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

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

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

Author: Foz Meadows

Publisher and Year:  Angry Robot, 2017

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: 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.

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: 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.

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.

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

Tremontaine - season one - coverARC Review:

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

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

Publisher and Year:  Serial Box, 2016

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, romance, serial fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

AWW16: An Accident of Stars (The Manifold Worlds #1) by Foz Meadows

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #8

Title: An Accident of Stars (The Manifold Worlds #1)

Author: Foz Meadows

Publisher and Year:  Angry Robot, 2016

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, queer fiction

 

An Accident of Stars - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016.

An Accident of Stars is a very solid debut novel from Foz Meadows, it truly brings epic and portal fantasy to life. This book is equal parts the start of an epic story and a coming of age story. This is also a story that disabuses you of the notion that nothing *truly* bad can happen to your heroe(s) in a novel, because there are consequences experienced by protagonist Saffron, and other key characters throughout the novel.  There’s a depth and realism to the story because of this commitment in storytelling, and yet it doesn’t ever approach ‘grim dark’ to me, just solid storytelling.

One of the things I love most about this book is the sheer diversity of characters in this novel, they come from so many different backgrounds, they have different experiences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, skin colour, cultural backgrounds. Rather than being mashed together uncomfortably, these elements come together quite seamlessly in the central rebel compound where Saffron finds herself in the beginning of the novel. I loved that an older woman, who was far from perfect was the rebel leader. There are so many women in this book, and the male characters all came with personalities that I am interested in, with stories of theirs I wanted to explore – rarer than you  might suppose these days. This novel is a triumph to diversity – I’m sure there are improvements, nothing can be everything to everyone but I think this makes a good effort at doing so.

There is a lot going on in the story, as the readers we share in Saffron’s confusion as things unfold – twists and turns in how things affect the rebels, the potential impact on Saffron her self. There’s physical, emotional and political battles involved in this story – it’s multifaceted which gives the story depth, things happen do not happen in a vacuum or in isolation. The storytelling well thought out and executed, making this a satisfying read.

If I have one criticism it is that the book is a debut novel and the writing does reflect this, I found it clunky in places, and in others it threw me out of the reading experience. This is a minor criticism though as overall it is a well polished first novel, and everyone is allowed to grow over time. There is always a starting point – this is an excellent one. I also thought this book was nicely self-contained, you don’t *have* to read the next book if you don’t want to or don’t like series. There’s the opening and minor-cliffhanger for more story but you could absolutely ignore that without any issue. I am looking forward to the next book though because I’m interested to see where the characters go from here and how the broader story unfolds.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Justine Larbalestier

Snaphot Logo 2016

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


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Sister Rosa - cover

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

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

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

What Australian work have you loved recently?

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

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

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

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

Snapshot 2016: Interview with PRK

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The mysterious man who has his fingers in many pies, from Worldcon to the Aurealis Awards. PRK is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever had the fortune to meet and the chance to interview him is pretty amazing. This interview was conducted as part of Snapshot 2016 and is reposted from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


PRK Smaug interview photoPRK is a long time speculative fiction enthusiast who regularly escaped to Middle Earth during primary school. Since then he’s become more omnivorous in his spec-fic reading, enjoying and reviewing works in a wide variety of genres including fantasy, science fiction, horror, cyberpunk and paranormal romance. PRK is an IT Geek by day, which provides him the means to fund his spec-fic habit and devour whatever books he can get his hands on. Contributing to spec-fic in Australia, PRK runs conventions as a hobby, and is on the Board of the Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation, where he is the convenor for the Aurealis Awards. You’ll usually find him roaming the corridors at Swancon and Continuum, or online via Twitter: @prkaye or his website: http://www.prkaye.com/

 

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about running conventions in Australia over the past several years?

I think the most surprising thing I’ve learned is that the community passion and sheer volume of institutional knowledge in the community have frequently lead to a quality of convention organisation beyond that I’ve seen from many professionally run conferences. Conventions like Swancon, Continuum and Conflux are run by volunteers and it’s incredible to see the kind of events that our community produces, out of love for the genre.

You were recently one of the readers for the inaugural Sarah Douglas Award for the Aurealis Awards, what was it like to read so many books for that award and did it give you particular insight into what makes a good series?

It was both incredibly challenging based on the number of novels and incredibly rewarding to read that many series. Reading specifically for series really highlighted, for me, the difference between using the same characters and world with a different plot versus growing and evolving the characters and/or world in a way that a single novel doesn’t readily allow for. In addition, all the novels in the series have to work together to build a story that’s vaster than just the sum of the individual novels. Having read for the Sarah Douglas Award, I’m convinced that the differences between good standalone novels and novels that make up a good series result in the latter being under represented in awards, and I hope to see more series based awards in the future.

There are rumours that one of your long term plans is to bring Worldcon to Perth, Australia. What attracts you to the idea of a Perth Worldcon?

Worldcon is such a fantastic experience for both fans and professionals alike that I want to make it accessible to as many people as possible. The last Australian Worldcon was in 2010, and there’s a growing number of fans and professionals who haven’t experienced a Worldcon. Australia has thriving and varied speculative fiction communities, with Western Australia’s Swancon running over over 40 years – I’ve been told it’s the longest continuously running speculative fiction convention in the Southern Hemisphere. With over 40 years of experienced convention runners and fannish traditions, hosting in Perth would provide a fantastic opportunity for the Australian community to experience Worldcon, and also be a different and unique experience for the International community, compared to previous Melbourne based Worldcons.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I really enjoyed Season one of Cleverman. It was a fantastic use of science fiction targeted at a mainstream audience which examined and commented on the racism prevalent in Australian society and our government’s policies. While distressing in some areas, it didn’t hold back on showing the human impact that policies and attitudes can have. Despite, or perhaps because of that, it also provided a strong and powerful representation of Aboriginal people struggling with the impact of, and fighting back against, injustice.

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

I hate small talk on planes, people rarely want to be there – they’re either on their way to or from somewhere, and it’s a closed environment with no ability to leave if a conversation turns out to be distressing. Besides, I’d much rather an empty seat for the extra space! So let’s say it was at a convention bar instead, where anyone was free to enter or leave as they pleased. I’d absolutely love to talk with Mary Shelley.

It would be fascinating to discuss with her the current state of speculative fiction, all the sub genres, and her thoughts on the development of it, from the context of Frankenstein. I’d also love to hear Shelly’s thoughts and experiences of the genre over such an extended lifetime (assuming that’s how this has worked, rather than a sudden resurrection), and also her predictions for the future of the genre.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Marianne de Pierres

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Australian work have you loved recently?

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

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

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

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

Invisible Library - coverARC Review:

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

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Publisher and Year:  ROC, 2016 (US edition)

Genre: urban fantasy, fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Glenda Larke

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


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

 

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

Thank you!

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

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

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

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

Watergivers Trilogy - covers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snapshot 2016: Interview with K.A. Bedford

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Another day, another awesome interview for Snapshot 2016. This time I’m interviewing the lovely K.A. Bedford whose writing is as insightful as he is. This interview is reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Adrian Bedford author photoK.A. Bedford is a sometime writer living in Ballajura, Western Australia, with his lovely and long-suffering wife Michelle, and their dog Freckle. He’s the author of several sf novels, including Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, Eclipse, and, his most recent release, Black Light (2015). Time Machines and Eclipse won Best Novel at the Aurealis Awards in their years, and Time Machines was shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award in its year.

 

Your novel ‘Black Light’ has been very well received and very different from your previous novels, what inspired you towrite a historical supernatural novel this time?

Thank you! I did not set out to write a historical supernatural novel “this time”. I wrote the original draft of a book that featured the original version of the Ruth Black character, the brainy but wronged wife of a mysteriously disappeared “diplomat”, in the late 80s. Then I had another go with the character, still trying to get a clear fix on her, in a book in 1996 (it was one of the two books I originally sent to the publisher in Canada (the other being my space opera/detective novel Orbital Burn; and they rejected Mrs Black but quite liked the story about the sad talking beagle)).

But in 2001, after my third book, Hydrogen Steel, was written, I found myself coming back to Mrs Black, this time with a much sharper idea of who she was and what she was about. She was a writer of science fiction novels, her husband was killed in a great war, she was independently wealthy, and burning with the suspicion that something about her late husband’s death was not as she had been informed. I wrote a complete draft, but I knew it had problems — problems I didn’t, at the time, know how to fix, so I put it aside on a floppy disk–which was then lost.

A few years ago, at a time when I was thinking about giving up on writing, I came across this ancient, dusty stack of floppies, and was going to toss them. But I wanted to just see what was on them first. I bought a USB floppy drive (my current PC doesn’t read them), and started going through them–and discovered the original Black Light draft, complete. I read it, and it was quite okay. The problems were fixable, so I fixed them. I changed the setting to Western Australia, a slightly alternate version where magic of a sort can coexist with science. Where elves who’ve found themselves here because of all the British and Irish immigrants brought them here with their cultural baggage and mythology, struggle in the savage heat and with the wrong sorts of trees, and become monstrous and angry.

Then a weird thing happened. I thought I had a decent book on my hands, but wasn’t sure. I asked very nicely if my friend Georgia Richter at Fremantle Press would mind just having a read, to see if it read okay. I knew Georgia from when Fremantle produced their edition of Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait. She said yes, and I sent it, grateful for her help.

Next thing she rings me one morning to tell me she wants to buy the book, she loves the book, and when can I come down to Fremantle to talk to them about it?

So you could say it’s been in the works a long, long, looooong time!

Black Light - cover (courtesy of Fremantle Press)

If you were to go to another country on an expenses paid trip to research a novel, where would you most like to go and why?

Antarctica. I’ve always wanted to go. It would most likely be very bad for emotionally, with the light and the isolation, but the place itself, the extremity of it, fascinates me the way Mars fascinates me, as if it were another planet helpfully stuck on the bottom of our own. I’ve been fascinated about Antarctica my whole life, and it is number one on my list of places to visit. I know it’s possible to do artist-in-residency gigs down there, but I have no idea what I’d actually write about. I loved Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica novel (though a bit didactic in the end), and other books about Antarctic explorers, notably Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South.

I’ve been following your candid discussion on dealing with health and mental health issues recently, your honesty has allowed insight into something not discussed so openly often. What prompted you to share your experiences so openly and have you found it to be beneficial?

Beneficial, yes, absolutely, because in writing about it, even on Facebook in front of friends, is like journalling, it allows me to think my way through what’s happening (and not happening), and how it feels. It’s a window into a situation many people would never previously have seen or experienced. It helps me process stuff.

Why do it, though, in the first place? Because it’s something happening to me. It’s my life. There’s no reason to keep it secret. In 2012 I shattered my left elbow when I fell on a concrete floor. I reported on the entire experience from the first day all the way through to the end of rehab, when I finally got full movement in my arm back. There was no shame in having a broken arm that needed fixing, and I strongly believe there is none in what’s happening to me now, as I make my way through depression and mental illness in a psychiatric hospital. It’s no different. I’m working on regaining full function in my mind, and my life. I’ve been plagued with depression all my life, since I was a kid. For most of that time I was acutely aware of the notorious stigma that surrounds mental illness. My reporting of my struggles now is my way of striking back against that stigma. No matter how personal, how private, how intense, it gets. Because there’s nothing shameful about it.

There is one weird and disturbing thing about my current situation: my mental health has been declining since late last year, culminating in what is now my second hospital stay this year. But I’ve barely written a word, and worse, have had no desire to write a word, for some time now. The writing part of my mind has, apparently, gone. As if removed. As if writing is a thing I used to do. There’s just a silence where previously there was always “radio chatter” from that part of my mind, with characters and stories and plans and ideas. Now there’s nothing. My doctors have an idea it might all be due to very low testosterone. We’ll find out.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Lee Battersby’s Magrit novel for younger readers was wonderful. I loved it very much for its mysterious sadness, for its plucky protagonist, its bony antagonist, and for the way, on every page, you could feel the author’s deep love for his own children.

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

Gosh, I really wouldn’t. I’d be worried about too many things, about disturbing them, or bothering them, interrupting their concentration if they were trying to work, or sleep if they were trying to rest. I wouldn’t want anybody bothering me in the reverse situation, so I wouldn’t do the same to anyone else.

 

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Stephanie Lai

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My interview with Stephanie Lai, and as you can see I get to interview some of the most awesome Stephanie types in Australia! I conducted this interview as part of Snapshot 2016, reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Stephanie Lai author photoStephanie Lai is a Chinese-Australian writer and occasional translator. She has published long meandering thinkpieces in Peril Magazine, the Toast, the Lifted Brow and Overland. Recently, her short fiction has appeared in the Review of Australian Fiction, Cranky Ladies of History, and In Your Face. Despite loathing time travel, her defence of Perpugilliam Brown can be found in Companion Piece (2015). She is an amateur infrastructure nerd and has a professional interest in climate change adaptation and sustainability. You can find her on twitter @yiduiqie, at stephanielai.net, or talking about pop culture and drop bears at no-award.net

Congratulations on your Artist Residency in Singapore! What excites you most about getting to spend three months concentrating on your creative work?

Thank you! Only EVERYTHING. I’ve never had the chance to really sit and just focus on my practice before, undistracted by calling my mum or cleaning up after the cat or visiting my friends who coincidentally have days off work. So the idea that I’ll be able to just sit and work is intimidating but so exciting, too. I’m also very excited about exploring something that is so personally important to me (the impact of traditional culture and cultural identity on how people interact with climate change information/instructions, particularly in Asian communities), and that has an impact on both my professional day job and my writing. Although I’m going to be working on community research for a research memoir, I expect the understandings and learnings and all the fun stuff will have an impact on my science fiction, too – so it’ll just mean even more climate change fiction about Chinese-Australian ladies. 😀

The residency is facilitated by Asialink Arts and located at Grey Projects in Singapore, and my grant is through the Malcolm Robertson Foundation.

Cranky Ladies of History - coverYour story about lady pirate extraordinaire Cheng Shih in Cranky Ladies of History was fantastic, and barely scraped the surface of how awesome she was historically. Is there a chance that you would consider writing more of her story in future?

Yes. I desperately want to look at how Cheng Shih’s domain and reign would have changed in a silkpunk world; or a world where she truly was the (Water) Dragon of the South Seas.  My piece in Cranky Ladies was very much set in our world as we understand it, and I’d like to explore that in a science fiction or fantasy setting.

If you had the opportunity to edit an anthology of your choice what kind of project would you want to put out into the world?

South East Asian climate change SFF written by South East Asians. Our islands will be impacted, and in many ways are already being impacted (our first climate change refugees are coming from the Pacific, from Tuvulu and Kiribati), and I’m interested in how people envision that. And in creating more spaces for South East Asian SFF.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Since last year’s Snapshot I’ve really loved Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure) and The Family Law by Ben Law, which wasn’t published recently but was a delight. I’ve also appreciated, rather than loved, a book by my housemate’s dad (Putting Stories to Work, Shawn Callahan, self-pub), which is about great using stories in business and not-profit contexts to change hearts and minds, and has really helped my professional storytelling practice (Storytelling is such an important part of climate change communication, and one which is often overlooked).

I am really looking forward to reading The Island Will Sink by Briohny Doyle, which just came out last week through The Lifted Brow.

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

I don’t talk to strangers on long flights! But I guess in the spirit of this question, my answer is either Pu Songling, Ted Chiang, or Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Sean Williams

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


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

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

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

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

Fall - Twinmaker - cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Australian work have you loved recently?

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

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

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

Snapshot 2016: A slice of Australian Speculative Fiction

Snaphot Logo 2016

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


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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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

NetGalley Review

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

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

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2013

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

 


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

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

 

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

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Review: Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids - coverNetGalley Review 

Title: Falling in Love with Hominids

Author: Nalo Hopkinson

Publisher and Year: Tachyon Publications, 2015

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

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

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

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

My review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

 

Review: Kaleidoscope from Twelfth Planet Press

Kaleidescope - cover

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

Blurb from Kaleidoscope on Goodreads:

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debris by Jo Anderton (Book #1 in the Veiled Worlds Series)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 - banner

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012: Book #2 (My original pledge post)

Title: Debris (Book #1 in the Veiled Worlds Series)

Author: Jo Anderton

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot Books, 2011.

Genre: Fantasy

 

 

 

Debris - cover imageBlurb from Goodreads:

In a far future where technology is all but indistinguishable from magic, Tanyana is one of the elite.

She can control pions, the building blocks of matter, shaping them into new forms using ritual gestures and techniques. The rewards are great, and she is one of most highly regarded people in the city. But that was before the “accident”.

Stripped of her powers, bound inside a bizarre powersuit, she finds herself cast down to the very lowest level of society. Powerless, penniless and scarred, Tanyana must adjust to a new life collecting “debris”, the stuff left behind by pions. But as she tries to find who has done all of this to her, she also starts to realize that debris is more important than anyone could guess.

Debris is a stunning new piece of Science Fantasy, which draws in themes from Japanese manga, and classic Western SF and Fantasy to create this unique, engrossing debut from the very exciting young author Jo Anderton.

My Review:

This is the first book in a new series and is an excellent offering from Angry Robot Books! Debris is a brilliant book, I loved and devoured it!

Tanyana is an interesting and complex character, there’s depth and roundedness to her that I find can sometimes be lacking in female characters. She’s not cast in the archetype of ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ but instead, ‘human’. She wants to do the right thing but her motivations are not always altruistic and I found this very reasonable and realistic thinking how I’d react if I were in her position.

The supporting characters are varied and interesting, and while only a few of the supporting characters become rounded and real, the others remain intriguing mysteries rather than cutouts.

With regard to the story, it is obvious that not all is as it seems right from the beginning, but how that unravels is quite surprising. I didn’t expect the direction of the story, I was engaged by it and found it believable.

This is not your average fantasy story of quests and journeys… this is a story about a woman in a fantasy world, her talent which is stripped from her and how she adjusts to a life performing a role she hadn’t previously imagined possible.

Congratulations to Anderton on an engaging and entertaining first novel! This book is one I would highly recommend.

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

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 - banner

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012: Book #1

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

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: HarperVoyager, 2012

Genre: Fantasy – Dark Fantasy

 

 

 

Reign of Beasts - coverBlurb (from Good Reads): 

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

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

My Review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Retro Fiction Review Series

 

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

Published by Warner Books, New York.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Retro Fiction Review Series

 

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

Published by Warner Books, New York.

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

On the blurb it is described as: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retro Fiction Review Series: “Queen City Jazz” by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Retro Fiction Review Series

 

“Queen City Jazz” (1998) by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Published by Voyager, London.

‘Queen City Jazz’ is an interesting book, it has a great premise with exploring a distopian future using a melding of giant bees and hive like ‘alive’ city networks and the post effects of a ‘nano war’ on the people surrounding and within one of those cities, ‘Cincinnati’ known as the ‘Queen City’. 

The protagonist Verity is the reason I read it all the way through. As a character, being young and quite ignorant of her history and with selective teaching of her history around her she has startling indpendence and the ability to act autonomously. Her choices are her own all the way through and she is clear about her reasoning for things throughout her journey. It is delightfully refreshing (still) to read a believable female character as the protagonist in a novel where it’s not playing too much up to tired tropes for female characters. 

For example, playing into the trope, Verity is ‘chosen’ for a particular destiny, but the way in which the author uses that trope interestingly and allows Verity to interpret for herself what being ‘chosen’ means. While there were romantic threads in the book it wasn’t a strong theme and the story was stronger for it.

On the less positive side of things, I didn’t really enjoy the ‘god/prophet’ thread. This thread involved the story of a middle aged male character who was responsible for early programming of the cities, him and his issues leaked through a little bit to strongly and made my teeth hurt a little. 

Overall I liked it and am glad I read it, but it was a bit of a slog to get through and I was committed to finishing it rather than really wanting to read it all the way through. My reasons for doing so, such as the interesting premise, the female protagonist and her story remaining central, her independence, resilience and autonomy reinforced the entire way through made it worthwhile. 

I’m really glad the book exists and that I read it. It is a solid science fiction novel and it pressed a lot of my reading desirability buttons gently, but without ever really hooking me. Still, that’s my experience of reading and your mileage may vary. 

 

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

Retro Fiction Review Series

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

Published by Daw Books Inc, New York.

Cat Fantastic - coverFirst Impressions: 

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Stories: 

“The Gate of the Kittens” by Wilanne Schneider Belden

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

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

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

 

“The Damcat” by Clare Bell

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

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

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

 

“Borrowing Trouble” by Elizabeth H. Boyer

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

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

 

“Day of Discovery” by Blake Cahoon

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

 

“Yellow Eyes” by Marylois Dunn

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

 

“It Must Be Some Place” by Donna Farley

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

 

“Trouble” by P. M. Griffin

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

 

“Skitty” by Mercedes Lackey

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

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

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

New project! The Retro Fiction Review Series!

Let me tell you a little bit about this new project I’m taking on! I’m very excited 🙂

I have inherited a large number of rather interesting and awesome books from a dear friend of mine who is going ‘all ebooks all the way baby’ and as a result, I have benefited greatly. Many of these books are ones that I probably would have been delighted to be recommended from when I was a teen or in my early twenties, however, that didn’t happen and I’m hoping to go back and fill in a number of what I see are large gaps in my reading history. There are lots of female authors and stories of women and feminism and of cultural futures that I’m very interested to explore.

My project occurs out of my desire to record what I’m reading and what I enjoy about it. I’ve never really done this before and I think that if I can develop the skill my following uni and postgrad years will be eleventy-million times easier. 

Also, I suspect there’s plenty of people out there who are also interested in recommendations for books that are not brand new and just released, but part of the background of the immense number of books in genres like science fiction and fantasy (assume when I use this term that I mean the entire generous umbrella for books of this nature). There are *so many* book in fact, that someone talking about what they liked about it or didn’t like about it might just be useful. 

I’ll be talking about these books in terms of my first impressions and general overview discussing any relevant demographics – as in how  many authors in anthologies are non-white people or women, if there are any queer stories, stories of people with disabilities and so on. I’ll discuss the story and the characters, the world building and my personal experience of the book (or individual stories if it’s an anthology). It is also fairly likely that I’ll make some sort of critical commentary from my perspective as a (fledgeling) cultural analyst. 

So here we are, with the Retro Fiction Review Series, I’ll be your host Ju. Coming up next, a rather long review of the 1989 anthology “Cat Fantastic” edited by Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg. Then, a review of the 1994 “Queen City Jazz” by Kathleen Ann Goonan. 

Another Link Salad!

Another set of recent(ish) links for your collected enjoyment/appreciation.

First up, a recipe: Swedish Meatballs (you know, like the ones from Ikea that many of us know and love?) This came out beautifully and was well appreciated by my family.

Communities like this delight me beyond measure! How to save a library: residents from Stony Stratford borrow all the books in their local library in an attempt to avoid it being closed down.

To say that I am humbled by this is an understatement. Given the horrible treatment our detainees experience at the hand of our government, that these individuals would still reach out to us following the Queensland floods is truly amazing. It is well beyond time for us to put an end to the way in which we engage with asylum seekers.

Rebecca Drysdale kicks ass in this awesome music video “It Gets Better” in response to the It Gets Better Project started by Dan Savage in response to teen homophobia in the United States. From the website it looks like there will be a book coming up for release in the US on 22nd of March, preorder here if you’re interested (all proceeds will be donated to assist LGBTIQ youth).

Yet another reason why Twitter wins all over Facebook, contesting a gag order {link broken so removed} relating to US Government request for user information it is clear that they have rather awesome privacy ethics.

Twelfth Planet Press has recently announced a plan for 2011 releasing a series of female author collections collectively to be known as ‘The Twelve Planets’. The list of authors being showcased by this series include: Margo Lanagan, Lucy Sussex, Rosaleen Love, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Deborah Biancotti, Kaaron Warren, Cat Sparks, Sue Isle, Kirstyn McDermott, Narrelle M Harris, Thoraiya Dyer, Stephanie Campisi. There are several ways to get your hands on these amazing collections, check out the Twelfth Planet website for ordering details.

A message of productivity on why you should avoid reading email first thing in the morning. It’s a technique that I’ve used a fair few mornings since reading it in order to get a chunk of study out of the way before I get caught up in minutae.

Recently a 19th century French townhouse has been opened to the public after being sealed for the last 100 years. The photos are just beautiful and the idea that something like this has stayed preserved as a vision of what a yesteryear ‘everyday’ looked like.

In a different and less positive vision of the everyday, Andrea talks about rape culture asking the question ‘Who Will Rape Me?’ Creating a discussion context that considers the likely reality that a great number of women in their life times will be subjected to at least one instance of sexual violation or assault.

Going back to the revolution in Egypt, a few different links for you. In this video Waseem Wagdi talks about the events in Egypt, dated 21st January, 2011. This facebook album depicts images of women in Egypt, as in the media coverage there were few mentions or visuals of women participating in the protests. In this article, Techland discusses ‘World Web War I‘ and why Egypts digital uprising has been so different. Finally, two images of humanity as an ‘us’, one the celebration of a wedding in Tahrir Square {link broken so removed}  where the Egyptian protests took place and another showing Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers {link broken so removed} . Here is the Al Jazeera announcement of Mubarek resigning – so much promise for the future in this result! Truly my heart goes out to the Egyptian people and my will stands with theirs that they choose the future pathway of their country and its leadership. As a demonstration of ‘usness’ it is pretty spectacular and I am still, even now, deeply moved by it.

More on the concept of ‘us’ and community, this is much closer to home. There has been a brilliant summer initiative running in Fremantle this summer called ‘The Cappuccino Strip Street Club‘. On the first Thursday in the month, people gather in a selected street location engaging in activities of ‘placemaking’ and togetherness. There’s a facebook group that’s open invite if you’re interested here. Rugs, couches, chairs and tables take over the road spaces. Costumes, performances, children playing and adults merry-making fill the space and people come together, reclaiming space from cars and traffic, for people. It’s pretty amazing to participate in, I’ve watched some great performances, met lovely people and just relaxed and enjoyed being in the place that first stole my heart.

In the realm of science fiction, Marianne de Pierres has just had her first YA novel ‘Burn Bright’ released – I’m ecstatic about this and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy! If you haven’t seen the amazing book trailer, check it out here. The second book in this series ‘Angel Arias’ is already a hot topic and so is the book soundtrack of the same name by Yunyu, there’s a trailer preview of the soundtrack here.  In other science fiction related linkage, this Tor blog asks where is the polyamory in SFF? A question I’m highly invested in myself, and though I know of a few different scattered titles, aside from the Robert Heinlein they’ve required quite the hunt and I’d love to see more exploration of different family, relationship and people/beings connecting setups in a genre space that proposes to speculate.

And now we break for a baby bunny picture. It just cheered me up and made me feel squishy and happy. We all need that sometimes! Also for your enjoyment and cheering, this UPular remix.

This blog post on friendship guidelines is an interesting one, I don’t agree with everything it puts forth, but the idea that being discerning in friendship is a privilge is one I’m interested in engaging with, and actually is a privilege I’m happy to be part of. I’ve recently been in situations that have led me to remind myself that minimum standards for human engagement are just that: minimum standards. They don’t even dictate the probability or likelihood of friendship, just that as one human being engaging with or relating to another there are certain minimum expectations I hold for communication and engagement.

So as part of the recent flooding in Queensland, premier Anna Bligh engaged an AUSLAN intepreter whilst giving out updates on cyclone and flood through media services. For some strange reason there was a lot of criticism for that, and this video is a response to that criticism from the Victorian Council of Deaf People.

This interactive webgame ‘Spent‘ challenges the idea that you may never need help, may never end up poverty stricken and unsure how to make it through. Very interesting and quite confronting in places. US centric, but no less pointed for that. 

Yet more awesomeness and light heartedness! The most awesome cello battle and video clip (very slashy too) where Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic play ‘Smooth Criminal’ by Michael Jackson.

This video animation ‘Thought of You‘ came up on another social media site and was so beautiful and well made that I had to share. Also, this would have to be my favourite LOLcat ever, on world domination {link broken so removed} no less! More YouTube goodness, a mixture of art, animation and incredible talent, first with ‘Sometimes the Stars‘ by Adelaide band ‘The Audreys’, so beautiful as a song and as a clip. This in addition to the breathtaking power of the internet and fan culture undertaking ‘The Johnny Cash Project‘ in an effort to link together thousands of artwork frames into a music video for Johnny Cash’s last song ‘Ain’t No Grave’.

Natalie Latter discusses the ethical implications of the Australian government choosing to act or not act on climate change. I appreciated the discussion of the ethical stance rather than another article on the economic cost or the economic savings to be made. I am so over the economy as a the most important global focus.

As part of the centenary celebration of International Women’s Day, three links (and a follow up, more dedicated post later, I promise): Annabel Crabb at The Drum discusses the concept of ‘behind every successful woman is a wife‘ and whether our focus should be on getting men out of the workforce instead of predominantly on getting women back into the workforce around child care and other commitments. Selma James reiterates that point and makes several more, in her article looking at International Women’s Day on a global scale. She discusses women in the world,our commonalities and differences in the struggle for equality. Finally, 007 frocks up for International Women’s Day, and brilliantly narrated by Judi Dench this short clip asks the question: ‘Are We Equals?

And finally, how else could I end, but with TED Talks I’ve been watching recently?  Three for your viewing pleasure today, Jody Williams talks about a realistic vision for world peace and the idea of reclaiming the word ‘peace’ with new relevancy. Krista Tippett discusses reconnecting with compassion, and this was a truly stand out talk. Krista discusses compassion as a technology for living and connection in our contemporary world. There was also unexpected very different insight into Einstein as person and not only a scientist. Finally, Van Jones discusses the economic injustice of plastic. I really liked how he talked about the human cost and the concept of disposability in general. Not just about giving plastic bottles a second chance, but people too.