AWW17: Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.ARC Review & Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017: Book #2

Title: Beauty in Thorns

Authors: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Vintage Australia, 2017

Genre: historical fiction, retellings

A white pre-raphaelite style painting of a woman's face, from the nose down with sad lips pictured with a sepia sketch imprint of historical London behind the text. Blurb from Goodreads:

A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets.

The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention. 

Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum. 

William Morris fell head-over-heels for a ‘stunner’ from the slums, Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.

Margot Burne-Jones had become her father’s muse. He painted her as Briar Rose, the focus of his most renowned series of paintings, based on the fairy-tale that haunted him all his life. Yet Margot longed to be awakened to love. 

Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.

My Review:

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

The release of Beauty in Thorns is one that I’ve been looking forward to throughout 2017 and I’m delighted that I had the opportunity to read it for review ahead of its release. This book draws again on the historical background of fairy tales, not just their origins but also how those stories were used and told and celebrated throughout history. In that sense, Beauty in Thorns is unique in its retelling of Sleeping Beauty because it situates the story in amongst people using the story and celebrating it, rather than retelling the story of its origin. Beauty in Thorns is steeped in history and offers a window into the middle class where love, families, and being an Artist clash.

I found this a really enjoyable book to read, I fell into the prose immediately and enjoyed each page I turned, it was enjoyable and relaxing to read. Different than Forsyth’s previous book The Beast’s Garden which was a magnificent and necessarily uncomfortable read, I loved the pacing and how the story with all of the characters unfolded. There’s a drama to the storytelling that brings the characters and their motivations to life, from making the ‘right’ choice, to pursuit of one’s passion, the foibles and triumphs of love, of families and children and various achievements. I especially loved Forsyth’s focus on the lives of women in and how they influence and inspire aspects of history that are often accorded achievements of men. Often this is absent of the reality of the daily life setting which I feel makes the story and those achievements and aspirations all the more compelling. I was especially drawn into the yearning expressed by Lizzie and Georgie who wanted to pursue art for themselves and found it all but impossible.

Although this book is a gentle read, it does deal with difficult topics around mental illness, disordered eating, addiction, the loss of children, and the other realities of health in that era. The book deals respectfully with these topics as well as I am able to judge but I note this for anyone who would rather avoid them. However, that Forsyth does not shy away from these topics as part of the reality behind this re-imagining is part of what gives the narrative strength and depth, the characters lived for me and I laughed, loved, and mourned as they did.

I’ve long been a fan of Forsyth’s work, but with every new book there is something new and amazing to appreciate about her writing style and its evolution. I loved reading Beauty in Thorns, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or the contemporary retelling of fairy tales, especially one not based in fantasy.

 

AWW17: Tyranny of Queens (The Manifold Worlds #2) by Foz Meadows

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017: Book #1

Title: Tyranny of Queens (The Manifold Worlds #2)

Author: Foz Meadows

Publisher and Year:  Angry Robot, 2017

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, queer fiction, portal fantasy

Two small figures in the foreground face a ruined building, with a castle in the distant background.Blurb from Goodreads:

Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves.

Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?

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 2017. I’m also reviewing this book as part of the Read Diverse Books 2017 challenge and it qualifies as both an #ownvoices read as well as having characters who identify under the LGBTIQA+ umbrella. 

I love Saffron as a character and I really loved the way this middle book unfolded, and also rarely for a second book, the story is self contained and I was really satisfied with where it ended – no cliffhanger. You could read this, be satisfied and not *have* to read the third book if you weren’t interested. That’s really unusual for a second book in a trilogy and it’s well worth appreciating.

Also, while I found the first book An Accident of Stars slightly clunky in the writing and every so often I’d be thrown out of the story, this time, Meadows’ writing was much cleaner in style and I could just sink into the story without any struggle. Not only was I not thrown out, I found it very hard to put the book down because of things like sleep, an excellent recommendation to a book as far as I’m concerned. It’s worth noting that this is the second book in a the trilogy and I don’t think it can be read without the first one. I do think that you could read the first and second book though and be content with that as an ending and not *need* to read book 3, but if you’ve read the first two and liked them, there’s no reason not to jump in. I certainly can’t wait for the third book, it will be one of my most anticipated releases, that’s for sure.

In Tyranny of Queens I found myself more compelled by the characters and their plot, and I felt that all of the characters who featured as protagonists demonstrated growth and new awareness of themselves, their world(s), their relationships and in relation to the overall plot. I especially thought that we got to see more of a relevant and connected side to Gwen this time, we found out previously that she was in a group marriage situation with a son, but this happened mostly off screen. While we don’t meet her partners, the warm relationship she experiences with her son is one of my favourite relationships in the book.

I also loved watching how Saffron’s relationship with Yena grows – although for most of the book this happens separately and somehow I  could always feel them connected. It’s a tiny thing but I really loved it. I appreciated how Yena was responsible for being a Sister and a Daughter in both chosen and forced ways and that this was complicated by her feelings about her self, her experiences and the time she has spent away from the culture she was trying to embed herself back into. Another aspect of characterisation and plotting I appreciated was the way both Kadeja and Leodan as villains and victims were both portrayed in sympathetic ways, ultimately responsible for their actions but very human in how their actions had come about. Leodan is perhaps the more forgivable of the two having been manipulated by Kadeja, but her own pain and compulsion are engaging as well.

I love the various voices in this book, like the first book, Tyranny of Queens there’s a lot of diversity to go around, different cultures, different relationship patterns, sexualities, genders, showing engaging characters who also have mental health and disabilities to consider, older and younger characters, lots of different power dynamics.  I love all of this, and feel like the inclusion and sharing of these aspects was a lot more organic than in the first book. For those who are looking for a place where they may find their experience represented this is a good place to look, and for those who shy away from reading about their experiences centred it’s worth noting that it’s central to this entire book. It’s worth noting that in the beginning of the book it took me a little to remember who everyone was, what they were doing and what they were about but this did give way to enjoyment very quickly.

Lastly, I’m not always someone who enjoys portal fantasy but lately there’s been some excellent examples and both An Accident of Stars and Tyranny of Queens both count. The world-building is epic, the politics are intricate and layered with meaning and consequences. The relationships are complex and compelling as are many of the characters in their own right. The plot arc had me wondering how it would be solved one way or another and I’m curious to see how that plays out in the next book given how neatly this book ended. I can’t say enough good things about it, one of my favourite books of 2017.

2017 Reading Goals

Time to talk about my reading goals for 2017! My plans are not dramatically different from past years, but I’m tweaking things to work better and trying to be ambitious in what I achieve. However, I am trying to be mindful of doing this in ways that are within reach given I’m heading into my final year of my midwifery degree. Reading is one of the things I do for self-care and stress relief – even when in semester I’ll still read for pleasure. I also find I get a bit stressed and lonely, so I’ve found that joining in with bookclubs and challenges can often be helpful for feeling connected and involved in social things, without having to use up a lot of energy to leave the house.

Overall Reading Goal

Blue banner image with picture of a book in white and the text Goodreads 2017 Reading ChallengeOnce again, 75 books seems to be the right length to aim for – I did do a little better than that in 2016, but some were shorter reads, plus it’s my final study year so I will probably be busier than previous years. Also, as with all goals this is something to aim for and give me a bit of a challenge to enjoy, it’s not about beating myself with sticks. I’m quite determined to maintain this outlook with all my goal-setting because it has to work for me, not against me.

Reviewing

In general I want to continue reading and reviewing, I am loving seeing the number of my reviews grow – both here and on Goodreads. Plus, I want to continue to review and promote new books when I can get advance copies, particularly for indie publishers.  Additionally, I am hoping to get back to doing some of my Retro Fiction Review Series for older books that could use a boost in attention. There are so many books being published that it’s easy for some great books to be overlooked and I’d like to draw some attention to ones I think deserve some more love. As far as the time frame for ‘retro’, I’m thinking books published prior to 2000.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.This is the reading challenge that I’ve participated in the longest, and I love it as much now as the first time I got to join in. This year I’m pledging to read and review 15 books by Australian Women Writers. As part of that challenge I’m also trying to improve on the diversity in my reading to include women who are queer, Indigenous women and women from different cultural backgrounds and experiences to myself as a white Australian person.

This is a great challenge to take on because you can set your own level of participation. You can nominate to read and review, or if you don’t want to review that’s fine too! This year there is a specific focus on drawing attention to Australian Women Writers who come from diverse backgrounds, but also to raise the profile of some Classics by Australian women. There’s already quite a lot of excited discussion about this focus, with the nominal definition of ‘classic’ being written at least 30 years ago and being significant at the time it was published, or to have had a lasting profile/impact in Australia or a region. I’m not taking on the Classics focus for my challenge but as a long time fan of Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby books, I am hoping lots of other people fall in love with these – and maybe I’ll pick up the subsequent books to reread, it’s been a long time and I’m probably overdue to reread.

Goodreads Reading Challenge

The main challenge has an active bookclub group that does a bunch of long and short, easy and difficult challenges, plus buddy reads and a gift exchange at the end of the year. I enjoyed participating in several buddy reads and challenges last year and am going to join in again. If you want to follow the things I’m doing, I’ll be tracking all the various challenges and so on in this forum post. I’m already doing a buddy read in January – we’re reading Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. I’ve also signed up for some year long challenges and a couple of first quarter challenges:

Bout of Books button with determined woman in yellow looking tired and surrounded by books.Bout of Books 18

For the first time ever I’m participating in the Bout of Books reading marathon – it’s an easy going challenge that is purely about encouraging you to read a bit more than you’d already planned that week. I like the tag line that says ‘I was planning to read this week anyway’ because, that’s true. And now this week I get to enjoy the company of a bunch of other people who are also participating – it’s rather lovely to be involved in all the twitter loveliness.  You can read my progress post for Bout of Books 18 where I’m keeping a record of what I’m reading, how much and also of the challenges I’ve participated in.

Banner with purple-pink rainbow art with flowers and flourishes and a book, tex treads Read Diverse 2017 where diverse is in rainbow colours.Read Diverse 2017

As part of my ongoing desire to improve on how diverse my reading is, particularly in intersectional ways where I’m privileged, I’m using this challenge to be a background reminder for me for the reading I was going to be doing anyway. Despite the name, it’s about reviewing and promoting works by marginalised authors as well as works that feature marginalised characters. Intersections with queerness and disability and whiteness, gender and a few other elements are the focus. I’m not going to lie, the art is definitely one of the reasons I was drawn to this particular challenge.  How pretty is the button?

Bookclubs

I still want to participate in some of the other bookclubs that I’ve enjoyed, like the Sword and Laser Bookclub, the Vaginal Fantasy Bookclub and I’ve also been participating in the readalong with the Magical Space Pussycats podcast. I’m also hoping that Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Inky Valkyrie bookclub gets up and running (if you were looking for an awesome patreon with excellent speculative fiction content to sponsor, her’s is a good one).

Finish the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Challenge

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'.Steph and I started this last year, we got half way through the year all on time and so on and then the mid-year just hit us both really hard. Plus, I was in the midst of a very busy semester and am not a horror reader at the best of times, so it took me a lot longer to get through Kaaron Warren’s Through Splintered Walls than I had anticipated, I expect Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan will be a similar story (but it will also be worth it I am certain). The aim is to finish the final six books in the challenge in 2017 and I am looking forward to it and that we’ve got the whole year to do it in.


That’s what I have so far, and hopefully I’ll exceed expectations in these goals I’ve taken on! I hope to report on how I’m tracking sometime around mid-year, but we’ll see how that goes (it’s a very busy time of the year for me study-wise so I may be dreaming that I’ll get the blogging time then).

 

 

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017 Pledge Post

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.Once again I’m signing up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge! I love this challenge so much and have participated for several years. I have definitely been introduced to books I’d never have read otherwise, authors I’d not have discovered. This challenge has allowed me to read closer to home and appreciate the incredible talent we have here in Australia.

This yearn I’m making up my own challenge again, to read and review 15 books. I’d also like some of these to be from women with diverse backgrounds – queer women, Indigenous women, women who come from various cultural backgrounds. This is an area that in my overall reading I’m trying to improve on, mainly to do with being a white Australian person trying to own my biases and extend my reading outside my comfort zone.

As part of this challenge I’ll also be looking to finish the Journey Through the Twelve Planets project that I’ve been doing with Steph, there are 6 Australian women writer collections that still remain to be read.

If you’ve not come across this challenge before:

The AWW challenge was set up to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, living in or outside Australia, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only. (Our guidelines for what makes a good review can be found here.)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Completion Post

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeHere we are on December 30, 2016 and I’m writing my completion post for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016 at the very last minute! In fact I only posted my last reviews yesterday… but oh was I productive! Turns out, I’ve read 17 books and reviewed them all (some here and some on Goodreads) by Australian Women Writers.

Books I reviewed here on my blog for the challenge include some of the Twelve Planets collection by Twelfth Planet Press which I was doing as a challenge with Stephanie of Forest of Books, but there were some others as well. Below is a complete list with handy links to the books I read and reviewed for the challenge this year.

2016 Books Read and Reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge

Journey Through the Twelve Planets

Smaller 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'.Stephanie and I had hoped to complete this challenge in 2016, but the second half of the year hammered us and so we’ve still got 6 books to go. That said, this has been a very worthwhile challenge and we’ve enjoyed it a lot. In particular for myself, I’ve read authors I had been meaning to read for ages, and kinds of fiction that are outside my comfort zone – with good results.

Nightsiders by Sue Isle

Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex

Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti

Showtime by Narelle M. Harris

Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren

Nightsiders - coverLove and Romanpunk - coverThief of Lies - cover

 

Bad Power - coverShowtime - coverThrough Splintered Walls - cover

 

 

 


Reviews at The Conversationalist

Who’s Afraid by Maria Lewis

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

Kid Dark Against the Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts 

Who's Afraid - coverIlluminae - coverAn Accident of Stars - coverDen of Wolves - coverKid Dark Against the Machine - cover

 


Reviews on Goodreads

Fake Geek Girl by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Innocence Lost by Patty Jansen

Glass Slipper Scandal by Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Seduction of Lord Stone by Anna Campbell

Unmagical Boy Story by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tempting Mr Townsend by Anna Campbell

Not bad overall! Not as well as I’d hoped to achieve, but I was over-ambitious anyway given that I am in the last third of my Midwifery degree. I’ll be keeping that in mind when setting goals for next year.

AWW16: Kid Dark Against the Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #11

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Kid Dark Against the Machine

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2016

Genre: fantasy, super heroes

 

 

Kid Dark Against the Machine - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

From the award-winning author of Cookie Cutter Superhero comes a brand new story about sidekicks, supervillains and saving the world

Back when he was called something else, Griff knew everything about superheroes, sidekicks and the mysterious machine responsible for creating them. Now, Griff is just an average guy, minding his own business. A volunteer handyman at the Boys Home—his former home—Griff spends his days clearing out gutters and building clubhouses for the orphans at the Home. Nothing heroic or remarkable about that, right?

But all of that changes when one of the Home kids starts having weird dreams about another Machine—an evil version that churns out supervillains. Griff remembers the call of the Machine, and reluctantly decides to help the kid on his mission.

And then they waltz back into Griff’s life. Those bloody heroes. Including him—The Dark—one of Australia’s mightiest and longest-running superheroes.

What’s a retired secret superhero sidekick to do?

 

My Review:

I’m an unashamed fan of Tansy’s writing and I absolutely could not resist a follow up story to Cookie Cutter Super Hero from Kaleidescope. I have to say that Kid Dark Against the Machine was a glorious follow up story in this universe. I loved it! Griff is a great character, he’s so likeable and relatable the moment you meet him – and you can absolutely see where he’s coming from as a child superhero trying to figure out what on earth to do with his life after.

I love the themes that this story explores, also in keeping with the original story. Superheroes and tropes used by them and in comics. While Cookie Cutter Super Hero introduced us to some of these criticisms, I really think that Kid Dark Against the Machine brought it home – I don’t think you can read this story (either of them really) and look at super heroes and comics the same way.

I loved that this story made super heroes accessible to me as a reader who is only occasionally interested in the superheroes and comics genre. I didn’t need ten years of back knowledge to understand what was going on, Tansy gave me everything I needed to appreciate every snarky moment and subversive twist in the story. I loved all the names of the heroes and the villains, I loved that the hero and villain processes for selection and being in the spotlight were so different. I loved that being a super hero wasn’t lauded, and that there was this narrative time given to the person and human left behind once the world has moved on to other super heroes.

Kid Dark Against the Machine is a fluffy story that tackles good versus evil in a whole new way – it tackles it in the cheesy fun way that comics do all the time, but it also tackles the assumptions that underpin the genre. Tansy manages this in a way that couldn’t be further from dry and boring, you get your pop culture, gender politics and child hero ethics lesson in a cute package that is over far too quickly.

I’m with all the others who are calling for a novel in this universe, it’s got so much to offer and I’d read it in a heartbeat. If you want a light read, but an intelligent one about super heroes and looking at what that might be really like underneath the surface, this story is definitely for you.

AWW16: Den of Wolves (Blackthorn and Grim #3) by Juliet Marillier

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #10

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Den of Wolves (Blackthorn and Grim #3)

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: Roc, 2016

Genre: fantasy, historical fantasy

 

Den of Wolves - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

The “powerful and emotionally-charged” fantasy series from the author of the Sevenwaters novels continues, as Blackthorn and Grim face haunting secrets and old adversaries…

Feather bright and feather fine, None shall harm this child of mine…

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone…

My Review:

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

Den of Wolves is a superb conclusion to the Blackthorn and Grim trilogy. I have loved this series so much, it captivated me from the very beginning. I adore these characters, my heart has wept and broken with theirs, it has exalted with theirs and it has taken quiet joy in small things, justice and friendship as theirs has. I can’t be anything other than sentimental about this book, it was glorious. If you want a contained example of epic/high fantasy done well, this is an excellent example. Especially if you’re done with tired fantasy tropes of magical chosen one on a quest stories and so forth. Read this.

In particular, one of the things I loved most about these books is the consistent character development that the key protagonists Blackthorn and Grim went through. Some of their development they achieved through their relationship with one another, but they also developed independently of one another. The rich depth to these characters and their background stories, their reason for being, their reason for continuing on was compelling from the start, and no more so than this book. Blackthorn still wrestles daily with her geas where she cannot pursue vengeance for her family and the people she once spoke up for. Her discomfort with standing by idly while wrong continues to be perpetuated resonates with me. It takes Grim to remind her that rushing into vengeance that results only in futility and not in any change is pointless, and I value that too.

One of Blackthorn’s defining characteristics is her anger. Given my own discomfort with my anger, she is a fascinating character to explore this emotional experience with. Her anger changes over time, it is tempered but never decreases. It is leashed, but never far from the surface. It is clear that Blackthorn is at times consumed by her anger, that it controls her life rather than herself, but that too is part of the story and her learning. In Den of Wolves the shape of her anger has purpose, and though it is impatient and she battles with the need to do something, she also puts her anger to work doing what she can.

We finally see a conclusion to the overarching plot in this series with Den of Wolves. There is the culmination to Blackthorn’s quest for vengeance, but it occurs in a rather unusual way. It was such a satisfying vengeance, I felt like all the ways in which it needed to be fair were observed, all the ways in which acknowledgement of wrongs that could never be righted occurred, and that truly justice was done. There’s an idealism in how this book concluded, and thus how the series concluded that is especially attractive to me right now. This book and series are excellent for comfort reading if you need to know that everything will actually be okay, but that it will not be hand-waved away and the ending will matter.

Marillier is a very solid and satisfying author of fantasy, she never fails to deliver a book that is compelling, has depth, extols the virtues of kindness and makes you want to turn page after page, long after the hour of bedtime has come and gone. She is a favourite author of mine – and has been since I first picked up her books. I sincerely want to put this book and series in the hands of anyone who professes to appreciate fantasy. Den of Wolves is a magnificent conclusion to an outstanding series, and shows the brilliance of Marillier as an author.

 

AWW16: An Accident of Stars (The Manifold Worlds #1) by Foz Meadows

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #8

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.

AWW16: Nightsiders by Sue Isle (Twelve Planets #1)

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.

Our Journey is Officially Launched!

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.

AWW16: Who’s Afraid? by Maria Lewis

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.

2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge Pledge

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!

2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge Wrap Up

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).

AWW15: Café La Femme Series 1 and 1.5 by Livia Day

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.

AWW15: The Starkin Crown Series by Kate Forsyth

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.

AWW15: The Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

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.

AWW15: The Foretelling of Georgie Spider by Ambelin Kwaymullina

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.

 

AWW15: The Disappearance of Ember Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina

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.

 

AWW15: Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier

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!)

 

AWW15: The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

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.

 

 

AWW15: Mythmaker by Marianne de Pierres

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.

 

AWWC15: Leopard Dreaming by A.A. Bell

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?

Update on Becoming

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

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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.

AWWC15: Tara Sharp series by Marianne Delacourt

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.

Reading Commitments for 2015

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 completely new to me – especially since I’ve been meaning to read them for so long!

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 Wrap Up Post

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badgeOnce again this challenge was a great motivator to both read and some diversity in the authors I read. I’m studying at present and so I default to a lot of fluffy reading, but it is nice to spend some time delving into  deeper books, beautiful stories and amazing characters who inspire me. I really love the Australian Women Writers Challenge and highly recommend it to anyone as a community with lots of reading suggestions and encouragement. Looking forward to 2015 already!

I didn’t read as many books as I did  last year when I powered through most of Juliet Marillier’s back catalogue. And her work featured strongly in this year’s reading as well. I set myself the Miles challenge to read at least six books and review at least four. In the end I read nine and reviewed five, which I’m pretty happy with all in all. This year as part of the challenge I read one Indigenous Australian author. Next year I’d like to continue reading from different and diverse cultural backgrounds. I did read more books by authors who aren’t white, but I didn’t do any particular challenge or formal reviews. Maybe as part of what I do next year I’ll try and do that more  formally so as to make a round up and recommendations easier to find and use.

I did plan to do more in depth reviews, but I found that I just didn’t have a lot of in depth commentary to make – I still primarily read for pleasure and not for analysis. What I’m taking from this is that I enjoy reviewing and should concentrate on simply reviewing in any form the books I read, on Goodreads if not a formal review here on my blog. I did do that quite successfully this year – though less consistently in the second half. I did mostly review things closer to the time in which I read them, but I could improve further on this.   Below I’ve provided a round up of my reviews this year as well as the full list of reading I completed.

Hindsight - coverHindsight by A.A. Bell (Mira Chambers #2)

Excerpt of my review:

I spent most of the year reading this book; not because it wasn’t brilliant, but because it was. I wanted to savour it, wanted to take my time with it. I also found that it was heavy going if I was neck deep in study and anatomy, it’s not a light kind of read and I found it difficult to put down and pick up. The story is incredibly intricate, and it goes in some really unexpected directions.

 

 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf - coverThe Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Amebelin Kwaymullina (The Tribe #1)

Excerpt of my review:

2014 has brought several outstanding books to my attention – my ‘best of’ list that I’ve read this year is quite long in fact. I think that my favourite however, is ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’.  I adored the story building in this, so many layers, puzzles and I was delighted at every stage of the reveal. People talk about this not being fantasy and I see what they mean about labelling it Dystopian Sci-Fi, but for me it seems to be Urban Fantasy, one with a distinctly ecological bent that I found very satisfying.

 

Guardian - coverGuardian by Jo Anderton (Veiled Worlds #3)

Excerpt of my review:

I didn’t enjoy the second book ‘Suited’ nearly as much as I enjoyed the first book ‘Debris’ but this third book ‘Guardian’ was excellent and for me, really brought the series to a satisfying close. More than that, it further contextualised and in some way added  meaning to the events of book two, that I hadn’t gotten from that book itself. I loved the worlds crossing, loved the character interaction and connection – even across worlds.

 

Wolfskin - coverWolfskin by Juliet Marillier (The Light Isles #1)

Excerpt of my review:

I found this book a little harder to get into at first from other books that I’ve loved from the same author. But, it really did take hold of me and I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I never quite understood Someled and his motivations or actions, or Eyvind’s blind trust in him. Eyvind as a Wolfskin and the band of warriors in general were very believable and I loved their story. I loved Nessa’s story and her wisdom, her background her care and focus in her wise woman’s responsibility.

 

Ravenflight - coverRaven Flight by Juliet Marillier (Shadowfell #2)

Excerpt of my review:

This book was much more to my reading taste from Marillier. I love Neryn as a character and I’m deeply invested in her story. I loved the continuation of this story, I love the interaction between Neryn and Tali, it’s everything I often get from male warrior companionship and so rarely get to enjoy in relation to female characters. Neryn isn’t a warrior but she and Tali are joined in their determination to win freedom for her country. Their friendship starts with such awkwardness and the growth is gradual and sincere, there’s nothing contrived between these characters, you as the reader are simply invited in to witness the unfolding of the story, including of the friendship shared between these two characters.  I also really love Neryn’s romance with Flint in this book, it’s ephemeral and unrealised – it’s a romance of the heart and mind, it’s a promise that is yet unfulfilled and yet deeply hoped for. I love this expression of romance as being something that drives both characters to succeed, but also the way it reveals a weakness that can be used to exploit them.

Other books from 2014:

That’s 2014’s challenge all wrapped up. I read some amazing books this year, here’s hoping 2015 continues the trend. I am thinking of adding an extra challenge – I’m reading a lot of books for my midwifery study and am thinking that maybe I should track some of them and review them. This is on top of trying to track more specifically the diversity that I’m reading (and trying to expand actively).

AWWC14: Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier (Book 2 in the Shadowfell series)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #5

Title: Raven Flight (Shadowfell #2)

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: Knopf Books for  Young Readers, 2013

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy

 

 

 

Ravenflight - coverBlurb from Goodreads: 

Neryn has finally found the rebel group at Shadowfell, and now her task is to seek out the elusive Guardians, vital to her training as a Caller. These four powerful beings have been increasingly at odds with human kind, and Neryn must prove her worth to them. She desperately needs their help to use her gift without compromising herself or the cause of overthrowing the evil King Keldec.

Neryn must journey with the tough and steadfast Tali, who looks on Neryn’s love for the double agent Flint as a needless vulnerability. And perhaps it is. What Flint learns from the king will change the battlefield entirely—but in whose favor, no one knows.

 

My Review: 

This book was much more to my reading taste from Marillier. I love Neryn as a character and I’m deeply invested in her story. I loved the continuation of this story, I love the interaction between Neryn and Tali, it’s everything I often get from male warrior companionship and so rarely get to enjoy in relation to female characters. Neryn isn’t a warrior but she and Tali are joined in their determination to win freedom for her country. Their friendship starts with such awkwardness and the growth is gradual and sincere.

There’s nothing contrived between these characters, you as the reader are simply invited in to witness the unfolding of the story, including of the friendship shared between these two characters.  I also really love Neryn’s romance with Flint in this book, it’s ephemeral and unrealised – it’s a romance of the heart and mind, it’s a promise that is yet unfulfilled and yet deeply hoped for. I love this expression of romance as being something that drives both characters to succeed, but also the way it reveals a weakness that can be used to exploit them.

Neryn is the kind of hero that I love best, she’s unassuming but not without pride in her ability and determination to do the best she can to play her role. I love the way she listens, the way she seeks to learn about her gift and how to use it with wisdom and restraint – the unfolding lessons from the Guardians show much promise in her character growth and she is compelling.

The end of this book was a big surprise – so sudden and tragic. Such a brave narrative choice and I think it will ultimately pay off – I know that I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book to find out what happens. Ravenflight is rich and deep with both character and story, the fantasy draws me in and I imagine the world in which the story unfolds vividly. This book was a wonderful note on which to end my Australian Women Writers Challenge reading for 2014.

AWWC14: Wolfskin by Juliet Marillier (Book 1 in the Light Isles series)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #4

Title: Wolfskin (Light Isles #1)

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: Tor Fantasy, 2004

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

 

 

 

Wolfskin - coverBlurb from Goodreads: 

All young Eyvind ever wanted was to become a great Viking warrior–a Wolfskin–and carry honor out in the name of his fathergod Thor. He can think of no future more glorious. The chance to make it happen is his when his chieftain Ulf is brought the tale of a magical land across the sea, a place where men with courage could go to conquer a land and bring glory to themselves. They set out to find this fabled land, and discover a windswept and barren place, but one filled with unexpected beauty and hidden treasures… and a people who are willing to share their bounty.

Ulf’s new settlement begins in harmony with the natives of the isles led by the gentle king Engus. And Eyvind finds a treasure of his own in the young Nessa, niece of the King, seer and princess. His life will change forever as she claims his heart for her own.

But someone has come along to this new land who is not what he seems. Somerled, a strange and lonely boy that Eyvind befriended long ago has a secret–and his own plans for the future. The blood oath that they swore in childhood binds them in lifelong loyalty, and Somerled is calling in the debt of honor. What he asks of Eyvind might just doom him to kill the only thing that Evyind has ever truly loved.

Will the price of honor create the destruction of all that Eyvind holds dear.

My Review: 

I found this book a little harder to get into at first from other books that I’ve loved from the same author. But, it really did take hold of me and I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I never quite understood Someled and his motivations or actions, or Eyvind’s blind trust in him. Eyvind as a Wolfskin and the band of warriors in general were very believable and I loved their story. I loved Nessa’s story and her wisdom, her background her care and focus in her wise woman’s responsibility.

This seems to be much more a tale of romance than I am used to from this author – romance is a common thread but this book was much more straightforward in the portrayal, the other threads seem to me as though they are there to further the romance plot when I think they are bigger than that and resolving them through the romance was a little unsatisfying for me. I love romance fiction and the romance itself was satisfying, but less so the way the other story elements rolled into it. Also, I love the way that Marillier often focuses on female characters and that was less the case in this book and that also possibly affected my overall enjoyment – not that I didn’t love the story of the warriors, simply that there was such little presence from female characters other than Nessa – even her teacher was only present in a very secondary way that seemed more designed to further the romance plot. I enjoyed the romance plot but I think I wanted more from it with the culmination of the other narrative elements.

The abrupt story shift with the death of Ulf really threw me – the whole narrative seemed a little choppy to me, but the story itself was compelling enough to get past the way it didn’t quite flow in the reading. I’m used to the writing from this author flowing like water, the reading is fluid and I become immersed – that was harder to find with this particular book.  I enjoyed it, but it’s not my favourite title from her. Still, I am looking forward to reading the second book ‘Foxmask’.

AWWC14: Guardian by Jo Anderton (Book 3 in the Veiled Worlds Series)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #3 (belated)

Title: Guardian (Veiled Worlds #3)

Author: Jo Anderton

Publisher and Year: Fablecroft, 2014

Genre: Urban Fantasy / Dystopian Sci-Fi

 

 

 

Guardian - coverBlurb from Goodreads: 

The grand city of Movoc-under-Keeper lies in ruins. The sinister puppet men have revealed their true nature, and their plan to tear down the veil between worlds. To have a chance of defeating them, Tanyana must do the impossible, and return to the world where they were created, on the other side of the veil. Her journey will force her into a terrible choice, and test just how much she is willing to sacrifice for the fate of two worlds.

My Review: 

I didn’t enjoy the second book ‘Suited’ nearly as much as I enjoyed the first book ‘Debris’ but this third book ‘Guardian’ was excellent and for me, really brought the series to a satisfying close. More than that, it further contextualised and in some way added  meaning to the events of book two, that I hadn’t gotten from that book itself. I loved the worlds crossing, loved the character interaction and connection – even across worlds.

I also think this is one of the more interesting stories to deal with a pregnancy and unusual circumstances – it reminds me a little of the Marianne de Pierres’ ‘Sentients of Orion’ series. Tanyana as a character really extends in this book, she’s a far cry from the ‘woe is me’ from the first book, and resentfulness of the second book. I love her evolution and I also love that the story centres around her, and not the rebuilding of the city or a majestic war – those are fine things, but I like that the story was character driven from beginning to end and that the surrounding events are always interpreted through the character perspective.

Congratulations to Jo Anderton on completing this series so beautifully.

Note:

I originally posted this on Goodreads because I was short on time, so I’m rectifying an oversight by posting the review here as well.

Expedition: Mid Year Update

I am now just over half way through the year and although I anticipated updating more about this year’s theme given the action and goal driven nature of it, that hasn’t happened. Although, as usual I think time has a way of making the timing for this kind of post ‘right’, so there’s really no stress or guilt here.  My theme for 2014 is Expedition, and when I wrote about it in January this year I had a lot of ideas about what it would look like and how things would go. In many ways, things have gone to plan. In other ways, I’m now laughing at what I thought could be accomplished.

2014 really has been like an expedition, an adventure off into the unknown, but with very firm goals that were situated entirely in an area of uncertainty well outside my comfort zone. I have grown and stretched and my sense of self and my connection to Melbourne has intensified. I suspect that this second half of the year is going to be vastly different from the first half though, not the least of which is because Ral, Fox and I moved in together, into a lovely two storey townhouse in North Melbourne. Our little home is both big enough and small enough for all of us, lots of spaces, nice bedrooms, gorgeous bathroom with a three person spa (it’s like this place was made for us, seriously). I love it. I love living with them and so far it is coming together beautifully – much more so than I think any of us originally anticipated.

The biggest part of my year though has been starting my new degree studying Midwifery where at the end of it, I will be a trained and qualified Midwife! It’s been an intensive course of study – in different ways than my previous degree, not just because it is all internal study, and also not just because it is health sciences based. Despite the uncertainty and the fact that a lot of this is outside my comfort zone, I am enjoying this course massively and am deeply motivated to complete it so that I can be qualified to work and practice as a midwife. In a lot of ways this is the beginning of a culmination of what I started with my previous degree and I am definitely grateful for it daily.

But reflection aside, where am I at with the list of goals I set? What have I achieved, what am I letting go of, and what has changed – and why?

  • Study Midwifery full time internally at Victoria University
    • Improve scientific knowledge
    • Improve mathematics knowledge
    • Improve practical skills for science and maths
    • Increase confidence in the areas of maths and science

So! I am in the midst of this! I have indeed massively improved my scientific knowledge, my mathematics proficiency, my practical skills in both areas and also increased my confidence in both areas. To say I am pleased about how this is going is an understatement.  Now that I’ve completed one semester, I think that I will add to this goal area.

  •  Successfully complete my first year in my Midwifery degree.
    • Continue improving my science and mathematics knowledge and proficiency.
    • Work hard on clinical placements to get the best experience and knowledge about working as a midwife as is possible.
    • Do quality work in my Continuity of Care Program being the aspect of training involving recruiting families having babies and undertaking to provide extra support and care much like a midwife would, but in a student capacity. I love this program because the aim is mutuality – extra care and support for the person who is pregnant and their partner and family (where applicable), and experience for me in the ongoing care, education and support required as a midwife and learning how to build rapport with people, but maintain professionalism for everyone’s benefit.
  • Explore employment options while studying full time and internally both short term and long term in 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 did look into this, but really it’s largely infeasible due to the way in which the course is constructed and its intensity. The moving in with the boys means that we’re all going to do better financially though which was the main reason for doing this. That said, I would still love to do first year tutoring as this is a personal fulfilment goal, not just an economic one. Given the current political climate, I’m just not expecting anything to go well in this area whether employment or government support as a student.

  • Co-convene a sex-positive furry convention my partner and his fiance
    • This includes assisting with budgeting and programming as well as assisting with discussion moderation

We tried to do this. We spent a lot of money on it. There were issues with sabotage because people always think they know how to judge others’ supposed depravity and punish others for any inclination they may have had to support it. It was an ambitious project on top of the sabotage but the ultimate result of this still makes me really sad.

  • Pass P-plate test
    • Go on a road trip outside of Melbourne by myself

I’m well on my way to doing this. I have made my first driving test attempt. I didn’t pass, but I should have. I managed everything near perfectly during the test, and toward the end there was an unfortunately timed amber light. I made a judgement call that I would have to slam on the breaks to stop safely and so went through it and it went red about 3/4 of the way through. This is apparently an instant fail on your test as ‘failure to stop’ regardless of the fact that I did nothing illegal, did not cause any disruption in traffic, did not cause any unsafe traffic situations. I’m willing to bet that the odds were there that I’d have failed for doing such a sudden stop if I’d done the opposite. I have no reason to expect I won’t pass next time around and I’m looking forward to getting this finished and being able to drive my car by myself. Seriously, everything else was near perfect, my instructor could only comment that she thought I needed to use my rear vision mirrors more. I’m still bitter about this failure because I stand by my decision and it was a good and safe driving decision, but rules. Working on letting it go (I don’t like failing).

  • 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

So this is a writing down of a thing I would do regardless of it being on a list. It is going well though, Adam was just here to spend a week with me, I’ve been to Perth a couple of times and hopefully Kaneda will be able to visit some time this year. I am still filled with much whimsy of the moment around my loved ones, so there is much revelling indeed. I have spent a lot of time taking care of one of my partners and being caring in general to the people in my life. I’ve also needed care and support and accepting that is still hard… but I’m getting better with it.

  • 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 need to work out where I am at with this, but it’s on my blogging list to do. I have read at least a couple of books and I’ve planned which other books I want to read for the challenge – I think. I’ve read about 25 books so far this year, so I’m 1/3 the way to my goal – will need to step this up if I’m to make 75, but I have reviewed some as well.

  • Discuss and review the media I’m watching including all the critical analysis in my head about it

I haven’t done this yet, and I keep meaning to. I’d still like to get to this.

  • Make time for adventures, even if they’re tiny ones

Well there have definitely been adventures! I moved in with my partners, I went to my graduation, I started university, I joined the zoo! I’m also spending a lot of effort on cooking adventures and trying new things there too.

  • 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

I haven’t posted any link salads, but I have participated in and hosted the Down Under Feminists Carnival – I’d like to be more active in this somehow, not sure how yet, as always I need more efficiency in getting things done. I have done no blogging about Melbourne with pictures or even food with pictures, but I’d like to do more of this, especially since my new phone takes beautiful pictures.

  • Connect with my local community
    • Volunteer with my local Greens group
    • Join my local CWA group
    • Keep  meeting new people in the furry fandom
    • Keep joining in with poly community events
    • Volunteer with Melbourne Supanova

Well this was probably where I was my most ambitious and didn’t realise how much time and attention and focus study would take. That and caring for a partner. I have joined my local Greens, but not volunteered, I haven’t found my local CWA group but maybe I will try that again. I’ve met new people, but given the events around running the convention am a bit off the furry community in general. I did however try and join the committee for next year’s Continuum convention which I’m excited about. I haven’t made it to many poly events but I’ve enjoyed those I’ve made it to. I wanted desperately to volunteer, but just couldn’t with study the way it was unfortunately. Next year hopefully! This area I’m going to keep as my ‘bonus’ area – if I get these things done, great, if I don’t, not an issue – they’re bonus things.

  • Attend my graduation for my BA in Gender and Cultural Studies and take pride in having achieved completion of this degree after so much work and dedication

I did it! I went! Adam and Kaneda came with me and it was a special night. It meant a lot to me to get my degree and be presented.

  • Cooking adventures!
    • 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 have done much cooking!! I have done some cooking as a gift and have at least two specific instances planned for that too. I have been trying new recipes and cooking techniques – most recently, brining. I’m trying new cuisines and am enjoying all the discoveries!  I have not however, done much blogging about it, and not many pictures either – hoping to improve on this.

  • Grow a balcony garden of greens, herbs and other tasty things and record it using GrowStuff

I haven’t done this and I don’t know how feasible it will be with our new house, will have to see where the sun goes and how much sun there is and if there is a way to possum proof the place where we’d like at least to put kitchen herbs.

So this list is already pretty comprehensive, and I think that where I’ve indicated that most of my energy is going is likely to continue. It will be interesting to see if I can get into the habit of blogging more regularly. I do have a couple of other new points that I’d like to add to my list at this point though:

  • Go to the zoo and enjoy it as a form of exercise with easy and obvious rewards. Go visit the Werribee zoo and the Healesville Sanctuary and take full advantage of my membership and the free entry!
  • Try and find the time and money to start a dance class, something like Argentine Tango because I really loved doing it once upon a time ago.
  • Let my Midwifery degree continue as my main focus in energy, get the most out of the different experiences possible. Keep an eye out for conferences or organisations that it would be beneficial and useful to network with.

Here’s to the next 5 and a half months! Maybe I’ll even get in an interim report before this enquiry finishes at the end of the year!

Pledging for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badgeI’ve participated in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for the past two years and I’ve really enjoyed it, so I’m doing it again. I’ve found that it has brought to my attention new and interesting books that I may otherwise not have heard of, or overlooked without a review. There are various levels to the challenge, so you can pick something that suits. Sign ups for 2014 are now open if you’re interested.

This year I’m going to undertake the Miles challenge again, I fell out of the habit of blogging and reviewing last year even though I read well over the number of books for this level. My aim is to read at least 6  books and review at least 4. I’m still pretty set on continuing to read in the speculative fiction genre, it continues to make me really happy.

Here’s to a new year, new books and happy reading!

Completing the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 - bannerI love the Australian Women Writers Challenge so much, and I wish I’d been better about blogging my reviews before this. However, here I am. I actually read quite a lot this year, not as much as I’d hoped to but it did include most of Juliet Marillier’s bibliography which was some of my best reading for the year. That also means that I read a lot more books than I’d aimed to for my challenge.

I pledged to take on the Miles challenge, reading 6 books and reviewing 4.  In the end, I read 14 books, which I’m quite pleased about. As for reviews, look below and see my short reviews for the Sevenwaters series, by Juliet Marillier; Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth; and Suited by Jo Anderton. I’ve also included the complete list of books I’ve read. Next year, I will aim to do more in depth reviews, but really, I shall aim to review at all closer to the time of reading the book rather than at the last minute.

By Juliet Marillier:

Sevenwaters series:

Daughter of the Forest - coverDaughter of the Forest is everything I like about the retelling of a classic fairytale. Sorcha is a powerful protagonist and Marillier’s writing is beautiful making the experience of reading this book truly delightful. Reading this book had me wondering what had taken me so long to read any of Marillier’s work, so this was definitely one of my best reads for 2013. I love that the story involves a female protagonist and that she is strong without being ‘kick ass’, and is instead deeply ethical and respectful, compassionate. These are qualities I admire greatly in a character, and I think they’re also particularly good characteristics to use for describing a ‘strong female character’. Sorcha’s story of toil and sacrifice is one likely to be familiar even though I don’t imagine many of us spend our days weaving nettles.

 

Son of the Shadows - coverLiadan’s story in Son of the Shadows tells the story of choice, the story of going against expectations and taking the unknown path and daring to go against the grain. This is the kind of story that I think resonates for me as a woman in a society that has particular ideas about what I should do, what is proper and appropriate – Liadan experiences this too, but manages to forge her own path and do so with conviction and without losing her family who are so much a part of her life. Liadan is one of my favourite protagonists for this series, one of my favourite books of the series. I love Liadan’s story, I love her choices, I love her courage. I also love the way in which Marillier writes this book  not as a second book, but as a story that continues a telling of the family history of Sevenwaters.

 

Child of the Prophecy - coverIn Child of the Prophecy, the way in which Marillier has constructed these stories as a family history gently unfolding through each  new generation really demonstrates a unique layering to this series and adds a profound depth and complexity. This is a story of heartbreak, and though it wasn’t my favourite story, I respect the way it made me uncomfortable and made my heart break. Niamh’s story is a tragedy and it is through Fianne’s eyes that we come to understand the true depths of that tragedy and it gives weight to these stories as the telling of a history. It’s not all bravery and heroism, there are challenges that aren’t overcome, costs and consequences paid and not necessarily always fairly.

 

Heir to Sevenwaters - coverClodagh’s story is one that is much more like the epic fantasy quest stories that I first started reading. Unlike those stories, the fact that Clodagh is female and determined, honest and neither unreasonably modest or clueless, or arrogant and superior. This is a quest that comes from a deep knowing of what is right, that what you heard/saw/felt was real and true and to be acted on – even if it involves magic. This is also a love story, also in the style of fantasy epics, but once again that the story is about Clodagh transforms a story approach that is tired and overdone into something that has depth, nuance and is intelligent and charming. Another layer to the Sevenwaters tapestry, another perspective in another generation rounding out yet more understanding and knowledge about the family, its history and its future.

 

Seer of Sevenwaters - coverSibeal’s calling as a seer, to be a druid is something deeply held within her knowingness of herself and her commitment for her life, and yet she is challenged before she makes her final pledge. I loved Sibeal’s character, her depth of knowing and also the deep conflict that comes from being challenged on something that you’ve always known as a deep truth within you, feeling that truth held sacred shifting and changing. Seer of Sevenwaters is also a story of romance, and while there’s adventure it’s less about a great quest and more about finding yourself, knowing yourself and being confronted with how that can change and grow, how that can happen in unpredictable ways and directions. The web of the family grows longer and stronger, history deepens and the knowing of the other characters from stories past grows through the eyes of new protagonists, reminding you of those stories and giving even greater understanding than was first available at the time the events of a story occurred.

Twixt Firelight and Water - coverThis is an in-between story and it wasn’t my favourite of the series. However, it does tie up some loose ends, and colour in some of the tiny gaps and I always enjoy these kind of stories that aren’t quite big enough to have a major book and plotline, but are still worthwhile and satisfying. Of all the characters in the history of the Sevenwaters, Ciaran is simultaneously one of the more important figures, and yet remains a mystery being always told through the eyes of other family members, this story uncovers more about him again and it’s one of the few stories that is told mostly from a male protagonist’s viewpoint.

 

 

 

Flame of Sevenwaters - coverMaeve’s story is a compelling one that comes from a place of overcoming, of growing within one’s self and facing one’s biggest insecurities and realising that these are balanced too by unique talents. Learning the lesson that it is not what you cannot do, but what you can do, what you choose to do and how is at the core of this story and it’s fleshed out with Maeve’s kindness, compassion and her courage – traits that many of Marillier’s characters exhibit. Another deeply satisfying story, and it reminds me in part of Clodagh’s story because it’s more quest like than some of the others. It is rare indeed for a series with six books to maintain such an incredibly high quality story, one that is just as compelling and engaging as the first book. With all of the stories interwoven there is indeed a greater story to be enjoyed in the reading of all the books, but I also appreciate how each book stands alone, and could be enjoyed without necessarily having previously read the other stories. Reading the Sevenwaters books overall reminds me how incredibly good fantasy fiction can be and has whetted my appetite for more  of these kinds of books with female characters living their lives, getting to be amazing and valued for it in their worlds, undertaking their quests.

 

Wildwood:

Chronicles of Bridei:

Shadowfell:

By Kate Forsyth:

Bitter Greens - coverThis book was one of my favourite reads for 2013, Forsyth did an incredible job of retelling this classic fairytale and also in framing it’s history and publishing. I loved the multiple storylines in different times, and I loved how they came together in the end to provide an unexpected and very satisfying ending to the story. I love that this is a story of three women at different times in fiction and history, and I love how even across time and fiction, they impact on each other’s lives and even more than that, I love how this enriches my reading experience.

 

 

 

By Jo Anderton:

Suited - coverI liked this book and thought it was a great continuation from the first book ‘Debris’. Tanyana continues to be the kind of protagonist that you sometimes love and sometimes dislike, but I found that in this book her growth as a character continued to be satisfying, particularly since she’s much more engaged in doing something and less focused on the unfairness of her situation. I particularly like the way her relationship with the Lad develops in this book. The book is definitely a ‘second book’ and has some of the clumsy elements I associate with these stories, but the story is intricate and I’m definitely invested in continuing to read. I’m still trying to piece together my impression of what the world looks like, and what the stakes of the story are – the saving of the world, and how it’s threatened – I’m very much hoping that my confusion over some of this from the first and second books is resolved in the third. Regardless, this book continues to tell a very unique story that is quite unlike any other science fiction or fantasy I’ve read before and I think that this is the quality I appreciate most about it.

Some amazing stories by Australian women writers, I’m so glad I got to read these and took the time to review even some of them. Here’s to the 2014 challenge being just as interesting and satisfying.

2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge Pledge

Last year I had immense fun taking up the challenge to read Australian Women Writers – a bunch of these authors already number amongst my favourites, but I love the attention being paid to some incredible writers out there.

This year I’m going to take up the challenge again – there are still a whole bunch of books I never got to read yet, so I have plenty of material to choose from! If you’re interested in great new books to read, and community to go with it, sign up for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 - banner

One of the best things was browsing the various reviews people wrote, because there were some books I picked up that otherwise I wouldn’t have thought to read – like ‘The Courier’s New Bicycle’ by Kim Westwood, which was one of my best of 2012 reads.

This year I’ve set myself the ‘Miles’ challenge for reading and reviewing. I’m committing to reading six books, and reviewing four of them for 2013. Hopefully I’ll overtake this and do more reading and reviews, but since I’m moving interstate and still have study and work in mind, I’ll set myself an achievable goal.

I’m also going to stick to speculative fiction again, as it is my favourite genre to read, but if anyone has any particularly strong recommendations for books outside the genre that it would be worth me trying, I’d love to hear from you.

Additionally, I’ve also renewed my goal on Goodreads to read 100 books for 2013, I didn’t achieve this goal in 2012, but I did read 62, so I was well over half way there. Hopefully this year I’ll make it all the way!

Feel free to friend me on Goodreads or follow me on twitter if you like, my username for both is ‘transcendancing’ (unsurprisingly).

2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge Complete!

Back in January I pledged to do the 2012 Australian Women Writers Reading and Reviewing Challenge, and as of this morning, December 2012 I have completed the challenge!

2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge - banner

I pledged to do the challenge as ‘purist’ reading in the science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction genre. I pledged to read 6 books and review three.  In actuality, I read 9 books and reviewed 3. The list of books I read are detailed below with links to the books on Goodreads and also to the author’s websites.

The Full List

The Reign of Beasts (Creature Court #3) by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Debris (Veiled Worlds #1) by Jo Anderton

The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood

Diamond Eyes (Mira Chambers #1) by A.A. Bell

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles #1) by Melina Marchetta

Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles #2) by Melina Marchetta

Burn Bright (Night Creatures #1) by Marianne de Pierres 

Angel Arias (Night Creatures #2) by Marianne de Pierres

Shine Light (Night Creatures #3) by Marianne de Pierres

The Reviews: 

The Reign of Beasts by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Debris by Jo Anderton

The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood

I had a marvellous time with the challenge, I read a whole lot of reviews and they certainly influenced my reading choices. I did find new authors to appreciate, and I got to have a whole lot of discussions with people about the books that I read. Two of the books I read for the challenge ended up being part of a tiny number of books that constituted my best reads of 2012, namely The Courier’s New Bicycle and Diamond Eyes.

I plan to take on the challenge next year too – I got so much out of the sense of community from the challenge, and also the fact that women writers and Australian ones were part of a constant conversation around me online for the whole year! So wonderful and I’m proud to be part of it.

The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood

2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge - banner

This is a review for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2012 and has been delayed because I’d been trying to find time to do it justice. Justice or not, time is running out, and so here is my (belated) review.

This is Book #3 based on my original pledge back in January! I’m certainly ready to complete the challenge, and this post will constitute the formal finishing, though I am hoping for an opportunity to review a few more books in depth. I have done some reasonable reviews on Goodreads througout the year. I am planning on continuing the challenge into 2013, so if you’re also on Goodreads, feel free to friend me.

 

 

Title: The Courier’s New Bicycle

Author: Kim Westwood

Publisher and Year: Harper Collins Australia, 2011

Genre: Science Fiction

Courier's New Bicycle - cover

Blurb from Goodreads:

 Join Salisbury Forth on twenty adrenaline-fuelled days as a courier of contraband in the alleyways of inner Melbourne, a city of rolling power outages, fuel rationing and curfews.

Life’s stressful, post-pandemic: a vaccine dispensed Australia-wide has caused mass infertility and people are scrambling for cures. This would be fine for the hormone business, except the new government has banned all remedies except prayer.

Now the pious gather under the streetlights at dusk and the Neighbourhood Values Brigades prowl for ‘transgressors’. Meanwhile, the out-of-town animal farms have started up a barbarous form of hormone production and the Animal Protection Vigilantes are planning their next raid.

For Salisbury it’s not all bad. Love is in the air, and the job is a joy—until someone starts distributing suss hormones stamped with the boss’s Cruelty-Free Assured logo. This bike courier turned accidental sleuth has to discover who’s trying to destroy the business before it all goes belly up…

My Review:

‘The Courier’s New Bicycle’ is one of my stand out best reads of 2012, and that’s why I’ve delayed this review so long as I was trying to find useful words to review it with instead of flailing wildly with joy and splattering words all over the place… not sure I’ve moved on sufficiently, but we’ll see.

I’m head over teakettle in love with Melbourne, and Westwood has evoked the essence of Melbourne beautifully in this book, including taking it into a darker place where conservatism rules. The politics of this book resonate with me strongly and I appreciate Sal as protagonist being someone with a non-binary gender presentation, and also a non heteronormative sexuality. And, it isn’t as though these are immediately central to the plot, except they are in an oblique way because they are central to Sal, who is fielding this new future society that distrusts and despises zer. In a future weighed down by fertility crises, it is no surprise that the politics of gender, sexuality are central themes.

The characters in the story have a realness to them that I really enjoyed, they’re ordinary people living in a society that they struggle with, who acts against them. And yet they still seek to act for the greater good,  trying to make a difference whether to battery farmed animals, or to each other. The importance of chosen family is emphasised in this book, and this pleases me as someone who appreciates both blood and chosen family in vastly different ways.

Sal’s integrity is one of the things I like best about the character, forthright and honest, there is struggling with keeping secrets, even if for good reason. Reluctant detective or not, Sal is believable throughout the story and the gentle threads of romance and friendship that underpin the story are brilliantly woven.

Shortlisted for  the Tiptree Award*, it’s easy to see why, the exploration of gender and sexuality politics is deft and insightful. There are easily recognisable echoes of existing fears and politics in these areas for those of us who are queer in our gender, sexuality, or lifestyle. It’s not to hard to imagine this kind of future, but knowing others are able to imagine it makes me feel a little less alone in this fearful imagining. Also, this book has a story so well told that I have to hope it will reach people and open eyes previously closed to the lived reality of people who are othered. Some have described the books as dystopic, however I’m not among them as I find the future described in the book all to plausible.

Highly recommended, I just can’t say enough good things about this book.

*Thanks to Tansy correcting me that this book didn’t win the Tiptree, but it was shortlisted, now corrected! 

Debris by Jo Anderton (Book #1 in the Veiled Worlds Series)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 - banner

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012: Book #2 (My original pledge post)

Title: Debris (Book #1 in the Veiled Worlds Series)

Author: Jo Anderton

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot Books, 2011.

Genre: Fantasy

 

 

 

Debris - cover imageBlurb from Goodreads:

In a far future where technology is all but indistinguishable from magic, Tanyana is one of the elite.

She can control pions, the building blocks of matter, shaping them into new forms using ritual gestures and techniques. The rewards are great, and she is one of most highly regarded people in the city. But that was before the “accident”.

Stripped of her powers, bound inside a bizarre powersuit, she finds herself cast down to the very lowest level of society. Powerless, penniless and scarred, Tanyana must adjust to a new life collecting “debris”, the stuff left behind by pions. But as she tries to find who has done all of this to her, she also starts to realize that debris is more important than anyone could guess.

Debris is a stunning new piece of Science Fantasy, which draws in themes from Japanese manga, and classic Western SF and Fantasy to create this unique, engrossing debut from the very exciting young author Jo Anderton.

My Review:

This is the first book in a new series and is an excellent offering from Angry Robot Books! Debris is a brilliant book, I loved and devoured it!

Tanyana is an interesting and complex character, there’s depth and roundedness to her that I find can sometimes be lacking in female characters. She’s not cast in the archetype of ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ but instead, ‘human’. She wants to do the right thing but her motivations are not always altruistic and I found this very reasonable and realistic thinking how I’d react if I were in her position.

The supporting characters are varied and interesting, and while only a few of the supporting characters become rounded and real, the others remain intriguing mysteries rather than cutouts.

With regard to the story, it is obvious that not all is as it seems right from the beginning, but how that unravels is quite surprising. I didn’t expect the direction of the story, I was engaged by it and found it believable.

This is not your average fantasy story of quests and journeys… this is a story about a woman in a fantasy world, her talent which is stripped from her and how she adjusts to a life performing a role she hadn’t previously imagined possible.

Congratulations to Anderton on an engaging and entertaining first novel! This book is one I would highly recommend.

Note: Review format is lifted from my friend Lauredhel’s review of ‘All I Ever Wanted’ by Vikki Wakefield because it was simple, clear and awesome.

Reign of Beasts by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Book #3 in the Creature Court series)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 - banner

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012: Book #1

Title: Reign of Beasts (Book 3 of the Creature Court series)

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: HarperVoyager, 2012

Genre: Fantasy – Dark Fantasy

 

 

 

Reign of Beasts - coverBlurb (from Good Reads): 

The Creature Court are at war with each other. Three kings fight bitterly for power and dominance over Aufleur and the streets run red with blood. Some believe that Velody has betrayed them as a new Power and Majesty rises, one who has no hesitation in torturing or killing those he should protect. 

At Saturnalia, the fate of the city will be decided. If Velody cannot persuade Ashiol to trust her again, Aufleur will fall.

My Review: 

This is the final book in this fantasy series from  Tansy Rayner Roberts. I’ve been looking forward to finding out what happens so much! I promise to be careful not to spoil you with my review.

Once again, I am swept up into the world of Aufleur and the intricate and petty backfighting of the Creature Court. All bets are off in this book, all you know is that somehow, there will be a resolution – either the world will be saved or lost. As this is fantasy with a darker bent there is the sinister undertone that whispers to you wondering what the cost of saving the world will be, what will the ‘saved’ world look like. There is always a sharper flipside edge to this story that gives it bite and depth.

The characters continue to interest me, I find myself curious about their choices and hoping the best for them. I am still delighted with the wealth of female characters and their complexity. They have grown and changed throughout the story, they are flawed and there are mistakes but ultimately you can actually imagine enjoying a pot of tea with them. I also loved how we are finally invited to share in some of the backstory for the other Lords of the Creature Court – the mystery does not disappoint, I can promise you that.

All I will say about how this book ended a compelling series is that I didn’t see the resolution coming at all. I appreciated it and found it satisfying as an ending. I believe it fulfilled the promise of the previous books where all is not what it seems and in addition to that, endings are not tidy little bows, they’re a point at which a particular tale is firmly told and I’m glad that not all my questions were answered, that I continue to be able to wonder.

While I don’t believe this book can be read as a stand alone, I have no hesitation at all recommending all three books. Go take a look at the first book Power and Majesty and the second one The Shattered City. If you appreciate darker fantasy with truly stand out characters in a world that is entirely unique, there is a great opportunity for reading and discovery with Tansy’s Creature Court series.

Note: Review format is lifted from my friend Lauredhel’s review of ‘All I Ever Wanted’ by Vikki Wakefield because it was simple, clear and awesome.

 

Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge

2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge - banner

There’s a challenge that a bunch of friends are doing this year that involves specifically reading and reviewing Australian women writers. I’m delighted to take part and even though I’ve got a hefty study load planned, I’m going to relish the opportunity to read some fiction over the course of the year.

So, the challenges I’m taking on are:

Genre Challenge – Purist

I’ll be sticking to my beloved science fiction and fantasy genre for this. There’s such a wealth of books and authors in this genre, some of whom I’m familiar with but I am also hoping to discover new authors to follow as a result of the challenge.

Books Challenge – Miles (read 6 and review at least 3)

This may at first seem like a goal set too low for someone who is quite a voracious and dedicated reader. However, that hefty study load I mentioned gives me pause and I’ll take the opportunity to create space and gentleness here so that there’s maximum opportunity for enjoyment and achievement of the goal.

This also comes in under my desire to combat some of my perfectionism and determination to achieve highly by appreciating things that I can do ‘sufficiently well’ and be pleased and proud of them. It’s always nice when I achieve highly, but I don’t want to position myself such that I have a melt down every time I don’t reach my own high expectations. I want to select the high reaching goals with care rather than overloading myself with All The Things having to Exceed Expectations.

So what books am I planning to read? Well, I’ve definitely got my eye on The Twelve Planets produced by Twelfth Planet Press. Not that I needed much of an excuse to read them, but there’s an awesome community feel about doing it in this way, so I’m all in!

 

P.S. I finally joined Goodreads, feel free to prod me with a friend request if you’re also doing the challenge!