Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

A dark blue cover with white text, and a flourished font for the title Caraval. There is a multipointed star behind the title and it is surrounded by red artistic flourishes around the title and author name.ARC Review:

Title: Caraval (Caraval #1)

Authors: Stephanie Garber

Publisher and Year: Flatiron Books, 2017

Genre: fantasy, young adult, romance

Blurb from Goodreads:

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

My Review:

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

I thoroughly enjoyed Caraval, it was a face-paced read that was enjoyable in the way that you don’t notice how much you’ve read until you should have gone to sleep an hour ago.  I loved the set up of the story and the game of Caraval with the mystery of its game master Legend.  The magic and the worldbuilding were deeply interesting and honestly I wish I could have seen more of this – especially inside the game world itself. For five days of game there was a surprising lack of detail and richness to the experience within it.

The characterisation was all pretty solid although I thought the father’s character was a little two dimensional as a villain. I loved the two sisters, although I was disappointed that they didn’t share more page-time together and I thought that there was a bit more telling about them rather than showing – Tella was almost absent from the book although critical to the story itself which I thought was actually a bit of a shame – I couldn’t relish in her triumph because I barely knew her. Scarlett was contradictory but in a good way and I thought I had a good chance to get to know her, but I thought that she was a bit too easily led and naive for someone who was supposed to be aware of being manipulated, based on her background. I did really love Julian’s character, and he was one of the stand out characters for me, he was complicated and interesting, was a great foil for Scarlett without being lost in her and without doing anything that made my teeth hurt.

I enjoyed the resolution to the story quite a lot, I thought it was quite fitting and I thought that the fact that there was a rhyme and reason to how Scarlett and Tella ended up at the game at all was well plotted. I was bewildered by the random arrival of the fiance – that whole sub-storyline was a bit clunky for me and I don’t think it played out as well as it could have. I didn’t much care for the cliffhanger, but I am glad to know that there’s more story, it was definitely compelling and enjoyable enough that I’m overtly looking forward to the sequel. This is an interesting YA novel, it’s not a coming of age, but it is a stepping out into the world in a way for the first time, and Scarlett comes to know herself and what she wants for her life a bit more, out from under the thumb of her father and the certainty of her betrothal. I love that the relationship between the sisters is so important and underpins the whole story even if they didn’t share the pages as much as I’d have liked, and overall I’d have loved to see more of Tella. Congratulations to Garber on an excellent debut novel.

Favourite Books of 2016 (finally)!

I’m sorry it is two thirds the way through January and I am only just now getting to post my favourite books of 2016, but it’s been pretty busy lately, especially on the blog front so better late than never?  On my ‘Best of 2016′ Goodreads shelf, you can see that I 20 books that I rated as favourites for the year.

I am excited that this was a significant percentage of what I read overall, because it means I’ve got a good thing going on with picking books for myself that I’m really going to like. Because I keep liking them! Such a great problem to have, how to winnow down the list to a manageable blog post length for favourites? I will try and get this down to a list of 10. Ish.

I’ll do my best…  I should note that these are in no particular order, it is way too hard to rank things!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway - coverWhat a glorious book, I am still gushing about it a year later and I can’t wait for the next novella in this universe. It’s short and sweet, the story is self contained but the universe itself fairly bursts from the pages. I loved this and wanted it for all of my past selves of 14, 18, 21, 25 and 30 years of age. It left me feeling okay about myself and my differences and the searching for myself and growing and changing.

I loved it so much. I loved it so much that I hunted for a physical copy for most of the year before caving and ordering it in specially, and it then took two months to arrive. It was worth it. My precious hard copy now sits in a place of pride on my bookshelves!

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - cover

So many people have raved about these books – and it was that excitement and overwhelming love that really persuaded me to read the first one. And I couldn’t put it down, and I almost went back to the beginning straight away once I finished them both to read them AGAIN. They were SO GOOD.

A Closed and Common Orbit - coverSpace opera that is optimistic, about friendship and found family, autonomy and personhood, getting along with the foibles of space  living and future technology possibilities and limitations. Galactic civilisation and politics, fast moving  and character driven with nicely framing plots, an array of alien cultures and an appreciation for celebrating that diversity within the pages. I want to read so many more books in this universe, I am so in love.

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

Book of Phoenix - cover

This book was so powerful and that sense of power has stayed with me months after I read this book. I adore Okorafor’s writing style, it draws me in and I’m lost to the story, the characters and the emotional impact of what she’s writing about. In particular with this book, is emotional impact of it. There is such an incredible sense of anger, white hot and righteous, it is a driving anger that delivers the story without and leaves you gasping (for breath, for more – both).

The story is political and that is so relevant at this point, on a global scale where politically everything is so charged, so difficult and bewildering. I felt like I had the chance to become more in touch with my anger, less afraid of it in reading this book, which was definitely the most unexpected outcome, but deeply welcome. I loved this book and recommend it highly – I think it also stands alone as I haven’t read Who Fears Death which is the universe in which this story is set, and I didn’t notice any lack.

He, She and It by Marge Piercy

He, She and It - cover

Many friends have talked about how excellent Piercy’s writing is, and I wasn’t at all disappointed (except that it had taken me so long). This book is a classic and a master work (mistress work?) because it gives you everything. It’s climate change fiction, cyberpunk, science fiction, and has a literary and even historical bent to it. The characters are so fully realised and are complex with intricate relationships.

The book is as much about the relationships as it is personhood and I also appreciated the near-future it painted showing the life following the recovery after the breakdown of 21st century society, with the inherent threat of corporations and the importance of balance between individualisation and community and collective mindedness. This is a cautionary tale, but also one of relationships and the future imagined is so very plausible. I can’t recommend it highly enough. This book is what convinced me that I could still read and enjoy literary science fiction, it just takes the right story.

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

A dark background showing an iron gate or fence with a police tape line in front of a dark headed white skinned figure looking moody.I haven’t reviewed this on my blog yet – ostensibly I am going to do the series as one post but I haven’t yet done that. I read this after reading Every Heart a Doorway by the same author, and realised that there was a whole urban fantasy series with an awesome female protagonist that I hadn’t yet read. And, that it was by an author who I’d fallen deeply in love with their writing and was intent on reading everything I could by them!

Toby is an awesome female protagonist, she is both fae and human and works as a kind of magically aware detective. There’s fae politics, human discovery, the overlapping of the human and magical worlds and it is magnificent. This series presses all of  my buttons for stories I love in a huge way, I devoured the books available in the series in a matter of days – there were less days than books. An unread addition to the series awaits me and I’m very tempted to reread the books before devouring this next one… we’ll see.

Ms Marvel (Volume 1) by G. Willow Wilson

A Muslim teenage girl centres the entire cover image, she's wearing a black shirt with a yellow lightning bolt of Ms Marvel and a scarf. Another one I haven’t reviewed here, but I loved this. I am new to reading graphic novels and this was definitely amongst my favourites I picked up in 2016 and was definitely part of what convinced me that I could absolutely get into and read graphic novels.

I loved Kamala and her story in how she becomes Ms Marvel, she’s both recognisable as being an ‘ordinary’ girl, but the story where she gains her super powers is so believable. She wrestles with how to use her powers, how to make it work with school and her other commitments. I appreciate that she gets advice on how to do this from an unexpected place, it was one of my favourite moments in the book actually.

I definitely want to read more of Kamala’s Ms Marvel story, it’s everything I could have hoped for in a graphic novel with a Muslim female protagonist. So excellent!

Lumberjanes (Volume 1) by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, and Brooke A. Allen

Background of a cabin/lodge in a lighthearted comic style with five girls hanging out together on the cover, all are different heights and sizes and appearances.I am fairly certain that my reaction to reading this graphic novel (my first in my exploring this story medium) which was to run around for the rest of the year exclaiming ‘Friendship to the max’ at the top of my voice is entirely reasonable. It also tells you how adorable and wonderful this graphic novel is, it’s pitched perfectly at a young adult audience and it’s filled with heartwarming adventures and explorations of friendship, responsibility (including saving the world) and growing up.

I just adore this series and I plan to own them when I can afford to buy the volumes. I read three or four of the volumes last year and loved each one just as much as the first one. Friendship to the max. There is nothing not to love about this from the story to the art and everything in between. I want to be these girls, I want to be a Lumberjane and have adventures. I am smitten!

Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

Den of Wolves - coverThis was a fitting conclusion to a trilogy that I loved from beginning to end. Every moment comes through note perfect for me in this series, and in this book as a conclusion. We see Blackthorn confronted by the changes in herself, and I appreciated that there was such a strong focus on how both Grim and Blackthorn have been changed since they escaped the prison together.

The story within the book stands alone, though this time I liked that it was Grim more in focus trying to solve the mystery rather than him supporting Blackthorn to solve things. The overhanging and unresolved major story arc is beautifully resolved, revenge gives way to justice and it is so satisfying.

Marillier is an incredible storyteller, her characters, worldbuilding and narratives are deeply compelling and satisfying. She is on my list of authors whom I just want to read everything, and one I consider a solid recommendation for fantasy as well. Epic fantasy can get so tired and tiresome, it’s hard to find something unique in the genre. I have found that Marillier manages to do this time and again.

Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop

A stormy sky with lightning is the background with a red-haired woman with short hair and haunted eyes standing in the foreground looking worried.I’ve not reviewed this series on my blog before, but it’s highly likely I will do so as a post about the entire series at some stage. I love Anne Bishop’s fantasy, it’s dark and beautiful, sumptuous and emotionally engaging. The characters in this series are at once strange but always intriguing. I love that honour, friendship and found family are key components of the story and that emphasis is especially strong in this book. I love that humans are the minority in this story universe, that they exist at the sufferance of the Others, supernatural beings of all descriptions that tolerate the humans grudgingly for their small contributions to convenience and technology, although considered often more a threat than a benefit.

The metaphor is apt for the current state of the world where globally there is so little being collectively done to curb climate change and live more thoughtfully and less at odds with the Earth. It’s a tidy lesson in a dark fantasy novel, somewhat unexpected but definitely adds gravitas to the weight of the story – again, a cautionary tale. This book is all about what happens when caution has not been exercised and agreements and promises have been broken. I don’t want to spoil the series, but it’s all kinds of excellent.


That’s it, I’m drawing a line, I could just keep talking about the others I didn’t blog about here, but go look at my Goodreads shelf instead. I’ve kept this to 10 and I’m feeling pretty impressed that I managed that! This is just half of the books I thought were my favourites of last year, but hopefully they’re some of your favourites too. Or, if you think I should have given more love to one of the others on my shelf, let me know! I’ve loved all the favourite and best of posts from 2016 I’ve read so far, I’ve definitely added things to my to-read list and I hope this post does the same for you!

Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Cover image with large text with the author and book title, the background is a golden soft glow horizon behind a field of golden corn. ARC Review:

Title: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

Authors: Seanan McGuire

Publisher and Year:  Tor.com Publishing, 2017

Genre: urban fantasy, dark fantasy, novella

Blurb from Goodreads:

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

My Review:

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

I am a recent fan of McGuire’s work, but I fell hard for her writing, ideas and characters. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a unique novella, and though it deals with heavy topics around death and suicide, for me the novella was about time and our perceptions and appreciation of it. I find these topics difficult to read about myself, but despite this I did really enjoy the novella and appreciated it’s gentle narrative. The gentleness itself is worthy of mention I feel, and I think it softens the nature of the topics enough to read the story and connect with the characters and what’s happening.

Although Jenna is our protagonist, I found myself never really understanding her very well, or connecting much with her.  I feel like we only get to know her just enough for the story to be told but not enough to really understand her place in the landscape unlike with the other characters, which breathed for me on the page, ghost or not. In particular, Brenda stands out as the most interesting character in the book, her awareness of New York and being a witch – a corn witch, is so interesting. Her experience of the city is so interesting and I would love to read more of her story. I also really loved Delia, the landlady ghost who has just stayed and continues to care for the city and its inhabitants, I found the idea of ghosts like Delia very comforting, even as I found Jenna discomforting.

However, stories by Seanan McGuire are rarely comforting, they do dig in and make you wonder, make you think. That’s true of this novella, though it’s only a little over 100 pages. I have never been suicidal, and I have scant experience with losing loved ones to suicide but I acknowledge that it is a difficult topic and one that is probably not always engaged with well or respectfully. I don’t know whether it is useful or not useful that there is a continuation after suicide or death, that half the characters in the book are ghosts, it didn’t press any buttons for me in that way so I simply cannot say, I acknowledge my lack of experience in the area though and note that others have queried this.

While I cared about the arc of story about finding the ghosts and helping them, I didn’t much care that Jenna decided to move on and be reunited with her sister in the end. It was fine, expected even, but since Patty never features in the story very well herself, she’s always a memory on a pedestal, it didn’t resonate as deeply for me. But that’s in part because Jenna didn’t quite gel for me, which is odd given that the other non-protagonist characters did. I liked her well enough but… I wasn’t compelled to read her story for herself about herself. That did shift for me in the way the story resolved itself and Jenna moves on from being the girl who runs to being able to go home and face her past and fears, but it was  so late in the piece that it didn’t make enough a difference to my experience of Jenna as a character overall.

Time is the most interesting part of the world-building in this story, especially given the world presented is so close to the real world, you could blink and be uncertain whether it was real or not. The way in which ghosts interact with time and anchor places to time was interesting, and I loved that it wasn’t only human ghosts that were responsible for this. I loved the witches with their specific callings, and while it was clear that there was definite power involved, there were limitations and it was never flashy and over the top.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a beautiful novella, and through the eyes of ghosts tells the story of time and coming to terms with your own personhood and weight in the world. It’s dark, but not creepy or out to scare you, and while it aims to discomfort the reader a little, it is deep and has a gentleness about it that balances this.

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #10

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

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: Roc, 2016

Genre: fantasy, historical fantasy

 

Den of Wolves - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Thorn - coverReview:

Title: Thorn

Authors: Intisar Khanani

Publisher and Year:  Self published, 2014

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, romance

Blurb from Goodreads:

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies–and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

 

My Review:

I fell into this book and devoured it pretty much in one sitting. I then bought all the other novels available by Intisar Khanani. This was excellent, the kind of fantasy story that is highly enjoyable, beautifully written and extremely rewarding to read. I’m not familiar with the fairytale that this retelling is based, but it definitely has a fairytale feel about the story that I appreciated.

I loved the way Alyrra navigated her circumstances and I absolutely love that there was no ‘instantaneous love connection’. Instead, Alyrra and Kestrin although they are intended to marry are divided by magic and their ability to even get to know one another is hampered. Where in other stories Alyrra’s inherent goodness might have seemed a little two dimensional, here her ability to cope with the changes in her circumstances are true to her character and growing up experiences. Although she has had an abusive upbringing, Alyrra herself is not broken, but does realistically demonstrate traits that show her mistrust and the effect her past has had on her.

Although Falada’s character is the most fanciful in the story, I love horses in fantasy stories and so I was wholeheartedly willing to go with it, and I am glad that Alyrra got to have a friend while she was finding her feet as a goose girl. I liked that Falada wasn’t omnipotent, or overpowered but merely another sentient race – magical to be sure, but bound by realities that meant Alyrra’s own future was in her hands. I loved that this was consistently reinforced to her. And more than that, I love the way that Alyrra was happy to consider giving up on being a Princess all together, and embracing her change in circumstance as a chance to start anew and have a life she though she would like better. I appreciated the emphasis of being royalty and the duty involved in that position – whether one wants it or not.

I also liked the way Khanani explored differing power relationships and consequences of privilege between Alyrra as the goose girl and Kestrin as the prince. It’s very obvious that he comes from the mindset that he doesn’t intend harm and wants to find the truth and so he is in the right, no matter what difficulty it may cause Alyrra. I also loved the exploration of conceptions of justice in the book – the King’s justice versus the Thieves justice – similar in that they have limited reach to a specific area of the population, but different in terms of flexibility and willingness to follow through on holding people to account.

For me the ending was a little rushed and I would have liked to see that fleshed out a little more, the encounter between Alyrra and the witch, their return and the consequences of that. However, I was also immediately sad that I couldn’t read on to see what happened next – I do hope there are more books in this universe at some stage. I loved that this story was about growing up, coming into one’s self, and exploring ideas of belonging, justice, and family. It was a delight to read, I highly recommend it for reading.

Review: Break the Chains (The Scorched Continent #2) by Megan O’Keefe

Break the Chains - coverARC Review:

Title: Break the Chains (The Scorched Continent #2)

Authors: Megan O’Keefe

Publisher and Year:  Angry Robot, 2016

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Angry Robot:

(Not sure why it’s not up on Goodreads but anyway):

A year has passed since Detan set the skies above Aransa on fire, and the armies of Aransa’s new dictator Thratia are preparing to knock on the door of his aunt’s city, Hond Steading…

As the city that produces the most selium – that precious gas that elevates airships and powers strange magic – Hond Steading is a jewel worth stealing. To shore up the city’s defenses, Detan promises his aunt that he’ll recover Nouli, the infamous engineer who built the century gates that protect the imperial capital of Valathea. But Nouli is imprisoned on the Remnant Isles, an impervious island prison run by the empire, and it’s Detan’s fault.

Detan doesn’t dare approach Nouli himself, so his companions volunteer to get themselves locked up to make contact with Nouli and convince him to help. Now Detan has to break them all out of prison, and he’s going to need the help of a half-mad doppel to do it.

My Review:

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

Break the Chains is a fantastic follow up to Steal the Sky. This is what anticipating a new fantasy series should feel like! I really enjoyed the first book in this series Steal the Sky last year and so I was delighted to be invited to review the second book, and I’m definitely looking forward to the third!

I love the characters in this series, and what I love about Detan, Tibs, Ripka and the rest this time is that we’re seeing a progression in their stories and personality. I also appreciate that we get a hint into the way they’re forming connections between each other as well, including respect for each other bit by bit. Seeing Ripka challenged by her prison experience was really interesting, partly because she was the prisoner and partly because she can’t turn off her ‘Watch Captain’ view and she notices all the ways in which she would do things differently. She does use this to her advantage, but some of it is simply evaluation through the character’s eyes. I love the band of women she falls in with and the way she works with Enard (we met him as ‘New Chum’ in book 1) to find a key to dealing with the Empire’s influence is fantastic.

I love the way Detan and Tibs work together and let nothing stand in their way to go and rescue Ripka as per the plan they made. He is single-minded in his determination to be trustworthy and to succeed in this plan and it makes him endearing and lessens some of the egotism that was present in the first book. Actually, even though I don’t think Detan grew or changed too dramatically in this book, he was confronted with himself a lot, and subsequently the reader learns more of how he came to be such a person and how he and Tibs are so bound together. This story of friendship in all directions was very satisfying to read.

Actually overall I have to say one of the best qualities of this series and these stories is the emphasis on loyalty and the way that is explored – it’s not just friendship, and it’s not just duty. It’s both of those things and more, but it makes for a very satisfying story to read. The worldbuilding continues to be interesting and we see more of the surrounds beyond the city in which we first met our band of rogues. I love this slow unfolding – it adds to the character of the story, the Empire begins to take shape and the politics and ramifications unfold gently – they’re not a focus of this book so much, not really. Although I wonder if that will be a strong theme in the third (and I presume final) book in the series. There are elements that speak to diversity in this book and the series, but they’re soft and not overt – either in that lovely background but clearly signposted way, or as a plot point (which gets tiresome). I get the strong sense that not all the characters are white, but I am not sure and that could be wishful on my part. There are several female identifying characters, some younger and older characters, and there are characters from different class backgrounds. I didn’t note any queer identifying or disabled characters – which I will say is a shame because I think this world is a ripe setting for it – and if we can have airships, then surely queer and/or disabled characters is not a stretch?

This is a book that you cannot read as a standalone, it follows the events in ‘Steal the Sky’ and leads into the events of the book to come. But the series is excellent and I’d recommend it highly – especially with such a solid second book following a stand out first book.

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 Marianne de Pierres

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Australian work have you loved recently?

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

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

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

Review: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1) by Genevieve Cogman

Invisible Library - coverARC Review:

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

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Publisher and Year:  ROC, 2016 (US edition)

Genre: urban fantasy, fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Glenda Larke

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


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

 

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

Thank you!

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

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

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

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

Watergivers Trilogy - covers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Stephanie Gunn

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What Australian work have you loved recently?

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

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

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

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Sean Williams

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


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

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

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

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

Fall - Twinmaker - cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Australian work have you loved recently?

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

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

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

Snapshot 2016: A slice of Australian Speculative Fiction

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


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

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

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

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

 

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #7

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

Author: Narelle M. Harris

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2012

Genre: speculative fiction, urban fantasy, fantasy, horror

 

 

 

 

Showtime - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

My review:

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


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

Stalemate

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

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

Thrall

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

The Truth About Brains

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

Showtime

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

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

Review: Gifted Thief (Highland Magic #1) by Helen Harper

Gifted Thief - coverARC Review:

Title: Gifted Thief (Highland Magic #1) 

Author: Helen Harper

Publisher and Year: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016

Genre: urban fantasy, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Orphan. Runaway. Thief.

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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

Title: All the Birds in the Sky

Author: Charlie Jane Anders

Publisher: Tor Books, 2016

Genre: Young adult, dystopia, urban fantasy, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My Review:

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

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

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

Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway - coverARC Review:

Title: Every Heart a Doorway

Author: Seanan McGuire

Publisher and Year: Tor, 2016

Genre: fantasy, young adult, new adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

No matter the cost.

 

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Review: Steal the Sky by Megan O’Keefe

Steal the Sky ARC Review:

Title: Steal the Sky

Author: Megan O’Keefe

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot Books, 2016

Genre: fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #4

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

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

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

 

Love and Romanpunk - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

History is not what you think it is.

My review:

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


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

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

Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary

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

Lamia Victoriana

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

The Patrician 

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

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

Last of the Romanpunks

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


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

Favourite Books of 2015

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

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

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

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

From Ashes Into Light by Gudron Mouw

From Ashes Into Light cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1) by Gail Carriger

Prudence - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Vision in Silver - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Balance of Trade - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Shifting Shadows - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2) by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Cranky Ladies of History - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

AWW15: The Starkin Crown Series by Kate Forsyth

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

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

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

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2005

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

 

My review:

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

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

 

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

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

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Pan Macmillan, 2010

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review:

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

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

 

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

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

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Pan Macmillan, 2011

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review:

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

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

AWW15: The Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

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

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

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: ROC, 2014

Genre: fantasy, historical fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

 

My review:

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

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

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

AWW15: Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier

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

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

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: ROC, 2015

Genre: fantasy, historical fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review: Dragonfriend by Marc Secchia

Dragonfriend - coverTitle: Dragonfriend (Dragonfriend #1)

Author: Mark Secchia

Publisher and Year: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015

Genre: epic fantasy, YA

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

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

Author: Ken Liu

Publisher and Year: Simon and Schuster, 2015

Genre: epic fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review: Winter Wolf by Rachel M. Raithby

Winter Wolf - coverTitle: Winter Wolf

Author: Rachel M. Raithby

Publisher and Year: Rachel M. Raithby, 2014

Genre: YA, urban fantasy, romance

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Queen of the Deep by Kay Kenyon

Queen of the Deep - coverTitle: Queen of the Deep

Author: Kay Kenyon

Publisher and Year: Winterset Books, 2015

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Last of the Firedrakes by Farah Oomerbhoy

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

Author: Farah Oomerbhoy

Publisher and Year: Wise Ink Creative Publishing, 2015

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last of the Firedrakes was such a joy to read.

Review: Ree Reyes Series by Michael R. Underwood

Geekomancy coverTitle: Geekomancy (Ree Reyes #1)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2012

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

 

Celebromancy coverTitle: Celebromancy (Ree Reyes #2)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

 

Hexomancy coverTitle: Hexomancy (Ree Reyes #3)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AWW15: The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

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

Title: The Beast’s Garden

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Random House Australia, 2015

Genre: historical fiction, romance, fantasy, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

 

My review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Review: Kricket Series by Amy A. Bartol, books 1-3

NetGalley Review

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

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

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2013

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

 


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

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

 

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

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

 

2014 Reading Overview and Favourites of the Year

What a year it’s been in terms of reading for me! In January of 2014 I set myself the challenge to read 75 books during the year, and I completed that just on the 31st of December. I’m very pleased with this result because it doesn’t include any of the reading I did specifically for study, and much of my year was focused heavily on studying and academic reading. It also means that a significant chunk of my reading was very fluffy paranormal romance reading, it really helped me get through my semesters. If you’d like to see the books I read in the past year, Goodreads conveniently compiled a shelf of them.

This year there were quite a lot of books that I thought stood out – and unashamedly I’ve included all of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate books that I inhaled at the beginning of the year. And what an awesome experience they were – I was so sad when I got to the end and there was no more. I am very much looking forward to reading the Custard Protocol books featuring Prudence.

Other new to me authors from this year’s favourite reads included Anne Aguirre, Ambelin Kwaymullina and several authors in a short story anthology. There were also favourites from the year’s reading from consistent favourite authors of mine: Anne Bishop, Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Michelle Sagara, Patricia Briggs, and Juliet Marillier.

Before I give you the full list of my 2014 favourite reads, I’ll also give a few honourable mentions. I really enjoyed Allison Pang’s Abby Sinclair books, as well as Linda Robertson’s Persephone Alcmedi series. Additionally after resisting the absurdity of a werewolf named Kitty, I really enjoyed Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series. Many people counted Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice amongst their favourites, and I really enjoyed it – especially for the way it explored gender and assumptions, but it wasn’t a favourite for me.

Favourite Reads for 2014:

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

This was one of my stand out favourite reads for the year, and one I read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Excerpt from my review: 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.

 

 

Kaleidescope - coverKaleidescope – anthology by Twelfth Planet Press

Excerpt from my review: 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.

 

 

Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger:

Souless - coverSouless (The Parasol Protectorate #1)

There is so much to love about this book, and this series. Firstly, a character that is both eccentric and also invested in her perceived place in society, a woman, who enjoys food, and where what she’s wearing is discussed in relation to the story and as part of the world-building. The tea. Alexia is a marvellous character and I haven’t been able to put down the series since I started it.

 

 

 

 

Changeless - coverChangeless (The Parasol Protectorate #2)

Loved this again, still frivolous and fun, more plot arc and adventures. Also personal history. Plus, getting to enjoy Alexia in her new role! Love Ivy so much.

 

 

 

 

 

Blameless - coverBlameless (The Parasol Protectorate #3)

One of the reasons I loved this book so much is that it speaks to the impact and consequences of social mores on someone – especially those that are utter idiocy. I also love that Alexia is completely herself and acts completely true to character and decides to go off and have adventures and clear her name. While pregnant. I also love her complex feelings and relationship with her pregnancy.

 

 

 

 

Heartless - coverHeartless (The Parasol Protectorate #4)

Because of course you go off saving Queen and Country when you are at the very end stages of your pregnancy! I love the way this book is put together, I love that not even late stage pregnancy slows Alexia down much – certainly not her brain or sense of what needs to be done in any case. I love the arrangement she comes to with Lord Akeldama – who remains one of my favourite characters in this series along with Ivy and Biffy. And Lyall and Genervieve. Oh hell, I actually adore all the characters. This is one of the more over the top stories involving Alexia – and that’s saying something, but it’s also still really satisfying. And there’s a baby at the end!

 

 

Timeless - cover

Timeless (The Parasol Protectorate #5)

** spoiler alert **

What an interesting end to this series! It’s still frivolous and manic in the adventure, there is still a hefty focus on the importance of tea, and I love the inclusion of families and children in adventures! I love Lord Akeldama as a doting father, and the description of bathtime horrors! I love the way Ivy becomes a queen as part of the resolution in the end – how marvellously unexpected and just thing to balance out Lord Akeldama’s influence given his successful shifting of Countess Nadasdy out to the middle of nowhere! I like how things ended for the book, the story arc and characters it was very satisfying.

 

The Others series by Anne Bishop

Written in Red - coverWritten in Red (The Others #1)

The universe for this story is so compelling! I really love the narrative where humans are not the dominant species, are not in charge. I love the characters and their interactions, particularly Meg and her willingness just to try stuff out. I picked this up and couldn’t put it down (and had to start the next right away). This definitely affirms to me why Bishop remains one of my favourite authors.

 

 

 

Murder of Crows - coverMurder of Crows (The Others #2)

I picked this up the very minute after finishing ‘Written in Red’ despite it being 3am. I loved it, loved the story and consequences for actions. Still love the narrative where humans aren’t the dominant species. Love the connections, interactions and growth of the characters. Can’t wait to get the next one in my hands!

 

 

Sirantha Jax series by Anne Aguirre

I loved this entire series, however 2 books were absolute stand outs for me – largely because of the unusual relationship engagements and narrative elements explored by Aguirre.

Doubleblind - coverDoubleblind (Sirantha Jax #3)

This is one of my favourite books of the series and in particular I loved the insight into Ithtorians as a culture and in particular to Vel as Jax’s friend. I loved the way in which relationships grew, changed, were damaged and not easily repaired. I loved the continued reinforcement of the importance of personal autonomy in relationships and not sacrificing the self blindly to the couple dynamic. I like that in this book I started to see glimpses of poly style relating between Jax, Vel and March.

 

 

 

Aftermath (Sirantha JaAftermath - coverx #5)

This book is a book of consequences, intended and unintended and also of relationships, dynamics, connection, love, self awareness and autonomy. There were several parts in this book where I just *exclaimed* because they were specifically non-creepy and non ‘2 halves make a whole’ relationship dynamics. Changing yourself to fit someone else’s needs rarely goes the way people would intend it and the harder choice to let go or to not compromise doesn’t provide joy in the short term.

I love that the problems in relationships are still being worked out, that there’s space for things to resolve even if the how is currently unavailable. I love the depth of the connection that has grown between Jax and Vel, I love that here the poly glimpses from book 3 become much more obvious and yet still nuanced – Aguirre recognises that relationships of significance can vary greatly in how that significance is expressed and experienced. I love the hell out of this book, in particular for the seeking to right past wrongs, and tying up loose ends of story. Easily my favourite of the series.

Cast in Flame - coverCast in Flame (Chronicles of Elantra #10) by Michelle Sagara

I love this series so wholeheartedly, I think it’s my favourite one currently. Kaylin never disappoints and this book is no exception. I really love the way the concept of home, of value – your place in the world is explored in this book. I like a more vulnerable Teela dealing with the aftermath of the previous books. I adore Helen. Everything about this book is just so satisfying, it’s like a warm hug and one of my favourite kinds of books to read.

 

 

 

Shiver of Light - coverShiver of Light (Merry Gentry #9) by Laurell K. Hamilton

I still just love these books, they speak directly to my id and make me happy in ways that no other books do. Ridiculous as it may seem, these are some of my favourite books to read and reread.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Excerpt from my review: 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.

Witch With No Name - coverThe Witch With No Name (The Hollows #13) by Kim Harrison

What an awesome book! This is one of my favourites this year, and a great place for this series to either pause or end. I love Rachel, I love that she’s grown up so much and is really wanting to build a relationship with Trent, but also the way that she, Ivy and Jenks are still so deeply connected and bound to one another through love and looking out for each other. I also really loved the way Rachel tries to make it possible for the demons to enter society proper – so heartwarming. Can’t say enough good things about this.

 

 

 

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 Wrap Up Post

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

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

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

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

Excerpt of my review:

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

 

 

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

Excerpt of my review:

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

 

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

Excerpt of my review:

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

 

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

Excerpt of my review:

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

 

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

Excerpt of my review:

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

Other books from 2014:

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

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

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

Title: Raven Flight (Shadowfell #2)

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: Knopf Books for  Young Readers, 2013

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy

 

 

 

Ravenflight - coverBlurb from Goodreads: 

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

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

 

My Review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title: Wolfskin (Light Isles #1)

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: Tor Fantasy, 2004

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

 

 

 

Wolfskin - coverBlurb from Goodreads: 

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

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

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

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

My Review: 

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

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

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

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 - banner

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012: Book #1

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

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: HarperVoyager, 2012

Genre: Fantasy – Dark Fantasy

 

 

 

Reign of Beasts - coverBlurb (from Good Reads): 

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

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

My Review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Retro Fiction Review Series: “Vengance of Dragons”, second book in the ‘Secret Texts Trilogy’ by Holly Lisle

Retro Fiction Review Series

 

“Vengance of Dragons” (1999), second book in the ‘Secret Texts Trilogy’ by Holly Lisle

Published by Warner Books, New York.

This is a solid second book in a trilogy. I dived into it as soon as I finished the first book  and unearthed the third book at the same time, expecting that transition to be just as urgent. The story is fast paced, romance unfolds, the deeper plot thickens and the early promise of a utopian ending falls away to a nuance of character growth that I particularly appreciated. 

 

Namely, how do you as the heroes on the side of ‘good’ persevere when your best hope, the one you’ve been working toward for hundreds of years is thwarted. It’s not a usual part of tales like this and I really like the way Lisle handled it. At no point was it a shallow turn in the plot, it was never melodrama for the sake of it. Instead, as a reader we start to consider what being that person standing up against wrong might mean, what it might cost, how we may not actually know what the right answer is, how there is no guarantee of success… ever. 

 

I am still particularly in thrawl to the variety of characters all with different motivations some more noble or pure of heart than others. I am invested in the protagonist Kait and her lover Ry, but I’m also investested in the numerous secondary characters and how they negotiate the same story. 

 

The novel doesn’t quite stand alone, though there is a very good synopsis in the beginning of the book that may cover that for some people. It is very much the bridge in a trilogy, there’s a lot of plot that takes place relevant to the first and third books but the book at no point comes across as filler, but instead as a vital link between how the story began and how it will be resolved. The tensions and conflicts within this series are well and truly complex enough to cover all three of the books and they’re deftly woven in as part of the story.

 

I can’t say much more about this save that I relished reading it and still recommend it as an extension of what I said about the first, being that if you enjoy epic fantasy, adventure and political intrigue, you would possibly apprecate these books. 

 

 

Retro Fiction Review Series: “Diplomacy of Wolves”, first book in the ‘Secret Texts Trilogy’ by Holly Lisle

Retro Fiction Review Series

 

“Diplomacy of Wolves” (1998), first book in the ‘Secret Texts Trilogy’ by Holly Lisle

Published by Warner Books, New York.

In “Diplomacy of Wolves” Holly Lisle begins a story that really grabbed my attention and I practically devoured it. This review may be spoilery beyond this point so if that’s important to you you may wish to simply know that I highly recommend the book and go and read it before continuing on with this review.

On the blurb it is described as: 

“…a fantastic epic of ancient curses, evil conspiracies, and the darkest of sorceries.”

This is an apt description for the story. The central protagonist Kait is immediately likeable and she gives us a multi-layered insight into the world of Matrin in which the story is set. I love stories involving intrigue, politics and magic and my, this story doesn’t disappoint! The politics involves the notion of a powerful aristocratic class known as ‘Family’, inevitably two rival Families clash over power.

Any illusions Kait may hold about the sanctity of family or purity of her Family the Galweigh’s motives over the rival Sabir Family’s are quickly shattered. Kait’s place and understanding of the world around her is pulled apart and she is left to make the best choices she can to serve her Family after a brutal attack on one of the prestigious Galweigh Family Houses.  

I also love stories with romance and in this there is also no disappointment. What I love about this book and the romance threads is that Kait gets to be a sexual being. She does struggle with this as her Karnee nature lends itself to intense sexual desires leading up to the time when she Shifts. However, this is not the struggle of a young woman in the grips of a puritanical view, rather her own moral code that would see her sleep with people for a genuine connection or preferably not at all.

Kait makes her choices to engage in or not engage in sexual connections without the condemnation of those around her for the reasoning of sex for it’s own sake.Strange that this is refreshing, but it is. Too often my eyes glaze over reading about yet another female character being punished because she dared to be a sexual being. That Kait is always in fullness ‘herself’ indcluding in a sexual sense makes the book and it’s romance enjoyable to read. Other romantic threads also include such ability to choose freely and not be punished for it so the surrounding impression is that there is no sexual war of consent being fought between the characters. 

Ry as a Sabir Wolf treads a fine line in places in this book where he brushes against being a Stalker, it is only Lisle’s deft writing of his character and how he interacts with and thinks of Kait that steers this story thread away from a toxic interpretation. You can absolutely see the unhealthy patterning around relationships that seems to be almost a defining trait within the Sabir Family, but Lisle is careful not to give that reasoning any permissability. I also really enjoyed Ry’s relationships with his friends, their camraderie is believable and made me smile many times. I could actively believe in them standing with him despite the dangerous and in some ways foolhardy courses of action he proposed to take.

The counterpoint to the ‘hero’ protagonists is the characters who are the villains. There are several ways in which individual character’s roles change throughout the story but some of the true villains are easy to pick from the very beginning. You’re given an introduction to certain characters that very easily identifies them as ‘evil’, not through convenience but believably through the character actions and justifications for their actions. Some of the other villain characters were more ambiguous in their presentation, though there was always a sense of being wary of them. It makes you think… but not too hard about it. 

I won’t say much about the story itself, but as a ‘quest story’ it is interesting and both familiar (tropes are like that) but also engaged with interestingly, at no point was I bored by the procession of the story. The story itself is intricately linked with sorcery and the system of magic and religion is believable and not so all powerful as to be irritating. I particularly like the way the notion of consequences for actions are engaged with. The decision to keep one’s ‘Word’ or not, the fact that in asking for help from a God one forgot to ask for a clear sign of support. Little things that just really allow me to relax and enjoy the story.

One favourite aspect I really enjoyed was the emphasis on Love as the underpinning of  Peace in the wake of the Wizard War that events in the story herald. 

If you’re someone who enjoys the epic fantasy style of book, enjoy magic and political intrigue with a side of shape shifter magic and romance, I recommend this book (and the trilogy) to you. I’ll be interested in thoughts from other people who’ve read the series about their impressions of it. 

Retro Fiction Review Series: “Cat Fantastic” eds. Andre Norton & Martin H. Greenberg

Retro Fiction Review Series

“Cat Fantastic” (1989) edited by Andre Norton & Martin H. Greenberg.

Published by Daw Books Inc, New York.

Cat Fantastic - coverFirst Impressions: 

This anthology is beautifully put together as a hardcover with thick paper and it’s one of those books you enjoy the physical feeling of reading. The book boasts 15 stories with an interesting table of contents. The anthology features predominantly female author names, with three or four gender ambiguous names as well. There are a variety of protagonists, some human, some cat, some male, some female – a nice balance that reads well.

In her introduction, Andre Norton discusses the “weighty subject of cats” (vii) and what she suggests is an affinity between them and writers. She points out that it is because the cat is known to be mysterious, at times imperious and well known to live by their own (non-human) standards that makes cats such a fascinating subject for story telling. Certainly if this anthology is anything to go by, I find myself agreeing with Ms. Norton. She summaries the book as “fifteen histories [that] deal not only with spells but also with diplomatic relations on other planets, with forbidden research, engineering on a grand scale and with guardians who know their duty and expertly do it” (viii).

I’m not usually one for short story anthologies, although every so often I come across an anthology sufficiently seductive enough that I cannot resist. Perhaps it is that I am cultivating entirely positive experiences with short fiction so as to get past my general unenjoyment of it in the past. In any case, a book entirely composed of books about cats is an easy sell for me, I couldn’t resist if I tried. This anthology has an overall quality that left me very satisfied and when I realised that there were four more anthologies by the same editors about cats, I ordered them immediately.

I would unquestionably recommend this anthology to anyone who enjoys stories about cats particularly those stories with a speculative fiction basis, anyone who enjoys stories that feature strong and interesting female characters written by a variety of (now) well known female authors.

Note: This is a long review, even though I’m only discussing the stories that I particularly liked or particularly noted.

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The Stories: 

“The Gate of the Kittens” by Wilanne Schneider Belden

This is a story of Feathers the pregnant cat, dark magic, time crossings, a brave and compassionate librarian Judith Justin who can drive a Bookmobile confidently through a raging storm. This is a quirky kind of story, the kind about saving the world where no one else really knows that’s what’s happened.

I love the friendship and the general acceptance of things out of the ordinary that Judith exhibits. I love that the’s an ordinary and solitary woman travelling through mountains with a Bookmobile, self sufficient and all around competent. Judith is a very likeable person and the story is believable in part because her own reasoning and intuition is emphasised.

I enjoyed the story, it was sweet and satisfying – though I also wouldn’t have objected to a novel length stand-alone story with this premise. This story was an inviting beginning to the anthology, I definitely wanted to read more.

 

“The Damcat” by Clare Bell

The Black Canyon dam project is the setting for this story told by Dale Curtis, an engineer, who meets Mike, a Native American Indian man from the Hopi tribe and his bob-cat partner Tonochpa. The friendship formed between Mike and Dale is interesting, they come from vastly different backgrounds and belief systems. Yet, they form a trust and respect for one another such that a critical issue with the dam is able to be fixed when all three of them bobcat included work together to solve the problem.

This is a story involving a non-white character who commands respect, rather than the white protagonist saving the day it is instead thanks to the actions of Mike and his partner Tonochpa that make the vital difference with the support of Dale. That their actions saved the lives of many and ensured the strength and structural integrity of the dam remains a quiet achievement between them. I find myself liking these quiet stories of heroism where it is enough that those involved know what happened rathe than seeking public acclaim.

This story read a little clunky in places, and as a white person I am unsure how well the story of a non-white person was handled but my impression of it was positive, if anyone else has thoughts on the story on this particular aspect I’m interested to hear them. This wasn’t a favourite story, but it was quite different to the other stories in the anthology and I wanted to talk about it.

 

“Borrowing Trouble” by Elizabeth H. Boyer

This story is very much the kind of story that makes me want a series of books set in this world with these characters. The story was one of my favourites and it in some ways reminds me of Tamora Pierce’s characters and her worldbuilding. I also have a fondness for boy protagonists who are a little bit arrogant and full of themselves, and learn to be a little bit less so in the process of growing up, retaining the snarky charm. Agnarr is such a character, obviously the bane of the Meistari’s life and yet a great hopeful as a wizard student with lots of talent (but very little patience).

Agnarr befriends Skuggi, a cat travelling with another wizard who tells him the battle-scarred cat is too much for him to handle, but the cat is determined and so it goes that Skuggi joins company with Agnarr. The key to having a familiar is to discover their true name, a feat that Agnarr stumbles on but proves to be his saving grace when a vendetta against the Meistari is uncovered. The story is well written, easy to read and really endeared me to it.

 

“Day of Discovery” by Blake Cahoon

Another favourite, this story is about Lyssa a scientist completing her thesis. It is a science adventure and romance, involving a Guardian cat named Einstein. Her recently deceased professor and ex-lover has stolen credit for her research work on other dimensions and molecular transference and Lyssa is fighting with her friend David’s help to be able to complete it. This is a simple story but it’s effective and enjoyable – there’s not much else to say without spoiling it. This is another story that made me want more of a novel, again not in a bad way.

 

“Yellow Eyes” by Marylois Dunn

Another epic-fantasy style setting, this story was also up there with my favourites told from the point of view of Yellow Eyes the cat. Yellow Eyes leads an ordinary sort of life for a cat in a castle, things get a little bit different for him when he unexpectedly befriends a new and foreign dog who has joined the castle hunting pack. There is a mysterious jewel and the sage advice from the White Cat who is the companion of a spell weaver. Together the animals manage to save the castle, it’s a journey well worth reading. This was a beautiful story, perfectly rounded out into an ending that has the rare compliment of making me feel satisfied with exactly how the story was told and ended.

 

“It Must Be Some Place” by Donna Farley

This particular story was near the top of the list of my favourites from this anthology. It’s a story that reminds me a little of Pratchett books, and I would *love* to see this as a full length novel or a series of them – there’s plenty of material to play with. The story itself I could easily see as a novel (and one I’d lovingly reread at that). This is the story of Jack, a lost sock and Butterfly the tortiseshell tom who knows his magic and helps Jack to recover the lost sock. I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but I loved the band of characters as they come together. I also really enjoyed both Jack and Butterfly as protagonists. Definitely one of the top stories for this anthology in my opinion.

 

“Trouble” by P. M. Griffin

A story like this is remarkable in the subject it undertakes and the way it handles that subject. Dory is a child from an unhappy home and it falls to her cat companion Trouble to help her. The story is a small one, but it is deft and has a sweetness to it that I enjoyed. Trouble’s decisiveness and imperious way of helping Dory and looking after her is endearing, Dory herself is an interesting character though we only begin to get to know her. This is another story which would have been well served as a novel exploring the bigger story that’s been hinted at. That said, the small story was still satisfying in it’s way.

 

“Skitty” by Mercedes Lackey

This story was also delightful, I loved the simplicity of the tale and how delightfula pair Dick and Skitty are. I loved this reworking of the cats hunting pests story – I’ve read it in a couple of children’s fairytales and I liked this version just as much. This was perfectly contained within a short story, it was just a pleasure start to finish.

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I should mention that the other stories were a pleasure as well, most of them were very solid and only one or two left me with very little to say or recommend about them. Likely as not, that’s personal taste talking. I’ve stuck to the stories I liked best or noted most for another reason for this review, as being a collection of stories it’s a long review. This was the simplest way to contain it. I hope that you’ll take a look at the collection if you can get your hands on it, the editors have done themselves proud and the contributing authors as well. I say this as someone who doesn’t generallly enjoy short stories, specifically that this collection was well worth my time and effort.

If you’ve read it, let me know what you think. Or, if you find it and read it, let me know.