside from my Pandora stations, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. I’ve been loving this so much! So I thought I’d share what I’d happened upon recently. Feel free to tell me if you find something new you love, or if you already love these things squee with me about how amazing and wonderful they are!

The Wheeler Centre Podcasts

Walking the Walk: Next Steps Against Family Violence: Such amazing women speakers, speaking candidly and critically,  in detail about family violence and how it is so very gendered.  There was also a great question at the end about family violence that happens in non hetero- or gender- normative situations and that was well asked, and well acknowledged by the speakers I thought. The whole issue is layered and complex, it’s not as simple as any of the slogans would have us believe. At the root of it is entitlement, and that invariably almost always leads back to sociocultural norms that are taught, learned and reinforced at every turn.

The F Word: Aboriginality: I loved this podcast, it was so interesting to listen to the speakers and it is glad to see Aboriginal speakers prioritised here and having the chance to speak from their experiences about what is important to them. It’s hard to describe how this was different from what is generally a very white feminism in Australia, I don’t quite have the words, but it was there and it was awesome – more feminism like this. More everything that includes and celebrates Indigenous Australian perspectives and expertise.

Galactic Suburbia

I love this podcast and it’s the first one I ever fell in love with. I devoured three episodes recently, not quite in order as I’m saving the Tiptree Spoilerifics for when I’ve read the books (I know it’s not necessary, but it’s helpful incentive to read the books and I want to do it this way). Speculative fiction and feminism, discussed by three brilliant, articulate women. So fucking awesome. Galactic Suburbia has a Patreon campaign, maybe you’d be interested in supporting it?

126: Hugos!: All the Hugos Ceremony aftermath! I watched the twitterstream live, but not the actual livestream (I am edging my way back into awards gently). It was awesome to be on twitter and experiencing all the interaction and brilliant commentary by so many people! I loved that part of it. Also, I am really pleased about the results, and it’s gone a reasonably long way to restoring my faith in fandom for awards, which has been (a lot) lacking for a few years.

128: 2 September 2015: Interesting data thanks to work by Nicola Griffiths crunching numbers relating to awards shortlists and winners, discussions about diversity panels and how after a certain point they’re not the conversation you need to be having and putting those ‘diverse’ labelled people on – they’re the people you should be including on all the OTHER discussions, because actually, that’s what diversity genuinely looks like. Lots of smart discussion, as usual. I love it.

129: 16 September 2015: Discussion of Australian politics and the recent Spill which has given us Malcolm Turnbull as our new Prime Minister. It’s a great discussion of our political system at present and how, it’s a bit of a joke. I’m sure there was some great commentary about the ability to win elections is not an indication of competency to govern – but I’m seeing a bunch of similar commentary around in relation to our government at present so it’s all a bit blurred together. In particular listening to the politics discussion, I love that sense of knowing that I was far from alone being glued to the coverage that night. Also acknowledgement of that thing where, nothing has really changed with the change of who’s in the top job – but so many of us have *hated* Abbott for so long and so much, that seeing him gone couldn’t be anything other than a pleasant relief. Even if you wake up to something of an ongoing hangover the next day.

Fangirl Happy Hour

It’s all thanks to Galactic Suburbia that I came across Fangirl Happy Hour, but I’m so glad I did! I love Ana and Renay! They’re so great to listen to! I love their enthusiasm! I love that they have such different and similar tastes and that they support this for each other so delightfully! It’s so charming! Speculative fiction in all it’s genre awesomeness from a perspective that brings things to my attention that I am actually interested in, with recommendations that I can trust in whether I’ll like something or not. I just can’t get enough, I inhaled four episodes:

14: ALL the Recommendations: Wow! So many recommendations! It is still one of the things on my to-do list to go through the show notes and add a bunch of the things to my reading/watching list! Not the least of which is their list of 81 cool podcasts… apparently I’ve plunged deeply back into podcast listening without even trying!

15: Three Out of Five Space Bees: This was a great episode, I almost wanted to read the ‘Hawkeye’ comic (I am not a comics person at this point in time). I really enjoyed the discussion of ‘Uprooted’ which is Naomi Novik’s new book and sounds fantastic.

16: Kate Elliott: Panel Rebel: This was such a fun podcast to listen to! Kate Elliott was a marvellous guest and I am now wondering how I never read any of her stuff before – she writes right within the genre spaces that I love. So, pretty much all her books are on my to-read list now.

17: Sigourney Weavering: I felt so much for Ana in this episode – I would have been equally upset by the treatment by the staffer at the con when she was trying to find out about the photo shoot stuff. How fucking rude. I really loved the discussion in this episode about the weight of history in the fandom/umbrella genre – and how sometimes it can be nice to try and read that, but it should never be imperative. Also, sometimes you have to make your own historical touchstones, and share them – hopefully others will also appreciate them, but saying something IS like this and that X book IS quintessential and you’re not a ‘real’ fan without it, is crap. I’m not buying. I’ve still never read Asimov or Heinlein, or Clark, or a bunch of others and honestly… I probably won’t. It’s not relevant history for me – it doesn’t enhance my experience of reading in this fandom/genre umbrella.

Feminist Frequency

Today I got around to listening to the latest in Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency series about Tropes in Video Games. The most recent topic of discussion is women as reward, how that works and what it looks like, what it means in the context of gaming, designer/developer respect for women, and perpetuating and reinforcing through creating incentives out of women as objects/rewards, the sense of male entitlement that is prevalent in our patriarchal society. It’s a brilliant critique, I really loved the way she ties it all into that entitlement and how it differs in effect in gaming rather than movies, television, books or comics – the nature is the challenge, achievement and reward – interactivity and making women rewards. Not people. Rewards. Which is to say, the games make a massive assumption that gamers are pretty much cis, male, straight, and not for example women, or non-binary gendered, or queer. Anita says it much better than I do, go watch her awesome videos:

 

The Misandry Hour:

First episode just dropped of Clementine Ford’s new project and IT’S AWESOME. It’s so awesome. In case you weren’t sure, the title is a tongue in cheek poke at the whole idea and myth surrounding misandry. There is a reasonable portion of the episode devoted to addressing this idea of misandry and what it comes down to is that any cultural level hatred that any group of women could level against men, cannot bring to bear the same influence, power and social inequality experienced by women. It’s not the same playing field, and to suggest that it is, frankly is part of the problem. The guests that Clementine invites along this episode are awesome, they’re interesting to listen to and the whole conversation is in depth crunchy feminism – it’s confronting and uncomfortable in places about our individual thinking processes, our own conditioning and how we engage and why. I didn’t know that I was desperate for this until I listened to it, but wow, it was so very much what I needed. This podcast is the product of a Patreon campaign for the express purpose of valuing women’s work and time, so maybe consider supporting it if you’d like?

So the whole meal planning thing has taken root in our household, and this is something I’m glad about as I think it makes a bunch of things easier – especially given my particular role in our three person household is managing of food decisions and a large chunk of the cooking. I’ve been using a Pinterest board to track my cooking and recipes so that both the result and the recipe are in roughly the same location, so take a look there if you’re interested. Below is a few dot points on general things I’ve learned in this meal planning process, mostly particular to our own situation but maybe useful for readers too, and below that a bunch of recipes and my commentary about making them, or not, and what worked and didn’t.

  • You need to work out what you need out of your food – do you just need it to do dinner and not have leftovers cluttering up the fridge. or do you actually need leftovers for lunches and frozen meals for later?
  • The last point is a necessary thing to try and figure out about your needs because that influences how many recipes/meals you need and also what kind of things you might pick for the fortnight. Roughly I’ve worked out that including some leftovers for lunches/frozen meals (either or) we need 10-12 meals/recipes per fortnight.
  • This is dependent on the activities of the fortnight, if 2 of us are out every day at uni and need lunches, that’s a factor, but if one of us is home most of the time, different provisions are more useful.
  • It’s probably important to build in some flexibility – you can plot out a plan for what most nights are going to look like, but having gaps where you can either eat leftovers, or do something spontaneous can be useful (especially if you have back up super cheap/easy options on hand).
  • This is hard but worth it, but I really notice that having a well stocked pantry helps with variety and awesomeness of things I can make cheaply. The hard part of this is knowing what particular ingredients like vinegars, sauces, spices etc are useful for you and how you like to cook and eat. Then the next thing is to spread out across shopping trips buying and maintaining those things so that they’re generally on hand, but not an onerous expense.
  • I’m still noticing and marvelling at the difference it makes to have homemade frozen stock on hand, it saves a massive amount of time because they’ve already simmered for ages, plus the ingredients are super cheap and often can be done using up a bunch of kitchen scraps that would otherwise go to waste.
  • We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to divest from supermarket meat, mostly we were avoiding it anyway but convenience kept us hooked for a while. The straw was just the lack of quality and the limited range/flexibility. Also, it’s not really cheaper than the cost of meat at butchers I can find at markets near to me – this may differ for you. I’d love to do a free range meat delivery but I’m not that organised yet, plus it’s a bit more expensive than I can afford right now. Still, we’re enjoying the bounty of better quality meat, and I’ve had some great luck with specials on cuts of meat that I really love – like lamb racks/cutlets.

So some of the meal planning I have done in the recent months – note this is the plan and not it’s execution. These links are from mid July through until the end of August. There’s a bunch of stuff here and I initially tried to plot it out by meal plan sections but it’s been a bit too long for that to make sense. I’ll try and do it for the current fortnight’s plan in another post.

  • Salmon fillets with blender Bearnaise – this didn’t happen and the ‘recipe’ was mostly just to fuel an idea that would work better from us (I like some fish, but not salmon generally).
  • ‘No Time’ bread – currently my favourite go-to bread. I do it a long way because we don’t have a microwave, but the rising time is a fraction of what is needed otherwise. Also the texture is great and flavour really pleasing.
  • Asparagus with Sage Butter Pasta – this pre-dates my plan to try and focus on more seasonal fruit and veg, but wasn’t my favourite asparagus or buttered pasta recipe.Asparagus and Sage Butter Pasta
  • Pasta with Lemony Sauce – I haven’t yet made my own pasta for this, although the recipe suggests doing so (I think it will be awesome and plan to do so at some point). This is another simple sauce that does a lot with very little. Love this one.
  • Buttermilk and Oatmeal bread – I had buttermilk to use up and I was curious. Also, this is a period in which I was home a lot, so had time to bake. This was a great bread – a little sweet for my taste as an every day bread but it was *delicious*.
  • Butter Chicken – one recipe I found that looked like it was worth trying – and it definitely produced a good butter chicken-y type flavour, which was reminiscent of getting good Indian food, but not really there at all as far as the overall look and feel go. I now have two other recipes from friends who say they are awesome, so I’m keen to try those at some stage too.
  • Broccoli, Parmesan and Lemon Soup – had leftover broccoli and this was a spectacularly good use for it! Great soup, so much flavour and each element was apparent! Easy and delicious to make, will definitely become part of the winter soup staples.
  • Spiced Lamb Casserole with Thyme Dumplings – made this with kangaroo which worked really well, the dumplings were light and fluffy. I used quince jam I had in the fridge instead of quince paste which was great. This is a recipe that appealed to me as a stew but especially because it doesn’t rely on tomato for flavour (I was a bit over tomato dominated flavour things at this point).
  • Pork with Cider and Cream – this recipe was fantastic! So good, so tasty! Loved it from start to finish! We had the pork cheap from a previous market shop where pork was on sale, used frozen broad beans and easily justified a bottle of cider to try this out – so worth it. Highly recommended.
  • Made roast chicken – had originally intended to make Barbara Kafka’s Simplest Roast Chicken, but it was a night where I was with Fox in the kitchen and I just showed him how to make a roast chicken on the fly by feel – not intentionally, but getting him to touch the chicken took enough effort that I didn’t want to fuss with a recipe – I’d still like to try this one though.Fox's First Roast Chicken Dinner
  • Made pull-apart rolls in preparation for making these Panko crusted fish sticks with lime and tarragon aioli into fish burgers, but they were tiny – so we had sliders! They were so cute, but next time I’ll make bigger rolls (the recipe did indicate they were dinner rolls, I should have realised).
  • Red Currant and Rosemary Lamb Shanks – this was another recipe that I was drawn to because of the lack of tomato dominance. It was a bit of a hunt for the red currant sauce (which had been in the supermarket the week before!) but it all worked out. The sauce didn’t thicken as much as I’d have liked for this so I’ll tweak that to try and have that happen next time, but it was flavourful and I do want to make it again.
  • Ginger’s Lamb Vadouvan Chili – this recipe was on the list but didn’t get made, it’s still one I’d really like to make, but it might be getting a bit too warm in the year for it.
  • In this fortnight, I also made chicken stock, which turned out to be a particularly good batch.
  • More baking, I made Bette’s Best Sour Cream Cake – which lasted the entire week and was *delicious* It was moist and flavourful, plus was versatile. We had it with cream and cherries one night as dessert.Bette's Best Sour Cream Cake with cherries and cream
  • One of my partners from Perth was visiting, is vegetarian and wanted to learn to cook. So we spent a chunk of time on that for his benefit. One of the things we cooked was Jane Grigson’s Celery Soup, which even if you don’t like celery, is utterly gorgeous and well worth trying.
  • Another dish that I tried to teach my partner is Andrew Feinberg’s Roasted Broccoli Frittata which is absolutely one of my favourite recipe finds. This is gorgeous, glorious, utterly incredible. Do it as the recipe suggests, cutting corners means you miss out on the delicious custard-y texture which would be a shame indeed.
  • We were out with friends and there were burgers, so we needed to come home and make burgers. Ral made *amazing* homemade burgers, with Wonder Fries – and it was just so so so good. (Vegetarian partner was off exploring Melbourne this night).
  • Broccoli Pasta Bake – my own recipe, that I want to write up at some point because my cheese sauce rocked, and it’s gotten better and better each time I do it. When all else fails for inspiration, fresh broccoli and cauliflower (including the stems), cheese sauce and cheese with breadcrumbs on top.
  • Another easy pasta dish, Easiest Alfredo Sauce, aimed at teaching my visiting partner – but he was struggling with this idea of what cooking consistently meant so he begged off for this. We made this sauce for a fresh pasta we bought from the markets – goats cheese and truffle ravioli. We added the broccoli for freshness and it came together beautifully.
  • I had on my list of meal plans for quite a while to make this Traditional Beef Daube, it gave me the runaround with ingredients and being tired and not reading the preparation properly – I totally flaked on it. But, it was so worth it in the end, rich flavours that just made us all happy. Would definitely make this again.
  • More pasta – it’s a staple in our house and an easy way to get Fox to cook as it’s the kind of cooking he’s most comfortable with. So we made Donna Hay’s Pasta with Pumpkin and Sage Brown Butter. That and we had sage to use up. This pasta with sage was much better than the other one – I think I’ll use this brown butter technique with the asparagus recipe in order to bring out the best in it next time.
  • There was in August this magical day that heralded the warmer weather to come and it was all the excuse we needed! We barbecued a flat chicken a seasoning mix called ‘Duck Duck Goose’ that had fennel, juniper berries, cassia, star anise, Sichuan pepper, orange peel, cloves and marjoram. It went on the charcoal BBQ and was so delicious! For sides I made these Roasted Pomegranate Carrots, and Lemony Roasted Cauliflower with Oregano and Garlic – both of these were absolute winners as sides, I’ve made both again since.
  • I love that soup has become such an easy go-to recipe. This Speedy Tuscan White Bean Soup came together really well – despite the canned beans (which can sometimes have a weird flavour from being canned). We added bacon to the top of this and Ral fried slices of bread that were so thin they became these delicious crouton slices – it felt like a much fancier dinner than it actually was, which is always nice in a fortnight where the food budget is a bit gloomy.

DUFC LogoGreetings all! I have sumptuous carnival for you to feast upon this month! You may remember that I said this month I was running with a theme where I wanted to do a retrospective of past DUFC posts, and posts from previous months and years that might have been missed. People have been so generous in their submissions to me both for this current month and the retrospective and I’m humbled and delighted. And now, onto the feast!

 

DUFC Retrospective

Chally of Zero at the Bone wrote in 2012 about working towards the positive and how feminism shaped her view to think of people individually and to try and avoid assumptions as well as being more conscious of people’s boundaries.

Shae of Free Range in Suburbia blogged in 2014 this great post titled Live Louder where she talks about the trolls that try to bring her down and that she’s actually enjoying being a happy person, raising her kids and being herself fully. Love it!

In 2011 Bluebec wrote about Islamaphobia, prejudice, and discrimination faced by Muslim people in the US at the time, it seems rather timely to share her post How to radicalise your population now.

From Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town in 2007, Parenting While Female: “It’s not about you”, on breastfeeding in public and the default male gaze.

Earlier this year, Stephanie of No Award wrote about China through the looking glass about the way Western approval for fashion, design and success is apparently necessary. This post is also about how Western interpretations of certain Chinese fashion particularly period pieces can be appropriative and offensive. The best bit: Stephanie highlights the work of some Chinese designers and wow, their designs are gorgeous!

From Bluemilk in 2010, a post looking at rape and responsibility: ‘But why shouldn’t she take some responsibility too for the rape?’ This post is powerful, it’s written to be confrontational, to paint a crude comparison that absolutely covers all the standard arguments for why women should take *more* responsibility, only when you change that context only slightly and place a man in that same similar kind of situation, it no longer makes sense that he too is to blame. Moral of the story: women need to take *less* responsibility, not more.

Deborah from A Bee of a Certain Age wrote in 2013 some pointed remarks about research and the pregnancy police and our tendency to infantalise pregnant women.

In February, Emily of Mama Said wrote about this idea that as a parent you’re supposed to be grateful *all the time* when sometimes it’s actually perfectly reasonable to want your own bed to yourself. Especially if that’s not likely to happen.

Earlier this year Liz from No Award wrote about Melbourne and Chinese Pirates courtesy of The Argus, once Melbourne’s premier newspaper which has apparently since been digitised for all of you whom are interested in history.

Also 2011 by Bluebec is this post Dan Savage is still biphobic – I’m sure he means well but given the authority with which he speaks after all this time, it’s not really good enough by a long shot.

An extended transcript of Scarlett Harris’ interview with The Sex Myth author Rachel Hills,  originally featured in last month’s carnival (all very good links if you missed it).

Chally at Zero at the Bone in 2012 wrote about Nourishment and how food can bring us joy and connection, it’s not about being a good person or about denying and punishing yourself.

I love this semi-satirical post from Emily at Mama Said from July this year about how getting your baby to sleep. It’s all the things that you’re told from experts, and from every other parent and a few other things besides, it’s a spectacular rant, enjoy it and feel vindicated as needed.

No Award’s Stephanie on her own site back in 2014 about Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: Feminist Ghosts and Monstrous Women of Asia, in Stephanie’s own words: “8000 words on the monstrous women of Asia, feminism, and colonialism”.

This 2014 repost from Bluemilk, her Meanjin piece,  is a beautiful reflective piece on reading and re-reading, on consideration of the self in situations and moving forward.

In 2013, Stephanie from No Award wrote about solidarity for white women and the (white) face of aUStralian feminism regarding interracial narratives and Australia. This is particularly in relation to Australian consumption of US media amongst other things. There’s no perfect way to be across everything, but as always it’s important for us to examine what we’re consuming and why. There are some great links in this post.

And finally, one last piece from Bluebec, The legacy we leave, on sheltering our children from the hatefulness in the world – not from all knowledge of, but the hatefulness itself in the hope that we do not pass this along to them, that they may be better than us.

In May this year, Kate Iselin wrote for Kill Your Darlings about that catch all phrase ‘women’s interests’ which signals to us as always that men’s interests are the public interest and that anyone else remains ‘other’.

Back in 2011 Chally of Zero at the Bone wrote about when resistance looks like capitulation, talking about this idea of the feminine and not refusing it altogether, but making it optional, being able to play with it. Honestly I’m a fan of any post that quotes Luce Irigaray…

Also from Liz of No Award and earlier this year, was this excellent post about attending the #loveOzYA event as someone passionately invested in Australian YA books.

In 2012, Blue Milk wrote a piece on 10 rules for women blogging about their relationship woes. It’s a little bit depressing how relevant these ‘rules’ remain today.

A momentary break if you will, for my favourite cute kitten picture:

Fluffiest grey kitten, cleaning his paws. Text: 'Here we see a tiny wigglefloof cleaning his tiny squishbeans'

 

 

 

And now a varied selection of headings under which the rest of our carnival resides.

 

 

Connection and Community

Brocklesnitch writes about how sharing of news when someone has died has changed, how you can seem to map the spread of the news through people’s reactions across different modes of social media, and how it’s unique and important and helps in its own way.

Deirdre Fidge writes for ABC’s The Drum about introversion and stereotypes, how it doesn’t always look like cats, naps and social stress.

Anna writes on Hoyden About Town calling for a brainstorming session on organising a festival to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, apparently the 300th anniversary coincided with the first ANZAC celebration but so far nothing is planned for this centenary.

 

Race and Racism

TigTog from Hoyden About Town posted a media circus about the use of Vegemite for brewing alcohol, pointing out that at best it’s incorrect and misguided and worst, is old fashioned racism. No points for guessing which localities would be affected by a ‘crackdown’ on shelves of Vegemite.

Writing in Water is a New Zealander living in the United States and writes about what New Zealand can learn from the United States about confronting racism. Writing in Water is a new voice to the carnival and very welcome.

Stephanie of No Award writes about fantasy worlds and real world commentary and how while she’d love to see less white-centric landscapes used in fantasy, she also doesn’t want to see non-white landscapes reduced to stereotypes or used to judge from an outside perspective.

A guest post from Daniel Jack on Celeste Liddle’s blog Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist talks about Adam Goodes and the racism that shows its ugly face when he dared to show his pride in his Aboriginal heritage, while also drawing attention to issues faced by Aboriginal people in Australia.

 

Marriage Equality

In Daily Life, Ali Benton looks at the personal cost to her family with the delay on marriage equality and the way in which Australian politics has generally handled the issue in recent years.

No Place For Sheep writes about the hypocrisy of Abbott saying that the same-sex marriage debate is a deeply personal issue, but then declined to allow Coalition MPs the opportunity for a conscience vote.

Rebecca Shaw writes for Crikey about how the blocking of marriage equality is frustrating, hurtful, incredibly exhausting and deeply personal.

Cristy Clark writes about the spurious arguments against marriage equality including our old favourite ‘won’t somebody think of the children?!’

Celeste Liddle of Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist writes about the Uluru Bark Petition how incensed she was that a small group of Aboriginal people who do not support marriage equality, claim to speak for all Arrernte people in this matter and how they do not speak for her.  (This post is equal parts about marriage equality and racism but since the racism is reflected in response to marriage equality, I’ve placed it here in the carnival.)

Bluebec wrote about marriage equality in Australia and in particular about the five hour meeting held by The Liberal Party on whether to allow a Party conscience vote. It took five hours to decide to maintain the same position (a decision that surprised exactly no one).

Sarah Johnson writes for The Conversation about how a constitutional referendum is a ‘Hail Mary’ for those opposed to same-sex marriage.

Luddite Journo writes for The Hand Mirror about biphobia and Radio New Zealand on the subject of marriage equality. Bi-erasure continues to be a thing all over the place I’ve noticed, it gets so tiresome.

 

Gaby Baby Outcry

Maeve Marsden writes for Daily Life about being a ‘gaby baby’ and how her family is normal in response to the homophobic backlash against the Gaby Baby film which portrays same-sex families and is being screened across Australia as part of Wear it Purple Day.

Rebecca Shaw writes for The Age about how following the homophobic reaction to ‘Gaby Baby’ in NSW that tolerance is no longer the benchmark, and instead the LGBTIQA now requires acceptance. The time has past where society simply must ‘put up with’ queer people, they (we) are fully fledged members of society and should be included and treated as such.

 

Motherhood, Maternity and Childcare

Emily of Mama Said writes about how she’s saying no to experts because while it may be that as a parent she wants to do everything possible to do the best for her kids, no one knows them like she does and she doesn’t need a $150 consultation about how to love them and raise them better, she’s already doing an amazing job.

@datakid23 and @solovii wrote for Open Knowledge Foundation about childcare at Govhack and how it got done.  So awesome!

Andie Fox (of Blue Milk) writes for Essential Baby trying to answer a range of common questions about extended breastfeeding. The post is personal, candid, honest and insightful about the topic.

Emily of Mama Said wrote this beautiful and insightful post about dealing with prenatal depression, there’s a content note for this as it’s dealing with anxiety and depression which may be triggering for some.

This anonymous guest post on Mama Said is sharp and to the point about being a lesbian parent and all the awful ways in which people assume they have the right to ask questions including and perhaps especially, offensive ones.

Blue Milk writes about conversations with children, different snippets and moments that are so lovely when shared. I love posts like these, they always make me smile.

Also about conversations with children, Emily of Mama Said writes about her two year old and the dreaded why stage – this too is lovely to read.

 

Media Reflections

Jo from A Life Unexamined talks about her love for Legend of Korra and how glad she is that the way the show created the relationship between Korra and Asami left things open to interpretation and specifically didn’t push things in an obvious romantic direction.

Alayna Cole writes for Marianne de Pierres blog (there are many worthy reviews of all kinds of stuff here) reviewing Far from the Madding Crowd. Although the movie promises feminist themes, it instead overtly signals independence and empowerment without ever actually exploring or delivering on these elements. This review is insightful and highlights a common issue that happens when popular media tries to assert itself as feminist or diverse but doesn’t really deliver and seems surprised when people react as such.

Stephanie of No Award writes about The Prison Island of Sodor and how Thomas the Tank Engine is not nearly as innocent as we might have supposed. This is a brilliant post exposing the creepiness of a children’s television show with a dystopian flair.

Anwen Crawford writes in Kill Your Darlings about how the experience of watching television  has changed dramatically for many of us – once a central and often social activity, it can now also be a private personal experience streaming directly to our laptops. She talks about how sometimes by screen light you can feel less alone.

Liz writes about No Award watching Glitch, which is apparently not bad, and even quite good in parts and involves dead people, a love triangle, the good of the people, a gothic Australian small town setting and all of the eye rolling that is Australia being afraid of media and the supernatural.

 

Women, Feminism and Meta

This post on comfortable misogyny by Kari Sperring is a special inclusion. This post is not a post from an Australian or New Zealand blogger, or from someone living elsewhere and is originally from around here. However, it is a post that speaks to an experience that is familiar to me, and familiar to many of the women around me in Science Fiction and Fantasy/Speculative Fiction circles. It’s about the insidious aspect of misogyny and the fatigue that goes along with trying to fight against it year after year.

Jemma from stuff.co.nz writes about the importance of normalising swearing for women as it is wrongly seen as the purview of men and that being a woman, credible, delightful and other things as well as swearing isn’t possible. I’m with Jemma because quite frankly, fuck that. (Fuck remains one of my favourite words to say).

Deborah from A Bee of a Certain Age spoke to Radio NZ’s The Panel talking about how what really matters is what a woman looks like.  Jacinda Ardern, a highly regarded New Zealand MP was described as a “pretty little thing” on national TV.

Brocklesnitch writes this awesome succinct post about don’ts and do’s – the list of things we’re not supposed to do grows ever longer and an awesome response to that.

Also from Deborah of A Bee of a Certain Age is this discussion of diversity in prime time and how representation on prime time television and radio is very white, very male, and very middle class.

Stephanie of No Award writes about the role models of No Award, this is a little bit irreverent but there are some marvellous examples here to appreciate.

Kasey Edwards writes for Daily Life talking to a Melbourne based beauty therapist and the most sexist requests for beauty treatments, and how those often come from male partners and are accompanied by a distinct lack of respect, sense of entitlement with the desire to control women’s behaviour.

Scarlett Harris wrote In Defence of Cosmopolitan in the wake of the magazine being put behind blinders in some U.S. drug and department stores.

Georgina Dent writes for Women’s Agenda about Mark Latham’s resignation from the Australian Financial Review amid ‘controversy’ and how this victory is hollow.

Bluebec writes about mortality, not dying but also being aware of not being afraid of dying.

Fat Heffalump writes about how there are always experts, experts everywhere and they all have an opinion on others’ health.

 

Disability

Sonia writes for the ABC on Open Drum talking about career in transit and the difficulty in commuting and with transport generally if you have a disability and getting to work. This is an insightful piece and it highlights something often overlooked: the energy cost of travel that may be what makes employment difficult or impossible for some people, but that assistance and support for those who need it is limited.

Also on accessibility to transportation is this article from The Standard by Rachel Houlihan about how disability advocate Jax Jacki Brown was left hanging by V-Line after planning ahead for accessible train travel to Warnambool failed to eventuate and ended in an offer of a taxi. This was not the solution it pretended to be.

 

Politics

Over at The Hand Mirror, Julie is starting a series of posts encouraging women to run for local government in 2016 in New Zealand. The point is not only getting involved in your community, but working to make a difference and increasing diverse representation in local government.

No Place For Sheep writes about the bias and ethics  scandal surrounding Dyson Heydon as head of the Royal Commission investigating trade unions and with them the Labor Party. Impartiality and ethical integrity appear to be concepts unfamiliar to Hedon or his supporters which include Abbott, Pyne and Brandis.

Also from No Place For Sheep is a great piece on government by distraction, The post criticises the failed Operation Fortitude where it was proposed that the Australian Border Force would saturate Melbourne CBD asking people ‘randomly’ for their identification paperwork seeking to specifically catch out visa offenders.

 

Violence Against Women

Please note that there is a content warning with this topic as it may be triggering for some people.

This month I wrote about domestic violence after my student midwife lectures on the subject stirred up a bunch of memories and feelings. Domestic violence is such a huge issue in our current society – for everyone and I don’t understand why we’re doing so little do change that.

No Place For Sheep wrote about domestic violence and the bourgeoisie, criticising commentary on the issue by Martin McKenzie-Murray and Mark Latham where they deny that domestic violence is an issue that affects women across all backgrounds, race, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on.

Rosie Batty writes from her blog at Never Alone about attending the Royal Commission on Family Violence in Victoria recently and how cultural change around this issue is imperative.

 

Books, Reading, Writing, and Reviews

On the 24th of October in Canberra, Marianne de Pierres is running a Writing Masterclass, it’s a paid event with concession prices available and bookings are necessary. The class will include how to address some of the key issues in writing speculative fiction, including how to build convincing worlds, maintain narrative drive, and effectively blend sub-genres. Perhaps seems like an advert, but part of feminism is maintaining that women should be paid for their work and their expertise and in the spirit of that understanding, sharing this opportunity to work with such an experienced author seems relevant.

Alex of Randomly Yours, reviews Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway describing a story of those who’ve come back from fairyland and wish they hadn’t. This story features a boarding school, a murder, explorations of trust and insecurity and characters who are not all heteronormative. Hopefully this review makes you want to read this novella too – I’m certainly hooked!

Another book review by Alex that I thought might be of interest is a review of Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. This book is of an entire planet as a university with a story about a character whose parents don’t want her to go and study there. I’m really intrigued by Alex’s description of the world and it’s depth, not to mention this author has been on my to-read list for a long time.

I wrote two book reviews  this month for books that I highly recommend. Firstly I reviewed Nalo Hopkinson’s ‘Falling in Love with Hominids’ which was such a pleasure to read. It’s my first time reading Hopkinson and I can’t wait to read more! Secondly, I reviewed ‘Cranky Ladies of History’ edited by Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner Roberts, which I am also proud to have helped crowdfund. It’s a gorgeous collection of stories about women worth remembering and appreciating, women who’ve been hard done by historical record keeping.

Stephanie of No Award wrote up a great post reviewing a bunch of anthologies including Phantazein by small press Fablecroft and Eat the Sky Drink the Ocean by Allen and Unwin, and Dead Sea Fruit a collection by Kaaron Warren that is great food for thought.

Bluebec wrote up two reviews which are of interest, the first a post-apocalyptic review of Coda by Emma Trevayne and another post-apocalyptic review, this time of Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley.

 

James Tiptree Jr.

There were a couple of posts about Alice Sheldon’s 100th birthday this month which coincided with a small press release honouring her alter ego James Tiptree Jr, so I’ve put these posts together in their own category.

Firstly Laurdehel from Hoyden About Town talks about her delight about the release of ‘Letters to Tiptree’, it’s a great overview of the book.

Secondly, Alex of Randomly Yours, Alex, one of the editors for the book has also blogged about the book and has shared several other links that may be of interest, including a selection of the letters published in the book that are freely available as a taste test.

And finally, Tansy of tansyrr.com shares her appreciation for Alice Sheldon’s other alter ego Raccoona Sheldon as part of her ‘Women of the 20th Century’ series.

Many thanks go to Chally of Zero at the Bone for her ongoing coordination of the Down Under Feminist Carnival. Maybe you’d be interested in hosting a carnival? It’s easy and people send you lots of links, plus new voices bring other new voices to the conversation which is always awesome. If you’re interested, you can contact Chally via the Down Under Feminist Carnival site. The Eighty-Ninth Edition is planned for 5 October, 2015 hosted by Rebecca at at Opinions @ bluebec.com. Submissions to rebecca [dot] dominguez [at] gmail [dot] com.

Content warning: discussion of domestic violence, memories and experiences of violence.

 

 

The title for this post was a little tricky because this is not just one term, there are several and they’re all relevant. However, the domestic element of the violence is one of the things that has stayed with me this week and it’s one of the reasons I’m writing so I’m going to use domestic violence as short hand for all these terms: intimate partner violence, family violence, men’s violence towards women and children, violence towards women and children.

I’m writing about this topic now not because I am new to it, but because of some of my classes this week. As a student  midwife, my training involves learning about how to support women who have experienced, or are experiencing domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. There is an intimacy about midwifery that makes this topic of how to care critical for us. Long after the lectures have finished, tutorial discussions had, thoughts continue to simmer in my mind.

There is at present a national conversation taking place about domestic violence. In large part this is thanks to Rosie Batty, whose personal bravery and commitment to changing the status quo on this issue is well known. Destroy the Joint (Facebook link) is also working to bring awareness to this issue, by counting dead women. Their approach isn’t perfect: they count all women killed through violence, but there have been exceptions to this. So violence in general, not just domestic violence – although unsurprisingly it features as one of the main contributors to the deaths of 59 Australian women so far this year (also a Facebook link).

This post isn’t so much about facts and statistics, but my experience of those both this week and across my life. I think that it’s important to contextualise statistics – they’re not just numbers, they have real people, real lives and stories behind them. Sometimes that gets forgotten. I am someone who as a child witnessed domestic violence by my father towards my mother. This has had a lingering effect on me, for a start I remember very little of my childhood as my childhood self just blocked the memories and dissociated. As a teenager, my mother answered my questions about that time in her life honestly. She shared with me the copies of hospital reports she had kept that had said that she feared for her life. She told me that in the end she left not for herself, but for my brother and I. At the time she followed a Catholic faith and was told by her priest that she had made her bed and must lie in it.

I keep thinking about my mother in her early 20s dealing with this horror. I am almost in my mid-30s and can’t imagine dealing with it! She had (we have) a very supportive extended family who supported her but up until she left my father had isolated her significantly. It was hard to get out. She has occasionally  mentioned that she needed to steal money from him when he was drunk to buy necessities – like medicine for us children. I remember that all the blinds were always down in the house – there was no sunlight that ever came in. This was true even after she left and I remember my father constantly talking about people who were nosey and who interfered. He was referring to people who helped my mother get away.

These are some of the snippets that circled my mind all day following our lectures/discussions in class. I was thinking and wondering how it was possible that in 2015, some 20-30 years after this had happened to my mother, we were still looking at prevalence statistics that were the same. That 1 in 3 women had experienced physical violence, 1 in 5 had experienced sexual violence and that this was most likely at the hands of a current or former partner. Most of the perpetrators of violence toward women are male¹.

It’s also generally held that these numbers are conservative, that they represent only what has been reported and that there are many and varied reasons why violence of this kind is not reported. Or witnessed. And so never comes to light. In decades the conversation has barely shifted. The only positive thing to say is that the conversation is being had more out loud and more forcefully than before. In Victoria, there is a Royal Commission into Family Violence currently taking place. It should be a national project, I’m angry that it isn’t. We are failing so many people with this – not just the women being hurt and killed, or children traumatised, but the toxic masculinity that fuels male violence in our society.

And then my mind wandered further. Because discussion of emotional abuse occurred and this too has been recognised as a form of domestic violence. And although I’ve never lived in a partnered situation where I experienced domestic violence directed to myself by a current or former partner, I have had a partner, who I didn’t live with, who did emotionally abuse me for some two years of our four year relationship. And coming to terms with that being the reality really only happened this week – although the experience happened some years ago now. It was only when the fact of it was staring me in the face that I truly realised that’s what had taken place. I always dismissed it because nothing so terrible ever really came of it – as though the emotional anguish wasn’t harm in and of itself. Remembering, I cringed inwardly and felt all of the shame from back then all over again – and I remember feeling so ashamed that I’d gotten hurt. I felt like I should have known better. I should have done more. That’s crap of course, this person shouldn’t have been abusive. End of story. Even now I feel anger and fear towards them. They are still connected to one of my social communities and every so often I see them socially. I hate it and battle the fear and anger every single time.

From the lecture one of the things that had been discussed was the fact that leaving a violent relationship was one of the escalating factors that can lead to life-threatening situations, or even death. Domestic violence is reported as one of the leading causes of death and disability for women in Australia. It’s chilling to think that the biggest threat to my life is from someone I love or once loved as a partner. This realisation stays with me and still haunts me. And I still fear it even though I’ve never lived with anyone who was domestically violent toward me, none of my partners have ever been abusive toward me with that one exception above. The difference there is that I never lived with this person, and that was never part of the plan, so I was never isolated and cut off and never at risk of greater harm than what my emotional self suffered. And yet, my heart still caught in my throat when I wondered how many other women had thought similar things.

So this is just me, and just my experiences. And as I was immersed in all these complicated feelings new and old, another truth occurred to me. I remembered sitting in my lecture theatre and in my tutorial classroom, surrounded by at least 20 – 30 other women. And I was reminded of the prevalence statistics all over again and was horrified to consider that in the room, other than myself, other classmates are likely to have experienced or were perhaps experiencing domestic violence. And I wouldn’t know.

So it wasn’t just about the hypothetical women I’d be caring about in my professional capacity as a midwife, but a really strong reminder that at any time when I’m out in the world, this is surrounding me. This is happening and it’s largely invisible. And, as a society, Australia remains resigned to it. There seems to be so little action on a national level seeking to change the culture that allows domestic violence to thrive and visit such horror upon so many people.

One final acknowledgement. I’m speaking from my own experience here, and while I generally identify as a genderqueer person, there was something about this week and these experiences that really resonated with me in a way where I felt distinctly female. A woman. A genderqueer woman, but still a woman. And this blog post and things I’ve linked to are very cisgendered in their approach. I know that violence towards transgendered and genderqueer people is also a huge issue – and one that doesn’t have great statistics or funded research organisations looking into it at all. There should be these things happening, and the experiences of non-gender-binary people should be included in discussions about this issue and in strategies to address it.

Also, As an Anglo-white person, this is also a very white-centric view, where the rates of domestic violence experienced by Australian Indigenous women, for example have a much higher prevalence and are linked to effects of colonisation and intergenerational oppression. In short, racism compounds the effect exponentially. And this is just one consideration, women from a Cultural and Linguistically Diverse background who are immigrants or refugee women (link to relevant downloadable reports) also have different rates and experiences with domestic violence (and other violence particularly in the context of refugees), and similarly we don’t really prioritise that, especially not in culturally safe ways.

My point is, this post has it’s focus and it’s limited. There are also other really important aspects of this issue that need more attention and need to be discussed and it’s imperative that we seek to address all aspects of domestic violence, not just the cisgendered white face of it. There’s no one strategy that will encompass everything and everyone. Responses must be tailored, must be respectful, and must be culturally safe in order to be effective and make a sustainable difference.

When I qualify as a midwife, I will do my best to make a difference in this area. I’m not sure how that will work, or what will be involved but I can promise to do my best. I can be informed, I can be respectful, I can be kind and I can care about this issue and the effects it has on women, children, men and society at large.

  1. These statistics come from resources published by the Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS).

Cranky Ladies of History - coverReview for Reviews Sake

Title: Cranky Ladies of History

Editors: Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner-Roberts

Publisher and Year: Fablecroft Publishing, 2015

Genre: Historical fiction, speculative fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens…

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

My review:

I love living in the future! To have the privilege of participating in the funding of a book to really get behind books I want to see in print, to demonstrate with my frugal spending what I really want to read. I am proudly one of those who backed the Pozible campaign that was responsible for funding this book. What an extraordinary time in publishing, to be a reader and hooked into communities and networks!  I funded at the level where I received a gorgeous hardcover book, and I have to compliment Kathleen Jennings on her gorgeous cover and internal illustrations. From first glance at the cover you can see what this book is about, what kind of stories about ladies it tells, and it whets your appetite marvellously.

Historical fiction is one of those things I dabble in, historical non-fiction I just haven’t done remotely enough reading of. But there was no way I could resist an anthology like this that highlights the interesting lives of historical women, imagining how they lived, what they thought and looking at the impact they made – not always for the greater good. And that too is a strength of this anthology, it features all kinds of cranky ladies, from those who seek to improve the moral good, to those who are remembered with horror and fear, daring women, wronged women, women I’ve heard of and those who are brand new to me. This book is both a pleasure to read, and gives you some small insight into the historical significance of several women, mostly those who are forgotten by modern history. It’s not that the book is educational exactly, but it does make you want to learn more, to study these women and their lives.

Stories that particularly resonated with me, and it was hard to pick just a few I promise:

Bright Moon by Foz Meadows:

A woman who is determined not to submit to any man unless he can best her in wrestling, and because she is so fierce and talented, she wins thousands of horses from them as they fail to beat her. I love Khutulun’s fierce spirit and that she is herself and doesn’t have to hide from her father, that he supports her even if he is surprised by her declarations and strength of character. It’s these two things, her strength and his love that really resonated for me in this story.

Due Care and Attention by Sylvia Kelso:

I love the writing tone of this story, it plays in my mind almost as though I’m watching an episode of period drama like ‘Call the Midwife’ or ‘Downton Abbey’ or similar. I love Lilian’s dedication to medicine and care, and reading about the early use of cars in Brisbane was really interesting – particularly including the Royal Automobile Club. I loved in particular her discovery about the water treatment for burns. The whole story was just gorgeous, I’d read a whole novel about Lilian, absolutely.

Hallowed Ground by Juliet Marillier:

What a gorgeous story of piety, commitment and activism. Sister Hildegard has such quiet strength and Marillier’s writing truly brings her to life. I love the quiet opposition, the use of letters and negotiation with logic that Sister Hildegard uses. I love that although she has visions that the story isn’t really centred around them but about her own perseverance in developing her virtues. Trying to better oneself, trying to better the world around you. Such a beautiful story.

The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea by Stephanie Lai:

The storytelling voice in this story is unique, it’s different and I found that unlike most of the other stories which I read in a single sitting, this one I savoured over several sittings because each word and sentence seemed to be so layered. I loved the character of the Dragon, that she was so ruthless and yet operated within her own rules. I love that she had family, children and that this clearly didn’t stop her being both terrifying and powerful. This was one of the stand out stories in the anthology for me.

The Company of Women by Garth Nix:

Another favourite from the anthology, Nix’s story captivated me. I love the mythology behind this story and that Lady Godiva was a saviour in partnership with the bees. I loved the way the story was centred around women’s business in tending the bees, that became the saving of everyone else. This was a perfect short story for me – completely self contained, gave me every satisfaction and left me content.

Charmed Life by Joyce Ching

Queerness and silk discovery, choosing love over a certain kind of elevation into prosperity/wealth/power. This story was sweetness, it was delightful, and I loved that Leizu got to be with her lady love and that nothing tragic happened. Maybe it was different in history, but I’m in love with this story where the story ends on such a perfect note.

The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger by Havva Murat

Strength and determination, proving one self to be just as good as the men who never had to question why they didn’t get to be the best and brightest. Earning the approval of one’s father. Trying to hold out against invasion, this story has everything – as I read the words, it seemed like an action movie was playing in my head! Nora reminds me of every young heroine I’ve read and loved, through this story and seeing her grow into a powerful young woman who seeks to prove herself and be recognised for her strength is so satisfying. I love that she’s hungry for battle, a little bloodthirsty and is full of valour and courage.

Mary, Mary by Kirsten McDermott 

The way this story begins with death, with familiarity and the Grey Lady is so intriguing! I’m not very familiar with the story of both of the Marys, both Shelley and Wollstonecraft but I loved reading about them both through Wollstonecraft’s eyes. I’ve always enjoyed stories that explore companionship of a supernatural kind that is not really of the ‘real’ world, the Grey Lady is a mysterious but compelling such companion and I loved the unfolding of her relationship with Mary. So much to love about this story!

Look How Cold My Hands Are by Deborah Biancotti

I’m not a horror reader, it’s fair to say that I go out of my way to avoid it. So I can’t say that I liked or loved this story, but it did resonate with me strongly. And I think it was so important to include this story in amongst the others in the book, stories of cranky ladies where their motives aren’t pure, they aren’t good people, because these women too are part of history, have been forgotten and their impacts largely unwritten and untold. A story of Countess Bathory, one of the most notorious serial killers in history, and especially as a female  serial killer is a good example of this. Other than the fact that she murdered countless other women, what do we know of her life, her reasons, what really happened? Not much. Needless to say this story left me chilled and I needed a unicorn chaser (or three) after it.

All in all, this anthology is *glorious*!

 

Peacemaker - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #5

Title: Peacemaker (Peacemaker 1)

Author: Marianne de Pierres

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot, 2014

Genre: urban fantasy, environmental fiction, dystopia

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Virgin Jackson is the senior ranger in Birrimun Park – the world’s last natural landscape, overshadowed though it is by a sprawling coastal megacity. She maintains public safety and order in the park, but her bosses have brought out a hotshot cowboy to help her catch some drug runners who are affecting tourism. She senses the company is holding something back from her, and she’s not keen on working with an outsider like Nate Sixkiller.

When an imaginary animal from her troubled teenage years reappears, Virgin takes it to mean one of two things: a breakdown (hers!) or a warning. Dead bodies start piling up around her, so she decides on the latter. Something terrible is about to happen in the park and Virgin and her new partner, U.S. Marshall Nate Sixkiller, are standing in its path…

My review: 

Marrianne de Pierres takes  urban fantasy and societal downfall in a unique and intriguing direction. I’m such a huge fan of this author and both her versatility and intricacy in storytelling. ‘Peacemaker’ is visionary, it’s so different and marries elements that remind me of space opera, with urban fantasy unlike anything we’ve seen before, intermingled with elements of the old Western pulp stories with stunning results.

One of the interesting things about this universe is that it’s all believable. It absolutely makes sense that in the future setting of this book, there is just a supercity and one lone Outback reserve. The rest of the details on what remains of Australia and indeed the rest of the world is a little sketchy, there’s hints about it but there’s no global picture offered. The mythologies intermingled in this novel are engaging, and very little is let slip by the author – this is a taste test where we discover the existence of these unknowns from another reality, what is fact and truth remains blurry.

Virgin Jackson is a brilliant heroine, she’s both fallible but has strength of character that draws you in. I found Nate to be equal parts mysterious and coy and I really want to know more. Caro’s friendship with Virgin makes her real, brings that three dimensional experience to the characters and the events of the book that really bring them to life – that’s the role of a good secondary character and Caro is masterfully written. All the peripheral characters leave an impact and this is unusual, more often they’re forgettable. In ‘Peacemaker’ I can still hear Papa Bise’s voice in my head and I can picture Kadee Matari in my mind like a photograph, even Virgin’s boss Bull Hunt leaves a lingering impression. These are the kind of characters that I am invested in and would read about over and over again.

I love that the futuristic landscape is recognisably Australia, and yet also seems to be so very alien as well. So close and yet so far is the only way I can describe it; everything is just within the boundaries of recognisable so it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that far away – but the societal and environmental consequences create a cognitive dissonance because such vast changes don’t seem possible in any kind of short time frame. The effect discomforts the reader even as it draws them deeper into the intricate storyline.

The plot for ‘Peacemaker’ is beautifully layered and it unfolds carefully, not giving too much away. Always the events and experiences of the characters draw you in a little deeper you wonder what happens next. Even if you can guess the succession of events, the motivations and reasoning behind them remains obfuscated.

I devoured this book in one sitting, I couldn’t put it down and I’m already eagerly counting down to book two. If you like urban fantasy, unique heroines and intricate plots I highly recommend this book for you.

Falling in Love with Hominids - coverNetGalley Review 

Title: Falling in Love with Hominids

Author: Nalo Hopkinson

Publisher and Year: Tachyon Publications, 2015

Genre: Short fiction, single author collection, speculative fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk) has been widely hailed as a highly significant voice in Caribbean and American fiction. She has been dubbed “one of our most important writers,” (Junot Diaz), with “an imagination that most of us would kill for” (Los Angeles Times), and her work has been called “stunning,” (New York Times) “rich in voice, humor, and dazzling imagery” (Kirkus), and “simply triumphant” (Dorothy Allison).

Falling in Love with Hominids presents over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was saying on Twitter as I finished this that some books are devoured in a single sitting, because you cannot bear to put them down. Some are savoured slowly because you never want it to end, you eke out every moment, every word. This sentiment is wholeheartedly true for ‘Falling in Love with Hominids’ as I wanted to savour every single moment and take in as much of each story as possible.

Nalo Hopkinson has been on my list of authors that I’ve been dying to read for quite a long time now, and her collection ‘Falling in Love with Hominids’ is a fantastic introduction to her work. This is an outstanding collection that really gives insight into her storytelling, her talent, the breadth and insight with which she rights. I loved the little snippets of commentary from Hopkinson at the beginning of each story, I always think these kind of tidbits add exponentially to the reading experience – particularly for short fiction. One of the features that is used throughout the collection and in some ways ties all the different stories together is the way that stories, mythology and memories, personal history are woven through the inspiration behind the story, or within the story itself. I love the use of the lyrics and poetry – rather than being disjointed and throwing me out of the story as such elements can often do, the way Hopkinson uses this technique is expert and draws you deeper, has you feeling the rhythm of the story in your blood as you read.

I highly recommend this anthology, reading this book was a pleasure and a privilege.

This is yet another anthology that convinces me that back when I thought I didn’t like short fiction all that much, actually I just wasn’t reading stuff that really called to me, thrilled me, drew me in and made me fall in love. Also, getting to read this is part of my fulfilling a desire to read more diverse fiction from non-white authors, particularly non-white women authors. If this is something that you’re doing or thinking of doing, this anthology is a great place to start.

I won’t review every story, we’d be here all day. However, I will highlight several I particularly enjoyed:

The Easthound: this story was creepy, suggestively prophetic about the kind of dystopian future we might be facing, I really liked the way the kids fear growing up, that growing up means becoming the monsters they fear and hide from.

Message in a Bottle: Oh this story! This was a gorgeous story – that horror of being trapped with an adult mind in the body of a child in order to achieve a future mission, coming back from the future. The character of Kamla really stayed with me well after I finished reading this story.

Left Foot, Right: This story haunted me – I had to keep reading and find a unicorn chaser after reading it as it just wouldn’t let me go! Tragedy, grief and recovery, the unreal and putting to right wrongs, this story is short, sharp and very poignant.

Emily Breakfast: I think this was one of my favourite stories from the anthology! I love that there was a chicken named Emily Breakfast and that the entire story revolves around a home, and a couple and their care for their chickens. I love the casual references to queerness and kink, without those ever being the point of the story. I also love that it’s quite obvious that the animals in this story are not quite as we might experience them in the real day-to-day world. I want a kitty with wings. *is emphatic*.

A Young Candy Daughter: There are always new ways to spin a story about Christmas, giving, having enough and of balance. This is I think one of my favourites of these kind of stories – and I have an abiding fondness for them. A small child, a little bit of magic, and Santas with vessels that begin to overflow for those who need them. Such a charming story.

Ours is the Prettiest: This was my other stand out favourite story in the anthology. I loved the characters wholeheartedly in this guise, with Hopkinson’s voice though I understand that the nature of the story is that there are a number of authors who’ve dabbled in Bordertown with its characters. I could have continued to read on and on about their lives and adventures, I was so compelled. The story was a delight and I felt it ended way too soon before I was fully sated.

 

DUFC LogoI’m proud to be hosting the 88th Down Under Feminist Carnival, to be posted in the early days of September 2015. I wasn’t planning on a theme this time, and then one jumped up and bit me!

It occurs to me that it might be a good time to take a look at some past DUFC posts, or things that were previously missed. A retrospective, or redux if you will. I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who have favourite posts from some time back, now would be a great time to remind people about them. Send me past favourites or things you remember fondly, things that are still applicable now from when they were written.   (This theme idea brought to you by my cleaning up my Pinboard tags…)

So here’s my call for submissions. Send me awesome Australian and New Zealand feminist blogger content written any time in August or a retrospective post! You can send me something someone else has written, but please also consider writing something and sending it to me – I really want to read it! You can leave a comment here with a link and some details or email me transcendancing [at] gmail [dot] com.

I enjoy hosting the carnival a whole lot, it’s really rewarding. There is a need for some additional people to host the carnival from October onwards – if you’re interested, leave a comment here or you can email the coordinator Chally directly: chally.zeroatthebone [at] gmail [dot] com. Hosting is not difficult, you get to read some awesome stuff and there’s lots of support.

Any questions? Leave a comment or email me – happy August blogging!

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #4

Title: Leopard Dreaming (Mira Chambers #3)

Author: A.A. Bell

Publisher and Year: Harper Voyager, 2012

Genre: Urban Fantasy

 

 

 

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Mira Chambers has an infallible talent for solving mysteries … but using it always gets her into worse trouble.

Having spent half her life in asylums, Mira discovers a sense of self-worth, finally, in helping victims of crime. When the matron who helped Mira to regain her independence is abducted, she attempts to save her with the help of ex-army lieutenant, Adam Lockman. But Freddie Leopard, a dangerous sociopath, tries to destroy Lockman′s reputation… and Mira.

Cut off and alone for the first time in her life, Mira is swept into a world of international conspiracies and betrayals, where her dream of achieving a normal life is constantly thwarted by the far darker desires of her enemies.

Layers of secrets unravel as her world falls apart – until the ultimate sacrifice presents a chance to save her friend and revisit her lost love in the ′echoes of yesterday.′

Leopard Dreaming - coverMy Review:

What a stunning conclusion to this wonderful trilogy by A.A.Bell. I’ve loved reading Mira’s story and seeing how things turn out – there’s so many ways in which this story twisted about and I didn’t predict most of what ended up occurring. I loved the way Ben grew as a character although I think overall he’s a bit too much of a goodie-goodie. I *loved* Gabby, loved the way Mira was supported by people in the end and not just her own determination to stand up to/for things. Also interesting the way the conclusion plays out! I really hope it works out for her – and surely that’s a sign of a good ending where it seems like just as much a new beginning?

Back in February I revealed that my theme for 2015 was Becoming. It was a thoughtful post – one I spent a week or two thinking on before writing because it was all about being in-between, in the middle, in process, a work in progress… how do you look at that? How do you embrace that? What does it look like if you’re setting up a year long enquiry on that?.

Reflecting on where I am at  half way through the year (just over), things are pretty well aligned with the goals I set out as part of my original post on Becoming. However, the year has been anything but smooth sailing – it’s been more like climbing a cliff with my bare hands, without a safety net. The year has been raw and intense, brutal in places. It’s also been wonderful in places too… but I’ve had to deliberately focus on that at times because it’s seemed a bit sparse.

So where am I at with my list?

Reading

Currently I’m at 29/75 books for my Goodreads Reading Challenge, 11 books behind schedule. I anticipate being able to catch up given that next semester’s schedule is much lighter given that I’m going to a half study load. Looking at the books I’ve read so far, nothing meets my goals for reading more diversely yet, so I need to make a plan around that because it’s an important part of my reading goals for this year. I’ve posted twice with regard to my academic reading, one on administration of blood products and one for assignment reading. So far I’ve done very little that’s been over and above what’s required by my units, but wow has it been an intense semester so I’m okay with this. I’ve read and reviewed one book for the Escape Club YA Bookclub, ‘Pawn’ by Aimee Carter.  I’ve also read 3/6 books I plan to for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and I’ve written up reviews for all of them: Tara Sharp Series by Marianne Delacourt.

So far, so good as far as reading goes. Still a ways to go, particularly for some of the more important intentional goals.

 

Midwifery

I had a setback in that I wasn’t able to pass my prac this semester – which means I have to redo it next year, and that will extend my studies by a year. That’s the downside (and all the mess surrounding it). The upside is, a less intense schedule, the ability to study half time and concentrate on those units I am doing, which might also afford me the opportunity to actually do some paid work, which would make a huge difference to our tiny budget. I can say that I have done my very best at every moment. I’ve dedicated myself to connection, to woman-centred care and evaluating the evidence for practice, and I feel like even in just six months, I’ve come a long way. We’ve started looking at more complex pregnancy and birth, at ethical practice and what’s involved in that, there’s a lot to consider here. I’m still enjoying learning so much about the anatomy and physiology of humans, particularly around pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period. There’s so many interesting changes that go on! I am still dedicated to doing this job I’m training for, I want to be the best midwife I can be.

 

Cooking

Well! Cooking has continued and I’m still enjoying it a lot. Some days I will admit it’s a little like a chore and I struggle a bit more – but I’ve also tried to put in place things that combat that and make it easier. I’m still doing lots of easy weeknight type meals, this year has been so full on that I haven’t had much energy for more in depth special occasion cooking. Also, that tends to be beyond the budget more often than not. I still want to go through some of my cookbooks and do some concentrated cooking from them, but I’ve not really managed that yet.

One of my big wins has been doing more meal planning for a fortnight at a time – it’s been fun to plan out what I’d like to cook and some of the best results are in the savings on groceries which is fantastic! Also, it’s nice knowing I’ve already done a lot of the deciding and I just have to pick something from the list based on the stuff we have in the fridge/cupboard. I’ve blogged about the two proper meal plans I’ve done so far if you’re interested, one for a fortnight in May, one for this fortnight in July.

However, as far as achievements go, I have managed to get into the habit of regularly photographing my food I’ve cooked! My friend Pia is responsible for this as she sold me on Instagram (same username as usual) which I’d been avoiding. I love it! It’s so easy and I am loving it as a low key, low effort/engagement social network. Also it connects to all the other things and I love the easy sharing options.

I’m still making my own stock, due to make a batch of both chicken and beef stock – but the last time I made it was in January some time I think? Maybe December… So it’s lasted wonderfully! I’ve recently visited my friend Skud and been inspired by her home cooking and preserving endeavours, so I am hoping to try and gradually increase the amount of stuff I do in that area mindfully. Even if I only add one preserving effort this year, I’ll be happy – hopefully preserved lemons as they seem easy to do. As we speak I’m working on fermenting my own starter, and today I made bread again for the first time this year – a yeast bread because of the lack of sourdough starter, but it worked beautifully.

Some pictures of recent food I’ve cooked:

Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies

Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies

Curried Satay Chicken with Noodle Medley

Curried Satay Chicken with Noodle Medley

Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani

Kasundi and Coriander Egg Scramble

Kasundi and Coriander Egg Scramble

Balsamic Glazed Lamb Shanks with Julia Childs' Garlic Mash

Balsamic Glazed Lamb Shanks with Julia Childs’ Garlic Mash

Quick Yeast Bread

Quick Yeast Bread

Shakshuka on CousCous

Shakshuka on CousCous

Blogging

I’m still doing my ‘5 things about today’ posts, nearly 300! So close to doing a whole year of posts! I’ve managed to post a bit more regularly here, but not as much as I would have liked, I’d still like to do that more, but I’m not sure what that looks like. Work in progress and I’m happy with it.

The only thing that’s a bit up in the air is blogging about midwifery stuff, it’s been impressed upon us that we shouldn’t be talking about stuff generally speaking – the thought is that it’s too easy to say too much somehow. The problem is that… I don’t think secrecy about our profession does any good as far as community level health promotion goes and advocating for better practices and systems of support and care for people. How does that happen if no one knows what’s really going on, what’s there to be discussed, agreed and disagreed with? In any case, I’m feeling a bit concerned about discussing stuff critically so I’m not likely to do it for the moment.

 

Self Development

License… it’s still something I have to do. The year has been so intense, there’s been so much that has happened and it’s been one thing after another. I will get this done. Urgh.

Job stuff is looking more positive though, especially given I’ll be studying half time from now on. I interviewed for a potential job a couple of weeks and I should hear soon if there’s work for me – I liked the organisation and it’s in the line of work I used to do so there’s potential for a decent income even at part time hours. Plus, getting to feel useful and like I’m contributing financially – a win for mental health and for our budget.

As far as being ‘me’ goes, I feel like this year hasn’t left me much room to do much more than… react I guess. I’ve been myself but it’s been a me largely under stress, or recovering or staving off crisis. Honestly it’s sucked even if I’ve managed to come through it intact so far.

I will say that one of the best things this year about being myself and getting to really feel at home in that was getting to go to Continuum 11. That was possible because of a dear friend of mine and words fail to express my gratitude. I got to see so many people I’ve missed so much! Spending time and soaking up amazing women being awesome at their stuff. Listening to them speak and admiring them, it was awesome. I played games, had conversations, got hugs, shared time and felt at home. For the first time I felt like Continuum was *my* convention – that’s been Swancon for so long and I’ve missed it so much. It’s welcome to me that the convention in my state now feels like ‘home’ to me.

 

Socialising

I’ve been better at this so far this year. Even with things being kind of hard and stressful fairly constantly I’ve managed to be more social. I’ve hosted people for dinner and I’ve been better at making time to visit people I went to a party, and I spent a few days away with another friend who lives out of Melbourne. So it’s improving… well, sparingly. But I have worked at it, and I expect it will be a bit easier this coming semester, again because of studying half time. I’m hopeful.

Community stuff is still something I’d like to be better with but I’m still unsure how it will come about. I have made it to a couple of Poly Vic things and I will continue trying to do that. I am unsure about volunteering for this Continuum committee as I only know one person on there. but maybe that’s a reason to do so as well…  Greens stuff and CWA stuff is still attractive but might take more energy than I have to give at present so it’s a bit up in the air. Sometimes I wish I was a bit more like the people I admire who seem to have energy for All The Things. I do the best I can.

 

All in all, it’s been a hard year so far, one that’s been trying and has tested what little resilience I’ve had. I’m grateful for the people around me, for my partners, my friends, chosen family. I couldn’t get through all this without you and your time, care and quiet support means the world to me. I’ll get through this and I’ll get on top of things – you’ll see. I’m determined! In the meantime, not only will I continue to work hard on my study, but I will also concentrate on taking the best care of myself that I can, and building on things that add to the quality of my life – who I am and what I’m doing in the world.

I had thought that this year was about ‘becoming’ in the sense of becoming a midwife – but I actually think it’s more than that. I think that it’s ‘becoming’ also in the sense of who I am as a person and who I am growing into. That’s a both terrifying and exciting really but… I have faith in myself, fundamentally so I’m just going to see where this enquiry leads. Here’s to the rest of the year ahead, may it be gentler but remain a learning experience that is fulfilling, generous in all that lifts me up and sparing in further harsh lessons.

It’s fairly frequent at this point that we find ourselves with a very tight budget fortnight. However, the past 8 weeks or so have not been kind to my ability to meal plan as part of keeping costs down. We’ve managed, but it’s been a bit piecemeal overall. We’re in the middle of another fortnight where we’re trying to keep groceries to the cheaper side of things, and since exams are now done, I’ve made a meal plan. Details of the plan I’m working from are below.

General notes: 

  • Past!me has still got stock to draw from (but I think next fortnight I should make a point of doing a batch of beef and chicken stock).
  • Also I took advantage of cheap ethical meat on sale butcher I like at the markets recently for both chicken and pork options.
  • Still well stocked for spices, vinegars and a bunch of dry good things.
  • This meal plan I wanted to dig into my ‘untried’ recipes folder on Taste.com.au and try a bunch of things I’ve been meaning to for years.
  • I wanted to try and avoid too much repetition of standard familiar favourites, just as part of the challenge.

Meals: 

This time I did have a loose time frame, but it follows the same basic principles of evaluating having enough meals for the fortnight, including lunches and taking into account the potential for leftovers.  This particular fortnight, I was away in Ballarat for a couple of days (and a post from that experience is brewing too), so my partners had a couple of nights where dinner was up to them and not planned specifically. The dishes I proposed for this fortnight:

  • Beef Ramen – this was my own on-the-fly recipe and was for a dinner party night where timing needed to be flexible. I make a soup broth, make the noodles and slice up the meat and veggies thinly. I then use the very hot soup to cook the ingredients in the bowl upon serving. (Note: a tender, lean cut like eye fillet works best for this).
  • Japanese Vegetarian Hotpot – this turned out beautifully, and though I forgot to take a picture, it looked much like it did on the recipe page. I didn’t use the egg for this recipe and didn’t miss it, I did add some extra veggies and didn’t tinker with the soup base and it was delicious. Scope for tweaking, if I wanted to I’d make it spicier.
  • Tuscan Bean Soup with Bacon – I decided that on this occasion I wanted to add bacon to this recipe, I thought on it’s own it lacked a little something and I wasn’t interested in hunting down other recipes to compare and figure out what when I was pretty sure adding bacon would just bring the awesomeness to the table. It did. I slowcooked the leeks with the bacon and garlic for about 40 minutes, not letting them brown much at all. I didn’t mash the beans – it didn’t seem necessary. It turned out really delicious, hearty, comforting and filling.
  • Mapo Tofu – I don’t have a recipe for this yet, but I’m on the look out. If you have a favourite one, please let me know. Loosely, fermented black bean sauce, Szechuan peppercorns, tofu, pork mince all deliciously cooked together over rice and greens.
  • Butter Chicken – This recipe looks like it’s worth trying as a start to figure out what makes a good butter chicken recipe when you’re trying to build it from the beginning. We’ll see how it turns out!
  • Pork Chops with Red Onion and Pear Chutney – This was tonight’s dinner and really, I only used the recipe for the chutney. That said, it was inspiration and worked really well – the spicy red onion and pear chutney was fantastic! And it was quite quick to put together. I sold a sceptical Ral and Fox both on the awesomeness of pork chops, so a win from all angles I think.
  • Asparagus and Sage Butter Pasta  – I know asparagus is out of season so I may yet do the familiar pumpkin recipe that’s similar. However, asparagus is Fox’s favourite and he’s had a rough few weeks so it’d be something to spoil him with and the pricing atm isn’t horrible (it might actually be on special this week).
  • Chicken and Potato Provencale – I’ve made this before, but not for Ral and Fox, and it’s a good quick and light chicken dish that works all on its own without needing extra sides. I might even include the olives for the first time…
  • Pasta with Lemony Sauce – This recipe I have also done before, but not for my partners, and just for fun I’m thinking I might make the pasta myself for practice, as I’ve barely done it and always want to do more.

Pork chop with spicy red onion and pear chutneyPicture of tonight’s dinner, the pork chop with spicy red onion and pear chutney. Served with sweet potato mash and steamed green veggies.

The main grocery shop for all of these meals was about $140 ish – I’m really pleased with this as it pretty much means we only need to buy milk and a few extra veggies by the end of the fortnight (and the asparagus because it’s easy enough to buy that on the day I make the pasta). Things I already have in the freezer include the pork mince, the chicken thigh fillets, the chicken thigh cutlets, the pork chops.

 

Other meals I’d like to make soonish (ish): 

  • I want to recreate a dish I had in Ballarat with Skud just this week that was a pork sausage and kale polenta lasagne – so delicious and Tuscan peasant food style. It was fantastic. I was very inspired about food the whole time I was in Ballarat, this list really shows that.
  • Roast lamb with all the trimmings – I blame the very cold weather lately.
  • Black bean Mexican style soup – this is Skud’s recipe and I remember having it last year and meaning to make it once it got colder again, still plan to do this on a cold night and make it nice and spicy.
  • Curried cauliflower soup – again inspired by Skud, because homemade soup is the best way to be greeted out of the cold. Also, it was delicious and am certain, simple and cheap – attractive qualities!
  • Fish things because Fox would love more fish more regularly, and the challenge for me would be to find stuff I also think I’d enjoy eating (I like fish, but it was hard work to get to that point).

I thought as these were all from the same series and I read them back to back that I’d put them all in the same review post 🙂

Sharp Shooter - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #1

Title: Sharp Shooter (Tara Sharp #1)

Author: Marianne Delacourt

Publisher and Year: Allen & Unwin, 2009

Genre: Crime

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Tara Sharp should be just another unemployable, twenty-something, ex-private schoolgirl . . . but she has the gift – or curse as she sees it – of reading people’s auras. The trouble is, auras sometimes tell you things about people they don’t want you to know.

When a family friend recommends Mr Hara’s Paralanguage School, Tara decides to give it a whirl – and graduates with flying colours. So when Mr Hara picks up passes on a job for a hot-shot lawyer she jumps at the chance despite some of his less-than-salubrious clients.

Tara should know better than to get involved when she learns the job involves mob boss Johnny Vogue. But she’s broke and the magic words ‘retainer’ and ‘bonus’ have been mentioned. Soon Tara finds herself sucked into an underworld ‘situation’ that has her running for her life.

My Review:

It took me way too long to get to this book, because I’m not a crime reader. But, what I mean is that I’m not a *serious* crime reader, I don’t want the heavy stuff (without the magic), but light and fluffy? I’m all over that. I loved how recognisable Perth was in this book to me, and the characters with their friendship were delightful. I loved the way Tara’s story starts out and she’s kind of fumbling her way through things but managing to make them work in the end. I devoured this and immediately went to the next book.

Sharp Turn - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #2

Title: Sharp Turn (Tara Sharp #2)

Author: Marianne Delacourt

Publisher and Year: Allen & Unwin, 2010

Genre: Crime

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Tara Sharp’s unorthodox PI business is starting to attract customers – though not necessarily of the kind she envisaged… Working at Madame Vine’s luxurious brothel teaching the ‘girls’ to ‘read’ their clients better isn’t exactly what she had in mind when she started out…

So it’s a relief when the man of Tara’s dreams, Nick Tozzi, lines her up with a lucrative job. Something is rotten in the local motor racing industry and an associate of Nick’s wants Tara to sniff out the bad egg…

It’s not long before Tara finds herself in all kinds of danger, with a murder at Madam Vine’s followed by the discovery of a bloated corpse in the Swan River.

My Review: 

What a great continuation from Tara’s first adventure! Tara has more of an idea what she’s doing with her business and how, plus there’s Cass. I love that Tara can’t help but take in strays and help them – she’s not so different from her Aunt Liz whatever she might say. I loved the mysteries being unravelled, spicy enough but not heavy enough to impact on the overall light tone of the book that aims to entertain rather than frighten. I love that about these books and I keep falling in love with the characters even more, especially Smitty.

Stage Fright - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #3

Title: Stage Fright (Tara Sharp #3)

Author: Marianne Delacourt

Publisher and Year: Allen & Unwin, 2012

Genre: Crime

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Tara Sharp is back in this frightening foray into the music industry.
Things are a bit hot for Tara Sharp in her home town of Perth, so she jumps at the chance to leave town when a music promoter offers her a gig looking after a difficult musician who’s touring Brisbane.

Though minding musicians isn’t Tara’s usual line of work, the money is good and she’s a sucker for a backstage pass. Respite from her mother – with her not-so-subtle hints about ‘eligible young men’ and ‘suitable jobs’ – is also a plus, as is the time and distance to try to resolve her mixed up romantic life.

Arriving in ‘BrisVegas’, Tara finds her hands full dealing with the bizarre habits of the ‘artist’, not to mention his crazy fans. And it’s not long before she discovers that the music industry can be more cut-throat than she imagined and it can be very dangerous messing with the big boys…

My Review:

Tara Sharp is at it again, and I loved it. This time in Brisbane and a mystery surrounding concert promotion. I love that the mystery is once again coming from all angles and it’s unclear until the last moment where the strife is really coming from. Bon Ames is an interesting character but Wal still tops him for me. I love the way Ed is just nonplussed despite all the drama that Tara stirs up. This is a delightful series, just the kind I like to read most.

This is the summation of the academic reading I’ve done for semester 1 this year, mostly for assignments. I’ve had three written assignments to produce, one on woman-centred care in relation to obesity and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (terrible essay question, way too complicated and too much to cover for 1500 words). I had one assignment on provision of woman-centred care in a contemporary maternity care setting (1500 words), and the third one was on what a midwife can do when confronted (their word not mine) with a woman who does not consent to a midwifery procedure (1000 words). This last one was equal parts about legal obligations as well as provision of woman-centred care (always a central theme).

I’ve been thinking about whether to provide any commentary on any of these but there’s an awful lot of articles so actually I think I will just post the list and respond to any specific queries about articles. I may yet do a blog post summarising overall what I learned and took on from the research I’ve conducted, we’ll see. This is the reference list so the articles I *used*, I did read a few others that I didn’t use but this is already a comprehensive list so I’m not going to worry about including them at this point.

It’s also worth nothing that you’ll need library access of some sort to access these, I’m not aware that any of them are open access.

Assignment 1: woman-centred care in relation to obesity and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. 

Biro, M., Cant, R., Hall, H., Bailey, C., East, C., & Sinni, S. (2013). How effectively do midwives manage the care of obese pregnant women? A cross-sectional survey of Australian midwives. Women and Birth, 26(2), 119-124. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2013.01.00.

Callaway, L. K., O’Callaghan, M., & David McIntyre, H. (2009). Obesity and the Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy. Hypertension in Pregnancy, 28(4), 473-493. doi:10.3109/10641950802629626.

Daemers, D., Wijnen, H., Limbeek, E., Budé, L., Nieuwenhuijze, M., Spaanderman, M., & Vries, R. (2014). The impact of obesity on outcomes of midwife-led pregnancy and childbirth in a primary care population: a prospective cohort study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 121(11), 1403-1414. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12684.

Dahlen, H. (2010). Undone by fear? Deluded by trust? Midwifery, 26(2), 156-162. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2009.11.008.

Davis, D., Raymond, J., Clements, V., Teate, A., Adams, C., Mollart, L., & Foureur, M. (2012). Addressing obesity in pregnancy: The design and feasibility of an innovative intervention in NSW, Australia. Women and Birth, 25(4), 174-180. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2011.08.008.

Ghulmiyyah, L., & Sibai, B. (2012). ‘Maternal mortality from preeclampsia/eclampsia’. Seminars in Perinatology, 36(1), 56-59. doi: doi:10.1053/j.semperi.2011.09.011.

Heslehurst, N., Moore, H., Rankin, J., Ells, L., Wilkinson, J., & Summberbell, C. (2011). How can maternity services be developed to effectively address maternal obesity? A qualitative study. Midwifery, 27(5), e170-e177. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.01.007.

Hutcheon, J., Lisonkova, S., & Joseph, K.S. (2011). Epidemiology of pre-eclampsia and the other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Hypertensive Disorders in Pregnancy, 25(4), 391-403. doi: 10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2011.01.006.

Jomeen, J. (2012). The paradox of choice in maternity care. Journal of Neonatal Nursing, 18(2), 60–62. doi:10.1016/j.jnn.2012.01.010b.

Keely, A., Gunning, M., & Denison, F. (2011). Maternal obesity in pregnancy: Women’s understanding of risks. British Journal of Midwifery, 19(6), 364-369. Retrieved from http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/19/6.

Madan, J., Chen, M., Goodman, E., Davis, J., Allan, W., & Dammann, O. (2010). Maternal obesity, gestational hypertension, and preterm delivery. Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 23(1), 82-88. doi:10.3109/14767050903258738.

MacKenzie Bryers, H., & van Teijlingen, E. (2010). Risk, theory, social and medical models: A critical analysis of the concept of risk in maternity care. Midwifery, 26(5), 488-496. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.07.003.

McGlone, A., & Davies, S. (2012). Perspectives on risk and obesity: Towards a ‘tolerable risk’ approach? British Journal of Midwifery, 20(1), 13-17. Retrieved from http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/20/1.

Mills, A., Schmied, V. A., & Dahlen, H. G. (2013). ‘Get alongside us’, women’s experiences of being overweight and pregnant in Sydney, Australia. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 9(3), 309-321. doi:10.1111/j.1740-8709.2011.00386.x.

Nyman, V. M. K., Prebensen, Å. K., & Flensner, G. E. M. (2010). Obese women’s experiences of encounters with midwives and physicians during pregnancy and childbirth. Midwifery, 26(4), 424–429. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2008.10.008.

Schmied, V. A., Duff, M., Dahlen, H. G., Mills, A. E., & Kolt, G. S. (2011). ‘Not waving but drowning’: a study of the experiences and concerns of midwives and other health professionals caring for obese childbearing women. Midwifery, 27(4), 424-430. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.02.010.

Seibold, C., Licqurish, S., Rolls, C., & Hopkins, F. (2010). “Lending the space”: midwives’ perceptions of birth space and clinical risk management. Midwifery, 26(5), 526–31. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.06.011

Singleton, G., & Furber, C. (2014). The experiences of midwives when caring for obese women in labour, a qualitative study. Midwifery, 30(1), 103-111. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2013.02.008

Swank, M. L., Caughey, A. B., Farinelli, C. K., Main, E. K., Melsop, K. A., Gilbert, W. M., & Chung, J. H. (2014). The impact of change in pregnancy body mass index on the development of gestational hypertensive disorders. Journal of Perinatology, 34(3), 181-185. doi:10.1038/jp.2013.168

World Health Organisation. (2015). Overweight and obesity. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/.

 

Assignment 2: woman-centred care in a contemporary maternity care setting.

Ängeby, K., Wilde-Larsson, B., Hildingsson, I., & Sandin-Bojö, A. (2015). Primiparous women’s preferences for care during a prolonged latent phase of labour. Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare. doi:10.1016/j.srhc.2015.02.003.

Australian College of Midwives. (2011). ACM philosophy for midwifery. Retrieved from https://www.midwives.org.au/midwifery-philosophy.

Berg, M., Lundgren, I., & Ólafsdóttir, O. (2012). A midwifery model of woman-centred childbirth care – In Swedish and Icelandic settings. Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare, 3(2), 79-87. doi:10.1016/j.srhc.2012.03.001.

Borelli, E. S. (2014). What is a good midwife? Insights from the literature. Midwifery, 30(1), 3-10. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2013.06.019.

Daemers, D., Wijnen, H., Limbeek, E., Budé, L., Nieuwenhuijze, M., Spaanderman, M., & Vries, R. (2014). The impact of obesity on outcomes of midwife-led pregnancy and childbirth in a primary care population: a prospective cohort study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 121(11), 1403-1414. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12684.

Davis, D., & Walker, K. (2011). Case-loading midwifery in New Zealand: bridging the normal/abnormal divide ‘with woman’. Midwifery, 27(1), 46-52. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2009.09.007.

Easthope, S. (2010). Keeping Birth Woman-Centred. Midwifery Matters, (125), 17. Retrieved from: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/51433357/keeping-birth-woman-centred.

Homer, C. S. E., Passant, L., Brodie, P. M., Kildea, S., Leap, N., Pincombe, J., & Thorogood, C. (2009). The role of the midwife in Australia: views of women and midwives. Midwifery, 25(6), 673–81. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2007.11.003.

Hunter, B., Berg, M., Lundgren, I., Ólafsdóttir, O., & Kirkham, M. (2008). Relationships: The hidden threads in the tapestry of maternity care. Midwifery, 24(2), 132-137. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2008.02.003.

International Confederation of Midwives. (2011). ICM international definition of the midwife. Retrieved from http://www.internationalmidwives.org/who-we-are/policy-and-practice/icm-international-definition-of-the-midwife/.

Jordan, K., Fenwick, J., Slavin, V., Sidebotham, M., & Gamble, J. (2013). Level of burnout in a small population of Australian midwives. Women and Birth, 26(2), 125-132. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2013.01.002.

Leap, N. (2009). Woman-centred or women-centred care: does it matter? British Journal of Midwifery, 17(1), 12-16. Retrieved from http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/17/1.

Leinweber, J., & Rowe, H. J. (2010). The costs of ‘being with the woman’: secondary traumatic stress in midwifery. Midwifery, 26(1), 76-87. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2008.04.003.

MacKenzie Bryers, H., & van Teijlingen, E. (2010). Risk, theory, social and medical models: A critical analysis of the concept of risk in maternity care. Midwifery, 26(5), 488-496. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.07.003.

Murphy, P. A., & King, T. L. (2013). Effective communication is essential to being with woman: midwifery strategies to strengthen health education and promotion. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 58(3), 247-248. doi:10.1111/jmwh.12080.

Nilsson, C., Lundgren, I., Smith, V., Vehvilainen-Julkunen, K., Nicoletti, J., Devane, D., & … Begley, C. (2015). Women-centred interventions to increase vaginal birth after caesarean section (VBAC): A systematic review. Midwifery. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2015.04.003.

Seibold, C., Licqurish, S., Rolls, C., & Hopkins, F. (2010). “Lending the space”: midwives’ perceptions of birth space and clinical risk management. Midwifery, 26(5), 526–31. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.06.011.

Sidebotham, M., Fenwick, J., Rath, S., & Gamble, J. (2015). Midwives’ perceptions of their role within the context of maternity service reform: An Appreciative Inquiry. Women and Birth. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2014.12.006.

Taylor, M. (2014). Caring for a woman with autism in early labour. British Journal of Midwifery, 22(7), 514-518. Retrieved from: http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/22/7.

Walker, S., & Sabrosa, R. (2014). Assessment of fetal presentation: Exploring a woman-centred approach. British Journal of Midwifery, 22(4), 240-244. Retrieved from: http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/22/4.

 

Assignment 3: the legal based one. 

Australian College of Midwives. (2011). ACM Philosophy for midwifery. Retrieved from https://www.midwives.org.au/midwifery-philosophy.

Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQH). (2008). ACSQHC: Australian charter of healthcare rights. Retrieved from: http://www.safetyandquality.gov.au/national-priorities/charter-of-healthcare-rights/.

Borelli, E. S. (2014). What is a good midwife? Insights from the literature. Midwifery 30(1), 3-10. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2013.06.019.

Brass, R. (2012). Caring for the woman who goes against conventional medical advice. British Journal of Midwifery, 20(12), 898-901. Retrieved from http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/20/12.

Carr, N. (2008). Midwifery supervision and home birth against conventional advice. British Journal of Midwifery, 16(11), 743-745. Retrieved from: http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/16/11.

Dexter, S. C., Windsor, S., & Watkinson, S. J. (2014). Meeting the challenge of maternal choice in mode of delivery with vaginal birth after caesarean section: a medical, legal and ethical commentary. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 121(2), 133-139. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12409.

Homer, C. S. E., Passant, L., Brodie, P. M., Kildea, S., Leap, N., Pincombe, J., & Thorogood, C. (2009). The role of the midwife in Australia: views of women and midwives. Midwifery, 25(6), 673–81. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2007.11.003.

Hunter, B., Berg, M., Lundgren, I., Olafsdottir, O., & Kirkham, M. (2008). Relationships: The hidden threads in the tapestry of maternity care. Midwifery, 24(2), 132-137. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2008.02.003.

Kruske, S., Young, K., Jenkinson, B., & Catchlove, A. (2013). Maternity care providers’ perceptions of women’s autonomy and the law. BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth, 13(1), 1-6. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-84.

Medical Treatment Act 1988 (Vic) preamble (Austl.). Retrieved from: http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/.

Medical Treatment Act 1988 (Vic) section 5.1 (Austl.). Retrieved from: http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/.

Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. (2008a). Code of professional conduct for midwives in Australia. Retrieved from: http://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Statements/Codes-Guidelines.aspx.

Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. (2008b). Code of ethics for midwives in Australia. Retrieved from: http://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Statements/Codes-Guidelines.aspx.

I’m not sure how to characterise these links, maybe I just need to put them out there together and let them speak for themselves…

Centrelink (one of my least favourite organisations) is coming under scrutiny for poor response times and leaving calls unanswered. I think the criticism is actually a little unfair though because they like any other public service department has to operate within budget and the public service in the past several years has been very poorly funded. People are already working beyond their means in an effort to meet demands – just because you ‘restructure’ and justify cutting jobs, doesn’t mean the amount of work actually reduces – it’s all still there and those trying to do it struggle.

What’s also interesting is their response to the criticism, pulling people off all other tasks to answer calls and reduce waiting times, as though this will in any way address the underlying problems – all the non-phonecall work still needs to be done, and probably also suffers from delays. Answering calls will absolutely increase the amount of that non-phone work that needs to be done. Once you get to a certain point in the process/acceptance of your claim it is easier to deal with the online process and that becomes possible – but only after a certain point, before that it’s just painful and frustrating. Painful and frustrating describes the general experience of Centrelink overall.

More on politics in Australia, this article from The Australian (note, some readers may find this is behind a pay wall, sorry about that) talks  about how the ALP may be forced to recognise that Australia is now a three party political system (let’s assume the Liberal National Party are still firmly in denial about this).  It’s nice that the ALP strategists are finally joining the rest of us in the present, because I feel this has been true for a while – certainly the way in which the Greens have been a more effective Opposition, they’re saying things that the ALP won’t say and refusing to support things that the ALP should refuse to support (data retention, whistle blower laws anyone)? Anyway, the language of this article is appalling ‘serious threat’ – please! A friend commented that ‘viable alternative’ and ‘effective choice’ were better ways of describing it. I’d also like to point out, that holy fuck the language in this article! “planning a campaign directed at conservative voters in Liberal territory who had strayed” as though the voters are naughty children or something. I can’t even!!!

One of the bigger news stories going on in the past week has been the boat full of Rohingya refugees that have been turned back by multiple countries, and basically are being left to die in the middle of the ocean. The callous response to these people in need has horrified me so much that I’ve barely been able to stomach the headlines. These are some of the most oppressed people in the world, and I don’t understand how we can stand by and let this happen. Gambia puts us all to shame by making room for these people and offering to resettle them despite the poverty of the country. The bureaucratic way in which there’s the ‘multi-country effort’ double speak trying to make it seem as though Gambia hasn’t shown up the rest of the world makes me ill. I wish these people peace, and recovery and a place to call home without fear.

And now a small breather, something more positive to uplift for at least a few moments and break the horror and sadness. There’s an Australian bat rescue hospital. They look after and rehabilitate bats! And the little bats all wrapped up that way is seriously one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen! How cute is this?!

Two orphan baby bats, wrapped up in coloured blankets, one bat hugs the other and one is dozing with a teat in its mouth.

Back to reality… Maggie Gyllenhaal has been notified by Hollywood that she’s ‘too old’ at 37 to play the lead against a 55 year-old male co-star. What the actual fuck?! Maggie Gyllenhaal is a brilliant actress – people should be clamouring to have at her after her performance in ‘The Honourable Woman‘. Also since when is 37 ‘too old’ – that’s not even in the same decade as the male lead! I know it’s part of the existing culture of Hollywood, but I’m so glad when any of the esteemed actresses speak out about it honestly and candidly because it’s the kind of thing that needs to change. I live in hope.

And here we have an article that looks into the statistics and reports from the NSW Coroner’s Court in relation to domestic violence. The findings are not at all surprising, they remain sobering. The fact that as a nation we’re not coordinating a national response addressing the existing horror, need for change, rehabilitation, healing and also on prevention and changing things for the future is despicable. It remains obvious to me that the lives of women don’t matter. We have a deep societal problem with family violence, but we just don’t seem to care – or we think it’s someone else’s problem. Whatever it is, the real threat of terrorism in Australia is domestic violence.

Another positive moment, and I feel like they’re necessary given all the awfulness! I realise that it’s a bit in the realm of clickbait, but the story itself is actually adorable. I love the way this little girl describes seeing her little brother being born. Just gorgeous!

So I live in a poly household in Melbourne, myself and my partners – who are the ‘on paper’ relationship. I’m the ‘single’ person who lives with them. And unsurprisingly Centrelink have been awful, one of my partners earns too much, so his partner can’t get the Austudy he’s entitled to. I can’t get Austudy because even though I haven’t claimed it before, the fact that I have an undergraduate already precludes me from support when I need it. Because I of course planned the massive career change and letting go of 10 years I spent pursuing another career all for nothing…

So we subsist on one income between the three of us, and it kind of works. It kind of works because one of our parents is in a position to help us with rent. It kind of works because we all genuinely work together and try hard to be good about money and all the messy emotions it brings up together. And we recognise that at this point in our lives and relationships, we’re intertwined financially.

We all contribute to the house, in various ways, and so we’re all entitled to the income. There’s not much to go around but it (mostly) pays the bills, the rent and groceries. I’m better than I ever have been about making groceries last, making food last and making it delicious and so we don’t often *feel* poor. Even though we rarely can have a night out, or dinner out, or go to the movies or any of those things we could  manage occasionally when we at least had some welfare support.

I’m writing about this because I am looking at the meal plan I made on the fly yesterday for the next two weeks to get us through a fortnight where anything we can avoid spending on food, can pay bills. We’re not late on anything, but we’re working hard to keep it that way. In any case, I thought I’d share what my meal plan was and how I decided on it for this particular fortnight. Namely, what stuff has past!me done that makes this next two weeks earlier. Let’s do that bit first:

Past!me has:

  • Made oodles of stock, so I have vegetable stock, beef stock, and chicken stock in my freezer. I also have plenty of frozen veggie scraps to make more (and we are running low on veggie stock).
  • Stocked up on some dry goods that are good for stretching things, accompanying things, part of the regular stuff we would use and works for a bunch of the ‘go-to’ meals we might make.
  • Looked at what is in the fridge and freezer that can be used for the fortnight easily: some beef mince, a lamb roast, 1/2 a cabbage, 4 small zucchinis (I still don’t have a plan for them yet).
  • I also have a well stocked pantry for spices, vinegars and other similar ingredients that you often need for various recipes and are good to have on hand to make awesome stuff from very little.
  • Made a beef and barley stew before the meal plan but that meant it was there and could be part of the planning process straight away! One meal and a fair few lunches down!

And now for the meal plan. I reasoned that counting leftovers and the need for lunches for me at home and Ral’s uni lunches for the next two weeks, we needed about 9-10 meals.

So this is what the meal plan looks like:

  • Tunisian Chicken (I had everything except the chicken and the coriander).
  • Marcella Hazan’s Smothered Cabbage Soup (I have everything for this).
  • Chana Masala (I needed the ginger and I bought some cheap dried chickpeas rather than use the canned ones I have).
  • Chicken Adobo (I needed the chicken and spring onions).
  • Alfredo Pasta (I do have some cream but it’s going on chocolate cake for birthday dinner tonight, so that remains the only thing I need).
  • Marcella Hazan’s Tomato, Onion and Butter pasta sauce (I have everything for this – we almost always do).
  • Macaroni Peas (I had just finished the last of the frozen peas and have bought some more).
  • Bukhara (This is where the lamb roast will go, and I had everything else except the ginger, which I bought for at least one other recipe).
  • Spaghetti Bolognaise (I have a great recipe for this and had the mince in the freezer. Plus, it makes a large pot. I had everything for it except red wine and we bought a cheap decent bottle).

So that’s 9 so far and I’ll see how far that gets us before I evaluate further. It’s a whole lot of guesstimation at the moment, so we’ll see how close or far off I am toward the end of things. (Maybe I’ll even remember to blog about it.) There are several options that are cheap that I can rope in at the last minute like Dal Makhani, or this gorgeous Broccoli Frittata which always impresses, or make a risotto or soup – those are always good go-to options.

So, there you have it, my angst, frustration and making the most of it in the form of meal planning. What makes things easier for this fortnight is, I’m home and I have very few commitments so I can do the cooking and make things work and spend extra time eking things out and adding to my stash of freezer meals without extra stress. The reason I’m trying to meal plan, spend as little as possible AND still maintain my freezer stash is because I’ll be away from home in June on prac, and it will make life a lot easier for Ral and Fox dinner wise if half of them are already made. It will also make it cheaper for them, which will be important because I anticipate needing more of our budget while I’m staying away from home and going to the hospital every day.

I have to say that my meal planning and frugal skills are both inspired by, and not nearly as well established or finely tuned as my best friend Sarah’s. She can do amazing things with meal planning and frugality. But all in all, I do well enough for what we need right now, and I pass it on to my partners. One  of whom is an exceptional cook, and also quite accomplished at making do, the other of whom is still learning the very basics of cooking. In my mind, this stuff is part of that basic learning.

Anway, have a picture of last night’s Tunisian Chicken dinner (not the prettiest plate unfortunately). Alas I forgot to take a picture of the cake! But I made this amazingly simple and delicious Chocolate Bundt Cake, which is not expensive to make and is one of the most delicious chocolate cakes I’ve ever made.

Not the prettiest plate, but Tunisian Chicken with couscous for dinner.

What is it about vulnerability that is so frightening to our society, that we fear the sharing of, the revelation of our vulnerability? What is it that has our hearing, our speaking, our listening slide over vulnerability as though some social faux pas has been committed? What is it about vulnerability that renders it invisible except in some circumstances where sharing and expressing vulnerability is signalled as okay?

To give examples, Robin William’s suicide is an excellent example of socially sanctioned visibility of vulnerability.  The outpouring of grief around William’s death was massive, worldwide people expressing their shock and anguish at his loss. The collective shared outpouring in news and across social media is partly how this expression of vulnerability is approved. However, there are other situations where expressing vulnerability is definitely not socially sanctioned. The expression of vulnerability around the experiences of women online in relation abuse and harassment is considered to be complaining or ‘playing the gender card’. For example, the entire #gamergate fiasco continues to operate as an online cesspool of harassment and abuse toward women in gaming, whether they are gamers, developers, journalists, or critics. The reaction of women who have experienced this abuse, particularly if they express their fear and distress at the threats they’ve received has been very clearly signalled as not okay.

The difference between socially sanctioned and condemned vulnerability is obvious. Women who in any way spoke out about, commented on, questioned or condemned #gamergate received massive and severe backlash – there were death and rape threats, personal data was revealed in conjunction with threats. This is dramatically different to the way in which people responded to Robin Williams, where they talked about mental illness, about the blackness and despair of chronic depression, of hiding it and about the struggle to ask for help, to find help that was useful or rebuild lives after tragedy. It was all very moving and for several days, even a couple of weeks, there was an outpouring of sensitivity and awareness on issues related to William’s death usually reserved for specific awareness days.

It occurred to me that there was something worth writing about when I was engaging in some discussion on Facebook about feminism and about #gamergate in particular. I would comment on a post – or I would post on my timeline and there’d be discussion. Each time I remember that feeling where I hit ‘submit’ and the pit of my stomach would just drop and I’d experience a sharp spike of pure fear. And then I posted about it – about having the fear and knowing that it would probably be fine, but being afraid anyway. I talked about being afraid even though the discussions were happening largely in spaces where I can reasonably expect people to treat me well.

And an interesting thing happened in response to my emotive posts, my expressing the vulnerability around engaging in feminist discussion – particularly around #gamergate and in light of everything that had happened with it. The people around me, particularly those who are also outspoken feminists understood what I posted and responded with empathy and care. Some commenters provided advice on how I should handle things or not take things personally and I made a point to explain what I was doing and why. Some people suggested I shouldn’t really engage in the conversations if they were upsetting.

Meanwhile in the discussions I was having, things were progressing well (for me, I remember a friend was simultaneously having the worst of experiences of this kind) and there was minimal condescension or over-explaining. There was a lot of misunderstanding about the subject and how it relates to all of us who are invested in this discussion about #gamergate, feminism and women in these arenas.  The common ones you may already be familiar with – that it really is or could be about ethics in journalism, or, that it’s just a small group of people making a bad name for everyone else and it’s not that big a problem, and my favourite, that it’s political and groups, websites, events etc need to stay out of political debate. Mostly the non-feminist gamers on my friends list didn’t really consider #gamergate to be a problem, it wasn’t personal to them and they didn’t see how it could be personal for anyone else around them. And they didn’t think it was a problem for people like Brianna Wu, Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, because they’re ‘famous’ and that kind of just goes with the territory, right? I disagree – I don’t think we’re all that far apart, regardless of their notoriety and my lack thereof. There isn’t a single woman I know personally, with varying degrees of notoriety online and off that has spoken out about this issue and not been afraid of the repercussions of doing so. It is a problem, and I will keep identifying it as such and trying to make it visible.

Which in the end, is the point of my making those posts sharing the fear I experienced at engaging in public feminist conversation, even talking about this stuff in a relatively closed space as my Facebook page/friends list was to make the vulnerability visible and also the reaction to it. One of the points I wanted to make to those around me was the fact that there is no great distance between myself, the other outspoken non-cis male feminists and the likes of Brianna, Anita and Zoe. Their fears are more realised and they’ve been in significant personal danger as a result of speaking out against harassment and misogyny toward women in gaming. There are plenty more examples where notable feminists on the internet have been threatened, harassed and stalked as a result of daring to speak up and call upon society to change, for the status quo to shift, for equality to be actively worked toward.

I’m not actually notable, but I still have a similar fear because I know all it takes is for one blog post to hit reddit and go viral in some way and then I too could join the ranks of the threatened. I know I’m not the only one amongst my feminist friends, particularly those of us who are women or not cis-male, who has this fear and thinks twice about speaking out publicly. At the moment it seems that speaking out goes against one’s better judgement for safety – and yet how can things change with silence?

So here I am, sharing my vulnerability. It may not be socially sanctioned – and I’m aware of that based on how many people missed the point of me sharing my fear at posting about #gamergate and the misogyny directed toward women in gaming, even once I explained it. I have to hope that by talking highlighting vulnerability in relation to the issues specifically, I am making a difference and contributing to change. I am hoping that by being very clear that every time I speak up about feminism or any kind of inequality, I am afraid of the potential negative consequences that people realise that this isn’t ‘just an internet drama’, it’s real and personal.

It is worth noting that this is a conversation that is happening in public, at all and that is both awesome and necessary. The exposure of the depth of harassment and abuse experienced by women in gaming in relation to #gamergate is truly distressing, because there is so much of it and it is unrelentingly physically and sexually violent. Distressing or not, the exposure has merit, because eventually it has to reach a point where it is more unacceptable for this behaviour to continue, more unacceptable to sanction it, than it is to vilify women for daring to express their vulnerability and speak out against the abuse.

If I’m lucky, I’ll stay un-notable, I’ll continue to fly under the radar and fail to say something truly outstanding that would see my words go viral. If I’m unlucky then the things I’m afraid of could come to pass. I have to wonder how much it would actually take to stop me speaking.

I did a bunch of reading for an assignment, and one of the things that came out of me doing this assignment is that I noticed that there is noticed that overall the public fear around transfusions is largely around fear of an infection from contaminated blood. People fear getting Hepatitis or HIV or something else from transfused blood. I’m pleased to report that the potential for infection is incredibly low: about 1 in 1 million blood transfusions.

ABO and Rh Blood TypesThe biggest risk for transfusions is error in patient identification and blood group matching. Sometimes this is a computer error, but it should be picked up by the people administering the blood products, and most often it is an error at the human checking points that gets missed. This causes an acute reaction that can range from mild to severe and is in almost all cases, utterly preventable. So if you’re getting a transfusion, the moral is, make sure the ID check – your name, DOB and hospital number matches the paperwork and the labels on the blood product – is correct before the transfusion starts.

So below is a list of publicly accessible references around blood donations, transfusions and various criteria. The Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service is the authorised provider of blood and blood products in Australia. They do all the collection and testing, the storage and transportation of blood products. Consider for a moment  that there’s a lot of steps involved in the process and errors can happen at every point – there’s a lot of protocol that goes into quality checking and making sure everything is okay with the products that are collected, tested, stored and transported before they’re used on patients. Australia has an incredibly high quality standard for blood products, thanks to the work of the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service, the National Blood Authority and the other governing bodies that contribute to the governance.

One more point, I will say that although donor deferral criteria is an important part of screening for safety of collected blood products, it’s outdated and needs improvement. This is a personal opinion and wasn’t part of the research I conducted. However, I know that in Australia men who have sex with other men – protected or not – are not able to donate blood. Neither is anyone who has sex with men who have sex with other men. That screening is specifically around HIV risk factors for sex between men. However, that’s screening the type of sex people have and not their sexual health practices, which I think leaves a large gap for potential contamination and infection in blood.

I think that it is more important to know how regularly people do sexual health screening, what safer sex practices they use and what their testing history shows as being more relevant for whether they can donate blood. I think using criteria that takes those things into account, would yield similar quality in safety standards for blood collected, but not exclude people on the basis of who they have sex with. I for one, am not willing to give up sex with my queer male partners so I can donate blood. And I sincerely resent that my good sexual health practice counts for nothing in this process.

Blood Components used in blood therapyDonated blood is precious, it is lifesaving and there is not enough of it. One donation of whole blood yields several blood products that can be used to help save someone’s life. Perhaps revising who we prevent from donating could address some of that lack? I would love to be a regular donor for blood – I’m healthy, I don’t get sick often and I would love to make a difference, but I can’t because of who my partners are.

 

Anyway, enough of that soap box, some reference links for you:

Australian and New Zealand Society of Blood Transfusions. (2011). Guidelines for the administration of blood products. Retrieved from http://www.anzsbt.org.au/publications/index.cfm.

Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. (2014). Standard 7: Blood and Blood Products. Retrieved from http://www.safetyandquality.gov.au/publications/nsqhs-standards-fact-sheet-standard-7-blood-and-blood-products.

Australian Government, ComLaw. (2014). Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. Retrieved from http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Series/C2004A03952.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Acute haemolytic transfusion reaction. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/adverse_transfusion_reactions/acute_haemolytic_reaction.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2015). Classification & incidence of adverse events.  Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/adverse_transfusion_reactions/classification_and_incidence.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Cryodepleted plasma. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/blood_products/components/cryodepleted_plasma.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Cryoprecipitate. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/blood_products/components/cryoprecipitate.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Delayed haemolytic transfusion reaction. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/adverse_transfusion_reactions/delayed_haemolytic_reaction.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Fresh frozen plasma. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/blood_products/components/plasma.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Mild allergic reactions. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/adverse_transfusion_reactions/mild_allergic_reaction.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Platelets. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/blood_products/components/platelets.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Red cells. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/blood_products/components/red_cells.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Severe allergic reactions. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/adverse_transfusion_reactions/servere_allergic_reaction.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Transfusion related acute lunch injury (TRALI). Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/adverse_transfusion_reactions/TRALI.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Transfusion associated sepsis. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/adverse_transfusion_reactions/sepsis.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service. (2014). Whole blood. Retrieved from http://www.transfusion.com.au/blood_products/components/whole_blood.

Time for my annual theme reveal post! If you’re unfamiliar with my process of taking on a theme, take a look at this previous post I wrote. I know it’s February and usually I get onto writing this post earlier, but this one took some time. Not the idea, but the space to think about it and write about it. I’ve been on prac for my Midwifery training all throughout January which meant my focus was there and not on the bigness of the year ahead. Now that’s done, I am ready to really let this year take flight, so to speak.

So as you may have guessed from the title, this year is about Becoming. That notion of being in flux, of transformation and being in-between. Not finished, but in progress, and beyond the bare beginning too. I think this is a perfect theme to extend from last year’s Expedition, because this sense of being in-between, not finished and in the middle of something is very true for me right now. I start my second year of training as a midwife, and doing that training will continue to be my focus for many of my goals and actions. I also think that there’s some personal growth in the wings as well – old sore spots I’m hitting up against that I’d like to resolve further – or try to. Things like that.

In my mind, when I think on this year’s theme, this idea of Becoming, I do think of the caterpillar into the butterfly, working hard doing what’s necessary and emerging later, triumphant and with wings.

So what things am I looking to include as part of Becoming?

Reading

I want this year to be about reading and I want to track that more deliberately. I wrote separately about my reading goals for this year, but in in summary this is what I want to achieve. I already keep a record through Goodreads of what I’m reading, and I have been doing the Australian Women Writers Challenge for a few years and still love it. I also want to increase the diversity of the books I’m reading to read more books by Indigenous authors and people from other non-white backgrounds. I want to do more reviews especially of these books. I also want to write more from the perspective of a midwife in training, track what I’m reading for study and post a list of that. I guess that’s partly about wanting to be transparent about being evidenced based in my practice, but also to make visible how hard I’m working to train for this career I want so much.

Midwifery

I want to do well in my second year of study, of training. I want to take every learning opportunity possible and do the best I can. I want to learn in depth and well. I want to be able to rely on the evidence we’re given – I want to get through as much extra reading as I  can to support my learning and training during clinical placements. I want to do the best I can for the women I’m supporting as part of the continuity of care program (we generally refer to this as followthrough). I want to keep enjoying learning about science – anatomy and physiology. I want to continue to do well with the mathematics required. I want to spend a lot of time and energy working toward my transformation into a midwife – at some point I won’t be a student any more and I will have to decide things and sign my name to things and take responsibility in important ways. I want to be ready for that and I want to understand the gravity of that role I’m taking on.

Cooking

I loved all the cooking I did last year, I explored a bunch of new recipes – a whole bunch that are for special occasions and pack a huge punch. I also discovered some delicious really simple recipes. I want to especially concentrate on that latter category, stuff that is easy to do for dinner when we’re all busy so that I can also ensure myself down time. I also want to encourage Fox to continue to learn how to cook and gain confidence in this area. Ral will hopefully be so busy with med school that he won’t have any time to cook (this will be a good thing, I know it sounds unbalanced but if things are going well that will be a good sign of it). My main contribution to our household is the cooking and food planning, so I’m going to view it as a joy and try and minimise my experience of it (or the kitchen) as a chore.

Last year I started regularly making my own stock, and what a huge revelation! All kinds of things suddenly became easy and accessible any day of the week because of the weekends I’ve spent letting a big pot of deliciousness simmer away. I’m going to keep that up, also get back into making our own creme fraiche. I’d love to get back into bread but it might be a bit ambitious all things considered. More veggies, and continuing to prioritise ethical meat and eggs.

Additionally, I have some wonderful cookbooks that I’d love to take advantage of, so that’s another cooking priority. Not only would I like to use them more but I’d like to blog about it – I’d like to say with pictures but I’m not always great at remembering to photograph my food. However, it would be wonderful if I did manage to blog and photograph things and come away feeling like I’d really gotten something out of these books that I so carefully chose. I almost never buy recipe books, so I make a point of using them – especially when I know they’re good even though the internet is right there and so easy. A friend once upon a time would do a month cooking from a particular cuisine and I’d like to do something similar but from a particular cookbook, and probably not so intensive as every meal for a month but aim for 5 recipes a month or something if I’m concentrating on a particular book. Not every month either, I want space for this too – joy, not a chore. Exploration and fun, not work.

Blogging

This is kind of summing up a bunch of things I’ve said – I want to do more blogging. I’ve really enjoyed in recent months being more active both here and on my Dreamwidth journal so I’d like to keep that going. I’ve been doing a daily ‘5 things’ post – just notes about the day, not necessarily good things or positive things (though they almost always are) but just things about the day so that people know what’s going on in my life. Now I have that particular habit sorted, I’d like to get more written here, books, movies, television, cooking, midwifery, feminism. The works. I’ve got some midwifery blogging goals but I don’t want to make numbered goals for cooking blog posts on top of the reading stuff because it can become too rigid too fast. I love flexibility and I find that if I provide myself the overarching aim, I’ll do better with it with space to breathe. Numbers are all well and good but I don’t want it to be an obligation, a chore that I resent, I just want there to be the intention for more writing and let myself act on it.

Self Development

Getting my license. This is imminent – it lingered through last year and I’ve come so close. I’m stomping all over the remaining Feelings I’ve been having about failing the test the first time and have some plans to do a couple of driving lessons about passing the test. I can drive and I’m reasonably confident in my overall competence, now I just need to pass the test (and probably do my first official drive by myself somewhere).  I’d still like to take a road trip by myself, explore Victoria somehow just by myself, just overnight or something.

Gently explore job options that won’t get in the way of my study. Right now I’m figuring hospital admin jobs that I can do casually – reception type stuff mostly. Maybe data work? I’m not sure. I’m just going to see what comes up and try and take advantage of it and get some money of my own coming in. Family wise we’ve restructured things to deal as best we can with the fact that both Ral and I have been declared unworthy of receiving basic support, which sucks but.. it just is what it is. We’re past the anger and resentment stage and have moved on.

Me. Letting myself be myself, and that looks a little bit like self expression – what I wear, hair and other presentation things. Maybe it also looks like dancing and pilates and massage if I can afford it – there’s some old and painful conditioning in amongst this stuff that is still hard to talk about, hard to describe but I want to create some space for it to be out in the open more. I’d like to continue to enjoy my sexuality and explore that more, revel in my wonderful partnerships and make sure my partners know how much they mean to me. Indeed, how much the people in my life overall mean to me.

Socialising

I’d like to be better at it this year, and I think it will look a lot like inviting people over for dinner so I can cook for them – it’s good practice for doing something different, and it’s usually cheap and often appreciated. I also have a few TV buddy things planned which I’m looking forward to, and I’d like to make good on the feminist hangout plans I tentatively made with friends late last year where we could enjoy that aspect of ourselves in company and explore it gently – and joyfully. Community, I’m still building it here and I want to be better at that too and ideally avoid volunteering for too much or getting stuck avoiding toxic people/practices – this is not likely to be necessary but I am aware of it as potential in general – good intentions and all that doesn’t always work out. I’d like to go to more Poly Vic events again, I’d like to get to some of the Greens events for my local group and I’m still tempted by the CWA. The latter might be on the too ambitious side given everything else, but we’ll see. I’d also still like to volunteer somehow for Continuum, but I’m not sure how to go about that yet. Again, intention and space so that something can happen without being forced.

Here’s to Becoming, the transition and transformation with all the pain and joy that comes with those things. Here’s to the in between, the ephemeral and the liminal. Here’s to just being, in the moment, being myself, being genuinely with others  with kindness and appreciation.

 

 

This will be my final post on my 2014 theme Expedition. I always do a wrap up post, although I know it wasn’t that long ago that I made an update. Still, an update is just that and this is finalising and closing off my enquiry for 2014 so that I can make room for and welcome in my theme for 2015.  If you’re interested to see how I felt about this over the course of the year, you can read about my initial post about Expedition, my middle of the year update, and the update I made just in December.

What a year 2014 has been, many new experiences mostly good and some more difficult. I do think that the idea of an expedition did help me to take on the new things for the year – going to university full time and as an internal student. Starting a science degree and confronting my lingering fears about being terrible at both of them. I completed two placements (one is finishing this week) for my midwifery training and they’ve both instilled within me the elation and joy at the job I’m training for, and if that wasn’t enough: I really think this is something I will be good at.

It’s been kind of interesting thinking of how this enquiry was going to come to an end – after all I still have two years of my degree left to study and what is that if not a continuation of my expedition. And yet, I did feel that there needed to be some fresh perspective for 2015 and that I’ve taken on as much as I possibly could have to learn from Expedition as a theme. So my journey continues, but with a new theme and it’s time to reflect more closely on what I’ve ultimately taken from Expedition as a year long enquiry.

To the dot points! What are my final conclusions? Again, I’m going to continue to speak to what is relevant and not repeat previous conclusions unless there’s something new to say about them.

  •  Successfully complete my first year in my Midwifery degree.

Wow! Now that I’m staring down the barrel of second year, it’s really hit me that I’m doing this! I’ve done really well in both science and maths, and though I expect that to get harder I also think I’m up for the challenge. And more than that, I’m starting to really enjoy that side of learning – not just dreading it. What a change! Such a welcome one though. I’m most of the way through my second placement – this is for second semester in 2014 so it’s technically last year for me. It’s going so well!

I’m loving it, I still really enjoy working on the postnatal ward and I got some of my tools signed off. More recently I’ve been working on the labour ward and that’s a first for me. What an incredible privilege to share such a special moment with people. What an incredible privilege to be able to provide support and care at such a time of intimacy and vulnerability. I’m amazed. While there’s so much more to midwifery than labour and birth, that part of it is something really special and unique – there’s nothing else like it. I’ve learned so much from the midwives I’m working with, and the obstetricians too.

So the ideals surrounding labour and birthing don’t always apply and can sometimes just be detrimental – it’s important to evaluate and support each person’s choices and make sure they’re informed about their choices and that they get the best possible care, with the best possible outcomes for both mother and  baby.  More on that in another post I think.

  • Explore employment options while studyingfull time and internally bothshort term andlong termin addition to midwifery
    • Explore options to get a counselling or psych diploma qualifying me for counselling.
    • Explore options with community organisations part time, especially on contract working away from the office.
    • Make inroads into doing casual first year tutoring online for university students.

I’m really surprised that I’ve got yet more to update about this. Centrelink rejected my Newstart claim and I’ve had no income from them since mid November, which has sucked. I appealed that initial decision and I’ve just received word this week that the original decision to reject my claim has been upheld. I’m still not entitled to basic support – largely because  I’m studying at degree level and it’s not what they call a ‘short course’ that aims to see people employed.

Honestly I can get behind that in part because I still think that I should be receiving Austudy – I may have a degree but I was able to work and support myself through that and I never claimed Austudy for it. I’m really angry that I can’t claim it now when I actually need the support. But despite having never claimed Austudy, I’ve reached the end of my ‘allowable time’ to study at a bachelor level – never mind I’ve never claimed it, or the circumstances I’m in right now, there’s no flexibility there.

Neither of those options are open to me now though, so I’m in large part dependent on my partners. They’re lovely and I’ve got no actual fears or worry around this, but I dislike being dependent. I contribute to the household in many ways of course, so money isn’t the be all and end all. However, having money coming into my bank account regularly that is mine goes a long way to keeping my stress low in this area and feeling like I am contributing equally in some way (even if the money isn’t exactly equal). The boys are going to work with me on that and will make sure money goes from their joint account into mine so I’m always covered for money and I don’t always have to ask (also awful to do). I have also applied for a job at the small hospital I’m doing placement at right now for a receptionist position – they have one for quite long hours and every day of the week so I am sure that it would work around university studies and so forth. Fingers crossed something comes of that because I could do and would even enjoy the job, and, money!

  • Pass P-plate test
    • Go on a road trip outside of Melbourne by myself

So, this I just haven’t managed – I haven’t been doing much driving at all in recent months and I’ve also had an injured shoulder which is getting aggravated enough by everyday stuff without adding in another thing. Still an excuse I know. I struggle with confidence when I’m not driving regularly so I need to just organise a plan for doing that and book the test again. And pass it. And then do my fucking road trip so that I can feel like I actually *have* that P-plate. I know it’s just a test, just an arbitrary line on the day whether my skills are adequate or not, but failing the first time still really threw me – especially as I know I didn’t do the wrong thing and should have passed. This goal is on the list ‘just need to fucking do it already’.

  • Nurture and grow my personal relationships, particularly with my partners
    • Facilitate getting K and Adam over to visit me here in Melbourne
    • Make time and keep making time, and remember to message and call in between
    • Revel in time spent and enjoy each moment with loved ones as much as possible
    • Take care of loved ones and let them take care of me without guilt

This is another set of dot points that I’m surprised to have updates for. I’m still doing this, and in particular right now I’ve needed care and I’ve had to just let that happen – and emotional care I can receive just fine, but financial care I struggle with so very much and it’s hard. Getting lots of practice lately and I hope that in future I can return the favour in such a way as to make someone else’s hard time easier.

Adam was here for Christmas and it was all kinds of lovely. I love having him around and close, it was low key and snuggly and lovely all around. I still miss Kaneda so much and wish that he could visit me here and see my life here and have some fun – I wish I had the money to bring him over and do that, but that too will have to wait. We’re both pragmatists though and that never seems to take away from the deep abiding love we have for one another. My life is always forever richer for him.

I’ve also been more social – not so much during placement, but in the lead up to it and I’ve got plans for afterwards as well. That’s been really lovely and I hope to continue and increase that in the lead up to classes starting again. That’s the one thing I didn’t predict and still underestimate about this degree is how much energy it requires from me, and it’s the kind of energy where I need much more quiet recharge time than I’m used to.

  • Participate in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2014
    • Read 6 books and review 4
    • Additionally, try and read at least 75 books and review some extras

I met my reading goals for 2014! I’m so pleased about this. I read exactly 75 books, and of those 10 were from Australian women writers and I reviewed about 6 of those I think. I also did do some reviews on Goodreads as I read things although I’d like to have reviewed more overall. That said, if I don’t have time to review something I can often put off marking it read on Goodreads and giving myself permission to just give a star rating for stuff was really useful for marking things off and not feeling like I should be doing more. Also, some books I really wanted to review and those are the ones I generally did review, others I was reading for fluff or escapism and I didn’t really have much more to say about them than that.

  • Discuss and review the media I’m watching including all the critical analysis in my head about it.

I did write up a post about the TV I’ve been watching, but it’s not that in depth as far as critical analysis goes. I do talk about why I watch and why I like it and so on, but it’s not like any kind of review or comparison. Still calling that a success though – I am watching an epic list of TV and it was good to get it all listed, well… most of it. I also wrote up the movies I’d watched in recent months which was enjoy able too. I still have to blog about the list of movies I still want to watch – that list is rather epic as well so I expect very little commentary otherwise it becomes unwieldy.

  • Make time for adventures, even if they’re tiny ones.

I don’t have much to add to this except to reaffirm that the zoo membership was so worthwhile and I love having it! I’ve done bits and pieces of exploring and basically I’d like to do more. I do think that given how full the year is that I’ve enjoyed the adventures I’ve managed and hopefully 2015 is a year involving yet more adventures!

  • Blog more, not only in my personal journal as a chronicle and for remembrance, but also here on things and issues that are important to  me
    • Post more links and link salads with commentary
    • Participate in the Down Under Feminists Carnival
    • Blog about exploring Melbourne, with pictures

Well I think I’ve certainly gotten on top of this in the end months of the year. My daily journal posts over on Dreamwidth are going strong – today when I post it will be #117 in a row! I’ve also done a bunch of book reviews here and also some movie stuff. Plus, I have some posts in the wings about midwifery and also feminism – that same post is still in draft but I will hopefully post it soon. I haven’t done any more for the Down Under Feminist Carnival, but hopefully I’ll be more on top of that in 2015. I’d also like to do more about how much I love Melbourne and taking pictures – I really didn’t manage that well this year. Although honestly I spent so much of it with my head in a textbook it’s any wonder.

  • Volunteering, community and socialising.

Nothing more on this – I really did let go of this because there were other priorities for 2014 and these were probably a bit ambitious anyway. I still have interest in getting involved with the Inner North CWA, and I still really want to volunteer for Continuum. I also want to attend more Poly Vic events and do more board gaming things too. But this really didn’t come together for 2014 and that was actually a good thing because other stuff had the priority and I’m glad I focused on that.

  • Cook for people to spend time and show care
  • Try new recipes and new cooking techniques
  • Explore cooking in new cuisines
  • Blog about cooking, with pictures

I had really hoped to have had a chance to cook for a particular couple of friends by this point in time, but it hasn’t come together yet. I still want to do it though so I will follow that up in the coming months. I did have people over for dinner and Ral and I have definitely cooked up a storm. We did amazing things for Christmas feasting and I’m delighted to have hosted my very first Christmas feast with loved ones. We finished the day by watching Die Hard which was actually perfect viewing.  I tried a whole lot of new recipes and some new techniques – onward and upward there for 2015.

There were two other dot points to do with growing things and the zoo. Growing things still remains a puzzle I’ve yet to solve but would like to – if only to save money on buying kitchen herbs – which we use a LOT of. I’ve already commented on how much I’ve enjoyed the zoo and it was one of the best things I bought this year. Of the dot points I added at the last update, here’s where I’m at:

  • Start transitioning from 2014 and Expedition into 2015 and a new theme.

Well here we are at the end of Expedition and looking forward to 2015. I do know what next year’s theme is going to be thanks to a video call with @dilletantiquity but you’ll have to wait to find out what it is.

  • Play my video games and enjoy them! Maybe blog about what I’ve played and enjoyed and why?

I’ve been playing video games and really enjoying them. I look forward to spending more time this year exploring the games I’ve bought and want to play. My favourite from this year is Cook, Serve, Delicious. It’s a keyboard coordination game where you make food for a restaurant using keystrokes and timing is a major factor too. The food you make gets more complicated as you go along. And just recently there was an update that initiated a ‘Battle Kitchen’ mode with weekly challenges, specific food style challenges and also an endurance challenge – I’m so in love with this part of the game I can’t express. I doubled my hours I’d ever spent on the game in two weeks. Placement has meant I haven’t been as involved as I usually would, but I have managed to do each of the weekly challenges at least.

  • Publish my list of movies to watch – and do a mini review or something for the ones I’ve watched to date (hint, most of them I have not watched).

I have yet to publish my list of movies to watch, that’s still on my to-do list. I did blog about the movies I’d seen so far though which I’m pretty pleased about (scroll up for the link).

  • Finalise all my paperwork to hand in for my Midwifery year 1 including my followthrough report.

That’s a thing for after this week is done. I really need to make an effort to do my followthrough report though – am a bit stumped, not sure what to write.

  • Try and beat my goal of reading 75 books!

I did read 75 books but didn’t beat this goal unfortunately! Close, but not quite.

  • Plan and execute an awesome family Christmas with the boys, Adam, Prky and Tori. The feast will be spectacular! Also, blog about the feast and the planning and feelings about this particular Christmas.

I did this – it was wonderful, we had a great day with awesome food and I’m so pleased with how it all turned out! I did also blog quite a lot about the feast in the lead up to it, and after – not here though, on my Dreamwidth journal (poke me if you really want the link).

So there we are, Expedition is done. I had a lot of specific goals for this – more specific than ever before actually and I enjoyed that for a change. It was nice to be acting outside of myself and doing rather than delving inwards and feeling/exploring. I think that I learned a lot about myself this year but I’m still figuring out what that is – maybe that will surface in the months to come. Maybe it’s something that will only really come together once I complete my training as a midwife – who knows? I’m open to anything really. I think that’s one of the nicest parts of this theme is that I think I finally made friends with uncertainty and being able to trust in my bigger vision to get me through.

Here’s to the culmination of a year that saw so much change, many achievements and a lot to be proud of. Here’s also to the new year and a new enquiry for 2015!

Pawn - coverEscape Club Bookclub: January

Title: Pawn

Author: Aimee Carter

Publisher: Harlequin Teen, 2013.

Genre: Urban fantasy, near future, dystopia, young adult.

Blurb from Goodreads:

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.

My Review:

I finished this book this morning while on my way to do yet more wrestling with a government organisation about my worthiness to study, to make something of my future that doesn’t include welfare and whatever job I can get at any given time. So this one kind of hit me right between the eyes. I really identified with Kitty, and the antics of the family in power also rang true to me – from that outside perspective wondering how they can be so blind and also knowing that for some of them at least, the privilege is no picnic.

And yet, privilege is privilege, regardless of how that status gets defined and that doesn’t get diminished just because there is struggle. I thought that the book demonstrated the difference between personal struggle and systematic oppression really well actually – and did so in a way that didn’t single out any particular group in terms of skin colour or lifestyle etc. It’s still worth noting that the family in power are white and conventionally attractive, and there are no notable characters of colour in the book. Similarly, no mention of any queerness. The aged and those with disabilities are essentially disposed of wholesale and I think the way that happens as an arbitrary line demonstrates very obviously that there’s an issue with discrimination at hand – hopefully that makes other readers question the way people who are older and people who have disabilities are treated in the here and now.

The book is a YA gem, and sophisticated enough for adult readers to enjoy easily – and indeed I think they’d benefit from reading this book. It’s a book about the state of society and that’s always a subject worthy of consideration and comparison – fiction to the real, the near-future of the book, to how things are now.

This book was easy to read, it flowed nicely and neither gave too much away nor hid things away and obfuscated too much – reveals happened at points that made sense and enhanced the overall story narrative. I’m really looking forward to the next book.

In an effort to shut up and write about stuff rather than wait for it to be ‘worth talking about’, I thought I’d do some posts about movies, ones I’ve seen and want to see. The list of movies I still want to see is quite long, but I have made a start on it recently and so I thought I’d review those movies I have actually watched, it’s a mix of movies that I saw at the cinema and movies I watched at home.

If you want an overview of a bunch of excellent films that were first released in Australia in 2014, I can highly recommend Grant Watson’s review at The Angriest. You may also appreciate his beautifully detailed film review and criticism over at Fiction Machine. My list, is just a bunch of films that I watched in recent months (and mostly enjoyed).

My reviews are compiled in no particular order, chronological, quality or otherwise. It’s also a rather epic post, so here’s a table of contents for you:

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (1954)

First and foremost what you need to know about this movie is that it’s a musical featuring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen, who are all marvellously talented. I watched this on Christmas Day night, really late after watching Die Hard. I wanted to watch something delightful and lovely and all about the fluffiness that comes with Christmas. This is definitely that movie! One review I read of it described it as ‘pornographically sappy’ which I think is fairly apt – but never in a way that is less than fully satisfying.

I loved this film from start to finish, loved all the songs – loved especially Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s characters dressing up as Rosemary and Vera’s characters and sing ‘Sisters’ in order to help them manage a deft escape. While the film is all about the emotional reward and it’s set at Christmas time – the timing is incidental, it’s not a movie about Christmas, which I think adds to the film and its storyline. One of my favourite things about the movie is that one of the main plot arcs is about the two men doing the right thing by their former sergeant. Men and emotional engagement and Doing The Right Thing especially Just Because gets me every time. Also, several female characters including two who are also main protagonists, with motivations and backgrounds  and everything. In hopes of encouraging you to rent this charming movie, take a look at the trailer:

Pride (2014)

I just recently saw this at my local independent cinema and it easily became my favourite film of 2014. This film tells the story of real life events that happened in the United Kingdom during the 80s when the Miner’s Strike was a bitterly fought issue and a bunch of queer activists decided to try and help them by raising money. The connection between the activists and the village they work to help unfolds beautifully, it’s not an easy friendship to grow but things get managed, people come together and connect, they are grateful and they are inspired.

I was utterly caught up in the telling of this story by what is possible when that right combination of people happens, goodwill, determination and that sense of doing the right thing, again Just Because. I’m never going to get tired seeing people stirred by doing something greater than themselves, greater than their own community, and learning and succeeding, struggling and even at times failing. For the first time I actually understood the Union Movement in watching this film.

Pride is beautifully written and acted – it features Bill Nighy as the big name actor and he’s brilliant, but he’s not alone amongst a cast of brilliance. The movie is also laugh out loud funny – I’m not a person who laughs easily from movies but I laughed all the way through this. The movie is as poignant as it is funny, there’s a wonderful balance between these two elements and neither ever overshadows the other. Honestly, I cannot recommend this film highly enough.

Die Hard (1988)

How did I get to the age of 34 and not have seen this movie? I haven’t the faintest – it makes no sense to me given my love of 80s action movies. However, after we feasted on Christmas Day those of us gathered around the flat screen to watch Die Hard, and thus this gap in my movie watching history has been rectified. And I agree with the rest of my friends it would seem, that Die Hard makes a great Christmas movie (the opposite of White Christmas really).

What an action movie – when I think about present day action films I just feel like they don’t even try any more. It’s like there’s an assumption that more explosions and effects means a better movie – but without something of a plot and some great actors to make it (seem) plausible, effects and explosions fall flat in my opinion. I think Willis, Veljohnson and Rickman really make the film – it’s not a plausible story but because of their calibre of acting, you’re completely happy to just go with it. I will admit though, a purely financial motive obscured by seeming radical political affiliations seems remarkably believable all in all. So does the ruthlessness.

I love that although a very minor character in the entire movie charade, Bedella’s character Holly does get to be seen, she has clear motivations and background, ambitions – the works. She’s written and acted in a way that reflects her strength and her competence is reinforced every step of the way – with the unfortunate exception when at the very end when she becomes your classic damsel in distress. Despite that disappointment, the rest is still true and I noticed it several times during the movie.

One of my favourite moments in the film is when the villain goes after McClane and pretends to be a hostage who escaped. I love their exchange with each other and the way Gruber later uses our hero’s bare feet against him. It’s a tiny detail but it’s one that worked really well for me. Another favourite part of the movie is the way in which a relationship between McClane and Powell develops over the radio, they build such a regard for one another despite having never laid eyes on each other and the whole way through the movie, it feels real. These moments and several others really come together with the effects and ridiculous plot to provide solid and lasting entertainment that holds up to many re-watches. And now I can’t wait to see Die Hard 2 (I think I also have not seen this before, I am certain only that I’ve seen the 4th one).

No Country For Old Men

I think my conclusion after watching this movie is that Coen Brothers films are just not for me, I am the antithesis of their audience. I recognise that it’s a movie that is brilliantly written, directed and acted. However, the characters are utterly unlikeable, unsympathetic, irredeemable and I got nothing out of the resolution of the story. Things happened but none of the consequences made sense to me, none of the outcomes were really satisfying. I just hated watching it. I don’t quite want the hours of my life back – I’m glad I watched it. I’m glad because I can clearly recognise its brilliance while also being very clear that I hated it, because of what I look for in movies.

You’d like this if you like Coen Brothers films in general (Burn After Reading, O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, The Big Lebowski). I may still give those latter two a chance, I’ve heard they’re amazing films (hopefully with characters I don’t hate utterly). I did enjoy The Hudsucker Proxy,  but it’s a notable exception because the central characters are actually likeable and sympathetic. This is the one film I watched this year that I really didn’t enjoy but I’ve included it because of the complexities of not liking a film that is clearly so well made and acted.

Frozen

I finally got to watch this after I finished exams, it was one of those movies that my partners weren’t interested in watching so it languished on my ‘to watch list’ for ages. I am not certain it lived up to the hype for me, but there were a bunch of things as a feminist cultural theorist that I appreciated. I appreciated that the prince wasn’t the hero. I loved that it was about sisters overcoming adversity together. I love that there was an actual consent exchange for a kiss. I wasn’t a fan of the repression of self storyline reinforced by the well meaning parents. I wasn’t a fan of the classist way Anna is portrayed as being lonely and isolated in the castle but doesn’t seem to interact or make friends with any of the people working there.

I also still mourn that the movie wasn’t made true to The Snow Queen fairytale, which was about a girl who goes off to save her brother  Kai from an evil queen. I still feel that the reason they changed it was because Disney doesn’t feel a girl can go and save a boy as the main plot line (this is a gut feeling and not something I’ve researched  specifically, I’m fairly certain I could come up with some pretty compelling evidence to support my theory if necessary though). The music was lovely as were the songs – but they didn’t really win me over the way other songs in other Disney musicals have done previously. Overall this was satisfying, warm, and fluffy in the way I love my musicals, but I’m not sure whether it makes my list of ‘happy making, feel better, world as a better place’ movie list (I need a better name for it).

Maleficent

I loved this movie, I’m a long time fan of Angelina Jolie, and I also love that we got a film about a Disney villain – one of the most iconic villains at that – from *her* point of view. That said, I think that it was a movie with a lot of potential that never became fully realised. Kind of so close and yet so far in the end. I find myself in agreement with the critic consensus on Rotten Tomatoes about the film; Jolie does a lot with very little, and the film is very pretty, but it’s not enough.

The writing and depth of the storytelling by the film is lacking, the plot never really comes together for me, and yet I want it to so very badly when I watch it. However, if we dig deeper, the movie manages to make some great (and probably accidental) political commentary on the level of class where the human world is rife with injustice and inequality and the realm of The Moors portrays its citizens with equal say and standing. I liked best the way Maleficent spends time with Aurora as her own person, and not simply assuming she is an enemy. The connectedness Maleficent displays with Aurora and the completely ineffective fairies was really unexpected for me in the movie and I appreciated Maleficent’s connectedness and was saddened by how much the fairies were reduced to caricatures. I think this story arc had incredible potential and could have been utilised more thoroughly for an overall better movie (especially if the fairies had been fully realised as they were in the Disney movie).

I will draw your attention to this brilliant essay on Maleficent as an anarchist feminist fairytale by my friend Sky Croeser because through her analysis I appreciated the film much more. I couldn’t by myself put my finger on exactly why I loved the movie and yet was dissatisfied with it, but this analysis helped me to further contextualise what I wanted out of the movie and where it could be found. Hollywood may not have intended such, but it’s there anyway. Hopefully the essay also brings you greater enjoyment of a film that overall falls short, and yet is still special. In this present day, it’s something to have a movie with a named female  protagonist, an iconic villain – even if it’s not all we hoped such a movie would be.

Lucy

This film… I am not quite sure where to start. I wanted to like it much more than I did, I was very dissatisfied with it. Here we have a sci-fi action movie with a titular female protagonist, Lucy. And yet despite these elements which should produce a movie I’m head-over-heels for, the portrayal of Lucy’s character is lacking and I never really feel like she gets to be awesome in her own right – there’s a massive ‘but’ attached to the awesome. I’m thinking in terms of Joanna Russ here, ‘She was awesome, but it wasn’t her, it was the drugs inside her’, ‘She was awesome, but look what she did with it’ and so on.

Russ - How to Suppress Women graphic

I’m not a audience member who requires realistic science in my sci-fi – it’s nice but I’ve got a well developed suspension of disbelief. However I think Lucy goes well beyond any kind of line for believability which I think lets the film down significantly. While Scarlett Johansson is fantastic as Lucy and elevates the movie overall, it’s still frustrating to see the hints of what could have been an exceptional movie never realised. I will spend a moment to say that Morgan Freeman is wasted in this film, seemingly ‘The Intelligent Guy’ in an overall unintelligent movie, but also it’s clear he’s phoning it in. The story is way too ridiculous and the central character’s agency is entirely gutted. The action is fantastic, and so is Johansson, but otherwise this just fell flat for me.

Jabbed

There’s no IMDB listing for this documentary, but if you scroll down on this link you’ll see the synopsis and list of awards – they’re impressive.

This documentary comes from Sonya Pemberton, an Emmy award-winning Australian documentary filmmaker and looks at the fears surrounding vaccination, the reality of risks (though rare) as a result of vaccination, and the consequences on an individual and public health population basis for not vaccinating. What I loved about this documentary is that it works hard to convey the fears parents have over vaccination without demonising them. The focus is on understanding, and providing solid science behind vaccination, including instances where a serious reaction to vaccination has been recorded.

The film sees the fact that parents are afraid, and want to do the best for their child(ren) as being the start of a conversation rather than the end of it. I think that it’s brilliantly put together, and the information is well presented without ever being condescending. Take a look at the trailer and I think you’ll be impressed at the way this documentary is presented – it was a very interesting film to watch and one that’s useful for me to have seen as a midwife-in-training.

Valentino: The Last Emperor

Another documentary, this is very different from Jabbed in that there’s no public health message, instead it’s insight into a hidden world, and a hidden, though iconic man. The buying of my own clothing is such a far removed experience from the realm of fashion designers such as Valentino so it really was interesting to get a glimpse into that world and what it involves, and what it means to the creators. I feel like the audience did get a unique view behind the scenes of seemingly glamourous fashion design world, and into Valentino himself. And yet, it’s also clear that he’s still a very private man and that much remains hidden.

I think my favourite part was watching the friendship between Valentino and his long time business partner and friend Giancarlo Giametti, it’s clear they have such a depth to their relationship and it’s incredibly meaningful, and Giancarlo is much more open about that than Valentino is. I really enjoyed seeing this element being one given importance in the documentary – it’s not just about the dresses.  I enjoyed this film when I wanted something easy watching that I didn’t have to work at, without heavy content and it was perfectly suited to that. I will say that, although interesting, it paled compared to my experience seeing the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition in Melbourne recently. The exhibition was truly beyond anything I could have expected and utterly mindblowing, while Valentino in comparison, was merely enjoyable and satisfying.

The Emperor’s New Groove

This movie is one I keep coming back to, it’s a favourite of mine to rewatch when I need something fluffy, entertaining and funny to watch. I love the humour, I love the happy ending, I love the absurdity. I also tend to really enjoy films where one character learns about the meaning of friendship, and this definitely qualifies. I adore Izma as the villain and Kronk as her unlikely side kick who’s really not evil at all. The movie is simply a fun romp about two unlikely people becoming friends – one’s the selfish, vain and arrogant emperor, the other the head of a small village, humble and kind. I like that Kuzco isn’t set up to be evil – just misguided and subsequently redeemable. I love the way that unfolds between Kuzco and Pacha. This movie is especially precious to me as I often find comedy a difficult thing to appreciate, and this film never fails to make me laugh.

Coffee and Cigarettes

I just don’t know what to make of this film. I love the way it’s a series of small vignettes, but I also know it’s meant to be a comedy and I just don’t find it funny. I did like and enjoy the film despite not finding it funny, although at some points the cringe of awkwardness was intense! Actually I think that’s a useful way of summarising this movie as a whole, an exploration of awkwardness between the audience and the characters,  and the characters with each other. It’s a little unrelenting, but as an exploration it’s pretty thorough in covering all the ways awkwardness could possibly surface using these scenarios involving coffee and cigarettes.

My personal favourite segment is Cousins featuring Cate Blanchett – I think this exchange of awkwardness is the most realistic to me, and I love the way Blanchett plays both roles to perfection. There are a number of other famous faces who contribute to this film including Bill Murray, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop amongst others – all of whom contribute something unique and special to the film. This is not a film that will ever go down in my favourites list, but I am glad I saw it.

Cinderella (1997)

I watched this film upon recommendation of a friend that it was charming and satisfying particularly on the level of being a musical and satisfyingly non-white. She was right – it was a gorgeous movie, charming and sweet, with costumes and sets that were utterly gorgeous! While the cast is broadly non-white, race itself has no emphasis  and I think this stands the movie in good stead. It doesn’t make race invisible – it just makes the expression of less overtly white casting unexceptional – as it should be. Performances from the likes of Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Brandy Norwood were a delight to watch, and sincere without simply replicating the original 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.

That it is a remake of the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella alone makes it particularly satisfying to see so much diversity. And really, I expect it’s a 50/50 mix of people who are white and non-white. That’s not really diversity, it’s a depiction of real life in a much more realistic fashion instead of 2-3 white people for every person of colour. For anyone who’s ever watched and enjoyed Ever After, this movie is equally lovely, fluffy and satisfying as a Cinderella story and I recommend watching it at any point you need a unicorn chaser.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 badgeIn past years, I’ve concentrated mainly on my commitment to read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. This year I have some extra reading goals in mind. The goals I’ve listed may be on the ambitious side given I am studying full time, but I am invested in making a solid attempt.

Sharing a little about my profile as a reader:

I am an avid reader and I really enjoy it – I have done since I learned to read. However, I’ve been studying so consistently in recent years that my fiction reading has been at very low levels for me. I wonder what it will look like when I’m not studying at university any more! Right now I’m pleased to get through 75 books in a year, and before I was studying I’d easily go through that in a couple of months.

As for my preferences in reading, I’m still mostly intent on reading in the arena of speculative fiction, and I continue to have fairly broad taste in that area. That said, as time goes on there are definitely specific hooks that really attract me. I am strongly motivated by female characters, also characters with a diverse gender background, diverse sexuality or relationship choices. I want to actively read more fiction by authors who are non-white, particularly Indigenous Australians works – especially speculative ones. I enjoy certain kinds of non-fiction, such as books to do with cultural studies or midwifery as well as some biographies/autobiographies, but that depends heavily on who the book is about.

For 2015, I’m proposing to take on the following reading (and reviewing) commitments:

  • Complete my Goodreads reading goal of 75 books. This is the same number from last year – it seemed to be exactly right as a number while I’m studying so intensely.
  • Complete the Australian Women Writers Challenge at the Miles level, to read at least 6 books and review at least 4.
  • Increase the number of books by Indigenous Australian authors that I read, and review these books.
  • Read at least 10 books by authors from other various non-white backgrounds and ethnicities and review at least 5 of those.
  • Participate in the Escape Club YA Bookclub on Goodreads by reading the books I’m interested in and participating in the discussion.
  • Track the reading I do for my academic studies in Midwifery both books and articles. Also, try and write at least 3 blog posts per semester about my studies and the readings.
  • Publish a list of all the academic articles I read for my study in 2015.
  • Unpack my books and read at least 5 of the books I inherited from my best friend and haven’t picked up to read yet.

This is not a small amount of goals, but I think they’re worthwhile aims. I have a huge list of books I want to read in Goodreads so I shall do my best to make good use of that list! Also the books in my closet that I haven’t been able to unpack yet for lack of a bookcase, I really want to get that sorted out so I can pick up those books that are c