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 beginning. That’s rather delightful actually as I could read Tansy’s portrayal of Julia Agrippina any day!


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

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #3

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Nightsiders (Twelve Planets #1)

Author: Sue Isle

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: science fiction, dystopia, young adult

 

Nightsiders - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

In a future world of extreme climate change, Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, has been abandoned. Most people were evacuated to the East by the late ’30s and organised infrastructure and services have gone.

A few thousand obstinate and independent souls cling to the city and to the southern towns. Living mostly by night to endure the fierce temperatures, they are creating a new culture in defiance of official expectations. A teenage girl stolen from her family as a child; a troupe of street actors who affect their new culture with memories of the old; a boy born into the wrong body; and a teacher who is pushed into the role of guide tell the story of The Nightside.

 

My review:

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


 

This book is the first of the Twelve Planets, single author collections produced by Twelfth Planet Press and is a strong start to such a unique project. This collection by Sue Isle features four interwoven stories, each complete in its own way and each contributing to a larger sense of a dystopian future Australia. This world is painted so vividly and I join the chorus of others who hope that the author may venture back into this universe with a novel at some stage.

The Painted Girl

What I most appreciated about this story is that we’re introduced to the world of Nightside through the eyes of Kyra who is both young and confused. In some ways her understanding of the world around her is solid and broad, but in other ways there are many unknowns and her naivety shows. I appreciated that Kyra’s understanding of things centred around rules – but that where you were and who you were engaging with meant the rules may be different. I also liked that it is kindness, that Kyra reached out to Alicia that motivated the girl from the Drainers to help her in turn when Nerina turned against her.

This story is a subtle introduction to post apocalyptic Perth, called the Nightside because only the Drainers walk the day time any longer. The story that Isle has written presents both harsh realities of a broken-down society post apocalypse but also connection and hope, how people come together and work together too. Of particular note is the idea of choice, for Kyra, who has had so little choice in her life. The notion of choice is what lingers after this story has finished. The Painted Girl is a fantastic introduction to this world and its stories.

Nation of the Night

This was one of my favourite stories of the collection. Ash is such an interesting character and following his journey to pursue self-hood was powerful. In the present day, pursuit of identity presentation and representation, aspects of gender and the sexed body are fraught and difficult to achieve. In this story Isle explores what it may look like for a transgendered person in a post-apocalyptic society, where medical care is much more scarce and choices seem both more and less limited.

What really stayed with me was the difference between the present I am reading from, and the present in which Ash finds himself. Although many of the difficulties that exist outside the book in the present day, still exist in some form for Ash, the simple acceptance of him by Prof. Daniel, the doctor and those he meets in Melbourne. The question is only around his capacity to make adult decisions about himself, his body and his life – not interrogating the truth of his experience of self and gender. Such a sharp commentary on the state of things here in my present as a reader.

My only criticism with this story was that although the journey to Melbourne and home again was described as difficult that didn’t really seem to be the case. Instead, it was that Ash was an outsider in Melbourne, even as a temporary visitor that seemed more difficult to navigate – the lack of accommodation, lack of familiarity with the city and it’s particular rules. Additionally, even the constraints on the doctor in doing the favour for Ash in performing the surgery, what was possible and what his recovery would look like.

I appreciated the New Zealand family and their point of view that Ash met. Their experience and point of view provided more context as to the Eastern States and how the evacuation from the West had affected them. How, the city was trying to keep people out because of overcrowding and limited resources, how some people were lesser than others as immigrants and what the effect of this was. How, Nightside might seem like a better life to some if you found you couldn’t keep things together in Melbourne. That juxtaposition of difficulty and nod to the idea of the grass being greener on the other side was well done I thought. I found myself wanting to know what happened to the family as Ash headed home back to Perth, ending the story.

Paper Dragons

One of the themes that I thought this story highlighted, was the nature of interdependency, connection and reliance on others for shared wellbeing. The Elders rely on others to help support them, and they in turn provide support, care and knowledge. I am curious as to how Tom’s play troupe came together and why it holds such importance in their small community – there seems like there’s a story there. Not that I dispute the importance of story and community in a society like Nightside, just it seems interesting that it is prominent and held with such respect alongside survival activities – as though it is of equal importance. The why of that is interesting to me and I wish that had been explored more.

Although it’s suggested that the pages that Shani finds of a screenplay could stir up more trouble than they are worth (is the title a reflection of this I wonder?), the trouble itself doesn’t really manifest. Although the Elders do leave their houses and come to see the play – but I’m never sure what actually makes this play different from the rest put on by Tom’s troupe – why is it that the youngsters putting on the play is what shifts the balance and awakens the Elders somewhat?

I feel like this is a story of questions, that this is a story that provokes but doesn’t satisfy and that is perhaps one of the points. So much is unknown, by the youngsters, so much is forgotten or painful to the Elders, what they create together is the in-between. This is an intriguing story and I loved that we got to see Ash again, back from Melbourne and happier in himself and also accepted by the others.

 The Schoolteacher’s Tale

My other stand out favourite from the collection. I loved the way that we started the book with a confused young girl, who introduced the reader to Nightside, and that the collection ends with the story of Miss Wakeling an old woman adapting for a the future and being confronted with the need for change. I love that Shani and Itch are getting married, and have sought out the Aboriginal Elders out on the fringe of the Nightside, specifically because they see the importance of change and growing together, sharing knowledge and moving forward. There was so much hope in this story, and so much suggestion of coming together in a way that hadn’t happened before. I also love that the notion of knowledge and school and what education is useful in a dystopian future? This was such a great ending to the collection and also seemed like a beginning. I would love a novel from Miss Wakeling’s point of view about her journey out to the sea.

Overall 

There was so much to enjoy about these stories, diverse characters and situations, points of view, parallels to the present day that were nicely pointed. I loved that both Melbourne and Perth were so recognisable to me! I love that the apocalypse has already prompted adaptive changes from the inhabitants of Nightside – the children see better in the dark for example. There are so many women here and they are simply capable and interesting in their own way – even Nerina who is cast as perhaps the only unlikable character in the book. I almost didn’t notice this because it just seemed so normal and comfortable to read – and then I remembered how rare that is. Also, I love that this is not a gritty story of horror-survival but one of massive change, but still with community at its heart. I just want to reiterate how  much I’d love a novel from this world, it’s so interesting and I want to spend more time here.

Recent Podcast Link Salad

Ever since I started my part time job I’ve been powering through podcasts like there’s no tomorrow, it’s been grand actually. I also have a plan for when I’m working less (and stop entirely) that involves long walks and podcasts; that too will be grand. I talked a while back about podcasts I’d fallen in love with – but that was all the way back in October. Time for an update!

Galactic Suburbia IconGalactic Suburbia

There’s a strange, wonderful thing that happens when you start listening to the back catalogue of a podcast that has been running as long as Galactic Suburbia has been. I started out listening to all of 2015, then I finished that and went back to 2014 and then just yesterday finished 2013. I love all the episodes and look forward to them every fortnight, but recently I particularly enjoyed episode #135, the Star Wars VII Spoilerific – it was glorious. What I noticed was the progression of conversation, the way certain topics resurface – but in a new light, for new reasons, and how conversations that were more recent draw on conversations from past episodes. The whole effect is like getting to appreciate the many layers of something and see them individually and as a whole. It’s been rather marvellous I have to say.

I’ve never really been focused on reading from the same year of publication or for awards (my own experience of awards related organisation broke me for quite a long time, much longer than I’d have thought, I’m hoping that’s mostly done with). Until last year that is where I started to get the idea of what that excitement of reading in the year of publication was. Very possibly I’ll read more books published in 2016 in 2016 than I’ve achieved in any other year! I’ve also managed to go back and fill gaps on previous award shortlists and winners that I’m interested in – taking advantage of the time passed, recommendations given and reviews posted. I’m reaping the rewards from this massively.

Outer Alliance IconThe Outer Alliance

I’ve been exploring Tor.com lately and this is one of the things I discovered, my plan is  mainly to listen to the episodes with guests who sound interesting, or who I admire or who are on my reading list. I’m not certain if this podcast has ended or is on hiatus (or something else), entirely. However, so far I’ve listened to episode #50 talking about Glittership with Keffy Kehrli and that’s another on my list of things to look up and try. I also listened to episode #47, an interview with Susan Jane Bigelow – who is on my to-read list thanks to Fangirl Happy Hour. Those were minutes of listening well spent, I loved friendly style of Julia’s interviewing and am especially supportive of her idea that there should be more space cats. I definitely added more to my reading list, such as (Angel in the Attic by Rebecca Tregaron) from this podcast and look forward to listening to more past episodes in the catalogue.

Midnight in Karachi BannerMidnight in Karachi

Also from Tor.com and on my ‘try this’ list for quite a while. Another one where to start off with, I’ll look particularly to listen to authors I admire or those who are on my to-read list. I listened to Midnight in Karachi and fell in love with Mahvesh Murad’s interviewing style and the intelligence and eloquence that are hallmarks of this podcast. So far, I’ve listened to episode #11 her interview with Genevieve Valentine (and added The Girls of the Kingfisher Club to my reading list), episode #13 and her interview with Nnedi Okorafor, episode #15 with Frances Hardinge, episode 17 with Naomi Novik, and episode 19 with Daniel José Older. Such awesome guests and interviews so far!

Tea & Jeopardy IconTea & Jeopardy

I also listened to a bunch of the back catalogue of Tea & Jeopardy because it’s short, sweet, thoroughly entertaining and light hearted. Also I was in the mood for a bit of a story which comes with this podcast. I listened to episode #3 with writer Paul Cornell, episode #4 with literary agent Jennifer Udden, and episode #5 with SFX editor Dave Bradley. I’m so charmed by this show.

Sheep Might Fly IconSheep Might Fly

A new podcast! And a new favourite! First episode with Tansy Rayner Roberts reading her fiction starting with part 1 of Fake Geek Girl from Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 14, Issue 4. I am hooked!

Fangirl Happy Hour IconFangirl Happy Hour

This was my best podcast discovery of 2015 and I just keep wanting to hug it. Recent episodes I’ve listened to include episode #31 – High Five Awards 2015, episode #32 – No Fucks Given 2016 and the 2016 Hugo Season Quick Shot. I was getting all excited about participating in the Hugo Awards this year, but the exchange rate is so terrible that I can’t afford the supporting membership to enable that. Maybe next year instead. I’ve held off on episodes 33 and 34 because I have homework first. Namely, watching Jessica Jones and reading Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. Also have to decide how much I care about Agent Carter season 2 spoilers.


 

So that’s what I’ve been listening to! This isn’t all the podcasts I’m following, but it’s the ones I’ve listened to in the past week or so.  If you have any recommendations based on these that you think I’d particularly enjoy, let know in the comments 🙂

Chrysalis for 2016

It’s finally time to talk about what my enquiry for 2016  will be.

If you’re new to my blog and have no idea what I mean by theme, it refers to my personal practice of engaging in a gentle year long enquiry that is more subconscious and occurs in the background rather than involving overt and specific actions over the course of the year. It’s about a guiding idea of focus and thoughtfulness – I wrote about this in more detail if you are interested.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith - 2014

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith – 2014

My theme is Chrysalis, like what butterfly pupae go through as part of their metamorphosis. Unusually, I’ve had this word since late December last year, after a conversation with one of my best friends – she mentioned it idly but that tiny little inner bell I associate with intuition, pinged and I took note. Interestingly, at the time I didn’t realise that I’d spoken about butterflies and transformation when I wrote about Becoming in February last year. Chrysalis seems fitting and feels right because it’s not a dramatic change from Becoming, it’s more of a transition to a different enquiry, a shifting of focus ever so slightly. I’m still in the process of, I’m not done yet, transformation is incomplete and I’m not ready to emerge.

On @Dilettantiquity’s advice when we had our annual theme conversation (and this year we’ve pledged to vidchat much more frequently), I looked up Chrysalis on wikipdedia and youtube. What I learned reinforced how well this theme fits for the year ahead. This is not a theme I’m excited about per se, it’s a theme that feels like a warm blanket, it feels like a nest, and like self-protection and self-care. Given how grinding last year was, this makes sense to me. Given the likelihood that this year will be similar in several respects, this also makes sense to me. I’m especially enchanted by the association of the cast off skin hardening, something like armour and becoming somewhat metallic in appearance.

If last year was a much more inward year than I expected, then this one is presenting itself as more inward focusing still. I’m okay with that, up to a point and I’ve put in place gentle steps to avoid feeling lonely and cut off socially when things are hard later on. I expect I’ll remain very low in social energy throughout the year, but that easy social activity with people I’m close to in low-stress settings will be a world of good. And so I’ve asked people to gently check in with me and make socialising easy if they can. I feel like I’ve already given my future self a huge gift by having this conversation with some of my closest friends in Melbourne, because right now I have the forethought and the energy to put it in place, and later I expect I’ll value this previous effort and hopefully I and my beloved friendships will reap those rewards. It is pretty clear to me that I am a person in ebb at the moment, rather than flow or abundance. This is all good and well, part of balance.

Even in an inwardly focused year, there are aspects of my life that I’d like to put some energy into, that I hope I’ll learn something about through my enquiry. Chrysalis will be interesting – I have no idea what to expect from it, and just because my associations with it suggest self-protection and self-care and so on, the actuality may look vastly different. There’s always something amazing and unexpected that occurs as a result of letting the enquiry just be there in the background working away at your subconscious. Still, here are some things that are important to me that I’m putting energy towards this year.

Reading, Media and Fandom

Although I was so very exhausted at the end of last year, I also found a lot of joy and solace in reading, in media – especially podcasts and feeling more connected to fandom in general than I have for several years. I’m really hoping to continue to nurture this! I wrote about reading goals I have, they’re very similar to those I had last year where I’m seeking to improve on some aspects but not using these as a stick to beat myself with. I’m focusing not just on number goals but on participation, community and sharing. Yay bookclubs!

I want to continue to listen to and revel in the podcasts I’ve fallen in love with – they helped me through last year so much! Also, they’re the perfect motivation to go for a good long walk which I need help with, so yay! I also want to enjoy the reading and blogging projects I’ve instigated, because the projects themselves are super awesome, and I adore the people I’ll be doing them with. I enjoyed reviewing books I was reading massively last year. It was so much fun and I felt much more connected to what I was reading!  I want to continue with a similar level of reviewing here, but I’m also giving myself permission to review directly on Goodreads for some books too if that’s what I want.

I use reading for stress relief, for pleasure and leisure and as part of my bedtime routine – those things mean that I do read fiction throughout the year, not just study books and it’s been one of my best mechanisms for self-care for several years although its importance to me is something I’ve sometimes taken for granted.

Midwifery - art, science, care - quoteMidwifery

I just want to do well. I want to do well, I want to learn. I want to be the best midwife I can be. I want to regain my confidence on prac. I want to explore how to rework an essay from last year into a piece I can submit somewhere as a formal publication piece. How do people actually learn to do this? I’m halfway through my second undergraduate and I have no idea. I want to pass all my units with good marks. And along with regaining confidence, I want to impress the hospitals I’ll be doing pracs at while I’m there – and I must remember to ask for recommendations ahead of third year and interview preparation stuff. Also I’ll have my halfway degree review this semester and I must  somehow get past being petrified about it. I’m so passionate about midwifery and feminism, their importance to healthcare, to women, and to families. I want this so much it *hurts*. Although this is second on my list behind reading, it’s one of my key priorities for the year and everything else needs to work around it.

Self Care and Development

A slight change in focus for this topic this year. I want to focus on self-care and resources to shore up my own resilience to stress and difficulty. I’m looking less at things that are about pushing my boundaries and painful growth – they may happen anyway, but I’m not going searching for it, it’s not an overt priority. So, gentleness, small things, joyful things, connection, health.

I want to maintain connection and the chance to be social with loved ones this year, I expect this will be hard with scheduling between classes, prac, assessment, exams and energy levels. But I’m doing what I can to promote the success of this by asking for help from those I’m close to in Melbourne so that catching up is as easy as possible. I also want to go to Continuum, I’ve got my supporting membership – just need to make it full and I’m good to go! Bonus if I can stay in the hotel for at least a couple of nights, but that’s wishful and a bonus. Going to the convention last year was one of the best things about the year and I hope this year yields similar joy.

I want my partners to have a better year in all the same ways I want to have a better year – less stress that is hard to manage, less mental health concern and more coping. Less energy needed for coping. I want to smile seeing them enjoying things more and I want to do everything I can to contribute to their joy. I love our household and I want it to continue to be the haven and sanctuary that we rely on and trust each other with. I want to do fun house things and enjoy family rituals around events/times of the year that add to whimsical joy. I want there to be more photos of me, more photos of us together – there are no recent photos of us together and since it makes me feel sad, I’d like to remedy this.

I want to do some de-cluttering and organising of my stuff that’s still packed (mainly because I don’t have bookshelves, but not entirely). I might ask for help from someone to come and keep me company while I do it (I don’t mind doing it and I don’t think it will be emotionally hard, just company during would be a great impetus to get it done. I would like to come across bookshelves that I like and work for the small amount of space I have in my room for them – I want to unpack some of my books so I can read them. This is about my bedroom as an optimal nest, for relaxing and quiet time, but also study, depending on what’s needed.

I want to try and get to some Wheeler Centre events and other easily accessible and cheap/free things throughout the year in Melbourne. I enjoyed this when I was able to manage it last year and it made me feel more connected to my beloved city and less like I had to miss out on everything because of budget. I’ve already booked in for some things in February and March that I’m looking forward to as well, so this is on track already. Melbourne-ness, I want to enjoy it, because I am so in love with this city.

Health stuff, I just want to do the best I can and gently followthrough on things as needed. I’m dealing with some reflux stuff that’s unpleasant, but my doctor is awesome so I’m in great hands. The rheumatologist at the Royal Melbourne has been great and is happy to provide specialist support even though I don’t need much to help manage and improve what is possible with my hypermobility – I don’t have anything that would qualify as a chronic health issue with any degree of seriousness – the steps I’m taking is to keep it that way. My pain is very manageable and fatigue is rare.

I want to increase my activity levels, not just for the physical benefits, but also to find ways of prompting the emotional benefits. I enjoy walking and would like to see how I go with swimming – I find exertion triggering/distressing and I’m aiming to avoid dealing with that bucket of stuff at present. My plan is to use podcasts to help with motivation for walks – I am really enjoying listening to them and short of an actual person to talk to, they’re excellent company for walking. Also, there is a huge and beautiful park local to me that I can also take better advantage of. Plus, zoo visits – I have a membership and enjoy casual visits to see what’s happening and changing with the zoo. Plus, walking distance from my house so actually pleasurable excercise!

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 want to continue to keep up my blogging efforts, both here and my ‘5 things a day’ effort on my Dreamwidth journal. I’m looking forward to the blogging review projects that I’m involved in like the Journey Through the Twelve Planets, I’ve wanted to do something like these for ages so they’re definitely a priority in this area. I also want to review books and write about fannish things if the mood strikes. I want to talk about movies and television, about podcasts and new-to-me stuff! I want to try and host the DUFC once, I want to write about feminism pretty much at all, and same about midwifery if possible. I want to blog about cooking and family thoughts – poly stuff and budget stuff. I have a bunch of ideas noted down – hopefully I’ll find some time to write about them. And if not, that’s okay too.

I would like to make it back to Perth this year, to see partners, chosen family and friends – and I’d like it to be any other time than Summer. I am hoping to have Kaneda over here for our 19th anniversary – I didn’t get to see him at all in 2015. I’d also like to make a to visit other friends who live elsewhere – Adelaide, Sydney or Brisbane maybe? This is a wishful thing as it’s not likely possible with budget constraints, but I’m making space for it. I want to spend a few days with Mum – I didn’t manage that at all last year mainly because of study things and related stress, plus work. I’d also love to do a few days away in regional Victoria by myself on the cheap as part of my plan for self care – I’ve figured out that in a bunch of ways I need to be away from home for it to be a holiday, preferably where I don’t have to make my own food.

Also, I still want to get my license. I want to get past this. I want it because it will make prac and followthrough things easier, it will give me the chance to apply to do the continuity of care program prac next year for my course. It will give me a sense of achievement to have *finally* done it. I still want to take a mini-road trip by myself to celebrate. I think the way to get through this is to do a couple of lessons about passing the test. In the meantime, I need to encourage Ral and Fox to take me out driving so I can get comfortable with my own sense of competency again. This is one of the harder goals I have for this year, but I really want to get it done this time.

Cooking

This focus is as  much on framing as anything. My major household contribution is around management of meal planning and food decisions, and a hefty chunk of the cooking. Mostly I enjoy this! Some days it’s a bit harder. There’s a lot I enjoy about cooking and I’ve discovered I really like trying new recipes. I also like revisiting familiar ones and just *knowing* what they’ll give me. Sometimes I’m creatively minded to make up something to cook, but it’s not how I operate generally at present. So I’d like to continue to have meal planning work for us, to minimise groceries needed and food wasted. I’d like to continue to have lunches for uni/work easily organised. I’m encouraging Fox to cook more often this year and I’m aiming to get him confident with stir fries, soups and basic stews/casseroles. I would like to keep trying new recipes, but also spread out the rotation of familiar recipes that we liked and that worked well for us in the past couple of years.

I’d like to have people over for dinner as part of my easy socialising desires – especially if on those nights I can encourage Ral and Fox to cook sometimes. Maybe I’m also interested in a monthly dinner that is a general social invite alla the Friday Night Meatballs concept, although I can’t imagine preparing the same dish every single Friday, and maybe Sunday night would work better schedule wise given it would be almost Fox’s weekend and a chance for something easy/low key to be really lovely. The key is ease and connection. I want to increase the amount of meals we eat that are vegetarian and vegan, but again, I don’t want this to be a stick to beat myself with. I want to continue making our own stock – it’s such a time-saver and makes the dishes we cook taste better – the bone broths especially, but there’s no reason not to have veggie stock given it’s largely made out of scraps, so less waste. I also want to see if I can manage one preserving effort of some description this year, although honestly this is a bonus goal.


So that’s my current thinking with Chrysalis – it’s very me focused, and very much looking at ways to promote my sense of wellbeing while managing my obligations and commitments. This focus feels right to me, as at present I still feel too close to burnout for comfort, I’m still exhausted, still feeling acute stress and not ready for everything to start again. But, I will do the best I can – I am surrounded by the most amazing partners, chosen family and friends. Plus, I’m not afraid of asking for help or seeking support where it’s available. I want to get through this year whole, I want to avoid feeling burned out and damaged if that’s at all possible given how intense second semester will be. I want to appreciate the many small moments of joy and use them to help me through the harder bits.

A final note, a huge thank you to Kim C. Smith over at Nature is my Therapy for letting me use her gorgeous photo of the monarch butterfly chrysalis as part of my post. She has some incredible nature photography that’s well worth a look.

 

Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badge

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #2

Escape YA Bookclub Profile ImageEscape Club Bookclub: January

Title: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)

Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016

Genre: Young adult, dystopia, science fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

Illuminae - coverMy Review:

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

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

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

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

— (spoilers) —

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

— (end spoilers) —

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

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

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

2016 Reading Goals

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

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

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2016Overall Reading Goal:

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

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

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

Read with Diversity in Mind

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

Participate in Bookclubs

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

Escape YA Bookclub

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

Vaginal Fantasy Bookclub

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

Our Shared Shelf Bookclub

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

Sword and Laser Bookclub

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

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

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

Undertake another Secret Unannouced Reading Project (SURP)

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

Unpack and Read Some of My Physical Books

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

Our Journey is Officially Launched!

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.Here’s to the beginning of an exciting year and a Journey Through the Twelve Planets!

Steph and I have put together a blog to collate reviews plus any other interviews, giveaways and extra content throughout the year. We’ve started things off by talking a little about what led us to take on this challenge.

Our reviews of the first collection Nightsiders by Sue Isle will be going up at the end of the month, and then at the end of each month thereafter. You can join in at any time, feel free to join us for the entire challenge, or or at any point throughout the year if some books interest you more than others. Additionally, if you’ve previously reviewed any books in the collection, link us as we progress and we’ll include your reviews with the others.

Moving on from Becoming and 2015

It’s taken longer than I wanted to get to this point where writing was possible. But that happens sometimes and I just needed to go with it. Last week I had my annual conversation with @dilettantiquity about our theme stuff. We have a unique insight and understanding of each other in part because we are so very very different, but there are strong similarities too. I love our relationship and even if this is the only conversation we manage in a year (and recently this has been the case), it is one of the best conversations I’ll have all year. Guaranteed.

Often when we talk, it’s to sort out what maybe the year ahead will bring – a theme for the new year can sometimes be elusive. This time for us, we needed much of the time to talk through the year we’d just been through and what our 2015 enquiry had looked like at the end of things. For me, at the start of the conversation, I didn’t know at all. And then we talked it through, and it all became clearer and now, I can write about it.

First of all, I have such an appreciation for me of January 2015 writing about Becoming for the first time, being so optimistic, hopeful and determined. I love that person, she’s ace! The year I hoped for was so far from what actually happened, so many things about the aims I put forth to focus on yielded unexpected results – some involved no results at all, some were merely different, and others changed me.

Mostly what I can describe 2015 as is, a continuous grind that never, ever let up. When I wrote up my end of year meme post for my Dreamwidth journal, I was struck that there were few really big good things. There was my first baby catch back in January, and Continuum in June, getting a part time job that is actually pretty great in September so more money for the last part of the year in our budget, and Christmas with chosen family in December. They’re moderately big, big compared to everything else, but not that big.

The continual good things were my partners, especially Ral and Fox and our determination to have a good life together as a family and household. That was easier only on some days and mostly just hard because of circumstances. We worked hard at managing on one income between three of us, and that income is not an easy one because Fox is pretty much at the end of his tether with this job, but we need it and so he perseveres. Med school for Ral seems to be an unusual method of torture that tries to talk you out of something you’re passionate about, good at, really worked hard to do, and yet get there and it’s like walking on broken glass the whole time. He perseveres too amidst several difficulties, and despite being awful this year was less awful for him than last which is a win. I’m so very proud of them and I love my Bat and Fox so very much. 

Baturday Fox cub close up

We balanced focusing on making sure all the essentials were paid for first, with then afterwards trying to say yes to each other for little things and treats – a game, a cheap dinner out, a new piece of clothing/shoes/my favourite moisturiser. We also focused a lot on kindness with each other, on making home safe and a haven for each other, on being there for each other and sharing the load – being flexible with that because coping varied considerably. We did the best we could and mostly it worked, most of the time – I think that sounds like faint praise when really given everything that we dealt with, it was pretty wondrous.

So Becoming as an enquiry was less about my journey around midwifery and taking on the qualities and actions of a new qualification and career, less around personal self expression and surety. Instead, it was more about Becoming a household that is even more tightly knit, and one that makes do and works hard at that. It was about Becoming more familiar (and less) with dealing with the effects of mental illness and what that looks like as something ongoing without resorting to blame or resentment. Becoming was about making space – in that way of pouring energy into spacemaking to facilitate home, safety and care. And it was also about my Becoming a midwife and being rattled around in that journey throughout the year – it was gruelling and my confidence remains quite shaken.

Essentially this was a much more inward facing year than I’d originally anticipated – I thought it would be more outward projecting. Inwardly there was lots of digging deep for more energy, for coping, for life administration, for health matters, for mental health (mine and partners), for emotional labour, domestic management, for balancing it all. That’s mostly what I remember, constantly steeling myself and seeking to dig deeper. But I managed. We managed. We all came through it, more or less in one piece. We know that eventually it won’t be this hard and that things will be better. In the meantime, we keep digging in and doing the best we can.

Looking more specifically at aims I had or goals I wanted to achieve:

Reading, Media and Fandom

My biggest area of success last year – by far! And an expansion in scope! I already wrote my wrap up post about my reading commitments from the beginning of last year. They went really well overall. I met my overall reading goal of 75 books (although some of them were shorter). There was more diversity although not as much as I’d have liked. I joined a site as a reviewer and have been enjoying the process of reviewing ARCs – it’s a little different than simply reading for pleasure, but I enjoyed it massively and reviewed much more often than I have any other year.

From Ashes Into Light cover Beast's Garden cover Hexomancy cover

I did more tracking of my non-fiction reading for uni – in short it was a lot. I posted some of it, but unless I have the energy to comment on the things it’s just a bibliography, and while pretty, isn’t that interesting. I absolutely wowed myself with reading and reviewing 17 books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge too! I also had a huge number of books on my ‘favourites’ for the year which was awesome and I also got to write an end of year wrap up for those.

A Trifle Dead - cover The Dreamer's Pool - cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverVision in Silver - cover Ancillary Sword - cover

Mythmaker coverMy favourite movies of the year included Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, both movies that just… elated me on a feminist and fan level in so many ways! Is this what it looks like when you get to be the target audience?

There was also some great television that I watched, new to me but mostly not new in 2015. My favourite was Steven Universe, just everything about it in every way. Followed by Librarians and Elementary both wonderful, as was Rizzoli and Isles, Major Crimes and Castle. I’ve also finally started on Agent Carter, Supergirl and Jessica Jones and am also really enjoying Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary.

This was also the year that I got back into podcasts in a huge way! I’ve long meant to get back to listening to Galactic Suburbia regularly and they introduced me to Fangirl Happy Hour which I am so delighted with I can’t even describe. I just want to be friends with both of the hosts and talk about All The Things! Fangirl led me to Tea & Jeopardy and Rocket Talk both of which I am also enjoying immensely. Thanks to all of these I experienced the great book recommendation deluge of 2015, my current ‘to-read’ list stands at 687 at the time of writing and I think it actually doubled this year.


Shifting Shadows - cover
Cranky Ladies of History - coverPrudence - coverThe Price You Pay is Red - coverThe Long and Silent Ever After - cover The Bloody Little Slipper - cover

 

 

 

 

Midwifery

I worked so hard last year on this degree, on this new career I am pursuing. I am so passionate about it and determined. I want to be the best midwife I can be. It was a hard year, but I got really good marks overall. However, my end of semester prac didn’t work out and I have to repeat that which added a year to the degree. This meant a lighter second semester – although honestly it didn’t feel like it. The experience of needing to repeat a unit, especially given the reasons was hard to deal with and has left me really raw. The gravity of what I’m taking on continues to gr

ow inside my head and heart but I also still have the sense that I can really do this, that this is possible. I’m still really enjoying the anatomy and science aspect of things, working hard and doing well. I’m excelling in the cultural studies/sociology side of things though several of the topics were gruelling.

We dealt with hard topics termination, abortion, pregnancy loss – all of these early and late and the contextual reasoning, the medical side, the legal side, the emotional side – as carers and looking at women’s perspectives. We looked at medicines and their impact, their benefits and always the weighing of benefits against side effects. I also learned fascinating things, like the formation of an embryo and its layers, what happens in the first 2 weeks, 8 weeks of life, when congenital abnormalities are most likely to surface, why and the effects depending on what happens. We spent a lot of time on breastfeeding, but equally, as much time on choice and supporting women who don’t breastfeed. Much of the time was spent looking at all the ways in which the whole idea of how infant feeding happens in modern society is a no-win game no matter what. And my heart goes out to all women feeding their babies, however they do so because there seems no way in which it is not a loaded choice – pretty much every day. I hope I am equal to supporting and encouraging women given all of the context. We looked more deeply into pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood disorders other disorders and issues related to pregnancy including vaccinations, preventable diseases and their effect on pregnancy/infants and sexual health impacts.

I’m impressed with my cohort – we all work so very hard. Their dedication is as obvious as my own and I think any one of them will be amazing midwives. I do wish I wasn’t the only outward/overt feminist. It was a huge year – so much to learn, question, agree and disagree with – this is really barely skimming the surface.

Cooking

Another area of overt success – for the most part. I did a lot of cooking and mostly it was focused specifically on family meals and everyday eating. This included more concentrated effort on taking lunches to uni/work – which was mostly successful too. Having said that we did have some amazing feasts with friends over. I got to try a bunch of new recipes, added new favourites to my rotation and encouraged Fox to continue learning to cook. He had quite a stressful year so this was a very small target between us, but I think he did really well – he cooked pretty regularly and became more confident in the dishes he was able to produce. Making our own stock continued to be one of the best things for making easy food – I can only imagine how many litres of it we went through – maybe 50L ish each for chicken, beef and vegetable?

I did use more of the cookbooks I have – I cooked a little from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, but not nearly as much as I want to. We spent a concentrated month doing a bunch of dishes from Land of Plenty by Fuscia Dunlop and that was absolutely outstanding. I’m so in love with Sichuan food! I cooked a bit from Jamie Oliver’s older books but sometimes he and I disagree on what is ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ (I’m sure I’m not alone in this). The downside of using the physical books is that it’s not as easy to put into my meal plan (a google to-do list of no frills and all awesomeness). I mean, I put the name, the title and the page in there – but it’s not as easy to click through and see if we need any last minute shopping items.

Meal planning was the big success this year, it’s one of the ways in which we got through the leanest fortnights budget wise, and still managed to eat good and interesting food. Previously Ral and Fox struggled to plan ahead food and didn’t much see the point, but seeing the difference it made to our grocery spending, and the reduction in stress because most of the decisions were already made, most of the shopping already done was pretty convincing. We fell away from it in the last couple of months of the year – but given exams, assessments and illness it’s not surprising. Also I think it’s a little different in Summer and we haven’t quite gotten the knack of it – it’s improving in the most recent iteration.

I was delighted to discover the awesomeness of Instagram (you can find me as the usual username there) and regularly photographed the meals I made. It was a delight and I’ve got such a great visual record of how much effort I put into cooking, and the joy that yielded as far as delicious eating is concerned. I spent a little of the year doing more bread-making as well as making my own creme-fraiche. I also made a batch of preserved lemons. Tiny forays into preserving, but ones I’m pleased with, and I hope to continue improving this.

Homemade Pizza with Slow Cooked Broccoli and Buffalo Mozzarella - Oct 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Petits Pois à la Française Redux Quinoa, Broccolini, Snowpea and Cashew Salad - Nov 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015

Blogging

I blogged awesomely last year! I maintained my streak of ‘5 Things About Today’ posts on my Dreamwidth journal – I’m well into the 400s now! I also posted more regularly here, mostly book reviews, but I posted an update on my theme and also on meal planning/budget stuff. Plus I hosted the Down Under Feminists Carnival. I’d have liked more energy to write about feminism stuff, media stuff, and feel like I could write more about midwifery but those things needed too much energy that I just didn’t have. And there will be time again for them later. I’m proud of my efforts – I sincerely met this goal even if there were topical aspects I wanted to cover more.

Self Development

Oh this topic. This largely is what gave in the year just gone. I just didn’t have energy leftover for a bunch of this. I didn’t get my license – I was just too stressed to get over the humps. I need to get comfortable with being familiar with driving again – I’m not driving often enough at present for that. I also think I need to do a driving lesson or two on passing the test. I know I’m a competent driver, but actually doing the test is just a stress barrier I’ve noped out of several times. I still want all the things I wanted at the beginning of last year regarding having my license, but it just didn’t happen.

Unexpectedly, I ended up with a job in September! I’m doing similar stuff to what I’ve done before – content management for websites. The organisation is as far from government and public service as is possible and I’m loving it because of that. I like the perks of this style of organisation – an ad agency. They’re actively seeking to retain people so we have free drinks and snacks, a coffee cart on the floor with super cheap and amazing coffee. Plus everyone is enthusiastic and works hard – it’s actually really nice to be around. I get to feel competent and valued, plus earn money to contribute to the household! I’ve been doing that mostly part time but with chunks of full time and it may continue ad hoc throughout the year until I hit the point of study where I just don’t have a day free to do that any more – we’ll see. I’d like to keep doing it as long as possible as the extra money makes a huge difference right now. Working has meant I could replace clothes and shoes that badly needed replacing, I got a portable air-conditioner for my room – the heat sink of the house which has meant dealing with the heat this Summer just that much easier. Mostly it’s gone on groceries of the non-meal-planning kind, because that fell away when I had less time, and that too is worthwhile and a luxury.

SeClouded Leopard Close Uplf-expression and letting myself be myself. I think this took a hit this year, but there were things. I got my hair cut short and am enjoying it immensely. I replaced clothes and while my style is still a little bit all over the place, I like the clothes I have and have acquired – especially my dresses with POCKETS! I bought more things with cats on them to wear! If I was a cat, I’d be this cat.

I didn’t do dancing, yoga or Pilates, but I did do a reasonable amount of walking – not as much as I’d liked. I visited the zoo quite a lot. Sexuality largely wasn’t a priority – mostly I expect because of stress. But I love my partners and feel loved by them in return. Actually, we all had a hard year last year which seems uncanny given the number of us.

Socialising

I did manage social stuff this year, I made a concerted effort and it paid off. I felt like I still missed opportunities to enjoy time with friends and loved ones, but I also know how limited my energy was. I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life, I have the best friends both here in Melbourne and elsewhere, I treasure you all so very much.

Community stuff, it really didn’t happen – something had to give and I just noped out of this in the end. There is only so  much time and energy – I am not doing so well in having enough energy for myself and those immediate in my life, so it isn’t realistic to think I can volunteer extra time and energy. Actually, I expect this will just have to wait until I’m no longer studying.


How to conclude after all of that? An epic post if ever there was one, but I feel like in writing this I’m properly putting 2015 to rest. And that’s necessary because it’s time to embark on my theme for 2016, which is less of a clear beginning and more of a transition. But for a genuine transition to take place, there has to be reflection, evaluation, an accounting to oneself, an awareness of how far you’ve come, who you are at the end of all this and how to face forward for the future. If you’ve gotten all the way to the end of this thank you, it means a lot. Next will be the reveal of my 2016 theme, but that post is still percolating. Finally, if you’ve done any kind of new year theme, focus, word, resolution write up, please let me know – I’d love to read it. Also, if you want to do something but are not sure how, feel free to comment and ask me, I’m happy to talk about it and share thoughts.

Review: In the Blood by R.L. Martinez

In the Blood - coverARC Review:

Title: In the Blood

Author: R.L. Martinez

Publisher and Year: Lake Water Press, 2016

Genre: epic fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

The Warrior
The war between Dosalyn and Roanaan has ended, but a new battle begins for prisoner-of-war, Ottilde Dominax. Dreams of her witchbreed twin sister are visions of death and betrayal. Driven by their grim warning, she escapes her captors and races across nations to save her sister.

But she may arrive too late…

The Witch
Oriabel Dominax has kept her healing magic secret while she cares for her family’s struggling estate. But the arrival of a new lord with secrets of his own, the discovery of a dark and addictive magic, and threats from a cruel blackmailer push Oriabel closer to disaster.

Through it all, the Witch’s Tree calls…

 

My Review:

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

Every so often you come across a book that reminds you why you love a genre, and Into the Blood really reminded me why I love reading epic fantasy. This story has two female protagonists who are so very different from one another, but united by sisterly love. Their story involves struggles that are generally outside of their control with real elements of sacrifice. I couldn’t put this down once I started and I cannot *wait* for the following book(s)! While reading this, I was reminded of Juliet Marillier’s writing and stories, the quality is lyrical, magical, mysterious and compelling.

I particularly identified with Oriabel, but I loved how forthright and determined Otthilde was! By contrast, Oriabel is optimistic and has a steadfastness that serves her well in service to her community – even though they don’t appreciate her. Hito seems almost too good to be true as a character, but his flaw in rushing to believe the worst of Oriabel balanced that somewhat, and also shows the relative immaturity of their relationship at the time. I am also keen to discover more about the villain and their grand plan to lead Otthilde and Oriabel astray – the end of this book was quite the conclusion and it is self contained, but in that ‘first step in a journey’ kind of way. I am eager to see  what happens next!

While this book has strong characters and an engaging plot, the worldbuilding is a little sparse and I didn’t really get a sense of the realm in which Oriabel and Otthilde lived, or the distance the latter travelled. I have some understanding  of the political context of the story, but not actually how the two realms are divided on a broad scale or on the scale of the local populace. Also, the war seems to be quite important but I don’t remember discovering what the point of the war at all was aside from a general urge toward conquest. I hope that over the next book(s) that the worldbuilding improves and becomes clearer – I can sense a potential for more that I don’t think was quite achieved in this book. I did get a much stronger sense of Oriabel’s community, it’s size and how it fit together.

This was a great start to a series and is a great addition to the epic fantasy genre.

 

AWW16: Who’s Afraid? by Maria Lewis

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #1

TAustralian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badgeitle: Who’s Afraid?

Author: Maria Lewis

Publisher and Year: Hachette Australia , 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, paranormal romance

 

 

 

 Who's Afraid - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

This is the story of Tommi, a young Scottish woman living an ordinary life, who stumbles violently into her birthright as the world’s most powerful werewolf. The sudden appearance of a dark, mysterious (and very attractive) guardian further confuses her as her powers begin to develop and she begins to understand that her life can never be the same again. The reader will be swept up in Tommi’s journey as she’s thrown into the middle of a centuries-old battle and a world peopled with expert warriors and vicious enemies – this is the start of a series – and a world – you will fall in love with.

 

 

My review:

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

New urban fantasy from an Australian author? Count me in! If this is the beginning of a new urban fantasy trend in Australia then I’m all for it. First of all, I have to mention the excellent cover! Features the protagonist! Looks like the character described in the book! Not in an impossible and ridiculous Sexy Pose ™! Fantastic! Also love the title which is a nice play on words about wolves which amused me given the context of the story featuring werewolves.

I enjoyed a lot about this book, I really liked Tommi as a protagonist. I appreciated her strengths and flaws, I appreciated her sense of self within her family. I absolutely loved her friendships and friendship group. I thought the way Tommi’s casual relationship with Poc was portrayed was thoughtful and insightful – not all relationships have to be the forever romance kind. Overall I appreciated most of the relationships in the book. I thought the potential relationship between Tommi and Lorcan was well written and came together in a way that worked for the actual story – it wasn’t an instalove thing, and the story didn’t bend reality around their falling in love. Right now we have lust and complicated feelings of companionship; it makes sense and it’s realistic. This approach by Lewis shows Tommi’s relative emotional maturity as well which also goes a long way to offsetting the age difference between her and Lorcan. If I have any disappointment in character development it’s probably with Lorcan, he remains a bit too much of a fantasy and not really part of the reality of the story for meat this point.

This might be a weird thing to comment on, but I enjoyed reading about Tommi’s  job – not that it was an integral part of the story exactly, but it was interesting and unique to read about and definitely added to my sense of getting to know Tommi as a person. I loved that she’d been training in martial arts for a long time – that it was something she’d used to deal with her anger/temper for a long time. The background of this went a long way to balancing out her proficiency in her training with Lorcan – she already had a solid background so being good at parts of it made sense. I thought that her reactions to things that happened to her were also really well written, realistically portrayed. Everyone *wants* to think that they’ll react just as they want to when the bad thing happens – and you just can’t know that it’s true, and more often than not, it doesn’t happen the way you imagine it.

What I disliked quite a lot about the book was the portrayal of Tommi’s Maori relatives. One villain from an unknown past I can understand, even if from an Indigenous racial minority. However, there was a broad strokes portrayal of the entire family group as ‘the bad guys’ which is frankly a racist trope and leaves me feeling distinctly uncomfortable. This could have been offset if Tommi had interacted with other Maori groups shapeshifters or not, but she doesn’t and so we’re left with Maori’s as villains which I’m not okay with. I’m particularly disappointed with this aspect because one of the reasons I was looking forward to reading the book is because it featured an Indigenous People and my initial impression was that they were part of the story but not necessarily the villains. Also, if they’re such a large family clan of shapeshifters – they can’t all be villains, that makes no sense. Maybe some of this will be address in following books in the series, I’m hopeful of this and definitely want to continue reading. However, I can’t not comment on my disappointment with how the Maori characters were treated as villainous tropes.

2015 Reading Goals Wrap Up

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

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

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

Specific goals I outlined:

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

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

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

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

Books by Indigenous authors I reviewed include: 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Books I reviewed by non-white authors include: 

Falling in Love with Hominids - coverGrace of Kings - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Favourite Books of 2015

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

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

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

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

From Ashes Into Light by Gudron Mouw

From Ashes Into Light cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1) by Gail Carriger

Prudence - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Vision in Silver - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Balance of Trade - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Shifting Shadows - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2) by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Cranky Ladies of History - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge Wrap Up

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 badgeI’ve been staring down this post as my deadline before the end of the year for a couple of weeks now, and I’m so pleased I’m going to get it done. I didn’t really think through what it would mean to abandon reviewing as I went in the last couple of weeks of December so as to focus on achieving my reading goals, because wow there were a lot of reviews to do in a short space of time! And yet, I DID IT! I’M HERE! YAY!

I announced that I was joining the challenge again in January with my Reading Goals for 2015 post, which was ambitious but I’m really happy with where I’ve ended up, but for this post I’m concentrating specifically on the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Also, it probably goes without saying, but I’m looking forward to signing up for 2016 as well! Maybe you’d like to join in? Choose your effort level, choose what works for you, read and review, read and skip reviewing – it’s all possible! I’ve read so many books that I otherwise might have passed over and enjoyed them so much – we have such talented writers here in Australia!

Back in January I pledged at the Miles level – to read 6 books and review 4. Well! I set it low deliberately because with study I had no idea how things were actually going to go. As it turns out, I’ve well and truly surpassed that goal by reading and reviewing 17 books by Australian women writers. I don’t even know how I did that! But I’m delighted! I also did read more diversely than I have before, although not as diversely as I’d like to manage in future.  Also worth mentioning that I didn’t rate any of the books I read for this less than 4 stars – they were all such great reads.

So what did I read and what did I think? Attempt at succinct summary in 3… 2… 1…

The Tara Sharp Series by Marianne Delacourt

Sharp Shooter - cover

Sharp Turn - cover

Stage Fright - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This series convinced me that I enjoy reading crime – as long as it’s seriously entertaining and not too heavy. Tara Sharp is an awesome protagonist and I loved these books! I’m so glad to hear that Twelfth Planet Press will be reprinting these and bringing out book 4 – I can’t wait!

 

Leopard Dreaming by A.A. Bell

Leopard Dreaming - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third and final book in the series about Mira Chambers and her diamond eyes gave me a very satisfying ending to everything. Mira became herself in full force in this book, her independence and future plans well established and finally, respected. This was such a unique series to read and I enjoyed it a lot.

 

Peacemaker and Mythmaker by Marianne de Pierres

Peacemaker - cover

Mythmaker cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These books do exciting things with urban fantasy, ecological dystopia and a kind of western-punk genre. It’s the best kind of genre bending story that hooks you in and doesn’t let go. I love the protagonist Virgin Jackson, her sidekick Nate Sixkiller (not that he’d like to be called a sidekick by any means), and the rest of the ensemble cast. All the characters and the setting are brought to life so vividly and I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

 

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Beast's Garden cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book was one of my absolute stand out best books I read this year. This book is a retelling of the Grimm Brothers ‘Beauty and the Beast’ set in Berlin at the onset of World War II.  I usually shy away from books about any of the World Wars, and especially anything to do with Nazi Germany. However, this book is so beautifully written, so meticulously researched and tells you a story that gives you a small glimpse into what it might have been like to live in Berlin during that horrifying time. It’s never gratuitous but it also doesn’t flinch from what really happened to people, especially Jewish people, during World War II.

The Dreamer’s Pool and The Tower  of Thorns by Juliet Marillier 

The Dreamer's Pool - cover Tower of Thorns - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These books are the first two in the new series ‘Blackthorn and Grim’ by Juliet Marillier. These characters have had a hard life and have been given a second chance by one of the Others, in return for a seven year bond – a good behaviour bond if you will. They set about making a life to wait it out, trying to come to terms with everything. These characters are so interesting, my heart aches for them and I want so much for them a good life. I love their friendship and care for one another, their abiding respect – even if they’re somewhat difficult to get along with generally, they compliment each other well. I love the way they go about solving mysteries, seeing clearly, seeking justice and remain wary of a community that values them. This story is beautifully layered and Marillier’s writing is as always, a joy.

 

The Disappearance of Ember Crow and The Foretelling of Georgie Spider by Ambelin Kwaymullina

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambelin Kwaymullina is one of my favourite author discoveries in recent years, her writing is so very good  and her stories, so very compelling. These two books make up the final two in her Tribe series, and once I started them I couldn’t put them down. Post-apocalyptic but it’s not grim, young adult but it doesn’t lack complexity in the story, the characters or the moral and cultural landscape of the story.  I loved these books with all my heart, they’re new favourites and already I can’t wait to reread them.

 

Skin Painting by Elizabeth Hodgson

Skin Painting - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A verse memoir by an Aboriginal woman about her life, about Australia, about Aboriginality and Australia… so many things, so many words and thoughts. That’s what I’m left with but her words are so much more beautiful. This collection is vulnerable, assertive and unapologetic. This is about as far outside my comfort zone as I’ve ever read, and I really loved this book. It will stay with me for years to come and I hope many more people read it.

The Starkin Crown Series by Kate Forsyth

The Starthorn Tree - cover The Wildkin's Curse - cover The Starkin Crown - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This trilogy is an epic fantasy young adult series from Kate Forsyth and it was a joy to read. I loved the characters and their quests, their friendships and interactions with one another. I loved the romance and the growing up, the coming of age and the taking on responsibilities, facing destiny, making choices – this series has it all. Light reading that is adventure filled, emotionally satisfying and reminds you why you love to read.

A Trifle Dead and The Blackmail Blend by Livia Day

A Trifle Dead - cover The Blackmail Blend - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A crime and mystery series, with dessert on the side. Seriously this is the most adorable series and one of my favourite things I read this year! Tabitha Darling is the most delightful of protagonists and I just want to be best friends with her. Not just because of her cooking either (although sure, it’s a factor). Set in Hobart, this series is about Tabitha who is more of an accidental detective than anything, she knows everyone and notices things and trouble just seems to kind of find her. Awesome series from Livia Day and Twelfth Planet Press, I hope there are many more to come (can’t wait to read the new book in the series Drowned Vanilla).

Spindle City Mysteries by Carlie St George

So 2015 is the year where I finally realised that I do like reading crime/mysteries afterall (although my youthful penchant for Trixie Belden should have clued me into that). I don’t like true crime or scary, gritty, thriller or true crime books, I like entertaining mysteries and crime – crime with fluff and even better if it’s fantastical and speculative. The Spindle City Mysteries are a most excellent example of what I’m coming to recognise as my taste in crime/mysteries. These stories are set in a universe of classic fairytales and have a noir feel to them, with a side of comedy to round them out.

The Bloody Little Slipper - coverTitle: The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper (Spindle City Mysteries #1)

Author: Carlie St George

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“It was half past eleven when I saw her. She was standing at the top of the staircase, with restless fingers and defiant eyes, wrapped in blue silk that clung to her hips.”

Jimmy Prince is a private detective with a tendency to make bad decisions, take on hopeless cases, and ask too many questions. But no one is answering his inquiries about Ella, the mysterious dame who slipped into the Prince family gala, stayed for a dance, then disappeared at midnight leaving just a single bloody glass slipper behind.

With the help of his trusty assistant Jack (a street-savvy teen runaway who is as tough as she is resourceful), Jimmy finally catches a break when one of Spindle City’s most powerful players, the Godmother, lets slip that Ella is part of a much larger conspiracy and not at all who she seems. With every new clue, Jimmy finds himself a step farther down a path that threatens to uncover some of the city’s best kept, and most deadly, secrets.

In Spindle City, all kinds of tales get told… for a price. Asking the wrong question is a guaranteed one-way ticket to the long and silent ever after.

Taking on this new case might just be Jimmy Prince’s biggest mistake yet.

 

My review:

The Case of the Bloody Little Slipper caught my eye when I wanted to read and support more short fiction publishing and in particular wanted to support Book Smugglers Publishing. Fairytales in a noir crime setting sounded interesting and so I gave it a try. The cover itself drew my interest looking very reminiscent of Cinderella, but also hinting toward the noir style of the story. From the first I was transported into the universe of Spindle City, because the language was so markedly difference. This took a little getting used to, and some guessing at times but it was worth it and I felt immersed in the life of Jimmy Prince trying to solve the mystery of Ella.

I love the idea of ‘Prince Charming’ actually being dysfunctional, not too pretty and although that idealistic moral standard is definitely present in Jimmy, it’s definitely sarcastic and a little tarnished. Jimmy was a great protagonist to explore Spindle City along with his sidekick Jack whose story I’m really intrigued by! Ella as the disenfranchised, disinherited orphan is beautifully retold, retaining the mystery of the original fairytale while also giving her greater depth without the singular romantic focus. This story was refreshing and I just let myself enjoy the mystery unfolding – I’m less about guessing where mysteries and crime solving stories are going, and more about enjoying the ride.

St George has created a solid foundation in The Case of the Bloody Little Slipper with the Spindle City universe and I enjoyed every moment and couldn’t wait to read more!

 

The Price You Pay is Red - coverTitle: The Price You Pay is Red (Spindle City Mysteries #2)

Author: Carlie St George

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“All women are dangerous,” Rose said. “Anyone underestimated is.”

When Jimmy Prince–excessively stubborn gumshoe and maker of terrible life choices–stumbles on the corpse of Spindle City’s darling actress and heiress Sarah “Snow” White, he and street-savvy sidekick Jack are once again on a case that threatens to expose ugly truths from Spindle’s dark underbelly. Turns out Snow’s death is no ordinary open-and-shut case involving something as mundane as a jealous coworker or spurned lover. Her murder points to a much deeper, insidious plot that involves some of Spindle’s biggest criminals–as well as some of its greatest, most celebrated citizens.

At stake is a rumored vaccine that could save thousands of lives from the Pins & Needles plague–a disease for which there is no cure, and that has already affected Jimmy’s friends and family in irreparable ways. But as Jimmy Prince knows all too well, hope is for saps, and The Spindle is not a city for those who believe in happy endings. Even when they want to, above everything else.

 

My review:

While we first met Sarah ‘Snow’ White in The Case of the Bloody Little Slipper, she wasn’t much part of that story and I hoped that St George would revisit her story later on. Wish granted! (Just like a fairytale really, complete with bitter edge). A story focused on the Snow White of Spindle City, but unfortunately she’s dead – and why? The impression we’d received in the first book was that she was something of a shallow actress, out to make a living and thumb her nose at her stepmother (lovely nod to the fairytale there).

Here in The Price You Pay is Red we discover there’s more to Sarah than we thought, and yet this is bittersweet because Sarah is already dead. We learn more about the ‘Pins and Needles’ disease that has ravaged Spindle City and that Sarah was likely killed because of something she had to do with a potential vaccine to the fatal wasting disease. This is near and dear to Jimmy’s past based on his own historical relationships.

Overall this  book was much less fairytale retold and much more noir crime  mystery, but that’s not a criticism, it brings that genre to life for me in a way that I may otherwise have never appreciated. Lovely continuation of the Spindle City mysteries.

 

The Long and Silent Ever After - coverTitle: The Long and Silent Ever After (Spindle City Mysteries #3)

Author: Carlie St George

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“Hello, Prince,” the Godmother said. “I’m calling in that favor.”

When Rose Briar–cabaret singer, drug lord, and notorious secret-keeper–disappears without a trace from her club, The Poisoned Apple, Jimmy Prince and Jack are on the case once again. This time, the duo may have bitten off more than they can chew, as their investigation drags them into the path of the Spindle’s greatest and most formidable criminal–one who got her nickname for her tendency to burn her enemies alive.

It doesn’t help that Jimmy is having a hard time focusing on the case, torn between his head’s desire to do the right thing, and his heart’s insistence for that one person who always has three gats, a pen, and a smile at the ready.

But in Spindle City, the long and silent ever after waits for no one–and it’s Jimmy’s turn to dance with dragon.

 

My review:

How awesome are the titles for these mysteries? So freaking awesome. The titles alone make me want to read these books – that happens less and less I find, so I’m especially charmed. While this is the last of the Spindle City mysteries currently planned, I sincerely hope that this changes and that there are more to come because these stories are so wonderful and entertaining to read! I want to enjoy this unique universe and its characters for several books to come – this is truly a great candidate for an expanded universe.

I love that queerness, partnership and friendship feature strongly in this book – more so than romance or rather the romance is subtle, it’s not the main focus but it’s sweetly there to enjoy. I love that this book features more of Rose Red and also the Godmother – who in this universe is not the benevolent creature we’re used to. This story has more intrigue, more adventure and we also see Jimmy deal with his own pride, illness and mortality.

If there had to be a book where things ended (or more hopefully paused) then this is a great book to do that. The story satisfies and you get to feel like you’ve gotten a really good taste of what this universe and its stories are all about. I love the way in which Carlie St George has so beautifully created this noir fairytale sub-genre, the quasi-gritty stylised noir aspect maps surprisingly well to traditional fairytales and they come to life in a whole new way. (Am I the only one who thinks this would also make a great television adaption?) Congratulations to St George and Book Smugglers Publishing on a truly awesome series of books, I enjoyed them so very much and am recommending them far and wide.

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

A Trifle Dead - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #16

Title: A Trifle Dead (Café La Femme #1)

Author: Livia Day

Publisher and Year: Deadlines, 2013

Genre: mystery, crime, cooking

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Tabitha Darling has always had a dab hand for pastry and a knack for getting into trouble. Which was fine when she was a tearaway teen, but not so useful now she’s trying to run a hipster urban cafe, invent the perfect trendy dessert, and stop feeding the many (oh so unfashionable) policemen in her life.

When a dead muso is found in the flat upstairs, Tabitha does her best (honestly) not to interfere with the investigation, despite the cute Scottish blogger who keeps angling for her help. Her superpower is gossip, not solving murder mysteries, and those are totally not the same thing, right?

But as that strange death turns into a string of random crimes across the city of Hobart, Tabitha can’t shake the unsettling feeling that maybe, for once, it really is ALL ABOUT HER.

And maybe she’s figured out the deadly truth a trifle late…

 

My review:

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I discovered that I like crime novels just fine if they’re not too serious, not too horror filled, and about good winning out over the baddies. The Café La Femme series delivers exactly what I want out of a crime and mystery novel, with extra delicious dessert geekery on the side. A Trifle Dead is a great title and play on words, Tabitha Darling is a brilliant protagonist and a character that I just want to make friends with so much! And not just because being friends with her would involve tea and cake! (Although do you need more reasons?)

I’m in love with the Hobart setting, with the café and the various people that Tabitha knows and spends time with. I love that she accidentally ends up chasing the mystery of the dead muso in the apartment above her cafe, and the way her way with people, including the fact that she seems to know everyone, works for her ability to get to the bottom of things. And, it’s not like she means to get in trouble… but she’s also usually quite good at getting herself out of it, but when she’s not, her friends (some of them are police) are there to help.

The writing in this book just lets you melt into the story (like icing in your mouth, really) and I was swept up into it and barely noticed time passing until all the pages were done. This book was sweetly romantic and with great friendships and emotional engagement, but it was also funny – and I laughed out loud a few times. Entertainment, an interesting mystery that I enjoyed watching Tabitha unravel, characters I adore, a setting that makes me long to visit Hobart spun together with writing that is just gorgeous. I can’t recommend this book (and this series) enough – I hope there are so many more books to come!

 

The Blackmail Blend - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #17

Title: The Blackmail Blend (Café La Femme #1.5)

Author: Livia Day

Publisher and Year: Deadlines, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, cooking

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Six romance writers
Five secrets
Four poison pen letters
Three stolen manuscripts
Two undercover journalists
One over-complicated love life
Way too many teacups and tiny sandwiches

This shouldn’t be a recipe for mayhem and murder, but Tabitha Darling has been burned once before and she knows the signs that she’s about to fall into another crime scene.At least she doesn’t have to worry about love triangles any more. Right? RIGHT?

 

My review:

I was so bereft with the ending of the first book – you know that feeling, where the book has ended and there’s no more story left to read! I very nearly went back to the beginning again, but this novella staved off this need and provided that extra helping (of dessert of course) to get me through. Gosh I love these books! Also, how can I not love books that make me want to review them using as many dessert references as I possibly can?!

I was so amused at the whole idea of a romance writers retreat crime mystery that I was almost beside myself with amusement! And then there was Tabitha’s high tea discovery, plus her very own tea blend. Favourite characters return in this and I can’t be the only one who wishes it was a full novel and not a short, but maybe I’m just wishful…

I loved how Tabitha tried as hard as possible to not do any kind of mystery solving or detecting, and that trouble found her anyway. I also appreciated that the events of the first book are still having an impact on her life, how she goes about things which plays into how this mystery unfolds. As with the first book, the resolution of things is not clear cut but is tied up nicely leaving you well and truly satisfied with everything, and wishing you had a high tea like Tabitha’s of your own you could go to.

AWW15: The Starkin Crown Series by Kate Forsyth

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

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

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

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2005

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

 

My review:

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

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

 

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

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

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Pan Macmillan, 2010

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review:

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

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

 

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

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

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Pan Macmillan, 2011

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review:

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

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

AWW15: Skin Painting by Elizabeth Hodgson

Skin Painting - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #12

Title: Skin Painting

Author: Elizabeth Hodgson

Publisher and Year: University of Queensland Press, 2009

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Brave, haunting, and evocative, this powerful volume presents its poetry in the form of a memoir. From the poet’s early experiences in an institution and the effect of this on her family to the illustration of her strength and independence as an adult, this biographical collection helps make the Aboriginal experience accessible and resonant. Exploring themes of art, identity, sexuality, and loneliness, this compendium is both universal and intimate.

 

My review:

This book is a verse memoir, and is well outside my usual reading fare which is firmly speculative in nature. And I loved this book, I’ve never read poetry before that could and was meant to be read by turning each page like a story. Hodgson writes beautifully, her poetry is evocative, reflective, vulnerable and unapologetic. I can’t pick out any particular favourite piece, just that as a whole reading experience it was meaningful and intimate… a glimpse into a life and lives whose voices have been silenced for so long.

I’m so glad I read this book, it’s left me thinking and with lots of Feelings about how we as the dominant population treat Indigenous Australian peoples. Although this is a picture somewhat in the past… I know that it is reflective also of present truths and experiences. We’re perpetuating the same painful oppression over again, it’s painfully obvious to me as I turn the pages. I don’t even know how we do better, tiny small steps from  my own individual space seem so futile and meaningless, but I have to hope they contribute to something bigger, like a dripping tap. The affirmative, assertive, statement driven final poem brings this book to a triumphant close that looks to a future where equality and respect are possible – the possibility is demanded and that too is fitting.

 

AWW15: The Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

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

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

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: ROC, 2014

Genre: fantasy, historical fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

 

My review:

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

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

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

AWW15: The Foretelling of Georgie Spider by Ambelin Kwaymullina

The Foretelling of Georgie Spider - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #10

Title: The Foretelling of Georgie Spider (The Tribe #3)

Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, mythology, science fiction, dystopia, eco-dystopia, post-apocolyptic, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A storm was stretching out across futures to swallow everything in nothing, and it was growing larger, which meant it was getting nearer… Georgie Spider has foretold the end of the world, and the only one who can stop it is Ashala Wolf. But Georgie has also foreseen Ashala’s death. As the world shifts around the Tribe, Ashala fights to protect those she loves from old enemies and new threats. And Georgie fights to save Ashala. Georgie Spider can see the future. But can she change it?

 

My review:

I went straight onto the third book from reading the second and I’m so glad I was able to do this because I don’t know how I’d have waited  for the stunning conclusion to this series! Wow. I loved this book, I loved this series, I hope that it is being read and loved by so many people across Australia and the world because it’s well deserved. I have fallen in love with Ambelin Kwaymullina’s writing style – I don’t think I’ve had a writer crush develop this quickly since I came late to Juliet Marillier’s work! And that’s a reasonable comparison to make in terms of the quality of writing, how beautiful the prose is and how much it draws you deeply into the story, allows you to feel like you really know the characters, almost like you’re in the story yourself. The worldbuilding in this series is also astounding, I can picture this post-apocalyptic world, the cities and the society and the Firstwood, and the way this comes to life in my imagination is absolutely a testament to Kwaymullina’s skill.

And the story! Oh the story! I loved Georgie in the first book, and I’m so glad she’s got her own book and she gets to be a hero in her own way! I love the way this story was put together, both happening in the present, and happening in the past – this really emphasises Georgie’s connection to her ability and how time is a bit fuzzy for her. I love the way that she focuses on what she considers important, but also discovers more about herself. I loved getting to know Georgie, and through her, also Daniel. This book is not as simple as the premise simply to save Ashala  Wolf, it’s about an idea, about change, about the future and about making a difference. Everything comes together in such an interesting way, it’s less twisty than book 2, but the story has you absolutely in its grasp from the first page and you just have to see how it all comes together, how the story concludes.

Stories of The Tribe talk of a post apocalyptic world in flux, a world where although society has embraced many positive changes there still remains inequality, greed, power mongering and malice. What an interesting way Kwaymullina has explored the potential growths and changes in our society in this fictional nearish future book. This book and this series will keep me thinking and questioning for a long time to come. It’s deep and it digs in, the book and this series have something important to say for all who read and I hope they’re left thinking, questioning, looking deeper as I have been.

I hope there are many more awesome books from Ambelin Kwaymullina, I want to read them all, a hundred times over. I’ll be revisiting this series for sure, and I’m absolutely certain I’ll see and learn new things with a second and any subsequent readings.

 

AWW15: The Disappearance of Ember Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina

The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #9

Title: The Disappearance of Ember Crow (The Tribe #2)

Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2013

Genre: urban fantasy, mythology, science fiction, dystopia, eco-dystopia, post-apocolyptic, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“However this ends, you’re probably going to find out some things about me, and they’re not nice things. But, Ash, even after you know, do you think you could remember the good? And whatever you end up discovering – try to think of me kindly. If you can.”

Ember Crow is missing. To find her friend, Ashala Wolf must control her increasingly erratic and dangerous Sleepwalking ability and leave the Firstwood. But Ashala doesn’t realise that Ember is harbouring terrible secrets and is trying to shield the Tribe and all Illegals from a devastating new threat – her own past.

 

My review:

Given how much I loved the first book in this series The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, it’s ridiculous how long it took me to get my hands on the next books in the series! And I’m so very glad I did – this is a brilliant follow up to the first book, I am so in love with this series, with this world, with Kwaymullina’s writing. Wow. Australian speculative fiction doesn’t get much better than this honestly. And I say speculative fiction because this series crosses genres, it’s a bit of several things – enough a little of several things to lay some claim to them, it does so beautifully.

This book picks up not long after the events in the first book, Ashala is still trying to come to terms with things, especially that her Sleepwalking ability isn’t exactly working right. However, with Ember missing needs must and she returns to her sense of self and goes looking. I can’t say much about this book and the story without spoiling things, only that this book takes the story in an unexpected direction, delightfully twisty and I didn’t see any of it coming! We do get more of a glimpse of how the present world of the books came to be, the philosophy and the idea of the Balance as universal governing principle.  I loved that we got to learn more about who Ember is as a person and understand her connection to the Tribe, to the world at large and just how much a role her story plays in the overarching story across the books.

I love that this book is also a story about the struggle for political change, the struggle to make things better, the struggle for equality that parallels so many conversations we’re having now in our real day-to-day lives. Kwaymullina highlights astutely and with insight the conversation about Othering and society, what it means, what happens and suggests that everyone is part of the Balance – abilities or not, but also, this mirrors the idea that either we all have human rights, or we don’t… there’s no actual in-between that makes any sense.

 

AWW15: Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier

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

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

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: ROC, 2015

Genre: fantasy, historical fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review: The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay

The Brontë Plot - coverTitle: The Brontë Plot

Author: Katherine Reay

Publisher and Year: Thomas Nelson, 2015

Genre: literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious measures to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy’s secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt, and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James’s wealthy grandmother Helen hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy’s predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen’s wisdom, as Helen confronts the ghosts of her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters’ beloved heroines, who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of change.

Now Lucy must go back into her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that’s been waiting for her all along.

 

My review: 

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

I enjoyed this book but it was a little bland for me – I have not been an avid reader of Victorian fiction though I admire the Austens and Brontës and their work. This is the kind of story that is absolutely gorgeous if you are a reader of these kinds of books that the story delights in so much, it’s a perfectly matched read. There is a great deal of enjoyment that wasn’t open to me as someone who knew of, but hadn’t read much of, these Victorian novelists.

I liked Lucy as a character, I like how she was flawed and how she grew and how she interrogated herself and her motives. I also really appreciated Helen with her desire to journey before it was too late, to experience things – although I didn’t find it particularly believable that she would take Lucy with her, I feel like their friendship would have needed to be more cemented before that could have made more sense in the context of the story.

James is one of those annoying male characters who comes across as always having the moral right of things, and anyone who steps outside those lines – however well meaning he is, is dropped like a hot potato. This isn’t to say his feelings of being wronged weren’t reasonable to a degree but I felt uncomfortable with the level to which the mistakes Lucy made were held over her by him – there were other parties who had more reason to do that and didn’t, so it cast him in a poor light. He’s one of my least favourite literary boyfriends because he comes across so entitled and while that’s realistic to the world outside of books, I get enough of that outside of books and it’d be great not to roll my eyes while reading a book.

Maybe by now you’re wondering if I even liked this book – I did, it was a solid and pleasant read. Lucy and Helen really really make the book for me, and in particular their trip to the UK. I also thought Sid was a great character, and I really liked his design philosophy even if I’ll never be able to afford him.

Review: Dragonfriend by Marc Secchia

Dragonfriend - coverTitle: Dragonfriend (Dragonfriend #1)

Author: Mark Secchia

Publisher and Year: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015

Genre: epic fantasy, YA

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

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

Author: Ken Liu

Publisher and Year: Simon and Schuster, 2015

Genre: epic fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review: Winter Wolf by Rachel M. Raithby

Winter Wolf - coverTitle: Winter Wolf

Author: Rachel M. Raithby

Publisher and Year: Rachel M. Raithby, 2014

Genre: YA, urban fantasy, romance

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Queen of the Deep by Kay Kenyon

Queen of the Deep - coverTitle: Queen of the Deep

Author: Kay Kenyon

Publisher and Year: Winterset Books, 2015

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

Re-Review: Nirvana by J.R. Stewart

What is a re-review? Well, since I reviewed this book the author has revised the work and invited me to reread the novel. I accepted and since my experience of reading was so different I’m reviewing it anew. This review replaces the previous one, but I have left it published to show the difference in reading experience.

Nirvana coverTitle: Nirvana (Nirvana #1)

Author: J.R. Stewart

Publisher and Year: Blue Moon Publishers, 2015

Genre: YA, dystopian science fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

When the real world is emptied of all that you love, how can you keep yourself from dependence on the virtual?

Animal activist and punk rock star Larissa Kenders lives in a dystopian world where the real and the virtual intermingle. After the disappearance of her soulmate, Andrew, Kenders finds solace by escaping to Nirvana, a virtual world controlled by Hexagon. In Nirvana, anyone’s deepest desires may be realized – even visits with Andrew.

Although Kenders knows that this version of Andrew is virtual, when he asks for her assistance revealing Hexagon’s dark secret, she cannot help but comply. Soon after, Kenders and her closest allies find themselves in a battle with Hexagon, the very institution they have been taught to trust. After uncovering much more than she expected, Kenders’ biggest challenge is determining what is real – and what is virtual.

Nirvana is a fast-paced, page-turning young adult novel combining elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance. Part of a trilogy, this book introduces readers to a young woman who refuses to give up on the man she loves, even if it means taking on an entire government to do so.

 

My review: 

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

What a difference this revision makes to the experience of reading this book! It’s not like a whole new story, but the story that was first presented is executed much better, is more confident, more compelling and many of the confusing elements have been addressed.

Further, where previously I found Kenders to be lacking and one-dimensional as a protagonist, this revision sees her much more fleshed out and a much more interesting protagonist and one I enjoyed reading about much more. Her own history, interests, plans, thoughts and feelings are much more in evidence – she exists for herself now and not presented through the eyes of (male) others. I love that the reader gets to experience her band and her politics more thoroughly – it sets up her reasons for doing things so much better than before and I believe in her desire to create change, to make things better, and to find the truth.

Her relationship with Andrew remains as sweet as before, but is much better fleshed out now. Their connection seems more solid and I can see the life they’ve built together much better. I also think that the way Andrew communicates with Kenders through Nirvana is much more realistic and it furthers the plot much better than before. I love that Prof de Mario is a woman and I hope in future books we get to know her better. H

Also, I love the revision to Serge’s character as previously I disliked him, his protective streak coming across as wholly too creepy with his desire for a romantic relationship with Kenders. That romantic tension remains but now it has a deeper ring of authenticity and avoids being creepy. This is such a relief to me as a reader as creepy relationship dynamics are off-putting to me as a reader, particularly in YA novels, and are also surprisingly prevalent. I’m much happier when a book explores problematic dynamics, but also shows them to be problematic, complex and even better if they also show better, healthier dynamics as well.

Once again the plot of this book really drew me in, the near-ish future, the dystopia and the devastation of the natural world. The corporate secrecy, profiteering at the expense of people and society, and obscene control is very well written, and when you add the potential that technology such as virtual reality holds, with a corporate society that monitors and maintains constant surveillance of their population, true terror blooms. This is all technology and corporate tactics in use *now*, the only futurism in the book is extrapolating and imagining that to a likely outcome. I could see so much of present society in this – and could imagine the future as this book painted it, it’s grim indeed. However, where there is oppression there is also resistance and that is the ultimate message of the book and it sets up the story for future books really well.

I’m not usually one to reread books that I’m not in love with wholeheartedly however, I’m so glad I reread and re-reviewed this book because it went from a book I liked, but wasn’t all that well executed to a much tighter, better story that I really enjoyed so much more and want to recommend more.

 

Review: From Ashes Into Light by Gudrun Mouw

From Ashes Into Light coverTitle: From Ashes Into Light

Author: Gudrun Mouw

Publisher and Year: Raincloud Press, 2016

Genre: speculative fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

From Ashes into Light is a transpersonal tale of epic tragedy, spirituality, family, and personal redemption. It is told through three distinct voices: the hauntingly tragic story of Ruth, a Jewish adolescent during Kristallnacht in Austria, Saqapaya, a stalwart Native American from coastal California during the time of the Spanish conquest, and Friede Mai.

Friede is born during World War II to a Bavarian soldier and a East-Prussian mother. As those around her struggle with the inevitable chaos and paradox of war, Friede opens her heart to gruesome enemies, at times saving herself and family members from atrocities.

With war behind them, the Mai family immigrates to the US, where Friede, her veteran father and ex-refugee mother, struggle with the reverberations of trauma. Friede is unable to find inner freedom until she meets her spiritual guide, a Rabbi, who helps her see that the voices from the past are teachers and the horrors of history are also beacons of light.

The three electric characters weave a narrative of raw consciousness, a moving example of transforming the ripple of suffering through the incredible strength of vulnerability.

 

My review: 

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

Some books are such a privilege to read, they are deep and transcendent, they move you on a deep and personal level. From Ashes Into Light is one such book, it is truly exquisite.

The writing in this book is poetic, it’s  lyrical and it seems to flow as you breathe in and out, one breath to the next. At first I was almost confused by the three different story lines, but they weave together beautifully through the eyes of the phoenix and each story becomes part of a bigger subtle narrative. What I took from this story is that we are all connected, past and present as humanity. We all experience the world in our own way, we all strive to overcome, to learn, to grow, to redeem, to survive. This three-way point of view tale gives such a deep, yet subtle insight into this and I am sure that many others will each take something unique from their reading of the story, it’s that kind of book.

Reading this was transcendent, whatever that elusive quality of books they call ‘literary’ is, this book has it  to spare, it is such a satisfying, confronting, compelling book to read. I don’t think it is possible to be a white person from a colonial background to read this book and not be uncomfortable, as it is written from a very different cultural context, from within persecution, from within discrimination, from oppression, from betrayal and more. The harm visited upon people from war, from the holocaust, from colonisation is very clear in this book and I valued the opportunity to read from these points of view, to hear these voices and simply to listen, to learn a different context from the one history is so fond of telling me.

Sometimes the reading of a book changes you, sometimes you can identify that change, and sometimes you can’t and the experience of reading the book stays with you. This book, with it’s interwoven story through the eyes of the phoenix will stay with me for a long time to come and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Review: Unhidden by Dina Given

Unhidden coverTitle: Unhidden (The Gatekeeper #1)

Author: Dina Given

Publisher and Year: Team D Enterprises, 2014

Genre: urban fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

It’s not always easy to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys, especially when your heroine is a trained killer and she may be falling in love with her evil hunter…

Emma Hayes, a former military Special Forces Operative turned mercenary-for-hire, finds her tightly controlled world turned upside down when she is attacked by horrible monsters.

Emma must use every skill in her arsenal to stay alive as she tries to solve the mystery of why she has been targeted. Her list of enemies keeps growing – from Zane Shayde, an evil Mage, to a secret branch of the US government – and she doesn’t know if there is anyone left she can trust.

To complicate matters further, Emma is inexplicably drawn to Zane in a way she doesn’t quite understand, even knowing her life is forfeit if captured. Who is he and why does he have this affect on her? How can she fight a being that calls to her, body and soul?

Emma is left haunted by questions, doubts and fears as to why she has been targeted, when they will come for her next, and how she will possibly be able to survive against an enemy she doesn’t understand.

 

My review: 

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

Unhidden is a straight up urban fantasy and it’s a great solid read. Emma is an interesting protagonist, she’s independent and smart, interesting and not a people person. I like the way the story unfolds – there’s a lot of action and you don’t get the explanation all at once, you figure it out as Emma figures it out.

The supporting characters were also interesting, I liked that there wasn’t actually a romantic triangle between Emma, Alex and Zane – but that they are connected from the past and that this past still keeps them looking out for one another, even if Zane has been brainwashed by the enemy and works for them. I like that Emma’s romance with Zane comes largely from memory, and I like the way that was shared with the reader – nothing creepy happened and it sucks that I need to say that but it’s true.

Emma is competent and skilled in her story and that has to be one of the things I like most, at no point is her skill played down, her experience – she plans and organises and strategises, she owns the weapons cache. All of this sets up the context of the story where Emma still doesn’t know what’s going on or why things are happening as they are better, she’s  not weakened as a protagonist, she doesn’t become a puppet. I also like that she doesn’t go off by herself to work alone, she recognises her allies as such and respects them – even if she’s also clear she doesn’t trust them.

I found the action and the execution of the plot really satisfying in this book, things didn’t come too easily, the ‘big bad’ wasn’t defeated easily and there were costs, consequences and moral quandaries. This book incorporated a bunch of what I really enjoy about urban fantasy, in an entertaining package that wasn’t too heavy. This is exactly the kind of book and series I read during semester because it doesn’t demand too much of me, and instead gives me the chance to escape, enjoy and fantasise.

 

Review: Last of the Firedrakes by Farah Oomerbhoy

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

Author: Farah Oomerbhoy

Publisher and Year: Wise Ink Creative Publishing, 2015

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

 

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last of the Firedrakes was such a joy to read.

AWW15: The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

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

Title: The Beast’s Garden

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Random House Australia, 2015

Genre: historical fiction, romance, fantasy, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

 

My review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Review: Nirvana by J.R. Stewart

Nirvana coverTitle: Nirvana (Nirvana #1)

Author: J.R. Stewart

Publisher and Year: Blue Moon Publishers, 2015

Genre: YA, dystopian science fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

When the real world is emptied of all that you love, how can you keep yourself from dependence on the virtual?

Animal activist and punk rock star Larissa Kenders lives in a dystopian world where the real and the virtual intermingle. After the disappearance of her soulmate, Andrew, Kenders finds solace by escaping to Nirvana, a virtual world controlled by Hexagon. In Nirvana, anyone’s deepest desires may be realized – even visits with Andrew.

Although Kenders knows that this version of Andrew is virtual, when he asks for her assistance revealing Hexagon’s dark secret, she cannot help but comply. Soon after, Kenders and her closest allies find themselves in a battle with Hexagon, the very institution they have been taught to trust. After uncovering much more than she expected, Kenders’ biggest challenge is determining what is real – and what is virtual.

Nirvana is a fast-paced, page-turning young adult novel combining elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance. Part of a trilogy, this book introduces readers to a young woman who refuses to give up on the man she loves, even if it means taking on an entire government to do so.

My review: 

I loved the sound of this book, and I love the cover art. It’s gorgeous. I also really love the premise and synopsis – this is a great example of a book that captures the interest of the idle browser.

I liked the book and enjoyed reading it, the unique dystopian view is compelling and interesting, I liked the world building and would enjoy reading more in this world. Stewart has done an excellent job presenting a possible future governed by corporate interests over civil governance and environmental disaster. I thought that it was a little confused as to the fact that the ‘Enemy’ and the war was a propaganda campaign, but once that became clear I stopped wondering why the story was one-sided and why I hadn’t seen any interaction with the so-called enemy yet.

The narrative about the corporate secrecy, control, and profiteering is what worked best with this book, this element of the plot worked brilliantly. Unfortunately, it’s hard to connect with Kenders as a protagonist because despite her being the first person narrator of the story, she remains largely presented only through the eyes of the other male characters. From her dead husband, to the Corporal, her long time best friend Serge.

What affects connection with Kenders the most is that her crushing grief leaves her one dimensional – everything is about Andrew and it becomes much more his story, despite his absence than Kenders’. I also didn’t like the creepy control interaction going on with Serge trying to ‘protect’ her but also manipulate her into accepting a deeper relationship with him. I could do with much less creepy relationship dynamics in general in YA books – but since they’re a real threat every day I can get past that, but not without seeing better, healthier dynamics demonstrated – and relationships with dead/missing partners doesn’t really count for that. I really loved the setup of the book, the setup of the romance, Kenders and her band, Andrew trying to get to know her and get past crappy one-liners. I like how they connected and spent time together, and how the love between them blossomed was gorgeous! What I didn’t like is that by the time the present-day story takes place, that romance has subsumed all of Kenders feelings and personality – I know from the first part of the book that she’s not cardboard, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that. I don’t feel like she got to be as awesome as she was set up to be.

I really wanted the intrigue of the story to take me deeper and to bring Kenders out of her grief, have her discover more, and act on the knowledge she uncovers, the book focuses too much on the romantic plot element which to a point is satisfying and believable, but becomes forced and takes over what is really engaging and interesting about the story. I wanted to know more about Nirvana, about Hexagon, about how things got the way they are and what the other secondary characters like the Corporal, the psychologist and Serge think of things – it was there, but I wanted more of that and less of Kenders’ pining. Also, her familial backstory as a motivator is relevant but it was dwelt on in a way that I didn’t find that relevant to the central story. The presentation of this dystopia seems highly plausible, but other than Andrew’s disappearance I wonder what the big threat is – is it further environmental catastrophe and even scarcer resources, is it from Hexagon? Throughout the book that remained unclear to me.

While some books get by purely on characters, this book relies heavily on plot, which Stewert executes deftly. I’m left wanting answers to questions raised by the book and I look forward to the next book.

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

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

NetGalley Review

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

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

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2013

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

 


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

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

 

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

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

 

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

AWW15: Mythmaker by Marianne de Pierres

Mythmaker coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #6

Title: Mythmaker (Peacemaker 2)

Author: Marianne de Pierres

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot, 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, environmental fiction, dystopia

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for an organisation called GJIC with Nate Sixkiller as her immediate boss. Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another. Then there’s the escalation of Mythos sightings, and the bounty on her head. Oddly, the strange and dangerous Hamish Burns is the only one she can rely on. Virgin’s life gets… untidy.

My review:

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

What a great continuation from PeacemakerMythmaker is the new book in this series and it picks up where the last book left off with Birrimun Park still under threat by Mythos, a largely unknown enemy. This book, this series has such grand style about it! Fantastic characters that live up to their outlandish names, government conspiracy, political intrigue, environmental dystopia, the unknown alien enemy, tiny hints of romance – but nothing trite or easy. This book reminds me of Lois McMaster Bujold in the way it blends different sub-genres to get the best telling of a story, and I devoured every word and was left desperately wishing for more! Book two of a series, Mythmaker benefits greatly from reading Peacemaker first, as it builds on the story begun in book one and is clearly working towards a grand conclusion. Having read much of de Pierres’ work, it will be well worth the wait! I reviewed Peacemaker  not long ago if the sound of this series interests you.

This book evokes a believable imagining of a near-future Australian not-quite dystopia. The supercity setting with overpopulation and one remaining nature reserve in Birrimun Park seems real enough to send chills down your spine. One of the elements I particularly liked about Mythmaker was how technology was both an ally and an enemy. Issues with lack of citizen privacy exist, there’s a sense of constant surveillance or close to it, but it also seems to be something that can be manoeuvred around. And similarly, there are limits to the information that can be easily obtained by the agency Virgin is working for with Nate Sixkiller. In this book, technology is used as tool and not as a crutch for the story, something that isn’t always done well but here it’s quite apparent. It’s also clear that the government agency that Virgin is forced to join forces with isn’t telling her everything, but she has great friends and the odd unlikely ally or two that help her get to the bottom of things. This too is what is satisfying, a cast of characters and not one lone hero with the weight of the world on their shoulders – there are always other people involved.

I love the way Virgin isn’t satisfied with being put in a place and told to do a certain thing. She takes the role she’s been given and the constraints and uses them to do things her own way. Also, I really love the way Caro’s role in the story and as Virgin’s friend is continued and expanded as it feels very real to me. This is something that I’ve noticed particularly with de Pierres’ writing is that she writes friendship beautifully, it’s deeply satisfying. If you’re someone who reads for great friendship, then you can’t go past the friendships and character dynamics created in this book, and others by the author (I’d particularly recommend the Tara Sharp books for friendship dynamics, and the Sentients of Orion series for intricate, complex and compelling character dynamics).  All of the characters and not just the protagonists in this series are colourful and so deftly written I can almost picture them as I read, almost hear their voices when they speak – like Papa Brise, Chef Dab, Caro and Greta. I love this and it’s often what has me fall in love with a book or series.

More and more this style of urban fantasy is what I’m drawn to. Stories of a city, stories of a place, but not an old-world foreign, medieval style place. I love the weave of fantasy with modernity! And I love the way that books like this can project into the future the concerns of the present, the consequences of our lack of environmental foresight, the threat of corporate and government oversight and what that change in the context of citizenship and freedom may look like. I love the Australia that is at the heart of this book, it’s a layered mythology that is anything but stereotypical. Instead, it comes across as familiar to those of us who live here, and I think creates an inside view and sense of knowing for readers from beyond Australia’s shores; not in a way that evokes typical imagery or landmarks, it’s deeper and more subtle than that.

If you are looking for unique, beautifully written urban fantasy. This series is for you, Peacemaker and Mythmaker are visionary and deeply satisfying books to read. Mythmaker continues what Peacemaker started ramping up the action, with even higher stakes, doesn’t let up and definitely doesn’t disappoint.

 

Recent Listening

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

The Wheeler Centre Podcasts

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

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

Galactic Suburbia

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

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

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

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

Fangirl Happy Hour

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

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

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

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

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

Feminist Frequency

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

 

The Misandry Hour:

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

Presenting the 88th Down Under Feminists Carnival

DUFC LogoGreetings all! I have sumptuous carnival for you to feast upon this month! You may remember that I said this month I was running with a theme where I wanted to do a retrospective of past DUFC posts, and posts from previous months and years that might have been missed. People have been so generous in their submissions to me both for this current month and the retrospective and I’m humbled and delighted. And now, onto the feast!

 

DUFC Retrospective

Chally of Zero at the Bone wrote in 2012 about working towards the positive and how feminism shaped her view to think of people individually and to try and avoid assumptions as well as being more conscious of people’s boundaries.

Shae of Free Range in Suburbia blogged in 2014 this great post titled Live Louder where she talks about the trolls that try to bring her down and that she’s actually enjoying being a happy person, raising her kids and being herself fully. Love it!

In 2011 Bluebec wrote about Islamaphobia, prejudice, and discrimination faced by Muslim people in the US at the time, it seems rather timely to share her post How to radicalise your population now.

From Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town in 2007, Parenting While Female: “It’s not about you”, on breastfeeding in public and the default male gaze.

Earlier this year, Stephanie of No Award wrote about China through the looking glass about the way Western approval for fashion, design and success is apparently necessary. This post is also about how Western interpretations of certain Chinese fashion particularly period pieces can be appropriative and offensive. The best bit: Stephanie highlights the work of some Chinese designers and wow, their designs are gorgeous!

From Bluemilk in 2010, a post looking at rape and responsibility: ‘But why shouldn’t she take some responsibility too for the rape?’ This post is powerful, it’s written to be confrontational, to paint a crude comparison that absolutely covers all the standard arguments for why women should take *more* responsibility, only when you change that context only slightly and place a man in that same similar kind of situation, it no longer makes sense that he too is to blame. Moral of the story: women need to take *less* responsibility, not more.

Deborah from A Bee of a Certain Age wrote in 2013 some pointed remarks about research and the pregnancy police and our tendency to infantalise pregnant women.

In February, Emily of Mama Said wrote about this idea that as a parent you’re supposed to be grateful *all the time* when sometimes it’s actually perfectly reasonable to want your own bed to yourself. Especially if that’s not likely to happen.

Earlier this year Liz from No Award wrote about Melbourne and Chinese Pirates courtesy of The Argus, once Melbourne’s premier newspaper which has apparently since been digitised for all of you whom are interested in history.

Also 2011 by Bluebec is this post Dan Savage is still biphobic – I’m sure he means well but given the authority with which he speaks after all this time, it’s not really good enough by a long shot.

An extended transcript of Scarlett Harris’ interview with The Sex Myth author Rachel Hills,  originally featured in last month’s carnival (all very good links if you missed it).

Chally at Zero at the Bone in 2012 wrote about Nourishment and how food can bring us joy and connection, it’s not about being a good person or about denying and punishing yourself.

I love this semi-satirical post from Emily at Mama Said from July this year about how getting your baby to sleep. It’s all the things that you’re told from experts, and from every other parent and a few other things besides, it’s a spectacular rant, enjoy it and feel vindicated as needed.

No Award’s Stephanie on her own site back in 2014 about Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: Feminist Ghosts and Monstrous Women of Asia, in Stephanie’s own words: “8000 words on the monstrous women of Asia, feminism, and colonialism”.

This 2014 repost from Bluemilk, her Meanjin piece,  is a beautiful reflective piece on reading and re-reading, on consideration of the self in situations and moving forward.

In 2013, Stephanie from No Award wrote about solidarity for white women and the (white) face of aUStralian feminism regarding interracial narratives and Australia. This is particularly in relation to Australian consumption of US media amongst other things. There’s no perfect way to be across everything, but as always it’s important for us to examine what we’re consuming and why. There are some great links in this post.

And finally, one last piece from Bluebec, The legacy we leave, on sheltering our children from the hatefulness in the world – not from all knowledge of, but the hatefulness itself in the hope that we do not pass this along to them, that they may be better than us.

In May this year, Kate Iselin wrote for Kill Your Darlings about that catch all phrase ‘women’s interests’ which signals to us as always that men’s interests are the public interest and that anyone else remains ‘other’.

Back in 2011 Chally of Zero at the Bone wrote about when resistance looks like capitulation, talking about this idea of the feminine and not refusing it altogether, but making it optional, being able to play with it. Honestly I’m a fan of any post that quotes Luce Irigaray…

Also from Liz of No Award and earlier this year, was this excellent post about attending the #loveOzYA event as someone passionately invested in Australian YA books.

In 2012, Blue Milk wrote a piece on 10 rules for women blogging about their relationship woes. It’s a little bit depressing how relevant these ‘rules’ remain today.

A momentary break if you will, for my favourite cute kitten picture:

Fluffiest grey kitten, cleaning his paws. Text: 'Here we see a tiny wigglefloof cleaning his tiny squishbeans'

 

 

 

And now a varied selection of headings under which the rest of our carnival resides.

 

 

Connection and Community

Brocklesnitch writes about how sharing of news when someone has died has changed, how you can seem to map the spread of the news through people’s reactions across different modes of social media, and how it’s unique and important and helps in its own way.

Deirdre Fidge writes for ABC’s The Drum about introversion and stereotypes, how it doesn’t always look like cats, naps and social stress.

Anna writes on Hoyden About Town calling for a brainstorming session on organising a festival to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, apparently the 300th anniversary coincided with the first ANZAC celebration but so far nothing is planned for this centenary.

 

Race and Racism

TigTog from Hoyden About Town posted a media circus about the use of Vegemite for brewing alcohol, pointing out that at best it’s incorrect and misguided and worst, is old fashioned racism. No points for guessing which localities would be affected by a ‘crackdown’ on shelves of Vegemite.

Writing in Water is a New Zealander living in the United States and writes about what New Zealand can learn from the United States about confronting racism. Writing in Water is a new voice to the carnival and very welcome.

Stephanie of No Award writes about fantasy worlds and real world commentary and how while she’d love to see less white-centric landscapes used in fantasy, she also doesn’t want to see non-white landscapes reduced to stereotypes or used to judge from an outside perspective.

A guest post from Daniel Jack on Celeste Liddle’s blog Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist talks about Adam Goodes and the racism that shows its ugly face when he dared to show his pride in his Aboriginal heritage, while also drawing attention to issues faced by Aboriginal people in Australia.

 

Marriage Equality

In Daily Life, Ali Benton looks at the personal cost to her family with the delay on marriage equality and the way in which Australian politics has generally handled the issue in recent years.

No Place For Sheep writes about the hypocrisy of Abbott saying that the same-sex marriage debate is a deeply personal issue, but then declined to allow Coalition MPs the opportunity for a conscience vote.

Rebecca Shaw writes for Crikey about how the blocking of marriage equality is frustrating, hurtful, incredibly exhausting and deeply personal.

Cristy Clark writes about the spurious arguments against marriage equality including our old favourite ‘won’t somebody think of the children?!’

Celeste Liddle of Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist writes about the Uluru Bark Petition how incensed she was that a small group of Aboriginal people who do not support marriage equality, claim to speak for all Arrernte people in this matter and how they do not speak for her.  (This post is equal parts about marriage equality and racism but since the racism is reflected in response to marriage equality, I’ve placed it here in the carnival.)

Bluebec wrote about marriage equality in Australia and in particular about the five hour meeting held by The Liberal Party on whether to allow a Party conscience vote. It took five hours to decide to maintain the same position (a decision that surprised exactly no one).

Sarah Johnson writes for The Conversation about how a constitutional referendum is a ‘Hail Mary’ for those opposed to same-sex marriage.

Luddite Journo writes for The Hand Mirror about biphobia and Radio New Zealand on the subject of marriage equality. Bi-erasure continues to be a thing all over the place I’ve noticed, it gets so tiresome.

 

Gaby Baby Outcry

Maeve Marsden writes for Daily Life about being a ‘gaby baby’ and how her family is normal in response to the homophobic backlash against the Gaby Baby film which portrays same-sex families and is being screened across Australia as part of Wear it Purple Day.

Rebecca Shaw writes for The Age about how following the homophobic reaction to ‘Gaby Baby’ in NSW that tolerance is no longer the benchmark, and instead the LGBTIQA now requires acceptance. The time has past where society simply must ‘put up with’ queer people, they (we) are fully fledged members of society and should be included and treated as such.

 

Motherhood, Maternity and Childcare

Emily of Mama Said writes about how she’s saying no to experts because while it may be that as a parent she wants to do everything possible to do the best for her kids, no one knows them like she does and she doesn’t need a $150 consultation about how to love them and raise them better, she’s already doing an amazing job.

@datakid23 and @solovii wrote for Open Knowledge Foundation about childcare at Govhack and how it got done.  So awesome!

Andie Fox (of Blue Milk) writes for Essential Baby trying to answer a range of common questions about extended breastfeeding. The post is personal, candid, honest and insightful about the topic.

Emily of Mama Said wrote this beautiful and insightful post about dealing with prenatal depression, there’s a content note for this as it’s dealing with anxiety and depression which may be triggering for some.

This anonymous guest post on Mama Said is sharp and to the point about being a lesbian parent and all the awful ways in which people assume they have the right to ask questions including and perhaps especially, offensive ones.

Blue Milk writes about conversations with children, different snippets and moments that are so lovely when shared. I love posts like these, they always make me smile.

Also about conversations with children, Emily of Mama Said writes about her two year old and the dreaded why stage – this too is lovely to read.

 

Media Reflections

Jo from A Life Unexamined talks about her love for Legend of Korra and how glad she is that the way the show created the relationship between Korra and Asami left things open to interpretation and specifically didn’t push things in an obvious romantic direction.

Alayna Cole writes for Marianne de Pierres blog (there are many worthy reviews of all kinds of stuff here) reviewing Far from the Madding Crowd. Although the movie promises feminist themes, it instead overtly signals independence and empowerment without ever actually exploring or delivering on these elements. This review is insightful and highlights a common issue that happens when popular media tries to assert itself as feminist or diverse but doesn’t really deliver and seems surprised when people react as such.

Stephanie of No Award writes about The Prison Island of Sodor and how Thomas the Tank Engine is not nearly as innocent as we might have supposed. This is a brilliant post exposing the creepiness of a children’s television show with a dystopian flair.

Anwen Crawford writes in Kill Your Darlings about how the experience of watching television  has changed dramatically for many of us – once a central and often social activity, it can now also be a private personal experience streaming directly to our laptops. She talks about how sometimes by screen light you can feel less alone.

Liz writes about No Award watching Glitch, which is apparently not bad, and even quite good in parts and involves dead people, a love triangle, the good of the people, a gothic Australian small town setting and all of the eye rolling that is Australia being afraid of media and the supernatural.

 

Women, Feminism and Meta

This post on comfortable misogyny by Kari Sperring is a special inclusion. This post is not a post from an Australian or New Zealand blogger, or from someone living elsewhere and is originally from around here. However, it is a post that speaks to an experience that is familiar to me, and familiar to many of the women around me in Science Fiction and Fantasy/Speculative Fiction circles. It’s about the insidious aspect of misogyny and the fatigue that goes along with trying to fight against it year after year.

Jemma from stuff.co.nz writes about the importance of normalising swearing for women as it is wrongly seen as the purview of men and that being a woman, credible, delightful and other things as well as swearing isn’t possible. I’m with Jemma because quite frankly, fuck that. (Fuck remains one of my favourite words to say).

Deborah from A Bee of a Certain Age spoke to Radio NZ’s The Panel talking about how what really matters is what a woman looks like.  Jacinda Ardern, a highly regarded New Zealand MP was described as a “pretty little thing” on national TV.

Brocklesnitch writes this awesome succinct post about don’ts and do’s – the list of things we’re not supposed to do grows ever longer and an awesome response to that.

Also from Deborah of A Bee of a Certain Age is this discussion of diversity in prime time and how representation on prime time television and radio is very white, very male, and very middle class.

Stephanie of No Award writes about the role models of No Award, this is a little bit irreverent but there are some marvellous examples here to appreciate.

Kasey Edwards writes for Daily Life talking to a Melbourne based beauty therapist and the most sexist requests for beauty treatments, and how those often come from male partners and are accompanied by a distinct lack of respect, sense of entitlement with the desire to control women’s behaviour.

Scarlett Harris wrote In Defence of Cosmopolitan in the wake of the magazine being put behind blinders in some U.S. drug and department stores.

Georgina Dent writes for Women’s Agenda about Mark Latham’s resignation from the Australian Financial Review amid ‘controversy’ and how this victory is hollow.

Bluebec writes about mortality, not dying but also being aware of not being afraid of dying.

Fat Heffalump writes about how there are always experts, experts everywhere and they all have an opinion on others’ health.

 

Disability

Sonia writes for the ABC on Open Drum talking about career in transit and the difficulty in commuting and with transport generally if you have a disability and getting to work. This is an insightful piece and it highlights something often overlooked: the energy cost of travel that may be what makes employment difficult or impossible for some people, but that assistance and support for those who need it is limited.

Also on accessibility to transportation is this article from The Standard by Rachel Houlihan about how disability advocate Jax Jacki Brown was left hanging by V-Line after planning ahead for accessible train travel to Warnambool failed to eventuate and ended in an offer of a taxi. This was not the solution it pretended to be.

 

Politics

Over at The Hand Mirror, Julie is starting a series of posts encouraging women to run for local government in 2016 in New Zealand. The point is not only getting involved in your community, but working to make a difference and increasing diverse representation in local government.

No Place For Sheep writes about the bias and ethics  scandal surrounding Dyson Heydon as head of the Royal Commission investigating trade unions and with them the Labor Party. Impartiality and ethical integrity appear to be concepts unfamiliar to Hedon or his supporters which include Abbott, Pyne and Brandis.

Also from No Place For Sheep is a great piece on government by distraction, The post criticises the failed Operation Fortitude where it was proposed that the Australian Border Force would saturate Melbourne CBD asking people ‘randomly’ for their identification paperwork seeking to specifically catch out visa offenders.

 

Violence Against Women

Please note that there is a content warning with this topic as it may be triggering for some people.

This month I wrote about domestic violence after my student midwife lectures on the subject stirred up a bunch of memories and feelings. Domestic violence is such a huge issue in our current society – for everyone and I don’t understand why we’re doing so little do change that.

No Place For Sheep wrote about domestic violence and the bourgeoisie, criticising commentary on the issue by Martin McKenzie-Murray and Mark Latham where they deny that domestic violence is an issue that affects women across all backgrounds, race, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on.

Rosie Batty writes from her blog at Never Alone about attending the Royal Commission on Family Violence in Victoria recently and how cultural change around this issue is imperative.

 

Books, Reading, Writing, and Reviews

On the 24th of October in Canberra, Marianne de Pierres is running a Writing Masterclass, it’s a paid event with concession prices available and bookings are necessary. The class will include how to address some of the key issues in writing speculative fiction, including how to build convincing worlds, maintain narrative drive, and effectively blend sub-genres. Perhaps seems like an advert, but part of feminism is maintaining that women should be paid for their work and their expertise and in the spirit of that understanding, sharing this opportunity to work with such an experienced author seems relevant.

Alex of Randomly Yours, reviews Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway describing a story of those who’ve come back from fairyland and wish they hadn’t. This story features a boarding school, a murder, explorations of trust and insecurity and characters who are not all heteronormative. Hopefully this review makes you want to read this novella too – I’m certainly hooked!

Another book review by Alex that I thought might be of interest is a review of Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. This book is of an entire planet as a university with a story about a character whose parents don’t want her to go and study there. I’m really intrigued by Alex’s description of the world and it’s depth, not to mention this author has been on my to-read list for a long time.

I wrote two book reviews  this month for books that I highly recommend. Firstly I reviewed Nalo Hopkinson’s ‘Falling in Love with Hominids’ which was such a pleasure to read. It’s my first time reading Hopkinson and I can’t wait to read more! Secondly, I reviewed ‘Cranky Ladies of History’ edited by Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner Roberts, which I am also proud to have helped crowdfund. It’s a gorgeous collection of stories about women worth remembering and appreciating, women who’ve been hard done by historical record keeping.

Stephanie of No Award wrote up a great post reviewing a bunch of anthologies including Phantazein by small press Fablecroft and Eat the Sky Drink the Ocean by Allen and Unwin, and Dead Sea Fruit a collection by Kaaron Warren that is great food for thought.

Bluebec wrote up two reviews which are of interest, the first a post-apocalyptic review of Coda by Emma Trevayne and another post-apocalyptic review, this time of Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley.

 

James Tiptree Jr.

There were a couple of posts about Alice Sheldon’s 100th birthday this month which coincided with a small press release honouring her alter ego James Tiptree Jr, so I’ve put these posts together in their own category.

Firstly Laurdehel from Hoyden About Town talks about her delight about the release of ‘Letters to Tiptree’, it’s a great overview of the book.

Secondly, Alex of Randomly Yours, Alex, one of the editors for the book has also blogged about the book and has shared several other links that may be of interest, including a selection of the letters published in the book that are freely available as a taste test.

And finally, Tansy of tansyrr.com shares her appreciation for Alice Sheldon’s other alter ego Raccoona Sheldon as part of her ‘Women of the 20th Century’ series.

Many thanks go to Chally of Zero at the Bone for her ongoing coordination of the Down Under Feminist Carnival. Maybe you’d be interested in hosting a carnival? It’s easy and people send you lots of links, plus new voices bring other new voices to the conversation which is always awesome. If you’re interested, you can contact Chally via the Down Under Feminist Carnival site. The Eighty-Ninth Edition is planned for 5 October, 2015 hosted by Rebecca at at Opinions @ bluebec.com. Submissions to rebecca [dot] dominguez [at] gmail [dot] com.

Review: Cranky Ladies of History, anthology edited by Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner-Roberts

Cranky Ladies of History - coverReview for Reviews Sake

Title: Cranky Ladies of History

Editors: Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner-Roberts

Publisher and Year: Fablecroft Publishing, 2015

Genre: Historical fiction, speculative fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens…

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

My review:

I love living in the future! To have the privilege of participating in the funding of a book to really get behind books I want to see in print, to demonstrate with my frugal spending what I really want to read. I am proudly one of those who backed the Pozible campaign that was responsible for funding this book. What an extraordinary time in publishing, to be a reader and hooked into communities and networks!  I funded at the level where I received a gorgeous hardcover book, and I have to compliment Kathleen Jennings on her gorgeous cover and internal illustrations. From first glance at the cover you can see what this book is about, what kind of stories about ladies it tells, and it whets your appetite marvellously.

Historical fiction is one of those things I dabble in, historical non-fiction I just haven’t done remotely enough reading of. But there was no way I could resist an anthology like this that highlights the interesting lives of historical women, imagining how they lived, what they thought and looking at the impact they made – not always for the greater good. And that too is a strength of this anthology, it features all kinds of cranky ladies, from those who seek to improve the moral good, to those who are remembered with horror and fear, daring women, wronged women, women I’ve heard of and those who are brand new to me. This book is both a pleasure to read, and gives you some small insight into the historical significance of several women, mostly those who are forgotten by modern history. It’s not that the book is educational exactly, but it does make you want to learn more, to study these women and their lives.

Stories that particularly resonated with me, and it was hard to pick just a few I promise:

Bright Moon by Foz Meadows:

A woman who is determined not to submit to any man unless he can best her in wrestling, and because she is so fierce and talented, she wins thousands of horses from them as they fail to beat her. I love Khutulun’s fierce spirit and that she is herself and doesn’t have to hide from her father, that he supports her even if he is surprised by her declarations and strength of character. It’s these two things, her strength and his love that really resonated for me in this story.

Due Care and Attention by Sylvia Kelso:

I love the writing tone of this story, it plays in my mind almost as though I’m watching an episode of period drama like ‘Call the Midwife’ or ‘Downton Abbey’ or similar. I love Lilian’s dedication to medicine and care, and reading about the early use of cars in Brisbane was really interesting – particularly including the Royal Automobile Club. I loved in particular her discovery about the water treatment for burns. The whole story was just gorgeous, I’d read a whole novel about Lilian, absolutely.

Hallowed Ground by Juliet Marillier:

What a gorgeous story of piety, commitment and activism. Sister Hildegard has such quiet strength and Marillier’s writing truly brings her to life. I love the quiet opposition, the use of letters and negotiation with logic that Sister Hildegard uses. I love that although she has visions that the story isn’t really centred around them but about her own perseverance in developing her virtues. Trying to better oneself, trying to better the world around you. Such a beautiful story.

The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea by Stephanie Lai:

The storytelling voice in this story is unique, it’s different and I found that unlike most of the other stories which I read in a single sitting, this one I savoured over several sittings because each word and sentence seemed to be so layered. I loved the character of the Dragon, that she was so ruthless and yet operated within her own rules. I love that she had family, children and that this clearly didn’t stop her being both terrifying and powerful. This was one of the stand out stories in the anthology for me.

The Company of Women by Garth Nix:

Another favourite from the anthology, Nix’s story captivated me. I love the mythology behind this story and that Lady Godiva was a saviour in partnership with the bees. I loved the way the story was centred around women’s business in tending the bees, that became the saving of everyone else. This was a perfect short story for me – completely self contained, gave me every satisfaction and left me content.

Charmed Life by Joyce Ching

Queerness and silk discovery, choosing love over a certain kind of elevation into prosperity/wealth/power. This story was sweetness, it was delightful, and I loved that Leizu got to be with her lady love and that nothing tragic happened. Maybe it was different in history, but I’m in love with this story where the story ends on such a perfect note.

The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger by Havva Murat

Strength and determination, proving one self to be just as good as the men who never had to question why they didn’t get to be the best and brightest. Earning the approval of one’s father. Trying to hold out against invasion, this story has everything – as I read the words, it seemed like an action movie was playing in my head! Nora reminds me of every young heroine I’ve read and loved, through this story and seeing her grow into a powerful young woman who seeks to prove herself and be recognised for her strength is so satisfying. I love that she’s hungry for battle, a little bloodthirsty and is full of valour and courage.

Mary, Mary by Kirsten McDermott 

The way this story begins with death, with familiarity and the Grey Lady is so intriguing! I’m not very familiar with the story of both of the Marys, both Shelley and Wollstonecraft but I loved reading about them both through Wollstonecraft’s eyes. I’ve always enjoyed stories that explore companionship of a supernatural kind that is not really of the ‘real’ world, the Grey Lady is a mysterious but compelling such companion and I loved the unfolding of her relationship with Mary. So much to love about this story!

Look How Cold My Hands Are by Deborah Biancotti

I’m not a horror reader, it’s fair to say that I go out of my way to avoid it. So I can’t say that I liked or loved this story, but it did resonate with me strongly. And I think it was so important to include this story in amongst the others in the book, stories of cranky ladies where their motives aren’t pure, they aren’t good people, because these women too are part of history, have been forgotten and their impacts largely unwritten and untold. A story of Countess Bathory, one of the most notorious serial killers in history, and especially as a female  serial killer is a good example of this. Other than the fact that she murdered countless other women, what do we know of her life, her reasons, what really happened? Not much. Needless to say this story left me chilled and I needed a unicorn chaser (or three) after it.

All in all, this anthology is *glorious*!

 

AWWC15: Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres

Peacemaker - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #5

Title: Peacemaker (Peacemaker 1)

Author: Marianne de Pierres

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot, 2014

Genre: urban fantasy, environmental fiction, dystopia

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Virgin Jackson is the senior ranger in Birrimun Park – the world’s last natural landscape, overshadowed though it is by a sprawling coastal megacity. She maintains public safety and order in the park, but her bosses have brought out a hotshot cowboy to help her catch some drug runners who are affecting tourism. She senses the company is holding something back from her, and she’s not keen on working with an outsider like Nate Sixkiller.

When an imaginary animal from her troubled teenage years reappears, Virgin takes it to mean one of two things: a breakdown (hers!) or a warning. Dead bodies start piling up around her, so she decides on the latter. Something terrible is about to happen in the park and Virgin and her new partner, U.S. Marshall Nate Sixkiller, are standing in its path…

My review: 

Marrianne de Pierres takes  urban fantasy and societal downfall in a unique and intriguing direction. I’m such a huge fan of this author and both her versatility and intricacy in storytelling. ‘Peacemaker’ is visionary, it’s so different and marries elements that remind me of space opera, with urban fantasy unlike anything we’ve seen before, intermingled with elements of the old Western pulp stories with stunning results.

One of the interesting things about this universe is that it’s all believable. It absolutely makes sense that in the future setting of this book, there is just a supercity and one lone Outback reserve. The rest of the details on what remains of Australia and indeed the rest of the world is a little sketchy, there’s hints about it but there’s no global picture offered. The mythologies intermingled in this novel are engaging, and very little is let slip by the author – this is a taste test where we discover the existence of these unknowns from another reality, what is fact and truth remains blurry.

Virgin Jackson is a brilliant heroine, she’s both fallible but has strength of character that draws you in. I found Nate to be equal parts mysterious and coy and I really want to know more. Caro’s friendship with Virgin makes her real, brings that three dimensional experience to the characters and the events of the book that really bring them to life – that’s the role of a good secondary character and Caro is masterfully written. All the peripheral characters leave an impact and this is unusual, more often they’re forgettable. In ‘Peacemaker’ I can still hear Papa Bise’s voice in my head and I can picture Kadee Matari in my mind like a photograph, even Virgin’s boss Bull Hunt leaves a lingering impression. These are the kind of characters that I am invested in and would read about over and over again.

I love that the futuristic landscape is recognisably Australia, and yet also seems to be so very alien as well. So close and yet so far is the only way I can describe it; everything is just within the boundaries of recognisable so it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that far away – but the societal and environmental consequences create a cognitive dissonance because such vast changes don’t seem possible in any kind of short time frame. The effect discomforts the reader even as it draws them deeper into the intricate storyline.

The plot for ‘Peacemaker’ is beautifully layered and it unfolds carefully, not giving too much away. Always the events and experiences of the characters draw you in a little deeper you wonder what happens next. Even if you can guess the succession of events, the motivations and reasoning behind them remains obfuscated.

I devoured this book in one sitting, I couldn’t put it down and I’m already eagerly counting down to book two. If you like urban fantasy, unique heroines and intricate plots I highly recommend this book for you.

Review: Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids - coverNetGalley Review 

Title: Falling in Love with Hominids

Author: Nalo Hopkinson

Publisher and Year: Tachyon Publications, 2015

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

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Update on Becoming

Back in February I revealed that my theme for 2015 was Becoming. It was a thoughtful post – one I spent a week or two thinking on before writing because it was all about being in-between, in the middle, in process, a work in progress… how do you look at that? How do you embrace that? What does it look like if you’re setting up a year long enquiry on that?.

Reflecting on where I am at  half way through the year (just over), things are pretty well aligned with the goals I set out as part of my original post on Becoming. However, the year has been anything but smooth sailing – it’s been more like climbing a cliff with my bare hands, without a safety net. The year has been raw and intense, brutal in places. It’s also been wonderful in places too… but I’ve had to deliberately focus on that at times because it’s seemed a bit sparse.

So where am I at with my list?

Reading

Currently I’m at 29/75 books for my Goodreads Reading Challenge, 11 books behind schedule. I anticipate being able to catch up given that next semester’s schedule is much lighter given that I’m going to a half study load. Looking at the books I’ve read so far, nothing meets my goals for reading more diversely yet, so I need to make a plan around that because it’s an important part of my reading goals for this year. I’ve posted twice with regard to my academic reading, one on administration of blood products and one for assignment reading. So far I’ve done very little that’s been over and above what’s required by my units, but wow has it been an intense semester so I’m okay with this. I’ve read and reviewed one book for the Escape Club YA Bookclub, ‘Pawn’ by Aimee Carter.  I’ve also read 3/6 books I plan to for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and I’ve written up reviews for all of them: Tara Sharp Series by Marianne Delacourt.

So far, so good as far as reading goes. Still a ways to go, particularly for some of the more important intentional goals.

 

Midwifery

I had a setback in that I wasn’t able to pass my prac this semester – which means I have to redo it next year, and that will extend my studies by a year. That’s the downside (and all the mess surrounding it). The upside is, a less intense schedule, the ability to study half time and concentrate on those units I am doing, which might also afford me the opportunity to actually do some paid work, which would make a huge difference to our tiny budget. I can say that I have done my very best at every moment. I’ve dedicated myself to connection, to woman-centred care and evaluating the evidence for practice, and I feel like even in just six months, I’ve come a long way. We’ve started looking at more complex pregnancy and birth, at ethical practice and what’s involved in that, there’s a lot to consider here. I’m still enjoying learning so much about the anatomy and physiology of humans, particularly around pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period. There’s so many interesting changes that go on! I am still dedicated to doing this job I’m training for, I want to be the best midwife I can be.

 

Cooking

Well! Cooking has continued and I’m still enjoying it a lot. Some days I will admit it’s a little like a chore and I struggle a bit more – but I’ve also tried to put in place things that combat that and make it easier. I’m still doing lots of easy weeknight type meals, this year has been so full on that I haven’t had much energy for more in depth special occasion cooking. Also, that tends to be beyond the budget more often than not. I still want to go through some of my cookbooks and do some concentrated cooking from them, but I’ve not really managed that yet.

One of my big wins has been doing more meal planning for a fortnight at a time – it’s been fun to plan out what I’d like to cook and some of the best results are in the savings on groceries which is fantastic! Also, it’s nice knowing I’ve already done a lot of the deciding and I just have to pick something from the list based on the stuff we have in the fridge/cupboard. I’ve blogged about the two proper meal plans I’ve done so far if you’re interested, one for a fortnight in May, one for this fortnight in July.

However, as far as achievements go, I have managed to get into the habit of regularly photographing my food I’ve cooked! My friend Pia is responsible for this as she sold me on Instagram (same username as usual) which I’d been avoiding. I love it! It’s so easy and I am loving it as a low key, low effort/engagement social network. Also it connects to all the other things and I love the easy sharing options.

I’m still making my own stock, due to make a batch of both chicken and beef stock – but the last time I made it was in January some time I think? Maybe December… So it’s lasted wonderfully! I’ve recently visited my friend Skud and been inspired by her home cooking and preserving endeavours, so I am hoping to try and gradually increase the amount of stuff I do in that area mindfully. Even if I only add one preserving effort this year, I’ll be happy – hopefully preserved lemons as they seem easy to do. As we speak I’m working on fermenting my own starter, and today I made bread again for the first time this year – a yeast bread because of the lack of sourdough starter, but it worked beautifully.

Some pictures of recent food I’ve cooked:

Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies

Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies

Curried Satay Chicken with Noodle Medley

Curried Satay Chicken with Noodle Medley

Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani

Kasundi and Coriander Egg Scramble

Kasundi and Coriander Egg Scramble

Balsamic Glazed Lamb Shanks with Julia Childs' Garlic Mash

Balsamic Glazed Lamb Shanks with Julia Childs’ Garlic Mash

Quick Yeast Bread

Quick Yeast Bread

Shakshuka on CousCous

Shakshuka on CousCous

Blogging

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

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

 

Self Development

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

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

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

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

 

Socialising

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

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

 

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

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

AWWC15: Tara Sharp series by Marianne Delacourt

I thought as these were all from the same series and I read them back to back that I’d put them all in the same review post 🙂

Sharp Shooter - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #1

Title: Sharp Shooter (Tara Sharp #1)

Author: Marianne Delacourt

Publisher and Year: Allen & Unwin, 2009

Genre: Crime

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Tara Sharp should be just another unemployable, twenty-something, ex-private schoolgirl . . . but she has the gift – or curse as she sees it – of reading people’s auras. The trouble is, auras sometimes tell you things about people they don’t want you to know.

When a family friend recommends Mr Hara’s Paralanguage School, Tara decides to give it a whirl – and graduates with flying colours. So when Mr Hara picks up passes on a job for a hot-shot lawyer she jumps at the chance despite some of his less-than-salubrious clients.

Tara should know better than to get involved when she learns the job involves mob boss Johnny Vogue. But she’s broke and the magic words ‘retainer’ and ‘bonus’ have been mentioned. Soon Tara finds herself sucked into an underworld ‘situation’ that has her running for her life.

My Review:

It took me way too long to get to this book, because I’m not a crime reader. But, what I mean is that I’m not a *serious* crime reader, I don’t want the heavy stuff (without the magic), but light and fluffy? I’m all over that. I loved how recognisable Perth was in this book to me, and the characters with their friendship were delightful. I loved the way Tara’s story starts out and she’s kind of fumbling her way through things but managing to make them work in the end. I devoured this and immediately went to the next book.

Sharp Turn - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #2

Title: Sharp Turn (Tara Sharp #2)

Author: Marianne Delacourt

Publisher and Year: Allen & Unwin, 2010

Genre: Crime

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Tara Sharp’s unorthodox PI business is starting to attract customers – though not necessarily of the kind she envisaged… Working at Madame Vine’s luxurious brothel teaching the ‘girls’ to ‘read’ their clients better isn’t exactly what she had in mind when she started out…

So it’s a relief when the man of Tara’s dreams, Nick Tozzi, lines her up with a lucrative job. Something is rotten in the local motor racing industry and an associate of Nick’s wants Tara to sniff out the bad egg…

It’s not long before Tara finds herself in all kinds of danger, with a murder at Madam Vine’s followed by the discovery of a bloated corpse in the Swan River.

My Review: 

What a great continuation from Tara’s first adventure! Tara has more of an idea what she’s doing with her business and how, plus there’s Cass. I love that Tara can’t help but take in strays and help them – she’s not so different from her Aunt Liz whatever she might say. I loved the mysteries being unravelled, spicy enough but not heavy enough to impact on the overall light tone of the book that aims to entertain rather than frighten. I love that about these books and I keep falling in love with the characters even more, especially Smitty.

Stage Fright - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #3

Title: Stage Fright (Tara Sharp #3)

Author: Marianne Delacourt

Publisher and Year: Allen & Unwin, 2012

Genre: Crime

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Tara Sharp is back in this frightening foray into the music industry.
Things are a bit hot for Tara Sharp in her home town of Perth, so she jumps at the chance to leave town when a music promoter offers her a gig looking after a difficult musician who’s touring Brisbane.

Though minding musicians isn’t Tara’s usual line of work, the money is good and she’s a sucker for a backstage pass. Respite from her mother – with her not-so-subtle hints about ‘eligible young men’ and ‘suitable jobs’ – is also a plus, as is the time and distance to try to resolve her mixed up romantic life.

Arriving in ‘BrisVegas’, Tara finds her hands full dealing with the bizarre habits of the ‘artist’, not to mention his crazy fans. And it’s not long before she discovers that the music industry can be more cut-throat than she imagined and it can be very dangerous messing with the big boys…

My Review:

Tara Sharp is at it again, and I loved it. This time in Brisbane and a mystery surrounding concert promotion. I love that the mystery is once again coming from all angles and it’s unclear until the last moment where the strife is really coming from. Bon Ames is an interesting character but Wal still tops him for me. I love the way Ed is just nonplussed despite all the drama that Tara stirs up. This is a delightful series, just the kind I like to read most.

Review: Pawn by Aimee Carter

Pawn - coverEscape Club Bookclub: January

Title: Pawn

Author: Aimee Carter

Publisher: Harlequin Teen, 2013.

Genre: Urban fantasy, near future, dystopia, young adult.

Blurb from Goodreads:

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.

My Review:

I finished this book this morning while on my way to do yet more wrestling with a government organisation about my worthiness to study, to make something of my future that doesn’t include welfare and whatever job I can get at any given time. So this one kind of hit me right between the eyes. I really identified with Kitty, and the antics of the family in power also rang true to me – from that outside perspective wondering how they can be so blind and also knowing that for some of them at least, the privilege is no picnic.

And yet, privilege is privilege, regardless of how that status gets defined and that doesn’t get diminished just because there is struggle. I thought that the book demonstrated the difference between personal struggle and systematic oppression really well actually – and did so in a way that didn’t single out any particular group in terms of skin colour or lifestyle etc. It’s still worth noting that the family in power are white and conventionally attractive, and there are no notable characters of colour in the book. Similarly, no mention of any queerness. The aged and those with disabilities are essentially disposed of wholesale and I think the way that happens as an arbitrary line demonstrates very obviously that there’s an issue with discrimination at hand – hopefully that makes other readers question the way people who are older and people who have disabilities are treated in the here and now.

The book is a YA gem, and sophisticated enough for adult readers to enjoy easily – and indeed I think they’d benefit from reading this book. It’s a book about the state of society and that’s always a subject worthy of consideration and comparison – fiction to the real, the near-future of the book, to how things are now.

This book was easy to read, it flowed nicely and neither gave too much away nor hid things away and obfuscated too much – reveals happened at points that made sense and enhanced the overall story narrative. I’m really looking forward to the next book.

Reading Commitments for 2015

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 badgeIn past years, I’ve concentrated mainly on my commitment to read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. This year I have some extra reading goals in mind. The goals I’ve listed may be on the ambitious side given I am studying full time, but I am invested in making a solid attempt.

Sharing a little about my profile as a reader:

I am an avid reader and I really enjoy it – I have done since I learned to read. However, I’ve been studying so consistently in recent years that my fiction reading has been at very low levels for me. I wonder what it will look like when I’m not studying at university any more! Right now I’m pleased to get through 75 books in a year, and before I was studying I’d easily go through that in a couple of months.

As for my preferences in reading, I’m still mostly intent on reading in the arena of speculative fiction, and I continue to have fairly broad taste in that area. That said, as time goes on there are definitely specific hooks that really attract me. I am strongly motivated by female characters, also characters with a diverse gender background, diverse sexuality or relationship choices. I want to actively read more fiction by authors who are non-white, particularly Indigenous Australians works – especially speculative ones. I enjoy certain kinds of non-fiction, such as books to do with cultural studies or midwifery as well as some biographies/autobiographies, but that depends heavily on who the book is about.

For 2015, I’m proposing to take on the following reading (and reviewing) commitments:

  • Complete my Goodreads reading goal of 75 books. This is the same number from last year – it seemed to be exactly right as a number while I’m studying so intensely.
  • Complete the Australian Women Writers Challenge at the Miles level, to read at least 6 books and review at least 4.
  • Increase the number of books by Indigenous Australian authors that I read, and review these books.
  • Read at least 10 books by authors from other various non-white backgrounds and ethnicities and review at least 5 of those.
  • Participate in the Escape Club YA Bookclub on Goodreads by reading the books I’m interested in and participating in the discussion.
  • Track the reading I do for my academic studies in Midwifery both books and articles. Also, try and write at least 3 blog posts per semester about my studies and the readings.
  • Publish a list of all the academic articles I read for my study in 2015.
  • Unpack my books and read at least 5 of the books I inherited from my best friend and haven’t picked up to read yet.

This is not a small amount of goals, but I think they’re worthwhile aims. I have a huge list of books I want to read in Goodreads so I shall do my best to make good use of that list! Also the books in my closet that I haven’t been able to unpack yet for lack of a bookcase, I really want to get that sorted out so I can pick up those books that are completely new to me – especially since I’ve been meaning to read them for so long!

2014 Reading Overview and Favourites of the Year

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

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

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

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

Favourite Reads for 2014:

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

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

Excerpt from my review: I adored the story building in this, so many layers, puzzles and I was delighted at every stage of the reveal. People talk about this not being fantasy and I see what they mean about labelling it Dystopian Sci-Fi, but for me it seems to be Urban Fantasy, one with a distinctly ecological bent that I found very satisfying.

 

 

Kaleidescope - coverKaleidescope – anthology by Twelfth Planet Press

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

 

 

Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger:

Souless - coverSouless (The Parasol Protectorate #1)

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

 

 

 

 

Changeless - coverChangeless (The Parasol Protectorate #2)

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

 

 

 

 

 

Blameless - coverBlameless (The Parasol Protectorate #3)

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

 

 

 

 

Heartless - coverHeartless (The Parasol Protectorate #4)

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

 

 

Timeless - cover

Timeless (The Parasol Protectorate #5)

** spoiler alert **

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

 

The Others series by Anne Bishop

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

Sirantha Jax series by Anne Aguirre

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

Doubleblind - coverDoubleblind (Sirantha Jax #3)

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

 

 

 

Aftermath (Sirantha JaAftermath - coverx #5)

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 Wrap Up Post

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

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

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

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

Excerpt of my review:

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

 

 

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

Excerpt of my review:

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

 

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

Excerpt of my review:

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

 

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

Excerpt of my review:

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

 

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

Excerpt of my review:

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

Other books from 2014:

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

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

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

Title: Raven Flight (Shadowfell #2)

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: Knopf Books for  Young Readers, 2013

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy

 

 

 

Ravenflight - coverBlurb from Goodreads: 

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

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

 

My Review: 

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

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

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

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

Expedition: Almost there…

This entry might seem almost superfluous given there is so little time left between now and when this enquiry is likely to end. I last updated in July and had a lot to say, but I did really want to look at where things are at even if it’s not quite a 3/4 review point. Usually my themes end roughly at the end of the year but it’s kind of a transition period where there’s definitely lots of background thinking that finalises one enquiry to make room for the next to declare itself. So this check in even if not ideally timed, will still do it’s job I’m sure.

I think this year I’ve done really well with what I set out to achieve, my list of goals was ambitious but I had every reason to be and I’m glad for it. Not everything got done and some stuff definitely got let go. I’m going to comment only on the stuff that is still ongoing and not the stuff I let go of last time because it would be redundant. What I’m hoping by making this update at this point is that I kick start the process of transition to finalise this year’s theme and discover next year’s.

So where am I with my list of goals and aims?

  •  Successfully complete my first year in my Midwifery degree.
    • Continue improving my science and mathematics knowledge and proficiency.
    • Work hard on clinical placements to get the best experience and knowledge about working as a midwife as is possible.
    • Do quality work in my Continuity of Care Program being the aspect of training involving recruiting families having babies and undertaking to provide extra support and care much like a midwife would, but in a student capacity. I love this program because the aim is mutuality – extra care and support for the person who is pregnant and their partner and family (where applicable), and experience for me in the ongoing care, education and support required as a midwife and learning how to build rapport with people, but maintain professionalism for everyone’s benefit.

I’ve worked hard on my science and maths and my marks for this year show it. HDs for science in both semesters and I didn’t have to repeat any of my maths hurdle tests. I’m sure it gets harder for maths next year, but I’m proud of how I’ve gone with these things this year. I haven’t done my second clinical placement yet, that’s coming up in January – but I’m looking forward to it massively – I’m definitely assigned to birthsuite this time around! I’ve also managed to gather all of my people for my Continuity of Care program and I’m working hard on that.  So far though, I’m finding this part of things really rewarding – I feel useful and I like providing support and reassurance. Also, I am good at it and that’s a nice feeling too. I have a range of people with quite different backgrounds as well which I am appreciating – it’s teaching me how to be a good midwife to a variety of people with differing questions and concerns.

  • Explore employment options while studyingfull time and internally bothshort term andlong termin addition to midwifery
    • Explore options to get a counselling or psych diploma qualifying me for counselling
    • Explore options with community organisations part time, especially on contract working away from the office
    • Make inroads into doing casual first year tutoring online for university students

So I didn’t think there’d be anything to update about this – and then about 2 weeks ago, everything changed. Centrelink have decided that I’m no longer eligible for Austudy, despite having never claimed it before now. I’m so furious – they’re counting the time I spent completing my initial degree in their time frames even though I supported myself through that degree. At the time of writing, as suggested I’ve reapplied for Newstart as a jobseeker and am waiting for my claim to be assessed after submitting all the paperwork a week and a half ago.

I’ve had my initial compulsory meeting with the government job provider, and at least I have one that doesn’t seem to be crap which is at least something. Thankfully, they’ve taken into account all of my study stuff, including my followthrough requirements. I only have to hunt for 5 jobs per fortnight, and my employment pathway plan – the compulsory thing you have to agree to in order to get paid – basically sets itself up to be a 2 year plan with being employed as a midwife the main goal – and a long term one. I don’t actually anticipate anyone employing me, and I don’t think the job provider does either, with followthrough appointments, my availability is too erratic. Plus, I have pretty much zero experience in casual things.

And… I also still want to concentrate on my studies. I’m working hard on them and putting the time in is important to me. The only exception to this would be if I got to do online first year university tutoring because that remains a goal of personal fulfilment and not just a money thing. So we’ll see how things go on the Centrelink front – but basically I’m super stressed about it and desperately wish I could have just stayed on Austudy. I will definitely miss the textbook bonus for buying texts – I know I can borrow them, but I’ve found it very valuable to actually have the books and to be able to go back to them any time. Especially my anatomy text book.

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

So, I’ve been procrastinating on this. I still have Feelings about failing my first attempt. It IS something I just need to pony up and deal with though because in this coming year having my license will be really important, not to mention useful. I will get this done, and my aim is to do so before the end of the year.

  • Nurture and grow my personal relationships, particularly with my partners
    • Facilitate getting K and Adam over to visit me here in Melbourne
    • Make time and keep making time, and remember to message and call in between
    • Revel in time spent and enjoy each moment with loved ones as much as possible
    • Take care of loved ones and let them take care of me without guilt

This still comes under things I’d do regardless, but it’s nice to track the intention, the energy, and the commitment that goes into this stuff. I haven’t had a chance to see K since the first quarter of the year, and he won’t make it over here this year, but hopefully in the new year. Adam is coming over to spend Christmas with us, which will be truly wonderful! Christmas this year is going to be magical – but more on this later. I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with partners this year and I’ve mostly settled into a kind of regularity if not routine of things with different partners. Now that I’m settled into my new place and not in the middle of semester I’m also focusing on being more social which has also been rewarding. I have to specifically mention how much I’ve enjoyed my dates with my partner Omega this year, she’s amazing and adores me, I adore her and we just have the best time spoiling each other. Next time it’s my turn to spoil her and I’m really looking forward to that! Ajax moved in with his partner Tash and they’ve been settling into a new pattern for themselves, and subsequently he and I for ourselves which is nice – I need to make time to go down to where they live (kind of on the outskirts of the city) and spend time there but I haven’t gotten my act together for it yet.

I’ve spent a lot of time doing care work this year, particularly for Ral who has spent much of the year dealing with mental health stuff, and that’s been intensive to say the least. Fox and I have continued to deepen our relationship and the rewards from that are just sublime. I think we’ve reached a point where we really make each other happy – and that’s just so awesome (and worlds away from where things started out). I’ve had more resilience this year emotionally than I anticipated – but the caring and worry about Ral has taken its toll. Also this Centrelink stuff. But then, I’m living with two people who are really good at also taking care of me – especially when I signal the need. Our chicken soup ritual works wonders because we have a default plan for comfort and care when we’re sick (I’ve made a lot of chicken soup this year because Fox works in a call centre). Also we have a well established system of asking for treats (pate is a consistent one for me), and we know each other well enough to pick each other’s favourites of things. This also includes calling ahead and asking for the spa to be run, or discovering when we all get home that none of us can deal with cooking and so we declare cooking bankruptcy and order pizza or something instead. So I’ve gotten much better at being taken care of, not just caring for others this year. I think having specific systems and default agreements about what is desirable or wanted helps with that.

  • Participate in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2014
    • Read 6 books and review 4
    • Additionally, try and read at least 75 books and review some extras

I have been participating, but not as deliberately as I would have liked – I have read my 6 books, and I’ve written 2 proper reviews and have done basic reviews for 3 others. I still have to do 2 more reviews that are more in depth and specific. I need to get onto that! I am also on track to read my 75 books for the year which is pretty exciting! Mostly I’ve managed this because I’ve been using trashy comfort reading to get me through semester and even though it’s not something I find deeply satisfying it does actually satisfy in ways that are useful for during semester where I don’t have a lot of extra brain or thinking. I look to fluffy and emotionally rewarding reads that don’t ask me to work too hard for the story or enjoyment. It’s a little lazy in that sense, but my focused reading has been in the realm of study so I’m pretty okay with my trashy reading habits overall. I will say that both ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ and ‘Kaleidescope’ are on my best reads for 2014 list.

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

I’m actually going to call this done – my reviewing wasn’t as in depth as I might have fantasised about. But, I’ve done a huge television post just this week that looks at all the stuff I’m in the process of watching, where I’m up to and what I like about it, why I watch it. There’s some critical analysis in there, but it’s not necessarily all that deep – maybe I will do more about this with specific show comparisons (like police procedurals or law procedurals or something) next year. Maybe.

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

Still having adventures! I’ve been visiting the zoo, I’ve been continuing to try new cooking things! I’ve been playing new games. I went to the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition and found it outstanding. I went to a feminist retreat weekend camp and loved the hell out of it and came back rejuvenated about pretty much all of that. Plus I met some really great people and it was just awesome. I’ve also been having more online conversations about feminism with pretty good success, though honestly I set the bar low. This weekend I’ve been participating in an online summit called Building Better Babies that is directed toward those who are parents-to-be, but also secondarily toward professionals who work in the field. The webinars I’ve watched have been really good and I’ve learned a bunch of stuff that I’ll return to – and also pass onto my followthroughs. Also, this year I followed the entire season of the Formula 1 and *really* enjoyed it! I learned more about the teams, the drivers, the tracks and the competition mechanics. It’s much more interesting than I could possibly have imagined and I’ve really enjoyed sharing this with the boys – particularly Fox.

  • Blog more, not only in my personal journal as a chronicle and for remembrance, but also here on things and issues that are important to  me
    • Post more links and link salads with commentary
    • Participate in the Down Under Feminists Carnival
    • Blog about exploring Melbourne, with pictures

Wow! Actually there has been some success with blogging more! Mostly it’s been in my personal Dreamwidth journal, but I’ve also done more posting in this space more recently which I’m pleased about. I still haven’t done any link salads, and I’ve done little for the Down Under Feminists Carnival – I’ve sent in the odd link but until this month I haven’t written anything in ages that I could submit of my own. Waiting to finalise the post I’ve drafted and hoping to include it for the December round up. I haven’t done any picture blogs of food or Melbourne – well I’ve done a little with food but not a huge amount. I’ve taken a bunch of pictures but haven’t had the impetus to actually blog about it at useful points very often. But, I have blogged more about life in general which includes my love affair with Melbourne.

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

So this is still a bonus and I still haven’t managed much with it. I wanted to volunteer for the Greens for the state election (which went well all things told), but didn’t have the energy to commit. I haven’t looked for my local CWA group yet, but I’d still like to do this. I haven’t bothered with furry fandom stuff and probably won’t for quite a while to come. I have enjoyed socialising with new people, especially geeky ones when I’ve had the chance. I’ve only been to one of the poly events since last posting and I enjoyed myself a lot (though I am still avoiding certain personalities). I am hoping very much to volunteer for next year’s Supanova, but will depend on how things are looking at that point – I suspect all my followthroughs will be having their babies around then, which may put a dent in that plan 😛 Or I may just be too wiped from semester/placement. That was the case this year and it may well be the case next year. I am hopeful though because I love it.

Cooking adventures!

  • Cook for people to spend time and show care
  • Try new recipes and new cooking techniques
  • Explore cooking in new cuisines
  • Blog about cooking, with pictures

I’ve continued my cooking adventures! There has been an inordinate amount of soup cooked this year. I’ve also tried to focus on doing more demanding and gourmet cooking when I’ve been able to because it’s challenging and the results are often kind of spectacular if you pick the right dishes. I’m hoping to do a round up blog post of the stuff I’ve spent time cooking this year. I did produce a zine for a Christmas in July event that I gave away with a bunch of the cooking I had done up to that point – hopefully people enjoyed it and found it useful! And, if not I hope they passed it along to others in the hope they find it useful. Maybe I’ll do another one after Christmas this year or in the early part of next year. I’m still exploring new techniques and recipes – more recently I’ve nailed chicken schnitzel which isn’t exactly hard, but it’s fiddly and generally easier to go out and order at a pub/restaurant. I have a bunch of plans for Szechuan cooking in the coming months. Not much picture blogging, though a little. I laugh thinking that I still want to be better at this, but there are still a few weeks left in this year, before I finalise Expedition.

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

Still unsure how to achieve this at our new place, but really want kitchen herbs at least so as to save money on buying them all the time. This is something I’m pretty much going to let be a project for next year (unless something magically happens before I close off this enquiry).

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

So! I’ve been going to the zoo – I’ve been a bunch of times now and I walk there and enjoy it, walk around and enjoy it and then meander home all tired and happy. Have taken some brilliant photos too! I haven’t done any dance class, no money but I still really want to do this – it’s probably a next year thing honestly though. This year, this Expedition really has been mostly about my Midwifery study, and that’s been awesome and I’m really proud of how dedicated I’ve been. I’ve worked hard in semester, I’ve studied hard in the lead up to exams and I’ve worked hard in the practical components as well. I’ve enjoyed the challenges, the chance to learn new things and I’m also really looking forward to finishing and being qualified and having a career to follow – plus a wage again! That will be particularly super.

In the next few weeks the only things I’m going to add are:

  • Start transitioning from 2014 and Expedition into 2015 and a new theme.
  • Play my video games and enjoy them! Maybe blog about what I’ve played and enjoyed and why?
  • Publish my list of movies to watch – and do a mini review or something for the ones I’ve watched to date (hint, most of them I have not watched).
  • Finalise all my paperwork to hand in for my Midwifery year 1 including my followthrough report.
  • Try and beat my goal of reading 75 books!
  • Plan and execute an awesome family Christmas with the boys, Adam, Prky and Tori. The feast will be spectacular! Also, blog about the feast and the planning and feelings about this particular Christmas.

So that’s where I’m at. Here’s to the last weeks of the year and this enquiry, and onto new things!

AWWC14: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Book 1 in The Tribe series)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #2

Title: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2012

Genre: Urban Fantasy / Dystopian Sci-Fi

 

 

 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

“There will come a day when a thousand Illegals descend on your detention centers. Boomers will breach the walls. Skychangers will send lightning to strike you all down from above, and Rumblers will open the earth to swallow you up from below. . . . And when that day comes, Justin Connor, think of me.”

Ashala Wolf has been captured by Chief Administrator Neville Rose, a man who is intent on destroying Ashala’s Tribe — the runaway Illegals hiding in the Firstwood. Injured, vulnerable, with her Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to the machine that will pull secrets from her mind. And right beside her is Justin Connor, her betrayer, watching her every move. Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?

My Review:

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

I loved the characters and their relationships, their interconnections and the way that the flashbacks were key to how the story unfolded. I loved the talents that the other characters possessed and how they created their own safe space in the world, and how they thrived. I love how they conquer the adversity and threat around them. This story was so utterly satisfying, on a plot level, a character level and crafting level.

AWWC14: Hindsight by A.A. Bell (Book 2 in the Mira Chambers series)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #1

Title: Hindsight (Mira Chambers #2)

Author: A.A. Bell

Publisher and Year: Harper Collins, 2011

Genre: Urban Fantasy

 

 

 

Hindsight - cover

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Mira Chambers has an infallible gift for solving mysteries … but using it comes with a price. Determined to regain her independence after ten years in orphanages and asylums, Mira leaps at the chance to help her friend, Bennet Chiron, an enigmatic ex-con who risked his life to save hers. Mira plans to investigate the murder-robbery that put him behind bars for six years in the hope of clearing his name. But people are turning up dead under bizarre circumstances, and Mira discovers that she′s being hunted by two old adversaries.

Layers of secrets are about to be ripped apart … is Mira the only one with a steep price to pay?

 

My review:

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

I didn’t always appreciate the love triangle – but that’s no surprise for someone like me, though I did think it was overall handled well. I love that Mira got to make more friends. The mystery told in this book, as with the first is compelling – as is the overarching storyline that runs throughout the books. I was deeply saddened and surprised by the ending of this book, but that definitely has me wanting to read the next book to find out more.

This is book 2 of a series and it’s definitely rooted in the series – it doesn’t stand alone, but the story is more than filler, it is distinct. Mira grows and changes as she learns to trust herself having regained her freedom, though all the trials and tribulations though, she still stays true to herself. I really can’t wait to see what happens in book 3.

Expedition: Mid Year Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

  •  Successfully complete my first year in my Midwifery degree.
    • Continue improving my science and mathematics knowledge and proficiency.
    • Work hard on clinical placements to get the best experience and knowledge about working as a midwife as is possible.
    • Do quality work in my Continuity of Care Program being the aspect of training involving recruiting families having babies and undertaking to provide extra support and care much like a midwife would, but in a student capacity. I love this program because the aim is mutuality – extra care and support for the person who is pregnant and their partner and family (where applicable), and experience for me in the ongoing care, education and support required as a midwife and learning how to build rapport with people, but maintain professionalism for everyone’s benefit.
  • Explore employment options while studying full time and internally both short term and long term in addition to midwifery
    • Explore options to get a counselling or psych diploma qualifying me for counselling
    • Explore options with community organisations part time, especially on contract working away from the office
    • Make inroads into doing casual first year tutoring online for university students

I did look into this, but really it’s largely infeasible due to the way in which the course is constructed and its intensity. The moving in with the boys means that we’re all going to do better financially though which was the main reason for doing this. That said, I would still love to do first year tutoring as this is a personal fulfilment goal, not just an economic one. Given the current political climate, I’m just not expecting anything to go well in this area whether employment or government support as a student.

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

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

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

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

  • Nurture and grow my personal relationships, particularly with my partners
    • Facilitate getting K and Adam over to visit me here in Melbourne
    • Make time and keep making time, and remember to message and call in between
    • Revel in time spent and enjoy each moment with loved ones as much as possible
    • Take care of loved ones and let them take care of me without guilt

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

  • Participate in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2014
    • Read 6 books and review 4
    • Additionally, try and read at least 75 books and review some extras

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

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

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

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

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

  • Blog more, not only in my personal journal as a chronicle and for remembrance, but also here on things and issues that are important to  me
    • Post more links and link salads with commentary
    • Participate in the Down Under Feminists Carnival
    • Blog about exploring Melbourne, with pictures

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

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

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

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

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

  • Cooking adventures!
    • Cook for people to spend time and show care
    • Try new recipes and new cooking techniques
    • Explore cooking in new cuisines
    • Blog about cooking, with pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pledging for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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

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

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

Completing the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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

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

By Juliet Marillier:

Sevenwaters series:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

Wildwood:

Chronicles of Bridei:

Shadowfell:

By Kate Forsyth:

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

 

 

 

By Jo Anderton:

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

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

2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge Pledge

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

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 - banner

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge Complete!

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

2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge - banner

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

The Full List

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

Debris (Veiled Worlds #1) by Jo Anderton

The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reviews: 

The Reign of Beasts by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Debris by Jo Anderton

The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood

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

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

Sharing ‘The Silver Brumby’ by Elyne Mitchell

So Tansy has issued a Book Week Blog Challenge inviting people to write about their childhood reading. And I have a few things I wanted to share with you, but first of all I’m going to start with my favourite childhood book (and favourite series), ‘The Silver Brumby’ by Elyne Mitchell.

I read this book (and the series) countless times and I have a new edition copy of the book waiting for me to reread yet again. Only this time, I’m hoping to introduce it to some of the significant people in my life. I’ve always wanted to read it aloud, and I’m hoping that I can do this soon with some of my Loves.

As a child, I was completely into horses, and this book won my heart in the first pages. A foal is born, his mother loves him, he has a best friend and they have adventures throughout the Snowy Mountains. To this day I want to visit the Snowy Mountains and explore the places I remember reading about as a child.

I loved the descriptions of Thowra’s life and his journey, I loved his sense of character, I loved the other horses he came into contact with, his friends, his enemies. This is a book where kindness and wisdom were celebrated, where violence existed but as a last resort.

I loved that these stories were about the world of horses and their society – there were no human voices to impose on this experience, humans were ‘other’ and unwanted, unnecessary to the life Thowra sought. And, though in the story he was sought after by humans, I loved that he was always one step ahead, I loved that he triumphed through many hardships, found and sought love, family, friendship and loyalty.

Writing this makes me want to pick it up immediately, but I’m still holding out to read it aloud so I might poke those I’d love to introduce it to instead.

Elyne Mitchell is an amazing woman who lived in the Snowy Mountains herself, she wrote and had many books published, many of them still in print. ‘The Silver Brumby’ is an Australian classic story and I would see it celebrated with more acclaim than it gets – all the fuss died down after the movie and the animated television series. I’ve been sad to see it omitted from Australian bookstores who have an Australian Classics section in their shops. The stories she told should be remembered and shared and I hope that some of you take the time to look up this book and try it out for yourself. It is something special indeed.

This image is the same cover of the edition of this book I owned as a child:

Silver Brumby - cover image

Blog Reading Swap Meet

Once upon a time in a land not too long ago, Google Reader was handsome kind of woman who not only allowed you to read all the aggregate list of blogs you’d become infatuated with, but facilitated a network of sharing. 

This meant that you could not only share cool things that you read, but you could also share the reading of blogs out amongst your networks and get a broader reading base than you might otherwise manage (time and energy being finite resources afterall).  

One day, a new kind of sharing trend happened and Google Reader hooked up with another kind of sexy social medium called Google+. I’m very happy for them in their new relationship, I am sure that the dates are hot and they get a lot of rewarding feedback in their interactions and with those users who utilise both services. 

However, I am a very sad Google Reader user who is feeling a bit bereft and isolated not finding Google+ attractive for networked link sharing dating material at all.

I miss the way in which sharing was possible with my Google Reader network. My relationship with Google Reader has cooled somewhat and now I’m dating this fabulous new chap called Pinboard! He’s all kinds of ace, but I haven’t got the social side of things sorted out. 

Partly this blog (story) post is aimed at addressing that. I wondered who else of my lovely readers and fellow bloggers are also using Pinboard?

Not only am I missing the link sharing, but I thought that there might be some kind of magnificent opportunity to pool our blog reading and get the best ability to collectively read All The Things. One person on my Google Reader network used to read Gizmodo, and I didn’t need to read it because I got all I kind of needed or wanted out of their reading it. 

That’s kind of what prompted the idea for a Blog Reading Swap Meet, forming an intentional and conscious blog circle where there could be an opportunity to powerfully share awesome things we’ve read with our networks, and also take advantage of our different reading tastes to cover a broader reading base than we might otherwise achieve alone. 

I’m looking for expressions of interest in such an idea initially. I’d also like to brainstorm how to go about doing this with anyone who’s interested. I’m reasonably tech savvy but I’m not technical per se and while I can leverage my ability to social network like whoah, there may be ways of doing this that I haven’t thought of. 

My basic idea consists of forging a kind of bond through the use of blogs, twitter and Pinboard. What say you?

 

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

Retro Fiction Review Series

 

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

Published by Warner Books, New York.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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