Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

A pale skinned hand is shown palm forward, fingers slightly curled with a background of deep dark blue. The title 'The Coldest Girl in Coldtown' is shown on the wrist like a cursive tattoo.Review

Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Authors: Holly Black

Publisher and Year: Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013

Genre: urban fantasy, young adult, vampire fiction, horror

Blurb from Goodreads

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

‘The Coldest Girl in Coldtown’ is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

My Review

What I love about Holly Black’s fantasy is that she blends in the creepiest and horror drenched things into this deep and dark fantastical setting, that just shies away from the effect of the uncanny valley – except it’s poor comfort because in lots of ways this story seems almost plausible, almost possible. Holly Black gets me to read creepy more consistently than any other author because she goes for the thrill so to speak, rather than having me up all night afraid under my covers. Everything she writes is a little bit moreish and this book is no different.

I found Tana interesting, self deprecating but not obnoxiously so, she’s ordinary and recognises that there’s little reason she should be alive at all except… dumb luck and being opportunistic and improvising as she goes. It mostly works, except it doesn’t. She has a plan and she mostly sticks to it – even when it’s ill advised. When things go wrong, she makes a new plan and so on – I like that she’s rattled but moves forward anyway. She’s likeable and mostly tries to do the right thing – whatever that seems in the moment. Her moral compass isn’t skewed as such, but this story definitely shows that there are grey areas.

I also loved Gavriel – a knife edge character if ever there was one. Mysterious, deadly, adventurous and dangerously susceptible to the most basic of gestures – someone trying to help him out. I loved getting a sense of his history without being drowned too much in it, enough to understand, to get him to appreciate him in the modern world. I also loved his regard for Tana – it was never creepy, or inappropriate, he allowed the romance to develop but didn’t really start or encourage it, not until it was well and truly present for them. And it wasn’t like Tana was a silly teen falling for the sexy vampire – it was far more ordinary than that, an ordinary-ish girl falling for someone who operates outside the boundaries of what is ordinary or normal for most people, with a side of vampirism and immortality sure, but the actual building of the romance was completely normal. Refreshingly so.

I love that he was there for Tana in the end when she decides to try and forgo immortality and purge the infection by waiting it out. I love that he accepts her decision and promises to help her see it through, and because of his own past experiences and torture… he’s capable of doing that for her. It’s an odd and slightly horror tinged romantic gesture, but it is romantic all the same.

Nothing about this book or story is neat, but it is beautifully written and tells a vampire story that is both unique but also plays on my favourite elements of vampire fiction: the beautiful but deadly monsters, fascination with the essence of humanity, and romance. It brings something new to both YA, urban fantasy and vampire fiction, I really enjoyed this book and thought it was outstanding.

Finalising (finally) Cusp from 2017

It’s nearly the end of January and I’ve been working up to writing this post all month. Some transitions in theme happen seamlessly as one year folds into a new one, others take a little bit of extra time, others finish faster. This one was a confusing transition and even though I could metaphorically feel the cliff beneath my feet, and that I was ready to step off, to take flight to go forward, something held me at the Cusp for a little longer. But now I’m ready to move on from Cusp and all I did and learned from this exploration. To give you the background to this conversation, take a look at my initial thoughts on Cusp as a theme for 2017, and my check in post from September.

Silhouette of a cliff with a blue starscape behind it. Standing on the edge of the cliff is a female figure with scarves uplifted by a breeze.I’m emerging from the space of liminality that Cusp provided for me, that breath of almost, but not quite. Holding space for that experience for the year was both challenging and rewarding, and necessary I’m certain now, in reflection that I got everything I possibly could from Cusp. This was a theme that was with me every day last year, like breathing. It encompassed so much of what the year was about, the challenges I faced, the goals I had, how much I yearned and wanted to experience certain things and how close/how far I felt to reaching the end of a major journey.

So now it’s time to reflect, to look at the different areas of focus and bring together all my awareness of the year gone by and where I stand at the culmination of 2017 and Cusp as an enquiry.

Midwifery

And I did it! I completed my degree in the study of midwifery, I’m going to be a midwife for real! I start my graduate position in late February and this also marks the completion of my second Bachelor’s degree and the end of my undergraduate studies. All the hours of study, all the hours of prac, unpaid and doing my level best to learn as much as possible, be as competent as possible, take in every moment, every little detail. And now I have my training wheels to go into practice, transition from study to practice they call it – I’m equal parts excited and terrified. I will be able to sign my own name to things that previously were always co-signed. The responsibility for others’ experiences and wellbeing will be in my hands. I know that I’m capable of this, I know I’m equal to it. But no matter what: it is so huge in my mind. I poured myself into my studies and gave everything I had to it, especially to my clinical placements seeking to marry up all the knowledge and theory I’d accumulated into how to use this in my hands and in my speaking. I never thought I could believe in, and be so immersed in something as a job and career until I started my journey to be a midwife.

A photo of a science poster on a poster board, the background is a gradient of maroon through purple and pink. The title reads 'We can change midwifery in Australia forever: Expanding the boundaries of midwifery through collaborative autonomy'. The poster features four boxes of text outlining the intro, why it matters, the plan and conclusion. There are two images, art of a pregnant person, one with a cloud of terms with implied confusion and overwhelm. The second the pregnant person is in partnership with a midwife and together they grow a tree of the experience that supports and empowers the pregnancy and family.

From my last update, I mentioned that I’d had abstracts accepted for a talk for the Student Midwife Conference and a poster for the ACM National Conference. I applied for grants to attend these, both were held in Adelaide the student conference was the day before the national conference. Thanks to the grant and the kindness of a friend who let me stay the week with them, I was able to attend both and present my work. My talk at the student conference was well received and was part of an overall remarkable day of work by other students. Seriously the calibre of work was incredible – I was so proud to be amongst them. Also, one of the keynote speakers Nicky Leap came to speak to several us and to congratulate us on our work – including me. And then she asked if she could mention my work in her keynote speech! And she did in fact do that! Which meant a lot of people made a point of going to see my poster, and my little 2 minute presentation for it also went well. My poster was awarded the best of the conference – much to my surprise. I spent the week revelling in being surrounded by my peers – and for the first time ever, that word felt true. I had peers. I was welcomed and there were so many conversations taking place about things that were directly concerned with my own study and practice. I was able to participate and share in this. I have never felt such abiding professional identity and recognition before. It was an all around incredible experience.

I especially loved connecting with the other students there who were also intent on making a difference, throwing their hat in the ring and participating with research with the aim of improving midwifery practice and access to midwives and continuity for families across Australia.

I did indeed need to do extra shifts to complete my numbers to qualify as a midwife. But these were helpful shifts and I gave my all to my last prac and these shifts determined to come out the other side where instead of feeling like I would never be ready to practice as a midwife, to feel like I was where I needed to be, ready to take the next step. If nothing else I have determination on my side and I gave my all to immersing myself in the wholeness of learning to take on being a midwife in my own right. This was only possible with the support of my preceptors who were unfailingly kind and encouraging and also demanded my best of me. They encouraged me to take point on the care we were undertaking and by the end of it I really did have the shape of things to come set in my mind. There’s so much that comes with experience in clinical practice, but we all have to start somewhere. All I wanted was to feel ready to go to that next stage and by the end I really did.

I will always be grateful to the families that let me participate in their care and help them to welcome their babies into the world. May I always be equal to your trust and give the best care I can that supports and empowers you. 

Self-Care and Development

Focus on this area was crucial to last year and that’s also something I’m taking forward into the new year and theme. You can only give your all, and do your best if you’ve got it there to give, so refilling my well was imperative – especially as I emptied it pretty much as fast as I could fill it. I dug deeper than I ever have in order to get through last year, and so I really did crawl into December as I predicted. Let me also say, that knowing that would likely happen and then experiencing it, are two very different things. It was hard. And the attention I paid to making sure there was self-care and stress relief and extra buffering for anxiety and coping made all the difference.

Close up cover shot of Marie Brennan's 'Midnight Never Come' with a glass of white wine with an outdoor table as backgroundI put in place opportunities to spend time with friends, I joined in with online spaces that were nurturing and loving and made me feel connected and like I belonged. My friends were amazing and invited me to spend time and checked in on me and made sure I got out on occasion to do fun things. I maintained the tiny rituals for taking time for myself whenever possible, like taking baths, reading for pleasure and doing my nails. I also didn’t watch or read anything that was too taxing or demanding, I subsisted pretty much on fluff and it was an excellent decision on my part. You can see more about how my reading went in my 2017 wrap up of my reading goals. (I won’t cover reading and media separately as I think between here and my goals post, I’ve said everything I need to).

I continued to do counselling, and transitioned to a practice that is ongoing rather than the stopgap short term project I was using through the Royal Women’s. I have been trying to improve my skill in meditation and have found an app that works for me that I like using and has a bunch of meditations on a huge number of topics and ranging from a couple of minutes long to 30 minutes in length, depending on what you want and need. My meditation muscles are flabby so this has been excellent to help me to just do a little bit more often and I’ve definitely seen the benefit of it – particularly in helping me to fall asleep.

I prioritised and protected my sleep as much as possible – difficult with shift work placements, but this also made a difference. I also used a phone counselling service specific to midwifery which also helped at times. I let myself reach out for support as I needed and I didn’t sit on it or wait it out, and I think that helped. I know it will always pass, but just because I can make myself get through it, doesn’t mean I have to do it, or do so alone. That was invaluable this year.

Self-care and development has also been about trusting in the chosen family and friends around me, giving of myself and trusting that what I can give is meaningful and appreciated. It’s also been about letting myself be myself and to be less apologetic about it. It’s partly an acknowledgement of how I have dedicated a lot of time and energy into being self aware and working on my own personal growth, but it’s also putting into practice the understanding that being myself is more important than being comfortable, or being liked, and that sometimes it’s a thing that takes energy to give you energy. Coming to the end of this enquiry I feel much more grounded in who I am now, and where I am going forward – and in particular that future direction and insight there is new and shiny to me. I’ve never really had that before. Midwifery has given me so much.

Domestic Life

A super fluffy pancake on a white plate topped with blueberries and strawberries, maple syrup and creamEverything I said back in September remains true – budget was lean and I think some days the hardest bit was knowing that we are so close to it being better. It was that sense of being so close and yet, so far – you can’t enjoy your budget being better until it actually is. It was very hard to be patient, harder than other years. Meal planning was still a lifesaver, and it helped me to enjoy cooking as a hobby and not just as a chore as well. We defaulted a lot to comfort food – or things that were classed as super-easy to prepare, I regret none of this. 2017 was hard and grueling, there were not enough hours in the day and there were so many competing demands. We made it through and compromising where we could made a difference. Mental health challenges were persistent for Bat while Fox was overall better than any previous year in his mental health – mine was very shaky at times, but the other two were there for me and supported me, plus I did everything I could to improve my mental health and mitigate for the things that were demanding or damaging.

Relationships

This is largely already covered elsewhere – I am surrounded by the most amazing chosen family and friends who helped me to in turn support and maintain strength in my live-in relationships with the challenges we’ve been going through between finances and health. I am grateful for polyamory and the love I have in my life, and the possibilities. Although I didn’t get to celebrate my 20th anniversary with K in person, we both spoke more often and shared more than we have managed in previous years, I assume mainly becauth K was better at answering the phone and returning calls. Regardless of how long it’s been, he’s still a daily influence in my life, I know he loves me and has my back always – he’s shaped so much of my life, my determination, my moral compass. 2018 we will celebrate and that will be incredible.

My relationship with my girlfriend continued to be deeply rewarding and our bond is something I value incredibly – we have great dates and that feeds and delights both of us, but we also care about each other’s happiness so much and it colours so much of our interaction and care for one another. I spent more time with friends and chosen family than I had anticipated, but it was so, good, so appreciated. I am surrounded by amazing people online and off and  the time, care and affection shared with me is priceless. In particular I’m grateful to some of the closed and small online groups I’m part of – I couldn’t have gotten through last year without them.


There’s not much more to tell in some of these spaces since I checked in back in September, but I got to the end of my study gauntlet and now I’m waiting only on my registration number in anticipation of starting working. I’m also on my first real and genuine break in forever. I have no study to do, no big thing due, it’s just about me. Recovery, rejuvenation, refilling my well, rounding out all the self care, and spending time and appreciation on those who’ve supported me along the way.

Review of 2017 reading goals

Back in January, I posted about my 2017 reading goals. Back then, 2017 was shiny and new and I was hopeful for a productive reading year and my goals reflected this. I also thought that the structure of my goals might mean I would keep a better handle on my reading in the final year of my degree. Hah! Maybe hindsight knows better, but it seems funny now in retrospect.

I should have kept my goals simpler and allowed myself more give and then anything else would have been a bonus. But, we live and learn and aiming high is never a bad thing, and I think sometimes not meeting goals is as important as meeting them – prioritisation and being able to respond to changing needs is also important.

I achieved the things that were within my general comfort reading zone but the things I’d wanted to help expand that I wasn’t so successful with. Given how much I struggled with this year, I can appreciate that expansion wasn’t on the cards this time. I’m content to acknowledge I set the goals, several didn’t happen, but I know that there’s room for improvement.

Overall reading goal and reviewing

Blue banner with text 2017 Reading Challenged with a book in white on in the centre. A red ribbon with 'completed' crosses the left hand top corner.I kept my overall reading goal at 75 books and I did meet that goal which I’m pleased about. Several were shorter reads again, but I priorised stuff I knew I’d enjoy and that really was important this year. And my comment about the goal being designed to work for me and not against me still stands – no beating myself with sticks. I met this goal and of all my reading goals it was the most important to me.

I also did continue to review books, although I’m quite behind on reviews that I want to do here on this site. But I did manage to mostly keep on top of those reviews I was happy to do on Goodreads alone which I’m happy with in this context. Especially given how busy this year was and how much it took out of me. I really did struggle to have any brain or concentration for reading at all at several points.

Australian Women Writers Challenge

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.This is one of my favourite challenges and one I’ve participated in for several years. In 2017 I pledged to read and review 15 books, and I didn’t make this goal, but I don’t think I did too badly as I read and reviewed 10 books over the year. Also several of those books were amongst my favourites that I read in 2017 which is fantastic!

I had hoped to read more books by Indigenous authors in 2017, but it didn’t happen. I had also hoped to discover additional authors who are new to me, but I think there was only one – Alis Franklin who was the author of Liesmith which was excellent. I wanted to read more queer stories and even perhaps a biography or memoir or two – specifically about midwifery in Australia, but I didn’t get to it. There’s always 2018 though!

Goodreads reading challenge book club

I really enjoy this bookclub, it’s incredibly busy and active with lots of different activities. I joined in and signed up to a bunch of the activities in the first part of the year and then it fell by the wayside toward the middle of the year. Still there was some success in this area.

I joined the Genre bingo challenge and read a bunch of books across several genres – about 12 in all, but I didn’t get any ‘bingos’. I joined the Modern Mrs Darcy challenge and was successful with this! I pledged to achieve 8 of the 12 tasks – kind of picking books according to qualities like the cover etc and I managed exactly 8.  The TBR randomiser challenge was the other main one I signed up for and I nominated for 10 books. I didn’t manage to read all 10 of them, but I did manage 2. I had wanted to join in with the buddy reads across the year, and signed up for January, but my co-reader dropped out of sight and I felt too busy to sign up afterwards.

Bout of Books, Read Diverse 2017 and other book clubs

Bout of Books button with determined woman in yellow looking tired and surrounded by books.I participated in my first ever Bout of Books and it was marvellous fun! I blogged several times throughout, but here’s my update post of my week participating – it was lots of fun and I loved all the twitter participation.

I wanted to participate in Read Diverse 2017 actively – it was one of the goals I had lots of feelings about, but the year just got out of hand and I couldn’t keep up with this and I was behind before I really even got started. I’m sad about that, but regardless of a shiny organised challenge, reading from diverse perspectives remains a key goal to expanding my reading comfort zone.

Other book clubs I’d been involved in included both Vaginal Fantasy and Sword and Laser book clubs, but I really didn’t follow anything they were reading over the year – I just didn’t have enough hours in the year or concentration available in my brain. I also wanted to follow along with the Magical Space Pussycats podcast, but they’ve also been on hiatus – I still want to continue with this if they become active again.

Finish my review challenge Journey Through the Twelve Planets

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.I just didn’t get to this because the books published in this series are wonderful, and often confronting – many of them come under the genre of horror which I really struggle with. I still want to finish my reviews of the books, but the challenge itself wasn’t taken up as actively as Steph and I had hoped and so I’m happy to just quietly finish my reviews as she has done, in my own time. They are glorious books though and they’re well worth your time if you want an understanding of women writers in Australia in the past decade.

 

Checking in on 2017’s theme: Cusp

Back in January, I revealed my theme for 2017 as Cusp and wrote about it in detail. Now it’s time to revisit what I wrote then and see what I’ve learned from this year, where am I tracking as far as what I wanted and hoped for. Reading back over that post, I’m still deeply moved by it and how it managed to encompass so much of what this year means to me.

If I felt like I could see the end point back in January, now in August… wow. I can feel the end of this degree and the journey that accompanies it breathing down my neck. I feel like there has never been enough hours in the year, and that I’ll be crawling into December. But oh this year, what a thrill it’s been to just maintain awareness of this idea of liminality, standing on the precipice and revelling in being ‘on the verge of’: on the Cusp. Trying to gain as much grounding, support, practice, research, and learning as possible. Trying to balance that with self-care and maintaining my household amidst budget pressures. As much as this year is preparing me to leap, to fly, to take off into a newly created future, it’s a deeply grounding year and I have felt like I’ve revisited many things and reprocessed things, reawoken others – not all of it welcome. And yet, I persist.

So what does that look like in the specific focus areas breakdown?

Silhouette of a cliff with a blue starscape behind it. Standing on the edge of the cliff is a female figure with scarves uplifted by a breeze.

Standing on the Precipice (credit unknown)

Midwifery

It’s looking more and more likely that I’ll succeed at this goal I’ve had and be able to finish my degree in Midwifery and qualify to practice as a Midwife. That’s an incredible thing to contemplate. Equal parts exciting and terrifying. I’ve submitted all my applications for Graduate positions, I’ve completed the interviews. And now I wait, and hope. I did the best I could with references and applications and I’m secure in how that’s proceeded so far. I also maintain faith in knowing that the sky won’t fall if I don’t secure a graduate position for next year: I can and will make this work, it’s what I’m here to do.

I submitted an abstract to both the national and student conference for later this year and both were accepted, one for a poster and another for a talk, so I’m in the midst of doing that work for presentation now. I’m delirious with excitement as this will fulfil a long held goal to present at a professional conference. I can hardly believe that it’s really happening, but it feels welcome and resonates as ‘right’ for me: I want this, I want to contribute to research and midwifery, increasing evidence for practice, expanding boundaries, making positive changes possible.

I am still working on feeling ‘ready’ to be qualified and a professional in my own right. But I’ve still got two placements left, and I know that there’s a transitional period as a graduate too. But I know that I’m closer than when I started at the beginning of the year, I’m working as hard as I can at every moment for it to come together. And it’s not like I will ever stop learning and trying to improve my practice: that’s continual and part of being a reflective and adaptive practitioner.

A corner bathtub filled with sparkling bubbles, surrounded by candlelight, a glass of sparkling wine, and a book on the sideSelf-Care and Development

I’ve needed this focus so much this year and it’s been deeply central to everything – even Midwifery. I still have things in play to fulfil  me socially with chosen family and close friends bolstering the energy from my beautiful partners. I’ve got some new online spaces that bring joy and care my way and ground me and focus me in a way that I didn’t realise I’d been missing desperately. I love Slack. In my physical social life I’ve made it as easy as possible to say ‘yes’ to things and to spend time in ways that will energise and inspire me, allow me to keep working hard and pushing forward. Also this helps me to mediate the worst of budget difficulty and mediate the impact of mental health stuff our family is going through. It’s been a hard year, but my beloveds and I are consistent in that we all persist. That is always heartening.

I am still trying to do my nails regularly, and it still helps – especially when I am managing to follow through on the regularity specifically. I am reading for pleasure and I’m cooking some amazing food. I have been taking baths and focusing specifically on activities that allow me to relax. The media and books I’ve been consuming have stayed fluffy, I’m just letting go of doing any harder reading or watching this year, it’s all about comfort and optimism right now.

I have also been doing counselling which has helped and so very validating. It’s nice to know that I’m overall coping exceedingly well with extremely challenging circumstances. That central truth helps me to keep going and contextualises it so that I don’t think that how hard things have been is just ordinary hard or challenging. It’s not. On the advice of my counsellor I’ve been starting to meditate and this time around, with the app I’m using, I’m having quite a lot of success with it.

This year has been difficult in the self-care department not the least of which because there’s so much riding on this year and so much to do that there just never seems to be enough hours. But I also had a health experience that reactivated my post traumatic stress disorder and so I’ve been fielding that being more of an imposition than I’m used to for the past few months. While I’m not depressed, I have issues with anxiety, and they play into sleep, not exactly insomnia but not restful sleep, not enough sleep, too easily roused and anxious and thinking and driving myself to ‘do’ even when what I’m supposed to be doing is sleeping.

I’ve done an amazing job in this area, and I’ve needed it. I’ve needed my loved ones and their unstinting care and encouragement, being able to just trust in their love. I’ve needed to care for my loved ones, to be able to make a difference in the difficulties they’ve also faced – be outside my own head and be reminded that there is so much going on outside my own sphere. Also, giving in what capacity I can means that I can more easily accept the help when it is offered, and since I’ve needed the help, I have also needed to know that it is grounded in mutuality and love.

I said in January that Cusp is about being myself and letting that be okay and it’s still true – whether I intended to hold so closely to the importance of that statement or not, I don’t know but the actuality is that it’s underpinned everything. I am more myself than I’ve felt able to be in the past couple of years, I am more in sync with who I am and who I want to be – they’re not so far apart now. That’s pretty amazing, I can’t even pretend that I’m anything other than elated about that.

Reading and Media

As I said above in self care, reading and media has remained a comfort to me and is of deep importance. I can’t conceive of myself as someone without at least one book or television series in progress at any given time. I’ve focused entirely on fluffy and comforting subject matter though, I’ve had no space or coping for harder work in my head or heart  with this space. I have needed reading and watching to help  me recover and relax, so fluff and comfort it is. Excellent decision on my part overall. I’m not really sure how well I’m tracking against my reading goals at this stage – that’s going to be something I allow future me to deal with.

Round earthenware casserole pot with red duck curry, decorated with toasted flaked almonds and bright green corianderDomestic Life

Everything I said before about this being a harder year budget wise was true, and so meal planning and lifting our spirits in tiny ways has been imperative. It’s helped. We’re making it through. The image I picked is from Bat’s birthday dinner, I made Red Duck Curry with Pineapple as the main, it turned out pretty spectacularly! Fox is happier in new work, and we’re so close to the point where I’ll be able to work and we’ll have two incomes finally. And what a feeling that will be! Our most powerful tool domestically continues to be ruthless kindness and gentleness with one another.

We’re all operating at heightened stress, and often limited coping. With kindness and gentleness, any impact that could make things harder or more painful is minimised and often averted. We communicate really deliberately, making requests, providing support, being accountable to one another. Mental health challenges make this both critical and very hard, tiring work. So again, self care – for all of us has been critical. Also coming together and being together, I also think that’s been important, even if we’ve not really been able to make much of an occasion of things.

I had wanted to post here more about study, domestic life, and cooking in addition to books and review – but there’s just been not nearly enough hours. I’m going to just assume that will remain the case and I’ll revisit that idea as a next year one.

Relationships

I am profoundly blessed in my relationships. One partner and I celebrated our 20th anniversary – apart, because that’s just how finances crumbled this year and we’ll make up for lost time later. I love them more deeply than I thought was possible 20 years ago, and I cannot imagine my life without them. That’s the most notable thing to mention. But everyday life with my live-in partners is both a joy and a challenge for all the domestic life reasons above. But our commitment and capacity for each other astounds me and inspires me. I couldn’t have gotten through the past few years without all three of us and our mutual determination. Fox is in a better and better place, he’s grown so much even in the past twelve months, I think sometimes he scarcely recognises himself. Bat continues to persevere with Med school and  mental health – he’s pushed himself at every turn and I couldn’t be prouder (and at times more heartbroken as to the cost), he inspires me with his ability to just keep going, and his honesty around the difficulty.

One of my connections has fallen away in a very quiet way, and I’m just letting it go. It is sad, but I know there’s no actual hard feelings, just not enough impetus and energy and when I realised I was the only one holding on it became a little easier to just take a deep breath, and let it go and appreciate having enjoyed something special. Also, my capacity to drive connection against a tide like that is limited and if I’m lacking that sense of mutuality it makes sense to just appreciate the person and breathe deep and let go. I’m still a little sad, but I am overall okay with it. It is the right choice. The platonic romantic relationship with one partner reached 4 years this year, and we continue to revel in how excellent it is to enjoy each other in the form of really excellent dates and emotional support and togetherness. When so many other bits of our lives are  mutually really hard work, it’s just so wonderful knowing that there is nothing but ease and joy with each other. It helps. That goes toward self care too.

Friendships have been myriad and so rewarding and important, from chosen family and best friends to friends far away and online. I’m rich with amazing people in my life and honestly, the only way I’ve gotten through is with thanks to them. I wish that there were more hours, wish there was more energy and I could more easily show the difference people have made, and give them more of me.


Quote image: a with woman midwife loves what she does, but who she does it for more, less about doing to women, more about doing for women, trusting birth, trusting women.I am still committed to my overall intention being open to things, taking on as much as I can in preparation for what is coming next. Midwifery filters through every aspect of my life, my feminism, my activism, my passion. The image above is a quote that summarises pretty succinctly my central philosophy behind my practice.

I’m not quite as shiny as when I started out the year, I still feel capable, I still feel energised and determined. But I’ve been knocked around by the year, and I’m still struggling. I am learning how to take even better care of myself. I feel more than ever that I’m on the verge, that I’m so very close to the end of this journey, Midwife and all the promise and new beginnings that holds. I’m still in progress, there’s still so many loose ends… but I feel equal to them, and I’ll keep going.

 

AWW17: Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

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

Title: Beauty in Thorns

Authors: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Vintage Australia, 2017

Genre: historical fiction, retellings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Author: Foz Meadows

Publisher and Year:  Angry Robot, 2017

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

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

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

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

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017. I’m also reviewing this book as part of the Read Diverse Books 2017 challenge and it qualifies as both an #ownvoices read as well as having characters who identify under the LGBTIQA+ umbrella. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Bright azure blue cover with gold text and golden outline of a mechanical dragonflyARC Review:

Title: Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1)

Authors: Laini Taylor

Publisher and Year: Hodder and Stoughton, 2017

Genre: fantasy

Blurb from Goodreads:

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling ‘Daughter of Smoke & Bone’ trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

My Review:

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

This was one of those books that I saw getting a lot of buzz, certainly the Booktubers I follow were very excited about it. And, who wouldn’t be with the gorgeous bright blue cover with gilded dragonfly? Even the gold and blue flecked cover was striking. It’s a book whose appearance begs you to pick it up and read it. And if that wasn’t enough, the blurb is fantastic and sucked me in. I’m new to Taylor’s work and I am really excited I got to read this book. What Taylor does here was really unique for me, there are certainly the trappings of epic fantasy but they’re used in really interesting ways.

I adored Lazlo’s character and enjoyed him as an unusual hero type, a dreamer where the story doesn’t really fit him but he’s there doing the best he can anyway. I loved his bookishness and his quiet dedication. I loved the whimsical fantasy of the world-building and the adventure, although honestly, Lazlo was one of the only characters I was attached to at all. Lazlo and Sarai, and I thought her short changed as a character. I struggled with the godspawn characters as the ‘them’ of the book entirely – they were too juxtaposed as both terrifying and dangerous and also helpless and trapped in a way that never really worked for me. Same with the band of experts gathered to attend the problem in the city of Weep, save the thief who took up the betting ring, they were unremarkable – I’d read much more of her story though.

That’s kind of where shine wears off for me, because although Lazlo was interesting and engaging. Although I empathised with Sarai’s empathy and loneliness, the story itself fell flat for me. I struggled with the plot, especially as it just seemed like there was so much more plot in the history of Weep than in the present, and it was horrific history and I found the way it was shared felt a bit wooden. I was told characters were traumatised and such, but I didn’t get that from the characters themselves. I also struggled with the romance between Lazlo and Sarai, I liked the premise but found the execution left me cold, I wanted more from them, more for them, and I find the ending of the book abhorrent. The interaction between all the characters save Lazlo and Sarai is flat and unsatisfying – it’s hard to care about what they’re doing and why.

The writing itself makes up for a lot here, it’s lyrical and paints such a beautiful picture while you’re reading that you don’t seem to mind the lack of substance. At least, that’s what I found for myself until I got to the end and I felt like I’d taken in so little for all the pages I’d read. Others have commented that they thought the pace a little slow in places and I’d also agree with that. I’m really glad I got to read this and my favourite part was how much of a whimsical dreamer Lazlo was, and that although he was happy in the depths of the library, he got to go on an adventure and explore the city of his dreams.

If you’ve enjoyed other works by Taylor, you’ll likely enjoy this book similarly. It’s a good read overall, though I’m left a little wanting – and not in the way you’d hope. It’s worth noting that there’s some heavy content in here, reference to rape and torture and forced pregnancy – it’s not gratuitous, but it’s there and I found it uncomfortable reading in the story – again it was part of the being told rather than finding out as the story unfolds more organically. Although I’ve had Taylor’s work recommended to  me several times, I’m not sure if I’m up for book 2 at this stage.

Review: Wanted & Wired by Vivien Jackson

A woman with long dark hair side holding a large gun on to the left of the cover, background is fiery orange sunset ARC Review:

Title: Wanted & Wired (Tethered #1)

Authors: Vivien Jackson

Publisher and Year: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2017

Genre: science fiction, romance, dystopia, paranormal romance

Blurb from Goodreads:

A rip-roarin’ new snarky, sexy sci-fi paranormal romance series with the perfect balance of humor, heat, and heart. Now that Texas has seceded and the world is spiralling into chaos, good guys come in unlikely packages and love sprouts in the most inconvenient places…

Rogue scientist • technologically enhanced • deliciously attractive
Heron Farad should be dead. But technology has made him the man he is today. Now he heads a crew of uniquely skilled outsiders who fight to salvage what’s left of humanity: art, artefacts, books, ideas-sometimes even people. People like Mari Vallejo.

Gun for hire • Texan rebel • always hits her mark
Mari has been lusting after her mysterious handler for months. But when a by-the-book hit goes horribly sideways, she and Heron land on the universal most wanted list. Someone set them up. Desperate and on the run, they must trust each other to survive, while hiding devastating secrets. As their explosive chemistry heats up, it’s the perfect storm…

My Review:

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

This book came along at a time this year when I needed something fun to read, something romantic, but still something decidedly science fiction. I loved the pacing of the story and fell in love with the characters. While the story was slow to start and clunky in places, there was plenty to keep me going.

I really wanted Heron and Mari to succeed in sorting out what had gone so wrong with their mission. I empathised with Mari’s desire to do the right thing by her father, even though that turned out to be a huge problem. I loved the technology and world-building, I loved Heron’s post-human and enhanced character and I loved the way that was discussed subtly throughout in relation to humanity and morals and choices and so on. I found Heron especially compelling as a character – but that’s not surprising as I have a big soft spot for characters that create found-family. I did love that Mari was included even if she didn’t know about it.

I love that Mari was complicated, she had issues with her history and memory, but also just with coping day-to-day, I appreciated that realism to her character – she’s great at what she does, but not infallible. I love how much she realises that she’s come to rely on Heron. I love the unfolding of their relationship and Mari being confronted with her own biases and the need to reevaluate them. The sexual tension between these two was excellent and I have a soft spot for sex scenes where the author has remembered that one party has extra tech to bring to the equation – I’m all for the misuse of science and technology for better sex. This was excellent in that regard.

Overall this was a really enjoyable book, I’m interested in the story ongoing and am hoping that future books will trend more toward science-fiction romance and less romance driven with a couple per book, I love the urban fantasy feel of this book, it’s clearly science  fiction but it has a lot of the elements that draw me to urban fantasy and I’m solidly hooked.

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.

Review: Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

A book cover with a dark background and darkened images, a dark skinned boy is embraced by a white skinned girl, there are feathered birds at the bottom of the image.ARC Review:

Title: Miranda and Caliban

Authors: Jacqueline Carey

Publisher and Year: Tor Books, 2017

Genre: fantasy, retellings, romance, literary fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:

Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant.

There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from? The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too; an orphan left to fend for himself at an early age, all language lost to him. When Caliban is summoned and bound into captivity by Miranda’s father as part of a grand experiment, he rages against his confinement; and yet he hungers for kindness and love.

My Review:

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

This book is a melding of Carey’s lush prose and the theatrics of Shakespeare. I can’t comment on this story as a retelling specifically, as I’m not familiar with The Tempest. However, I really enjoyed Miranda and Caliban, it was a very satisfying story to read. I read this over a couple of days and found the characters, the setting and the mystery compelling. I loved the romance that was woven throughout this story, Miranda’s toward life, and Caliban. Caliban, towards Miranda – to a fault. I was often perplexed by Prospero and I never really connected with him, but perhaps that was also part of the design, as his personality was to hold himself apart and aloof.

The story and its mystery were quite linear, there were no true surprises – one thing did really lead to another. I did not find this to be a bad thing, the story comes across as something to sink into first and foremost, not something to challenge or trick you. I loved the way Miranda and Caliban interacted with one another, both teaching and learning from the other. I loved the beauty of Caliban through Miranda’s eyes because at no point did it seem twee, it fit perfectly with Miranda’s character and her naivety.

I really appreciated the ending to this book. While I thought there was tragedy in the experience of lost love, I also thought Miranda’s pragmatic acceptance of her situation and role in the manipulations of her father was very satisfying and realistic. There is no great hero to sweep in and rescue anyone, it is a tale of what happened, to interesting characters, no rose coloured glasses but not gratuitously dramatic either.

This book stands alone and is a satisfying story to read for some gentle escapism, it is fantastical but not overly so and may be suitable for those who don’t ordinarily like fantasy in their stories.  This is not a particularly in depth review but I don’t think it’s required as what I am left with is the lingering satisfaction for a book I quite simply enjoyed.

Review: The Turn by Kim Harrison

Book cover with a grey forest background with a long haired brunette woman in a flowing red dress holding a rotting piece of fruit in her cupped hands that spills black down the front of the dress. ARC Review:

Title: The Turn (The Hollows #0.1)

Authors: Kim Harrison

Publisher and Year: Gallery Books, 2017

Genre: urban fantasy

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kim Harrison returns to her beloved Hollows series with The Turn, the official prequel to the series that will introduce fans and readers to a whole new side of Rachel Morgan’s world as they’ve never seen it before!

Can science save us when all else fails?

Trisk and her hated rival, Kalamack, have the same goal: save their species from extinction.

Death comes in the guise of hope when a genetically modified tomato created to feed the world combines with the government’s new tactical virus, giving it an unexpected host and a mode of transport. Plague takes the world, giving the paranormal species an uncomfortable choice to stay hidden and allow humanity to die, or to show themselves in a bid to save them.

Under accusations of scientific misconduct, Trisk and Kal flee across a plague torn United States to convince leaders of the major paranormal species to save their supposedly weaker kin, but not everyone thinks humanity should be saved.

Kal surreptitiously works against her as Trisk fights the prejudices of two societies to prove that not only does humanity have something to offer, but that long-accepted beliefs against women, dark magic, and humanity itself can turn to understanding; that when people are at their worst that the best show their true strength, and that love can hold the world together as a new balance is found.

My Review:

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

I’ve long been a fan of Kim Harrison’s Hollows series and so the opportunity to read the prequel about how the whole Tomato plague got started, and how the Inderlanders came out into the open was fantastic! I had always wondered how events had happened, and this prequel answered many of my questions. I think a bunch of those questions remain unanswered but the book is a complete story in its own right and there’s no cliffhanger.

I really empathised with Trisk’s character and the frustration of sexism and classism depicted in the story’s 60s timeline. It pings immediately believable as an alternative history timeline, and yet I can also see how things evolved to Rachel’s time and how much and how little changed.

I was especially interested in the story of the pixies and that their struggle against extinction was so fraught! It’s such a change from Rachel’s time! I appreciated all the ways in which the historical story came alive for me and made sense in my understanding of how the series itself unfolds for Rachel, Ivy, Trent and Al.

Al remains one of my favourite characters in that hate to love kind of way, I definitely want to read more of his story. Kal is… wow, at once an interesting protagonist, who isn’t ‘all bad’ but he’s so caught up in himself, his position and privilege that what sympathy I had for him was always fleeting. His ruthlessness was horrifying to me and the only thing that bothers me about the outcome of things was that he actually still ends up coming out of it relatively unscathed, while Trisk loses most everything.

Prequels can often be disappointing, but The Turn manages to be a fully fledged story in its own right, there’s plenty of story to tell and while it ties strongly into the beginning and history behind the series of The Hollows taking place, you can read it as a stand alone fantasy novel just fine I think. That said, I do think those who’ve also read some of the series will love it more.

Review: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira

Pale blue book cover with flowery font text for the title and author name, there is a silhouette of female figure in a white dress blurred in the background and pink curlicue flowers surround the text and the blurry figure. ARC Review:

Title: Bookishly Ever After

Authors: Isabel Bandeira

Publisher and Year: Spencer Hill Contemporary, 2016

Genre: young adult, romance, contemporary

Blurb from Goodreads:

In a perfect world, sixteen-year-old Phoebe Martins’ life would be a book. Preferably a YA novel with magic and a hot paranormal love interest. Unfortunately, her life probably wouldn’t even qualify for a quiet contemporary.

But when Phoebe finds out that Dev, the hottest guy in the clarinet section, might actually have a crush on her, she turns to her favorite books for advice. Phoebe overhauls her personality to become as awesome as her favorite heroines and win Dev’s heart. But if her plan fails, can she go back to her happy world of fictional boys after falling for the real thing?

My Review:

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

As someone who really enjoys reading books, and enjoys in particular the relationships, romances and friendships in books this book was right in my wheelhouse! It’s a cute YA about a girl who likes reading and knitting having a crush, being crushed on and figuring out real life romance for the first time. I really like that Phoebe was both curious about and a bit bewildered by the contrast between real life romance and the romances in the books she was reading. I loved that she saw herself in the heroine protagonist’s role time and again, and that she aspired to romance as awesome as those she was reading about.

I really loved the naive fantasy at play here – nothing bad happened to Phoebe! I found the way the story unfolded to be really believable for me because she’s a teen girl with her first real life romance experience. She was clumsy, so was the boy she liked. I liked all the supporting characters actually, her friends were varied and interesting, I liked the happy queer romance that her friend was enjoying, I liked that Dev was Indian and heavily involved with his cultural background, including travelling back to India during the story. There were just nice touches that made it a bit more real for me.

That said, I have minor complaints about the story becoming clunky in the second half, the way the romance unfolded was believable  but it was an effort to keep reading in some places because while I hate insta-romance in most cases, things here also seemed to just take forever – but not in a slow burn awesome kind of way, there were slow places that were a little boring and the let down the pacing a little. This is a minor criticism, and as a debut novel it’s a great beginning.

If you like sweet romance that’s non-explicit involving books, knitting, archery and camping, I highly recommend this book, it was great fun, the characters were endearing and I enjoyed reading it a lot. This book stands alone really well. However, I understand that there is also second book in the series forthcoming, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that when it comes out.

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.

Review: Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

A woman sits by a spaceship window with the glow of the Earth in silhouette visible. The title Martians Abroad is in orange, the author Carrie Vaughn's name is in white both in large letters at the bottom of the image.ARC Review:

Title: Martians Abroad

Authors: Carrie Vaughn

Publisher and Year:  Tor Books, 2017

Genre: science fiction, young adult

Available: January 17, 2017

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A great new stand-alone science fiction novel from the author of the Kitty Norville series.

Polly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly’s plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.

Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. Strange, unexplained, dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up. Charles may be right—there’s more going on than would appear, and the stakes are high. With the help of Charles, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.

My Review:

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

I’m a fan of Carrie Vaughn’s urban fantasy series about Kitty Norville and I jumped at the chance to see her writing such a fun sounding science fiction story. Martians Abroad is fantastic from start to finish, the characters and story are engaging and the whole package is wonderfully entertaining – I couldn’t put it down.

I rarely start a review talking about world-building, but I think it’s worth remarking on here. I really like the future-Earth universe Vaughn has created. It was really believable – moving on from nations but not completely. Colonies on the moon and Mars and other places, and run by corporations with stakeholders. I really loved that we got to experience this world through the eyes of Polly who hasn’t been to Earth and hadn’t ever planned on it. It was a really unique view and it made me appreciate living on Earth myself in a lot of ways, open sky, water and space to spread out. There are tons of tiny details that have been included that made the universe real for me, plus it seems incredibly plausible to me that this kind of setup could happen in future.

Polly and Charles are great protagonists, twins but not really, siblings and very different from one another. I liked their friendship – it wasn’t an easy one but it was true to their characters and so was very real for me. I loved the character interaction at the Galileo school with all the other children – elitism persists even in the future, and the form in which it takes was not at all surprising. I also liked that there  wasn’t a strong romance vibe in this book, they’re teenagers and so there’s hints of it, but it never goes beyond what I’d expect of teens in that kind of setting – particularly Polly herself.

Polly is such a practical person, she’s seemingly fearless and unfazed by so many things – the kind of person to think that the things she does without thinking are things that anyone, or surely someone would do – but it’s consistently her. It’s not seen as ordinary but it’s also not the kind of thing that draws a magic-hero trope reaction either. The other teens are bewildered and grateful but don’t know what to make of Polly at all, her capability, competence and confidence show up in the kinds of areas where they’re lacking and they, even if the school doesn’t, recognise the value in what she brings to the table.

Another thing I appreciated was that even though there was school meanness, that it was qualified and that there were other things that happened and it wasn’t all about the trope of a misfit coming to fit in. In fact, by the end Polly still doesn’t exactly fit in and neither does Charles. But she makes friends and they stand by her, they share confidences and experiences together and the friendships grow from there in ways I really appreciated. The way in which there were obstacles to overcome and that they seemed contrived because they were was an awesome story element, I was quite impressed with how that came together in the end and with Charles’ decision to return to Mars. I was surprised by Polly’s intention to stay at Galileo, but I appreciated her optimism about getting through it and getting to become a pilot. I am glad that she did get some sense that she could access that career privilege based on how hard she’d worked and how selflessly she’d endeavoured to do ‘the right thing’ by others at the school.

This was a great, standalone science-fiction novel, it’s perfectly tuned as a Young Adult novel too. I love that it’s standalone, but the universe is so interesting and has such potential that I have a faint hope that there could be more standalone novels in the universe.  If you like science-fiction that is thoughtful, fun and has great characters in a fully-realised world then Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn is well worth your time.

2017 is on the Cusp

The new year rolls around again. Now that I’ve wrapped up what I got out of Chrysalis, my 2016 theme it’s time to open up my 2017 enquiry. That’s how I view a theme for the year in any case, a year long subjective enquiry that I let be the background focus for how I go about things. It informs the lessons I want to learn, the growth I want to undertake or the direction in which I want to throw my energy. It’s a no-sticks way of making the whole new year and resolutions thing work for me. If you’re interested, I wrote about my what and how of themes previously.

Without further preamble, my theme for 2017 is: Cusp

Silhouette of a cliff with a blue starscape behind it. Standing on the edge of the cliff is a female figure with scarves uplifted by a breeze.

Standing on the Precipice (credit unknown)

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, here’s the definition that resonates with me for what I’m focusing on this year:

“An interval of time just before the onset of something”

A theme is always a concept, intended to be big enough and broad enough to encompass an entire year, with flexibility. The idea behind Cusp for me, is that I’m still in the midst of a journey – becoming a midwife. I’m still in the process of transformation and I’m not quite done. Unlike my 2015 theme Becoming, I’m much closer to the endpoint and I can see that ending in the distance. I’m close. I’m on the verge. But there’s still a way to go. I don’t yet have my wings, I’m not quite ready to fly – but I’m approaching that point and so I feel like I’m in this liminal space, in between and not-quite. I like Cusp for the potential it makes me feel, for the challenge it breathes into me and the push for this last year of effort required to achieve this major goal, career and vocation change, who I am in the world, being that kindness and change I wish to see. Everything. On the verge, standing on the precipice: just before the culmination, on the Cusp.

Weeks ago when I was letting this word and concept  tick over in my mind, I had thought this would be another inwardly facing theme. I thought Cusp would go to work on me internally and that I would need to look inward to see the effects. Now, I don’t think that is the case. I think this is far more outward facing than I’d supposed, and that it’s a kind of embracing of the world at large and putting myself and what I am contributing out into the world in various ways. There’s still the internal component I’d already mused upon, but there’s also a call for me to be visible, be vocal and practise all that I’ve learned, consolidate it all and find out how it and I all fit together. It’s pretty exciting!

Let’s break down the areas where I’m directing my focus for Cusp, and what I hope comes out of this enquiry.

Text graphic with a turquoise background. Black text reads "Keep Calm, Study Hard and Become a Midwife" with a small black crown at the top.Midwifery

I want to complete my final year in my degree to qualify as a Midwife, this is so much the thing that I am on the Cusp of, it’s so close I can almost taste it! I would like to do this and maintain the good marks I’ve gotten so far. I want to do well in my last three prac units, and get the references I need for my Grad Year Applications. I also want to get all my numbers for things together so that I can hopefully do as few extra shifts for births and the like at the end of the year. I think it’s unlikely I’ll have all the numbers and not need any extra shifts, but we’ll see. I want to go to the Student Midwife Conference this year, and if I’m lucky one of the other professional conferences (that might be pushing it though). By the end of the year I really want to feel like I’m ready to transition into professional practice for real, have my own registration and the responsibility that goes with it.

Self-Care and Development

In this area I hope to continue the practices that I’ve found work for me in the past couple of years. I want to continue to refine the care and feeding of my extroverted self, surrounded by my wonderful introverted partners. I’m grateful to them for how loving and caring they are toward me, knowing that I thrive on a base level of affection and touch. I appreciate their efforts to give me what I need and that they notice how I in turn try and support and fulfil their needs.

Two hands showing nails over dark purple sleeves, fair Caucasian skin tone with nail wraps featuring glow in the dark multi-coloured eyeballs from Jamberry. I want to remember that baths, books, Jamberry nails, video games, walks, podcasts, dinner and great conversations with my wonderful friends are my favourite self-care mediums. I want to keep making time for these and have them fit into what promises to be a busy and demanding year. I’m getting better at this as time goes on, so it’s refining and continuing as I’ve already started.

I am allowing for some gentle untangling of some deeper and older emotional stuff inside, body stuff, family history stuff and being myself stuff. I’m not sure how that will go, but I’m allowing space for it to come about, without intending to specifically dig things out of my psyche and go to work on them.

That said, I do want to finally conquer the ridiculous molehill-become-mountain that is getting my driver’s license. It’s back in active progression as I’m doing practise driving regularly again and will aim to book a couple of pass-the-test lessons and then do the test and (hopefully) pass!

My intention for this year is that I reduce my overall anxiety, that I see a reduction or ending to those habits and telltales of my anxiety. I’d like to continue to dial back my hyper-vigilance as I can bit by bit. That’s hard. About as hard as I thought, but not intractable. It involves letting go, breathing out and trusting things to be okay and people to be okay.

Cusp in this area is about being myself, and letting that be visible and outward without fear, learning to be okay with it and not quite so terrified.

Reading and Media

This is purely for me, my leisure, my enjoyment of time  to myself and how to spend it. I want to read, enjoy book clubs, do reading challenges, catch up on some of the television I’m watching, play awesome games, keep up with podcasts and share that with people here and via social media. I want to keep reviewing books here and doing some interviews and blog tour things if I get the chance. I’ve already written up my reading goals for 2017 so I won’t rehash that. I think I’ll also just allow for another post at a random interval talking about the games, media, and updates to podcasts I love and so forth. This is the simplest for this category yet, but the intention is simply to just keep enjoying it the way I am and to share it outwards with joy and enthusiasm.

Domestic Life

This year looks to be crappier budget wise, but we’re going to try and make it work as best we can, it’s the last year where budget should be so very hard and that too is reflective of the theme Cusp. That means meal-planning and using little inexpensive things to keep our spirits up and to make us feel better about things. It’s easier to deal with a strict grocery budget if you’re still able to make awesome and interesting food. Since Bat is also back to sharing more of the cooking that actually looks less stressful and more possible. Household things in general seem to be mostly running more smoothly and fairly, with room for tweaking but there’s no real ‘hard’ attached overall. I want us all to feel like the breakdown is fair, achievable and that we live as well as possible in a lean year. I have some light aspirations towards decluttering – specifically in my bedroom/wardrobe space but I’m simply identifying the desire and not putting any specifics around it at this stage. It’s all possible. I would like to post more about food, cooking and meal-planning this year if I can manage it around study and book reviews.

Relationships

A white cat and a black cat cuddled together in a soft nest where their paws and tails make a heart shape. I want to enjoy my relationships, friendship, chosen family, family, romantic and other poly-connections. I want to spend time and appreciate the wonderful people in my network.

I want things to continue to improve emotionally and in mental health for my live-in partners, it’s been a hard few years, and this year is intended to be the last ‘flagged’ hard year as after this we should have better income options which will take much of the pressure off and give us some more options. Fox is in the best place he’s ever been, but with that still comes new lessons and difficulties – like trying to learn how to actually relax. Bat is doing alright and is doing what he can to maintain that ahead of going back to Med School. His new boyfriend from the US is also planning to visit this year which I hope consolidates Bats feelings of love and safety and possibility, and that it helps him to get through the academic year.  I want him to feel loved and supported and know that Fox and I are behind him eleventy percent, and that we welcome N as his partner too.

I want to spend my 20th anniversary with my partner K who is interstate and I’ve not caught up with him in person since 2014, because money. But it’s our anniversary and there’s a lot going on to make this possible for him to be over here and for us to spend time together. We’ve been through so much together, we mean so much to one another – and despite living on opposite sides of the country, that doesn’t change. He’s still the person who wants me to have the most amazing life and wants to contribute however possible to that, and I want the same – he made it possible for me to move to Melbourne and it was the best thing for me, despite how deeply I miss him constantly.

I want to spend time with my other poly connections, enjoy the company and try and find some way of spending time regularly instead of sporadically – that ends up stressful, I’m making space for that to become easier. It’s hard with no central scheduling, competing priorities and obligations, distance, and lack of money to make things easier. I’m still allowing for the possibility.


Overall what underscores Cusp for me is being open to things, allowing for possibility and being willing to take on things, try things, do things and see what happens. I still have to be mindful of energy levels, resilience and self-care but I  feel much more capable of that at this point. This is less detailed and specific than in the past couple of years, but I feel more freedom at this point to see where it leads and to just let things happen. Hopefully that means more reflection posts along the way as I learn things too. Here’s to 2017, Cusp, and getting ready to take the leap, letting myself be with the moment, on the verge and almost arriving at the destination of Midwife.

Review: To Catch a Stolen Soul by R.L. Naquin

Female non-white protagonist with dark hair in profile on the right side of the book, looking over her shoulder. Background is turquoise/blue and the title text is in a highlighted blue. ARC Review:

Title: To Catch a Stolen Soul (Djnn Haven #1)

Authors: R.L. Naquin

Publisher and Year:  Carina Press, 2017

Genre: urban fantasy, mystery, friendship, found family,

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Fans of the Monster Haven series by R.L. Naquin will love this beguiling spin-off, featuring a trapped djinn caught in a hot mess of lost souls, fast food and otherwordly murder.

Kam is a soul chaser for the Hidden Government, a much harder job now that the Hidden look like everyone else. Broke, out of magic and sick of playing waitress in a pirate-themed dive bar, Kam jumps at a chance for an out-of-town mission.

A reaper—and his loaded soul stone—have gone missing. The stone contains souls that might get permanently stuck if Kam doesn’t find it, like, yesterday. She tracks the reaper down to a food truck outside Kansas City, only to find a dead reaper and no soul stone in sight. Which means that someone who should be dead killed the reaper and is running around with a powerful magic item. Not good.

And apparently the killer is targeting food-ttruck owners that also happen to be Hidden. So the only thing to do is open her own truck and go undercover—goodbye Kam the Djinn, hello Mobile Food Entrepreneur—and hope that she and her new runaway friend won’t be the next targets…

 

My Review:

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

This was one of the last books I read for 2016 and I really enjoyed it. Even though urban fantasy remains one of my favourite genres, it can get same-y very easily. I am new to Naquin’s work, but I’m definitely interested to read her other books because I absolutely enjoyed To Catch a Stolen Soul. This book brought me everything I want and like about urban fantasy, likeable heroine – who wasn’t ‘kick ass’ but knows how to stand on her own two feet. I love that she’s about doing good in her own way. I love how she makes space and safety for Ash, a runaway and that friendship and care forms one of the fundamental aspects of the book overall.

I thought the mystery was enough and not too much, although it was a little simplistic at times – there was a little mismatch between the fact that others had failed to solve the mystery and Kam was able to do so for me. But this is a minor niggle and didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book.

I liked the world and the setup, I liked that there’s a bigger arc of story planned than what happened in this one book and I’m really interested to read more of Kam’s story. This was fun, amusing, fluffy urban fantasy with a mystery and if you like these kinds of books and characters, or you like books that are solid on building friendship and have a found family aspect then you’ll really enjoy this. What’s excellent about this book is that it gives you exactly what you want in a lighthearted urban fantasy, it’s not meant to be challenging and it’s quirky and with unique appeal without trying to hard to be different. It knows what you want and it gives it to you solid and you can trust it.

2017 Reading Goals

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

Overall Reading Goal

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

Reviewing

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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

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

Goodreads Reading Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

Bookclubs

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

Finish the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Challenge

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


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

 

 

Reflection on 2016 Reading Goals

I’d hoped to get to this in December, but it didn’t happen so all my reflection and end of year posts are being mushed together with my 2017 launching/goal posts. It was a pretty great year for reading overall – but I wanted to evaluate that against the goals I’d hoped to achieve in my reading at the beginning of 2016.

Orange banner with text 2016 Reading Challenged with a book in white on in the centre. A red ribbon with 'completed' crosses the left hand top corner.Overall Reading Goal:

As far as my overall reading goal, I’d hoped to read 75 books and in the end I actually read 81 – according to Goodreads that’s 108%! A bunch of these were shorter, and there were a bunch of graphic novel trade volumes for the first time too. But I still think overall 75 was exactly the right number for a goal – reasonable, something of a stretch but something I can reasonably expect to achieve. I’m really looking forward to finishing my studies so that I can see what my reading is really like – I’ve been studying for almost a decade now, across 2 degrees so I can’t even predict what my reading looks like outside of study anymore.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge 2016:

My goal for this challenge was to read and review 15 books, this was in part to tie in with other reading goals I had. I managed to read and review 17 books and I’ve also already posted my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Completion post. I didn’t read all the books I had planned to, but I did read a bunch of unexpected books – and for the first time there were some audio books via podcast serials that I included. Probably my only disappointment really with my reading for this challenge last year, was that I didn’t read any works by Indigenous authors, and my diversity in this area was particularly low – I’m hoping to address that in 2017, it’s an ongoing goal.

Read with Diversity in Mind

Speaking of diversity, that was another of my overall goals for the year. I wasn’t specific with this and that was deliberate because it’s an ongoing aim of mine. It’s also one that still requires a lot of conscious effort on my part to achieve – which as a white person is the point of why I’m doing this. But, I’m also a firm believer in the fact that goals and aims need to not be an excuse to punish myself, that defies the point of the goal in the first place and makes it no more likely to occur. So I aim and where I can dedicate the energy to increasing the diversity in my reading  I do so.

Now that I’m looking over the books I read in 2016, I think I did a little better in this area than I thought, but it’s still only a handful. I did much better in reading from queer perspectives – but I’m also a queer person so it’s me seeking out representations of myself and doesn’t have the same meaning or importance in confronting my biases and being uncomfortable as a white person reading more  non-white and Indigenous perspectives. I did read books by non-white authors and books from different cultural perspectives to my own, but there only a few, although they’re ones I enjoyed immensely. I reviewed Central Station by Lavie Tidhar, Book of Phoenix by Nnedi OkoraforThorn by Intisar Khanani and He, She and It by Marge Piercy. I also read Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani, but I’ve not yet reviewed it (but will do so together with the follow up book Memories of Ash which is on my to-read list).

Central Station - cover Book of Phoenix - cover

 

 

 

 

Thorn - cover

He, She and It - cover

 

 

 

 

Participate in Bookclubs

This was partially successful? I did participate, but the clubs I participated in where a bit different to the ones I anticipated. the YA Escape Bookclub wasn’t very active last year, and I was certainly busy enough that I didn’t get to read many of the nominated books, although Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff was one of them and a fantastic discovery. The Vaginal Fantasy Bookclub was active all year, but I fell out of keeping up with what they were reading and making the effort there – I did read Radiance by Grace Draven which was one of the pics for January and enjoyed it a lot (I still want to read the following books in the series), but I think that was the only one I read from that club in the year. Although I loved the idea of Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf bookclub, it wasn’t tightly organised and was an absolutely huge group very quickly which made it hard to follow. Also, I didn’t have a lot of coping to do the kind of heavy reading being proposed, or money to access the books – plus the discussions were so huge as to be intimidating unwieldy so I let that club go midway through the year. The Sword and Laser Bookclub is one that I followed a bunch of the discussions and even joined in with them, but I think I failed to read any of the books – I started Radiance by Catherynne Valente, but I found it deeply difficult to read and eventually declared that it was not a book for me recently.

What I did pick up during the year and enjoyed immensely was the Goodreads Challenge group that does regular short and long challenges and buddy reading. I did five buddy reads including Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Cinder and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani, and Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins. I participated in some of the quarterly and monthly challenges too but I didn’t actually track those very well so no links, but I’m already tracking this year’s challenges better.

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

Steph and I started this and it went really well for the first six months, and then the second half of the year hammered both of us. Also, when I am stressed and overtired and really busy with study, I am even less likely to read horror than the best of times. So it took me most of the second half of the year to actually read Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren. The other books in the Twelve Planets series by Twelfth Planet Press that we read and reviewed included Nightsiders by Sue Isle, Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts, Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex, Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti, and Showtime by Narelle M. Harris. Six books down, six to go!

I had originally planned another largeish but relaxed reading challenge but it didn’t quite come together, but it was always a nice-to-have rather than something I was attached to for last year.

Unpack and Read Some of My Physical Books

I actually do have progress to report on this – not much, but I did unpack my books when I managed to get a hold of some free bookshelves that would fit in my (actually strangely huge) wardrobe. So I unpacked books, but it didn’t lead me to reading them (yet). I hope that in the coming year that shifts – I do feel much better emotionally for being able to see and admire all my books again. I am reading a couple of physical books, but they’re definitely the slowest going for me at the moment as I often just pick up my phone to read by default now. I do still love turning the pages and reading a physical book.

Bout of Books 18 Update Post

Bout of Books button with determined woman in yellow looking tired and surrounded by books.I’m participating in Bout of Books 18, a reading marathon that is gentle and lovely. The aim is for you to try and read more than you would ordinarily, but to do so in a way that is enjoyable and not stressful for you. I’m completely on board for this! There are also challenges and prizes involved and part of the process is to track progress. I’ll be doing that for the entire week in this post and will update it accordingly each day.

If you wondered what the Bout of Books is:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 2nd and runs through Sunday, January 8th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 18 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

My overall goal I’m aiming for is to read four books this week during the challenge. I’m loosely trying to read things that are already on my TBR list where possible, and as a bonus target books that might fit in with other challenges that I’m taking on (more on that in a later post).

Monday 2/1/17

Progress: Started reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, made it about half way through. Delightful read and perfect to start off the 2017 reading year!

Challenge: Introduce Yourself #insixwords

Whimsy personified, midwife, feminist, avid reader.

Tuesday 3/1/17

Progress: I finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell today – definitely lives up to its reputation as being a book you can’t put down!

Challenge: 2017 in a Picture

I hinted a little about my 2017 goals in a following tweet, but I can’t say much because it will spoil my upcoming 2017 theme post. It’s safe to say that being on the verge, standing on the edge are key.

Wednesday 4/1/17

Progress: I got to 36% through Liesmith by Alis Franklin today, loving it so far!

Challenge: Book to Movie

Thursday 5/1/17

Progress: I finished Lisesmith by Alis Franklin last night and started Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn (an ARC I’m delighted by!) Still just in the beginning of that one, but it opens well.

Challenge: Book Spine Poetry

Friday 6/1/17

Progress: I continued with Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn, which I am really enjoying! I also started Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, which has an excellent beginning that hooks you in.

Challenge: If you like this, try this… I wish I’d had a chance to get to this challenge but I was absolutely flat out Friday and Saturday and didn’t get a chance at my laptop.

Saturday 7/1/17

Progress: I was super busy all day so I didn’t get much reading done at all. I did continue Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn which I continue to enjoy.

Challenge: Free day!

Sunday 8/1/17

Progress: Finished Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn and I absolutely loved it. Can’t wait to review it (I have a backlog of reviews to write up). I also started Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire, I love McGuire’s writing style so even though I’m just a few pages in, I’m really enjoying it so far.  I didn’t end up finishing my 4 books by the end – but I lost most of 2 days where I couldn’t read so I’m still pretty happy with 3 and a bit.

Challenge: Free day!

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017 Pledge Post

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

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

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

If you’ve not come across this challenge before:

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

Bout of Books 18

Bout of Books button with determined woman in yellow looking tired and surrounded by books.I wanted to join in with Bout of Books all last year and the timing never worked out. I nearly piked again but I am leaping in at the last minute to participate after all! As the tagline says, I was going to read this week anyway!

I’m setting a ‘nice to have’ goal of maybe 4 books to read this week as part of the challenge. It’s a little more than I could ordinarily read in a low commitments week, so I figure it’s a nice stretch and an excuse for me to spend the week with my nose in pages.

Sign ups close soon, but if you want to join in there’s still time: Go forth and sign up on the Bout of Books blog!

For those that don’t know what Bout of Books is… here you go:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 2nd and runs through Sunday, January 8th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 18 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Completion Post

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

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

2016 Books Read and Reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge

Journey Through the Twelve Planets

Smaller image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.Stephanie and I had hoped to complete this challenge in 2016, but the second half of the year hammered us and so we’ve still got 6 books to go. That said, this has been a very worthwhile challenge and we’ve enjoyed it a lot. In particular for myself, I’ve read authors I had been meaning to read for ages, and kinds of fiction that are outside my comfort zone – with good results.

Nightsiders by Sue Isle

Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex

Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti

Showtime by Narelle M. Harris

Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren

Nightsiders - coverLove and Romanpunk - coverThief of Lies - cover

 

Bad Power - coverShowtime - coverThrough Splintered Walls - cover

 

 

 


Reviews at The Conversationalist

Who’s Afraid by Maria Lewis

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

Kid Dark Against the Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts 

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

 


Reviews on Goodreads

Fake Geek Girl by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Innocence Lost by Patty Jansen

Glass Slipper Scandal by Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Seduction of Lord Stone by Anna Campbell

Unmagical Boy Story by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tempting Mr Townsend by Anna Campbell

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

AWW16: Kid Dark Against the Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #11

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

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2016

Genre: fantasy, super heroes

 

 

Kid Dark Against the Machine - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

What’s a retired secret superhero sidekick to do?

 

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Review: He, She and It by Marge Piercy

He, She and It - coverARC Review:

Title: He, She and It

Authors: Marge Piercy

Publisher and Year:  Originally published 1991, this edition published by Ebury Digital, 2016.

Genre: science fiction, dystopia, feminist fiction,

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions – and the ability to kill…

From the critically acclaimed author of Woman on the Edge of Time, comes another stunning novel of morality and courage. A Pygmallion tale for the modern age, this classic feminist speculative novel won the Arthur C Clark Award.

My Review:

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

He, She and It was a revelation to me, I’m so glad I got to read this and am so glad that somehow this book came to me exactly when I needed it. There is as much about this book that is literary as science fiction, to the benefit of the book and the story it tells. It has incredible depth and is written beautifully, with poignancy that I think is rare to find.

Relationships are central to this book, relationships of family, of parent and child, of community, of spousal partnership, of professional collaboration. Although many readers may centre on the romantic relationships portrayed in the book, these make sense only in the context of all the other relationships that are part of the tapestry of this book. They do not exist in a vacuum or in isolation from the rest of the story.

We follow Shira’s point of view as the dominant protagonist, although Yod and Malkah’s point of view features as well. The worldbuilding for this story is deft. We start with a picture of an enclave, such as we might imagine in any future science fiction city, perfectly coifed and artificial, everything manufactured – the suggestion of control and surveillance is everywhere. We are then introduced to the free city Tivkah, resisting the multi-corporations and having enough skill and leverage to hold onto tenuous freedom and the city’s prized democratic community. Upon losing custody of her son, Shira flees the multicorporate enclave she is employed by and returns to Tivkah, her childhood home. She takes up a position with the scientist Avram to assist him in the socialisation of his cyborg creation Yod.

I didn’t fall in love with Shira at first, and in fact it took me a very long time to warm up to her. Instead, I was drawn to Malkah, matriarch and storyteller, scientist and programmer with a formidable intellect. I took a long time to warm up to Yod too, but I think that is by design from Piercy – as Yod’s experience with personhood grows and expands, so to does the reader’s ability to recognise and appreciate Yod’s personhood. We are invited to mirror Shira’s experience in working with Yod and his socialisation, although her qualms are always situated as her own foibles, and not so much larger moral questions for the reader to ponder. Those questions come more from Yod himself, as he reads Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The crux of the book is the creation of Yod, a cyborg. A story that parellels the creation of a golem in the 1800s. Both created to protect, but as weapons with innate violence in their nature. This is something both the golem Joseph and the cyborg Yod struggle with. My take on it is that this is profoundly to do with existing in the world, regardless of being a human person or not. You cannot erase lived experience, you cannot unlearn compassion or empathy readily – even if you did not come to then naturally and were created whole, as with golem Joseph and cyborg Yod.

I keep coming back to the richness of Tivkah as the locale surrounding the story. A community, built on socialism, collaboration, and fierce anarchic independence. Tivkah is a Jewish city, the days and rituals and experience of the inhabitants within centre the normalcy of their daily lives as Jewish people. This is given further depth by the story Malkah tells for Yod about Joseph the golem. When Nili, a cybernetically enhanced woman from once-Israel, now a dead zone joins them for a time in their city and helps them to defend it, further layers to women, surviving, climate change, resistance, feminism, family and purpose are revealed.

The resolution of this book is one I found deeply satisfying, although it wasn’t an ending as such. Instead it felt like a change, where the people whose lives I’d followed for some time were about to embark on a new era of their lives, but the chapter for this part was over and it was time to part. I valued that and it is a  significant part of the poignancy that I observed as part of the book. There is hope and optimism amidst the realism of living in a dystopia. But people live their lives, they do the best they can with what they have, they value the people and ideologies that are important to them. As do we all. Perhaps with less grace than those in the free city of Tivkah.

I had begun to think maybe I had lost the ability to appreciate deep books that you must read slowly, over a several days and sittings. This book is a compelling read, but it needs breaks – time to think between putting it down and picking it up. Life has to be lived in between reading pages, because it is a book that is about the everyday, about living life, the constraints and difficulties we all face – small and large. I learned in my reading of this book, that in depth, more demanding books are not lost to me, merely I must simply find the stories that are stories for  me – and not dwell so much on stories that other people loved and I did not.

He, She and It is profound and I firmly believe one that will yield much more upon rereading. I loved the abiding feminism in this book where there were so many female characters and relationships between women in all kinds of ways. Women performed all kinds of roles, from the familial and maternal, to great scientific works, piracy, and military defence. The breadth of capability, of choice and recognition of both was startling and wonderful to me. And this is why I don’t think that this is a book of romance, despite that it is one of the plot arcs that is used to contextualise so much of the story. It is like having a spine in the human body – our spine does not define us, but it is critical and unique. Complexities surrounding relationships between parent and child, family in general are also similarly critical to the telling of this story – they are not less important than romantic relationships.

I loved this book, I count it among those I loved best in my reading this year. Although first published in 1991, He, She and It tells as compelling and profound a story in 2016 as it did when it was first published. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who loves a really good science fiction novel. Unlike many dystopian stories, this book is not at all grim, there is no constant sense of doom. Instead, this book is about life, living and problem-solving as well as possible in a future where technology is rampant and equal parts the solution and the problem to the climate change-ravaged future portrayed.

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.

 

#T5W: Books You Want to Finally Read in 2017

Who doesn’t like a good list? I love lists! And December is a listy time of year! Stay tuned for more lists, reflections  and round ups. In the meantime, here’s a new thing I’m going to join in with periodically, #T5W or Top 5 Wednesday – book and reading related prompts (sometimes with other media). This list is of 5 books I’m determined to read in 2017. I’ve just joined this lovely Goodreads Group for Top 5 Wednesday, or #T5W, where there are topics that you can post about every Wednesday. This post is belated for December 7th, but I am so interested in the topic that I’m making it my first post even if belated.

So! Five books I really want to get around to finally reading in 2017, in no particular order:

King's Dragon - coverKing’s Dragon (Crown of Stars #1) by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is one of those authors where given that my introduction to speculative fiction was through epic fantasy, I have no idea why I haven’t devoured everything she’s ever written. I have a strong desire to address this defecit in my reading history, so I’m determined that in 2017 I will start on my Kate Elliott backlog.

I expect that Renay of Fangirl Happy Hour and Lady Business will be especially happy knowing that the time where I too will read (and probably love) Black Wolves is visible in the distance.

Half-Resurrection Blues - coverHalf-Resurrection Blues (Bone Street Rhumba #1) by Daniel José Older

This has been on my to-read list for quite a while. I’ve seen a few things that Older has written on the internet and appreciated them, so he’s definitely someone I want to support. Also, his fiction sounds like it’s right up my alley – I am such a fan of urban fantasy. I’ve also heard really good things from others about how great this book is so I’m determined to get to it in 2017.

Carry On - coverCarry On by Rainbow Rowell

This book has come to me as a rec from both Galactic Sububia (I think it was Tansy who raved about this one?), plus Renay of Fangirl Happy Hour and Lady Business also fangirled about this hard. It sounds fun and cute and a nice play on fanfiction and I’m so up for that. Rowell’s books have been rec’d to me from a bunch of places, but this one in particular has my attention to read first (and if there’s a different one I should read first, please tell me int he comments, I care about these things!). I expect this is also the kind of delightful fun read that will be good for being in my third year of my midwifery degree.

Broken - coverBroken (Extrahumans #1) by Susan Jane Bigelow 

I’m a fan of the Book Smugglers, and what I’ve read from their published works I’ve universally enjoyed. I’m intrigued by a super hero novel that is a dystopian science fiction novel as well. I am also a sucker for books that are loved and rescued by an indie press in order to publish the last book in a series, I’m so glad for Bigelow that this happened for her, an unfinished series is the saddest thing! I’ve gotten to read some brilliant and beloved books this way, so I can’t help but be optimistic!

Outback Midwife- coverOutback Midwife by Beth McRae

This is the only non-speculative fiction book on my ‘must read in 2017’ list. But since I’m about to go into my last year training to be a midwife, it’s probably not at all a surprising pick! I’ve heard good things about this book generally and I am drawn to midwives telling stories about the work they do and those whose lives they affect. I’m interested in all the ways in which midwifery is or can be culturally situated. Honestly if someone wants to hand me a book about fantastical or science fictional midwifery I promise you, I am SO THERE. In the mean time, a book about a midwife in the outback rounds out my list of five.

 

I should point out that this list was hard to compose, just five things is very hard when your ‘to read’ list is sitting at nearly 850 after all. I really think I need to go through and do some culling, I’m certain that not all the books I’ve added there I still want to read.  On that note, feel free to tell me what else from my ‘to read’  list I should prioritise rather than allowing it to continue languishing.

AWW16: Through Splintered Walls (Twelve Planets #6) by Kaaron Warren

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #9

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

Author: Kaaron Warren

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2012

Genre: speculative fiction, horror, Australian

 

Through Splintered Walls - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

Country road, city street, mountain, creek.

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

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

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

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

 

My review:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit - coverARC Review:

Title: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2)

Authors: Becky Chambers

Publisher and Year:  Harper Voyager, 2016

Genre: space opera, science fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect and Star Wars.

 

My Review:

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

A Closed and Common Orbit is an incredible follow up to the standout A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and Chambers has outdone herself in bringing to life a whole new set of characters. They’re familiar faces, but the story has shifted away from the crew of the Wayfarer and now we follow the journey of Pepper and AI Sidra – formerly known as Lovelace. One of the aspects of this novel that I appreciated most right from the beginning was the emphasis on names and their importance to an individual in how they express themselves. Names have history, they have a loadedness, they can be given, applied, attached, chosen, searched for, and I imagine they could even be grown. Here there’s no ceremony or poignancy around our AI protagonist choosing her name – it’s a necessity and aside from a comment from Pepper about names having weight and importance and that it would be nice to have more time, it’s not really possible and one must be chosen. And so we meet Sidra, almost as she starts to meet herself really.

The story of Sidra is one where an AI protagonist comes to terms with being in a body that doesn’t feel like her own, in a story and a narrative that she’s expected to build, but which she feels at odds with. And yet, despite the ways in which her inherently technological nature is reinforced, so to is her sentience. She struggles with some of the aspects of self-determination, and embraces others and I truly think that the writing of this kind of AI body is one of the best I’ve seen in that it tackles some of the ways in which plonking an AI into a humanesque body isn’t a like to like transition. Instead, overlays of memories and associations, textures, and sensations are used as associations with stimulus that Sidra comes across – particularly when eating or drinking. It’s a great touch.

I love the way that even as we explore Sidra coming-of-age we also look back into Pepper’s history, including how she met Blue. And here, once again Chambers gives us the depth of a story that is at its core optimistic, but where there is depth, and consequence – bad things happen and they must be acknowledged and dealt with in some way. Giving Sidra space and opportunity to explore her future is in some way Pepper’s way of coming to terms with her own past and it’s a lovely  narrative circle, we immediately identify with the nobility of Pepper’s aims, and our hearts weep with her in how confronted she is by this as well, searching for her own long lost AI companion.

There is so much to love about this book, and it’s similar in what was there to love in the first book. Stories of found and chosen family, of friendship and relationships that are negotiated and complex. Within the story there is queerness and differences in gender identity explored, but it’s not trite or token, but built into the story and character interactions without also ever being ‘the point’ of the character to be ‘the genderqueer one’ – it’s simply one personality trait amongst many inherent to the character, and this is true of the others as well. It’s warm and refreshing and it means I can see myself in the story – even if I’m not explicitly there, I’d fit, I’d make sense, I wouldn’t be the villain, nor outcast necessarily and that’s always a win for me. There’s spaceships and video games, virtual reality, storytelling, tech and hacking, politics and cultural differences between groups of sentients. There is so much scope in this universe that Chambers has created and I can’t imagine a book in this universe that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to read.

If you enjoy space opera, particularly with an optimistic view, you will enjoy this. If you enjoy books with heartwarming characters you can fall in love with and feel bereft without, you will enjoy this. If you want a coming-of-age story with a difference, with sentient AIs and everyday-heroes then you’ll enjoy this. The writing is delightful, I read this voraciously and loved every second. The book came to life for me and I want to reread it again already – it’s incredible and again, one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - coverReview:

Title: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1)

Authors: Becky Chambers

Publisher and Year:  Hodder and Staughton, 2015 (Originally published through Createspace Independent in 2014)

Genre: space opera, science fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with theWayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.

But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

 

My Review:

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is without question one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I am sad that it took me so long to get to it. Optimistic space opera, space ships, friendship, found family, a wonderful array of characters I fell in love with immediately and the most interesting take on wormhole construction yet.

This book hits almost every button I think I have for stories that make me fall in love instantly. I got galactic civilisations, thoughtful interesting alien cultures which were neither tokenised nor stereotyped. Space travel and flight really involved the travelling part and that was an excellent part of the story narrative. I loved that I got a sense of what it was like to be part of a crew on a ship where there could be many weeks between docking into ports and what that looks like in terms of interpersonal skills and ship management. Oh, the emotional intelligence work involved here it was just gorgeous! I’m all a-swoon about it.

Rosemary is our main point of view character and she’s initially quite a mystery, she withholds so much of herself that you almost risk not liking her, and then it all kind of comes tumbling out and instead you want to make her a cup of tea and make friends. I loved the interactions between the other crew members and each other, especially resolving conflicts, of which there is a major one and it was particularly satisfying in how that eventuated.

I loved the way that bad things happen, there is injustice, corruption, greed, and struggling, but that this is handled deftly by the author and that there is the feelgood emotional payoff in resolution or simply in acknowledging the reality and letting it be there – without making it worse or hammering it in such a way that leaves me raw. There’s a realism in the way it’s presented that I value, but it’s not out to traumatise me, it’s not the point of the story, it’s just part of the ordinary background that makes up a world. You can tell a story and have it focus on the positive outlook, without shunning conflict, upset, or bad things happening – you go through everything with the characters, but the author brings you safely out the other side. There’s comfort and catharsis in that. It’s a big reason why I fell so hard for this book and why it’s an instant favourite.

I love the way in which this is a story of inclusiveness, but it’s never heavy handed. There are queer relationships and characters, disabilities and differing sometimes clashing cultural and racial considerations that are all noticeable, but not as tick boxes. They’re part of a three-dimensional texture about this book, they build on the story and the characters, they’re never trite.

This book is like taking a deep breath of fresh air, and being hugged by all its wonderful words. I’m so in love with this.

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.

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 Stephanie Gunn

Snaphot Logo 2016

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

Snaphot Logo 2016

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.

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: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station - coverARC Review:

Title: Central Station

Author: Lavie Tidhar

Publisher and Year: Tachyon Publications, 2016

Genre: science fiction, mosaic novel

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

 

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #6

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

Author: Deborah Biancotti

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: speculative fiction, mystery, crime, urban fantasy

 

 

Bad Power - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

My review:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #6

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

Author: Lucy Sussex

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, collection, anthology

 

Thief of Lies - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

 

My review:

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


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

Alchemy

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

Fountain of Justice

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

The Subject of O

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

Thief of Lives

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

 


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

 

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #4

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

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

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

 

Love and Romanpunk - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

History is not what you think it is.

My review:

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


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

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

Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary

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

Lamia Victoriana

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

The Patrician 

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

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

Last of the Romanpunks

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