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).

 

 

Review: Tremontaine (Season 1) by Ellen Kushner et al.

Tremontaine - season one - coverARC Review:

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

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

Publisher and Year:  Serial Box, 2016

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, romance, serial fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Ambelin Kwaymullina

Snaphot Logo 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Tribe Series - covers

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

Nope.

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

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

What Australian work have you loved recently?
Cleverman!

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

International Women’s Day 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Reading Goals

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

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

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2016Overall Reading Goal:

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

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

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

Read with Diversity in Mind

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

Participate in Bookclubs

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

Escape YA Bookclub

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

Vaginal Fantasy Bookclub

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

Our Shared Shelf Bookclub

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

Sword and Laser Bookclub

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

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

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

Undertake another Secret Unannouced Reading Project (SURP)

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

Unpack and Read Some of My Physical Books

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

2015 Reading Goals Wrap Up

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

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

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

Specific goals I outlined:

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

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

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

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

Books by Indigenous authors I reviewed include: 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Books I reviewed by non-white authors include: 

Falling in Love with Hominids - coverGrace of Kings - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

Recent Listening

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

The Wheeler Centre Podcasts

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

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

Galactic Suburbia

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

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

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

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

Fangirl Happy Hour

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

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

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

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

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

Feminist Frequency

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

 

The Misandry Hour:

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

Review: Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids - coverNetGalley Review 

Title: Falling in Love with Hominids

Author: Nalo Hopkinson

Publisher and Year: Tachyon Publications, 2015

Genre: Short fiction, single author collection, speculative fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk) has been widely hailed as a highly significant voice in Caribbean and American fiction. She has been dubbed “one of our most important writers,” (Junot Diaz), with “an imagination that most of us would kill for” (Los Angeles Times), and her work has been called “stunning,” (New York Times) “rich in voice, humor, and dazzling imagery” (Kirkus), and “simply triumphant” (Dorothy Allison).

Falling in Love with Hominids presents over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.

My review: 

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

I was saying on Twitter as I finished this that some books are devoured in a single sitting, because you cannot bear to put them down. Some are savoured slowly because you never want it to end, you eke out every moment, every word. This sentiment is wholeheartedly true for ‘Falling in Love with Hominids’ as I wanted to savour every single moment and take in as much of each story as possible.

Nalo Hopkinson has been on my list of authors that I’ve been dying to read for quite a long time now, and her collection ‘Falling in Love with Hominids’ is a fantastic introduction to her work. This is an outstanding collection that really gives insight into her storytelling, her talent, the breadth and insight with which she rights. I loved the little snippets of commentary from Hopkinson at the beginning of each story, I always think these kind of tidbits add exponentially to the reading experience – particularly for short fiction. One of the features that is used throughout the collection and in some ways ties all the different stories together is the way that stories, mythology and memories, personal history are woven through the inspiration behind the story, or within the story itself. I love the use of the lyrics and poetry – rather than being disjointed and throwing me out of the story as such elements can often do, the way Hopkinson uses this technique is expert and draws you deeper, has you feeling the rhythm of the story in your blood as you read.

I highly recommend this anthology, reading this book was a pleasure and a privilege.

This is yet another anthology that convinces me that back when I thought I didn’t like short fiction all that much, actually I just wasn’t reading stuff that really called to me, thrilled me, drew me in and made me fall in love. Also, getting to read this is part of my fulfilling a desire to read more diverse fiction from non-white authors, particularly non-white women authors. If this is something that you’re doing or thinking of doing, this anthology is a great place to start.

I won’t review every story, we’d be here all day. However, I will highlight several I particularly enjoyed:

The Easthound: this story was creepy, suggestively prophetic about the kind of dystopian future we might be facing, I really liked the way the kids fear growing up, that growing up means becoming the monsters they fear and hide from.

Message in a Bottle: Oh this story! This was a gorgeous story – that horror of being trapped with an adult mind in the body of a child in order to achieve a future mission, coming back from the future. The character of Kamla really stayed with me well after I finished reading this story.

Left Foot, Right: This story haunted me – I had to keep reading and find a unicorn chaser after reading it as it just wouldn’t let me go! Tragedy, grief and recovery, the unreal and putting to right wrongs, this story is short, sharp and very poignant.

Emily Breakfast: I think this was one of my favourite stories from the anthology! I love that there was a chicken named Emily Breakfast and that the entire story revolves around a home, and a couple and their care for their chickens. I love the casual references to queerness and kink, without those ever being the point of the story. I also love that it’s quite obvious that the animals in this story are not quite as we might experience them in the real day-to-day world. I want a kitty with wings. *is emphatic*.

A Young Candy Daughter: There are always new ways to spin a story about Christmas, giving, having enough and of balance. This is I think one of my favourites of these kind of stories – and I have an abiding fondness for them. A small child, a little bit of magic, and Santas with vessels that begin to overflow for those who need them. Such a charming story.

Ours is the Prettiest: This was my other stand out favourite story in the anthology. I loved the characters wholeheartedly in this guise, with Hopkinson’s voice though I understand that the nature of the story is that there are a number of authors who’ve dabbled in Bordertown with its characters. I could have continued to read on and on about their lives and adventures, I was so compelled. The story was a delight and I felt it ended way too soon before I was fully sated.

 

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

Blogging

I’m still doing my ‘5 things about today’ posts, nearly 300! So close to doing a whole year of posts! I’ve managed to post a bit more regularly here, but not as much as I would have liked, I’d still like to do that more, but I’m not sure what that looks like. Work in progress and I’m happy with it.

The only thing that’s a bit up in the air is blogging about midwifery stuff, it’s been impressed upon us that we shouldn’t be talking about stuff generally speaking – the thought is that it’s too easy to say too much somehow. The problem is that… I don’t think secrecy about our profession does any good as far as community level health promotion goes and advocating for better practices and systems of support and care for people. How does that happen if no one knows what’s really going on, what’s there to be discussed, agreed and disagreed with? In any case, I’m feeling a bit concerned about discussing stuff critically so I’m not likely to do it for the moment.

 

Self Development

License… it’s still something I have to do. The year has been so intense, there’s been so much that has happened and it’s been one thing after another. I will get this done. Urgh.

Job stuff is looking more positive though, especially given I’ll be studying half time from now on. I interviewed for a potential job a couple of weeks and I should hear soon if there’s work for me – I liked the organisation and it’s in the line of work I used to do so there’s potential for a decent income even at part time hours. Plus, getting to feel useful and like I’m contributing financially – a win for mental health and for our budget.

As far as being ‘me’ goes, I feel like this year hasn’t left me much room to do much more than… react I guess. I’ve been myself but it’s been a me largely under stress, or recovering or staving off crisis. Honestly it’s sucked even if I’ve managed to come through it intact so far.

I will say that one of the best things this year about being myself and getting to really feel at home in that was getting to go to Continuum 11. That was possible because of a dear friend of mine and words fail to express my gratitude. I got to see so many people I’ve missed so much! Spending time and soaking up amazing women being awesome at their stuff. Listening to them speak and admiring them, it was awesome. I played games, had conversations, got hugs, shared time and felt at home. For the first time I felt like Continuum was *my* convention – that’s been Swancon for so long and I’ve missed it so much. It’s welcome to me that the convention in my state now feels like ‘home’ to me.

 

Socialising

I’ve been better at this so far this year. Even with things being kind of hard and stressful fairly constantly I’ve managed to be more social. I’ve hosted people for dinner and I’ve been better at making time to visit people I went to a party, and I spent a few days away with another friend who lives out of Melbourne. So it’s improving… well, sparingly. But I have worked at it, and I expect it will be a bit easier this coming semester, again because of studying half time. I’m hopeful.

Community stuff is still something I’d like to be better with but I’m still unsure how it will come about. I have made it to a couple of Poly Vic things and I will continue trying to do that. I am unsure about volunteering for this Continuum committee as I only know one person on there. but maybe that’s a reason to do so as well…  Greens stuff and CWA stuff is still attractive but might take more energy than I have to give at present so it’s a bit up in the air. Sometimes I wish I was a bit more like the people I admire who seem to have energy for All The Things. I do the best I can.

 

All in all, it’s been a hard year so far, one that’s been trying and has tested what little resilience I’ve had. I’m grateful for the people around me, for my partners, my friends, chosen family. I couldn’t get through all this without you and your time, care and quiet support means the world to me. I’ll get through this and I’ll get on top of things – you’ll see. I’m determined! In the meantime, not only will I continue to work hard on my study, but I will also concentrate on taking the best care of myself that I can, and building on things that add to the quality of my life – who I am and what I’m doing in the world.

I had thought that this year was about ‘becoming’ in the sense of becoming a midwife – but I actually think it’s more than that. I think that it’s ‘becoming’ also in the sense of who I am as a person and who I am growing into. That’s a both terrifying and exciting really but… I have faith in myself, fundamentally so I’m just going to see where this enquiry leads. Here’s to the rest of the year ahead, may it be gentler but remain a learning experience that is fulfilling, generous in all that lifts me up and sparing in further harsh lessons.

Recent Movies Overview

In an effort to shut up and write about stuff rather than wait for it to be ‘worth talking about’, I thought I’d do some posts about movies, ones I’ve seen and want to see. The list of movies I still want to see is quite long, but I have made a start on it recently and so I thought I’d review those movies I have actually watched, it’s a mix of movies that I saw at the cinema and movies I watched at home.

If you want an overview of a bunch of excellent films that were first released in Australia in 2014, I can highly recommend Grant Watson’s review at The Angriest. You may also appreciate his beautifully detailed film review and criticism over at Fiction Machine. My list, is just a bunch of films that I watched in recent months (and mostly enjoyed).

My reviews are compiled in no particular order, chronological, quality or otherwise. It’s also a rather epic post, so here’s a table of contents for you:

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (1954)

First and foremost what you need to know about this movie is that it’s a musical featuring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen, who are all marvellously talented. I watched this on Christmas Day night, really late after watching Die Hard. I wanted to watch something delightful and lovely and all about the fluffiness that comes with Christmas. This is definitely that movie! One review I read of it described it as ‘pornographically sappy’ which I think is fairly apt – but never in a way that is less than fully satisfying.

I loved this film from start to finish, loved all the songs – loved especially Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s characters dressing up as Rosemary and Vera’s characters and sing ‘Sisters’ in order to help them manage a deft escape. While the film is all about the emotional reward and it’s set at Christmas time – the timing is incidental, it’s not a movie about Christmas, which I think adds to the film and its storyline. One of my favourite things about the movie is that one of the main plot arcs is about the two men doing the right thing by their former sergeant. Men and emotional engagement and Doing The Right Thing especially Just Because gets me every time. Also, several female characters including two who are also main protagonists, with motivations and backgrounds  and everything. In hopes of encouraging you to rent this charming movie, take a look at the trailer:

Pride (2014)

I just recently saw this at my local independent cinema and it easily became my favourite film of 2014. This film tells the story of real life events that happened in the United Kingdom during the 80s when the Miner’s Strike was a bitterly fought issue and a bunch of queer activists decided to try and help them by raising money. The connection between the activists and the village they work to help unfolds beautifully, it’s not an easy friendship to grow but things get managed, people come together and connect, they are grateful and they are inspired.

I was utterly caught up in the telling of this story by what is possible when that right combination of people happens, goodwill, determination and that sense of doing the right thing, again Just Because. I’m never going to get tired seeing people stirred by doing something greater than themselves, greater than their own community, and learning and succeeding, struggling and even at times failing. For the first time I actually understood the Union Movement in watching this film.

Pride is beautifully written and acted – it features Bill Nighy as the big name actor and he’s brilliant, but he’s not alone amongst a cast of brilliance. The movie is also laugh out loud funny – I’m not a person who laughs easily from movies but I laughed all the way through this. The movie is as poignant as it is funny, there’s a wonderful balance between these two elements and neither ever overshadows the other. Honestly, I cannot recommend this film highly enough.

Die Hard (1988)

How did I get to the age of 34 and not have seen this movie? I haven’t the faintest – it makes no sense to me given my love of 80s action movies. However, after we feasted on Christmas Day those of us gathered around the flat screen to watch Die Hard, and thus this gap in my movie watching history has been rectified. And I agree with the rest of my friends it would seem, that Die Hard makes a great Christmas movie (the opposite of White Christmas really).

What an action movie – when I think about present day action films I just feel like they don’t even try any more. It’s like there’s an assumption that more explosions and effects means a better movie – but without something of a plot and some great actors to make it (seem) plausible, effects and explosions fall flat in my opinion. I think Willis, Veljohnson and Rickman really make the film – it’s not a plausible story but because of their calibre of acting, you’re completely happy to just go with it. I will admit though, a purely financial motive obscured by seeming radical political affiliations seems remarkably believable all in all. So does the ruthlessness.

I love that although a very minor character in the entire movie charade, Bedella’s character Holly does get to be seen, she has clear motivations and background, ambitions – the works. She’s written and acted in a way that reflects her strength and her competence is reinforced every step of the way – with the unfortunate exception when at the very end when she becomes your classic damsel in distress. Despite that disappointment, the rest is still true and I noticed it several times during the movie.

One of my favourite moments in the film is when the villain goes after McClane and pretends to be a hostage who escaped. I love their exchange with each other and the way Gruber later uses our hero’s bare feet against him. It’s a tiny detail but it’s one that worked really well for me. Another favourite part of the movie is the way in which a relationship between McClane and Powell develops over the radio, they build such a regard for one another despite having never laid eyes on each other and the whole way through the movie, it feels real. These moments and several others really come together with the effects and ridiculous plot to provide solid and lasting entertainment that holds up to many re-watches. And now I can’t wait to see Die Hard 2 (I think I also have not seen this before, I am certain only that I’ve seen the 4th one).

No Country For Old Men

I think my conclusion after watching this movie is that Coen Brothers films are just not for me, I am the antithesis of their audience. I recognise that it’s a movie that is brilliantly written, directed and acted. However, the characters are utterly unlikeable, unsympathetic, irredeemable and I got nothing out of the resolution of the story. Things happened but none of the consequences made sense to me, none of the outcomes were really satisfying. I just hated watching it. I don’t quite want the hours of my life back – I’m glad I watched it. I’m glad because I can clearly recognise its brilliance while also being very clear that I hated it, because of what I look for in movies.

You’d like this if you like Coen Brothers films in general (Burn After Reading, O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, The Big Lebowski). I may still give those latter two a chance, I’ve heard they’re amazing films (hopefully with characters I don’t hate utterly). I did enjoy The Hudsucker Proxy,  but it’s a notable exception because the central characters are actually likeable and sympathetic. This is the one film I watched this year that I really didn’t enjoy but I’ve included it because of the complexities of not liking a film that is clearly so well made and acted.

Frozen

I finally got to watch this after I finished exams, it was one of those movies that my partners weren’t interested in watching so it languished on my ‘to watch list’ for ages. I am not certain it lived up to the hype for me, but there were a bunch of things as a feminist cultural theorist that I appreciated. I appreciated that the prince wasn’t the hero. I loved that it was about sisters overcoming adversity together. I love that there was an actual consent exchange for a kiss. I wasn’t a fan of the repression of self storyline reinforced by the well meaning parents. I wasn’t a fan of the classist way Anna is portrayed as being lonely and isolated in the castle but doesn’t seem to interact or make friends with any of the people working there.

I also still mourn that the movie wasn’t made true to The Snow Queen fairytale, which was about a girl who goes off to save her brother  Kai from an evil queen. I still feel that the reason they changed it was because Disney doesn’t feel a girl can go and save a boy as the main plot line (this is a gut feeling and not something I’ve researched  specifically, I’m fairly certain I could come up with some pretty compelling evidence to support my theory if necessary though). The music was lovely as were the songs – but they didn’t really win me over the way other songs in other Disney musicals have done previously. Overall this was satisfying, warm, and fluffy in the way I love my musicals, but I’m not sure whether it makes my list of ‘happy making, feel better, world as a better place’ movie list (I need a better name for it).

Maleficent

I loved this movie, I’m a long time fan of Angelina Jolie, and I also love that we got a film about a Disney villain – one of the most iconic villains at that – from *her* point of view. That said, I think that it was a movie with a lot of potential that never became fully realised. Kind of so close and yet so far in the end. I find myself in agreement with the critic consensus on Rotten Tomatoes about the film; Jolie does a lot with very little, and the film is very pretty, but it’s not enough.

The writing and depth of the storytelling by the film is lacking, the plot never really comes together for me, and yet I want it to so very badly when I watch it. However, if we dig deeper, the movie manages to make some great (and probably accidental) political commentary on the level of class where the human world is rife with injustice and inequality and the realm of The Moors portrays its citizens with equal say and standing. I liked best the way Maleficent spends time with Aurora as her own person, and not simply assuming she is an enemy. The connectedness Maleficent displays with Aurora and the completely ineffective fairies was really unexpected for me in the movie and I appreciated Maleficent’s connectedness and was saddened by how much the fairies were reduced to caricatures. I think this story arc had incredible potential and could have been utilised more thoroughly for an overall better movie (especially if the fairies had been fully realised as they were in the Disney movie).

I will draw your attention to this brilliant essay on Maleficent as an anarchist feminist fairytale by my friend Sky Croeser because through her analysis I appreciated the film much more. I couldn’t by myself put my finger on exactly why I loved the movie and yet was dissatisfied with it, but this analysis helped me to further contextualise what I wanted out of the movie and where it could be found. Hollywood may not have intended such, but it’s there anyway. Hopefully the essay also brings you greater enjoyment of a film that overall falls short, and yet is still special. In this present day, it’s something to have a movie with a named female  protagonist, an iconic villain – even if it’s not all we hoped such a movie would be.

Lucy

This film… I am not quite sure where to start. I wanted to like it much more than I did, I was very dissatisfied with it. Here we have a sci-fi action movie with a titular female protagonist, Lucy. And yet despite these elements which should produce a movie I’m head-over-heels for, the portrayal of Lucy’s character is lacking and I never really feel like she gets to be awesome in her own right – there’s a massive ‘but’ attached to the awesome. I’m thinking in terms of Joanna Russ here, ‘She was awesome, but it wasn’t her, it was the drugs inside her’, ‘She was awesome, but look what she did with it’ and so on.

Russ - How to Suppress Women graphic

I’m not a audience member who requires realistic science in my sci-fi – it’s nice but I’ve got a well developed suspension of disbelief. However I think Lucy goes well beyond any kind of line for believability which I think lets the film down significantly. While Scarlett Johansson is fantastic as Lucy and elevates the movie overall, it’s still frustrating to see the hints of what could have been an exceptional movie never realised. I will spend a moment to say that Morgan Freeman is wasted in this film, seemingly ‘The Intelligent Guy’ in an overall unintelligent movie, but also it’s clear he’s phoning it in. The story is way too ridiculous and the central character’s agency is entirely gutted. The action is fantastic, and so is Johansson, but otherwise this just fell flat for me.

Jabbed

There’s no IMDB listing for this documentary, but if you scroll down on this link you’ll see the synopsis and list of awards – they’re impressive.

This documentary comes from Sonya Pemberton, an Emmy award-winning Australian documentary filmmaker and looks at the fears surrounding vaccination, the reality of risks (though rare) as a result of vaccination, and the consequences on an individual and public health population basis for not vaccinating. What I loved about this documentary is that it works hard to convey the fears parents have over vaccination without demonising them. The focus is on understanding, and providing solid science behind vaccination, including instances where a serious reaction to vaccination has been recorded.

The film sees the fact that parents are afraid, and want to do the best for their child(ren) as being the start of a conversation rather than the end of it. I think that it’s brilliantly put together, and the information is well presented without ever being condescending. Take a look at the trailer and I think you’ll be impressed at the way this documentary is presented – it was a very interesting film to watch and one that’s useful for me to have seen as a midwife-in-training.

Valentino: The Last Emperor

Another documentary, this is very different from Jabbed in that there’s no public health message, instead it’s insight into a hidden world, and a hidden, though iconic man. The buying of my own clothing is such a far removed experience from the realm of fashion designers such as Valentino so it really was interesting to get a glimpse into that world and what it involves, and what it means to the creators. I feel like the audience did get a unique view behind the scenes of seemingly glamourous fashion design world, and into Valentino himself. And yet, it’s also clear that he’s still a very private man and that much remains hidden.

I think my favourite part was watching the friendship between Valentino and his long time business partner and friend Giancarlo Giametti, it’s clear they have such a depth to their relationship and it’s incredibly meaningful, and Giancarlo is much more open about that than Valentino is. I really enjoyed seeing this element being one given importance in the documentary – it’s not just about the dresses.  I enjoyed this film when I wanted something easy watching that I didn’t have to work at, without heavy content and it was perfectly suited to that. I will say that, although interesting, it paled compared to my experience seeing the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition in Melbourne recently. The exhibition was truly beyond anything I could have expected and utterly mindblowing, while Valentino in comparison, was merely enjoyable and satisfying.

The Emperor’s New Groove

This movie is one I keep coming back to, it’s a favourite of mine to rewatch when I need something fluffy, entertaining and funny to watch. I love the humour, I love the happy ending, I love the absurdity. I also tend to really enjoy films where one character learns about the meaning of friendship, and this definitely qualifies. I adore Izma as the villain and Kronk as her unlikely side kick who’s really not evil at all. The movie is simply a fun romp about two unlikely people becoming friends – one’s the selfish, vain and arrogant emperor, the other the head of a small village, humble and kind. I like that Kuzco isn’t set up to be evil – just misguided and subsequently redeemable. I love the way that unfolds between Kuzco and Pacha. This movie is especially precious to me as I often find comedy a difficult thing to appreciate, and this film never fails to make me laugh.

Coffee and Cigarettes

I just don’t know what to make of this film. I love the way it’s a series of small vignettes, but I also know it’s meant to be a comedy and I just don’t find it funny. I did like and enjoy the film despite not finding it funny, although at some points the cringe of awkwardness was intense! Actually I think that’s a useful way of summarising this movie as a whole, an exploration of awkwardness between the audience and the characters,  and the characters with each other. It’s a little unrelenting, but as an exploration it’s pretty thorough in covering all the ways awkwardness could possibly surface using these scenarios involving coffee and cigarettes.

My personal favourite segment is Cousins featuring Cate Blanchett – I think this exchange of awkwardness is the most realistic to me, and I love the way Blanchett plays both roles to perfection. There are a number of other famous faces who contribute to this film including Bill Murray, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop amongst others – all of whom contribute something unique and special to the film. This is not a film that will ever go down in my favourites list, but I am glad I saw it.

Cinderella (1997)

I watched this film upon recommendation of a friend that it was charming and satisfying particularly on the level of being a musical and satisfyingly non-white. She was right – it was a gorgeous movie, charming and sweet, with costumes and sets that were utterly gorgeous! While the cast is broadly non-white, race itself has no emphasis  and I think this stands the movie in good stead. It doesn’t make race invisible – it just makes the expression of less overtly white casting unexceptional – as it should be. Performances from the likes of Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Brandy Norwood were a delight to watch, and sincere without simply replicating the original 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.

That it is a remake of the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella alone makes it particularly satisfying to see so much diversity. And really, I expect it’s a 50/50 mix of people who are white and non-white. That’s not really diversity, it’s a depiction of real life in a much more realistic fashion instead of 2-3 white people for every person of colour. For anyone who’s ever watched and enjoyed Ever After, this movie is equally lovely, fluffy and satisfying as a Cinderella story and I recommend watching it at any point you need a unicorn chaser.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 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).

Review: Kaleidoscope from Twelfth Planet Press

Kaleidescope - cover

I should begin writing this review by pointing out that generally speaking, I’m not a short story reader. I want to enjoy this style of story more than I generally do. However, Kaleidoscope from Twelfth Planet Press edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios is an example of how awesome short stories can truly be! This anthology is truly exceptional. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to choose the stories because they’re all fantastic in their way – if these were the ones that made it in, I am sure that just as many stories came really close and I’m sure many of them were also exceptional.

Blurb from Kaleidoscope on Goodreads:

What do a disabled superhero, a time-traveling Chinese-American figure skater, and a transgendered animal shifter have in common? They’re all stars of Kaleidoscope stories! Kaleidoscope collects fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life. Featuring New York Times bestselling and award winning authors along with newer voices: Garth Nix, Sofia Samatar, William Alexander, Karen Healey, E.C. Myers, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Ken Liu, Vylar Kaftan, Sean Williams, Amal El-Mohtar, Jim C. Hines, Faith Mudge, John Chu, Alena McNamara, Tim Susman, Gabriela Lee, Dirk Flinthart, Holly Kench, Sean Eads, and Shveta Thakrar.

Review:

For this review I’m going to concentrate on the stories that really resonated with me, it’s a large anthology and I figure that’s the easiest way to keep this review manageable. I will point out that none of the stories were what I’d consider ‘filler’ – they all make up a valuable part of a whole that is definitely more than the sum of each of its excellent parts.  I liked all of the stories in this anthology – but some more than others as you’d expect so I’m concentrating on those.

First of all, my stand out favourite: Vanilla by Dirk Flinthart. I thought this story was such a sharp commentary on xenophobia, politics, racism and the experiences people have around the margins. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t say that I loved the poly nature of the story and also the way Kylie reflectively considers her place in the world and wonders about her future.

Cookie Cutter Superhero by Tansy Rayner Roberts was short and sweet – I’d actually love much more about this story but I loved the story as it was – it’s not unusual for me to want more and I think that shows that the premise was good, that I was satisfied with the piece I got to read says it was successful as a short piece.

The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon by Ken Liu was such a beautiful and gentle story, I loved the way it considered the different way that relationships can shift and still be important. It doesn’t have to look a certain way, important is important and the how and the what are up for negotiation.

Signature by Faith Mudge reminded me of all the reasons I love urban fantasy! I just adored the way this bookshop drew people together! I love the twist on Rumpelstiltskin in this story, it was just so enjoyable to read.

The Lovely Duckling by Tim Susman, I love that this story is also about making things be possible and that it keeps its focus there and not on the obstacles themselves as easy drama. This was a thoughtful and intelligent story and I love the way that it resolved.

Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell by E.C. Myers, wow what a powerful story – this was deep and it moved me so deeply. I thought it was so very interesting and I love the way the threads teased out to build this incredible story that I just don’t think my own words can give justice too. I think that often the subjects as portrayed in this story can be so negatively handled, with both judgement and this story gives a realness and a weight to them – not a permissiveness as such just a realism and criticality that is compelling.

Careful Magic by Karen Healey is such a gorgeous story, order and ethics and magic. I loved this story and it’s another one that I don’t think my words can do justice to. I loved the protagonist and how the story worked *for* her because that’s how she works – but not contrived just as the title suggests, careful, deliberate, ordered.

The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar is a wonderful exploration of the fascination with cultures other than our own, I love the way this is put together – there are so many layers and it’s complicated – as we and our lives are complicated. Our history is personal and not just one of a culture or familial background – there’s so much more and I think that this story captures that brilliantly.

Link Salad: Recent (ish) links that came my way for your interest:

Talking Back Without Talking Back is an article by Maesy Angelina about a different approach to activism and how the act of having conversations that simply occur and continue encourages an overall shift. The strategy described herein has immense freedom in that there is no target audience “everyone is a participant” and the aim is to form a collective with a “shared understanding” and where there is no target group identified as the opponent. Very interesting and ties in nicely to the ideas that I keep encountering around the context that there is no group labelled ‘them’ but simply the acceptance that instead we are all an ‘us’.

Ragnell hits the nail on the head in her blog post ‘Can You Be Prettier When You Cry?’ discussing how we tend to blame pretty young actresses for their lack of acting talent. However, Jessica Alba discusses a different reason in an interview with Elle magazine that suggests instead that the fault lies with Hollywood and its directors hiring actresses based primarily on appearance. They encourage the actresses to act inside of that attractiveness mandate which effectively makes them flat, like greenscreen canvases where special effects and post production will erase any perceived imperfections. Meanwhile the audience is left wondering whether there was a character there at all, wondering why the actress so obviously ‘phoned it in’.

The Melbourne Feminist Collective is holding a Feminist Futures Conference {link no longer valid so removed} which quite aside from the attractiveness of Melbourne, the event sounds interesting and I’d love to go if somehow money starts to grow on trees. The structure of the event looks to be just serious enough and just social and engaged enough to really appeal to me. I also like the broad areas of discussion outlined and the aims set out.

Chally from Zero at the Bone starts of a stint writing for Bitch Magazine on Iconography in Literature. There are several posts in this series and all are thought provoking drawing the reader to consider deeply held assumptions about the everyday, privilege inherent in how we go about our lives unthinking and giving us a whole lot of new reading inspiration (not to mention a contemporary experience of what makes a text literature). I’ve been delighting in this series and I highly recommend it.

Bminstral provides this amusing definition of polyamory that simultaneously makes many of us already poly giggle with understanding, and provide some minor measure of insight to those who perhaps are new to the concept: “Polyamorist (n): one whose life is characterised by a set of complex overlapping calendars and scheduling conflicts and, to a lesser extent, multiple loving relationships.” It’s not universally true of course, just one of those astute generalisations that has enough relevance to enough people who find it amusing. Like me 🙂

My partner is the director behind Rebel Empire Workshops, this video is what he and and a huge number of dedicated and inspirational volunteers put together for Worldcon 2010, taking a team of just over 20 performers to Melbourne to culminate many months of late nights, creative brainstorming sessions, arguments, tears, blood, a whole lot of sweat and dedication.

Helen Mirren delights me so very much in her articulate and astute summation of Hollywood’s obsession with worshipping at “the alter of the 18-25-year-old male and his penis”. ABC writes an article here about the awards ceremony from which Mirren is quoted, while the YouTube clip of the event is here.

Aimee from Hook and Eye on Imposter Syndrome, key quote: “If we can’t talk ourselves aggressively up, do you think we might manage to stop talking ourselves down?”

At Viva La Feminista Sally blogs for Summer Feminista about feminism and not-feminism and how sometimes it looks rather similar: Like (Un-Feminist) Mother, Like (Feminist) Daughter – “You don’t need the feminist label or a college degree to strive for women’s independence and feminist ideals. All my mother needed was three daughters to fight for, including one slightly obnoxious daughter who doesn’t let anything go. So call it whatever you want, just let it grow inside of you. I’ll keep calling it feminism and my mother probably won’t, and we’ll still agree more often than not.”

News with Nipples gives us this rather apt description of how ‘We’ve been pwned‘. We are attached to this idea that we make our own decisions about a whole bunch of things. Sometimes that’s true, and sometimes that’s less true – or at least, guided a whole lot. This is well demonstrated in the above link.

Cindy talks about her love/hate relationship with Wired Magazine and their representation of women on their covers in her post: An Open Letter to Wired Magazine, also including the magazine’s response which was such that I thought I might actually become interested in the magazine.

On a lighter and fascinating note, the Mimic Octopus {link no longer valid so removed} doing amazing things to mimic other creatures and surrounds. Absolutely fascinating.

Beppie at Hoyden About Town looks at Intersectionality and Privilege: Addressing the Squishy Bits, by discussing the fact that sometimes there is no clear or right answer that “sometimes, every “right” answer carries a little bit of wrong in it too.”

Mona Eltahawy writes for the Star about being a Muslim feminist and what that means for her. Her article explores commonly held beliefs about both Muslim women and feminism and is well worth a read: ‘Let me, a Muslim feminist, confuse you

At Tranarchy, {link broken so removed} Asher Bauer details a must read post titled: ‘Not  Your Mom’s Trans 101‘ {link broken so removed} which looks at the idea of a Trans 101 and the way in which it often perpetuates cissexual supremacy within society. This is a brilliant article that really addresses cissexual privilege and highly recommend reading. Asher also discusses how irritating it is being advised on how better to be ‘Man Enough‘ {link broken so removed} and uncovers a whole bunch of assumptions and privilege that go into that, often well intended but rather offensive desire to offer gender performance advice.

Also on the topic of  trans, personal experience with gender and navigating a cissexist world, Red rants spectacularly about the hypocritical way in which people assume gender: Questions for cis people….

Katie Makkai, a veteran poetry slammer – defining the word “pretty“. Powerful and really attacks the vicious culture cycles about this idea of girls and being pretty. Also following on from Katie’s piece is this post from Don’t Type Angry which articulates the sublime experience of being human with all it’s imperfection, in the post ‘You Are Not Beautiful Enough‘. {link no longer valid so removed}

And finally at the end of this epic link salad, something to think about, something to breathe in and out, something inspiring, something to live by (if you wish): Holstee: This is your LIFE.