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.

 

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.)

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: Through Splintered Walls (Twelve Planets #6) by Kaaron Warren

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #9

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Through Splintered Walls (Twelve Planets #6)

Author: Kaaron Warren

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2012

Genre: speculative fiction, horror, Australian

 

Through Splintered Walls - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

From Bram Stoker Award nominated author Kaaron Warren, comes Book 6 in the Twelve Planets collection series.

Country road, city street, mountain, creek.

These are stories inspired by the beauty, the danger, the cruelty, emptiness, loneliness and perfection of the Australian landscape.

‘Every Warren story is a trip with no map.’ – Gemma Files

‘Her fiction shifts across genres smoothly and intelligently, never settling for the easy path… she doesn’t flinch.’ – Andrew Hook

‘As with most of the best horror writing … the power of Warren’s strongest stories comes from the mirror they hold up to our everyday practices and prejudices.’ – Ian McHugh.

 

My review:

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


I’ve been thinking about how to approach my review for this collection. It’s definitely one of the more challenging books I took on reading this year – it took me months to work up to it, quite a while to read through (because I am just not very good with horror at all), and then I’ve been sitting on trying to think how I review this book. It’s a masterful collection of horror stories. This is an excellent standard and example of non exploitative and non-gratuitous horror. The horror within these pages is all to real, all to accessible and relatable – that’s what makes it horrific.

I think I will talk about this book in two parts. I will talk about the first three short stories because they worked really well together as an introduction to Warren’s work. They were creepy and horrific but not so much that I worried about falling asleep at night. My heart went out to the protagonist in ‘Creek’, but the standout of these shorts for me was ‘Road’. It was equal parts creepy and caring but I really liked it.

To talk about ‘Sky’ wow… I don’t even know how. It’s an exceptional novella. I think it goes up there with one of my other reading experiences ‘Wives’ by Paul Haines as something I’m definitively glad to have read, but never want to revisit and might need a support group having now read it. Actually I found a lot of parallels in the reading of ‘Sky’ and ‘Wives’, the familiarity of an Australian cultural background to the story was very real to me – as was the way that setting was presented as a kind of innate horror in and of itself. Whether Warren intended it or not, the entire background of the protagonist, where he came from, his family, Canberra and the town of sky were all coded as horrific to me from the beginning. This novella was a like a slow boil of horror and scary.

That’s true of the last page which absolutely gutted me, and nailed home the depth of the horror involved and how slow-boiling that had been. I can still remember the description on the page, can recall the images that came to mind and the emotion that came with them and I’m *gutted* all over again. Congratulations to Warren because wow, that’s visceral and I’ll never forget it. (Late at night I wish I could!)

I think one of the things that really got to me about this book, and all the stories within it, was that at every point there seemed like there could be a turning point, and uplift in the story and I kept looking for it, kept hoping for it and there were nods to it, suggestions of it, but then especially with ‘Sky’ it never eventuated – and in such a way that really drove home the story and its horror. I think it is absolutely a testament to Warren’s skill that I kept looking and hoping and reaching, until the very last moment. At every point I was firmly within her grasp. Hooked.

I am not someone who ‘enjoys’ horror, but I think it is valuable to sometimes read outside my comfort zone and to challenge myself. Is it horror I don’t like, or merely some kinds of horror. Okay, so it’s horror in general, but sometimes it’s worth it anyway. I think that’s where I am at so far – and that’s part of my experiment in reading these collections is that several of them include stories that are embedded in the horror genre, it is a chance to explore my experience of the genre without traumatising  myself too badly in the process. Also, since each collection is so far of outstanding quality, i can rely on the curation of the stories to be worth my time to try out in my exploration and that counts for a lot with me too.

If  you are someone who wonders if you hate all horror stories or if there is more to the genre for you, I highly recommend this collection. If you are already a fan of horror – particularly the insidious kind that seems all too plausible and normal, then this is also for you. ‘Through Splintered Walls’ is creepy and disturbing and scary. It’s brilliantly written. I’m so glad I read it, even if I now need a support group.

 

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Justine Larbalestier

Snaphot Logo 2016

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


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Sister Rosa - cover

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

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

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

What Australian work have you loved recently?

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

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

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

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

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Marianne de Pierres

Snaphot Logo 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Australian work have you loved recently?

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

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

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

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Glenda Larke

Snaphot Logo 2016

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


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

 

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

Thank you!

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

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

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

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

Watergivers Trilogy - covers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AWW16: Showtime (Twelve Planets #5) by Narelle M Harris

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #7

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

Author: Narelle M. Harris

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2012

Genre: speculative fiction, urban fantasy, fantasy, horror

 

 

 

 

Showtime - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

My review:

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


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

Stalemate

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

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

Thrall

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

The Truth About Brains

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

Showtime

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

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

AWW16: Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti (Twelve Planets #4)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #6

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

Author: Deborah Biancotti

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: speculative fiction, mystery, crime, urban fantasy

 

 

Bad Power - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

My review:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

AWW16: Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex (Twelve Planets #3)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #6

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

Author: Lucy Sussex

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, collection, anthology

 

Thief of Lies - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

 

My review:

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


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

Alchemy

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

Fountain of Justice

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

The Subject of O

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

Thief of Lives

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

 


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

 

AWW16: Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelve Planets #2)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #4

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

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

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

 

Love and Romanpunk - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

History is not what you think it is.

My review:

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


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

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

Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary

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

Lamia Victoriana

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

The Patrician 

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

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

Last of the Romanpunks

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


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

Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badge

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #2

Escape YA Bookclub Profile ImageEscape Club Bookclub: January

Title: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)

Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016

Genre: Young adult, dystopia, science fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

Illuminae - coverMy Review:

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

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

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

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

— (spoilers) —

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

— (end spoilers) —

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

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

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

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.

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!

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.

 

 

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.