AWW: Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres

(I had decided to only post my AWW reviews on Goodreads, but have decided to cross-post here as well.  Adding reviews to date.)

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

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

(eARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair review)

In the future, Earth’s wildernesses have been decimated, the landscape dominated by megacities. Only one natural place remains – Birrimun Park. Its senior ranger is Virgin Jackson, a tough-talking, stubborn woman who loves the park, though she is not overly fond of the American West themes inflicted on the Australian park in order to feed the tourist trade.

The park is supposed to be inviolate, a fact that Virgin believes until she witnesses a murder within its boundaries. At the time time, she begins to see Aquila, an “imaginary” eagle that she has seen since she was a child, and relegated to a product of her tempestuous teenage years.

Virgin becomes a target, though she has no idea who is targeting her, and is forced to delve into her own past as well as the mysteries of what happened in the park in order to guarantee her own safety.

Peacemaker sets a hectic pace, with Virgin and Nate stumbling from one dangerous situation to the next. de Pierres manages to balance this tumult of action with calmer scenes, all of which work to develop the world and Virgin herself.

Virgin Jackson is a heroine that science fiction needs to see more of. She is real – she hesitates sometimes, and other times she tumbles head over heels into situations that the reader will fairly be screaming at her to run away from. She gets beaten up a lot, and yet she always gets up again. She breaks gender roles in a multitude of ways, and yet de Pierres hasn’t fallen back on any tropes in making her strong in this sense. She can stand with any of them men in this world, and yet she also possesses a softness and vulnerability that the reader is allowed glimpses of.

Readers will also find the romance in this refreshing – after the first few chapters, I had feared that things were being set up for a love triangle. Nothing of the sort ensues, though the romance is by no means easy or simple.

It is clear that de Pierres has developed a wonderful world here, and it feels very much like this book only skims the surface of it. There are many tantalising hints of depths, especially in terms of the spiritual side of the world, and of Nate Sixkiller.

I am very glad to see that at least one sequel to this book will be coming out, and I hope to see many more after it, de Pierres willing to write more. de Pierres is an extremely talented author who has produced an exceptional variety of works, and if you haven’t read any of her work before, Peacemaker is a great place to start.

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AWW2014: The Other Tree by D.K. Mok

(I had decided to only post my AWW reviews on Goodreads, but have decided to cross-post here as well.  Adding reviews to date.)

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It’s been four years since Chris Arlin graduated with a degree that most people think she made up, and she’s still no closer to scraping up funding for her research into rare plants. Instead, she’s stacking shelves at the campus library, until a suspiciously well-dressed man offers her a lucrative position on a scientific expedition.

For Chris, the problem isn’t the fact that they’re searching for the Biblical Tree of Life. Nor is it the fact that most of the individuals on the expedition seem to be fashionably lethal mercenaries. The problem is that the mission is being backed by SinaCorp, the corporation responsible for a similar, failed expedition on which her mother died eleven years ago.

However, when Chris’s father is unexpectedly diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Chris sees only one solution. Vowing to find the Tree of Life before SinaCorp’s mercenaries, Chris recruits Luke, an antisocial campus priest undergoing a crisis of faith. Together, they embark on a desperate race to find Eden. However, as the hunt intensifies, Chris discovers growing evidence of her mother’s strange behaviour before her death, and she begins to realise that SinaCorp isn’t the only one with secrets they want to stay buried.

(eARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair review)

“The Other Tree” is Australian author D.K. Mok’s debut novel. Caught somewhere between fantasy and thriller with religious overtones, this books is inevitably going to be compared to blockbusters like “The DaVinci Code”. The bonus here is that Mok’s writing is almost flawless, and her characters live and breathe (and snark at refreshing intervals) and actually act like real human beings.

Chris Arlin is a cryptobotanist who is approached by the company SinaCorp (who seem to be involved in pretty much anything and everything scientific and technical) to search for the real Bibical Tree of Life. Not only does Chris not trust SinaCorp’s motives for searching for the Tree, but she blames the company for her mother’s death, and, naturally, rejects their offer. Instead, she becomes determined to discover the Tree on her own, enlisting the help of conflicted priest Luke, on her quest.

Both Chris and Luke are complex, but extremely believable characters. There are several tropes that I feared would occur during this book – a romance between the two, for example – that Mok, thankfully never goes near. Chris and Luke always act within the bounds of their own beliefs and knowledge, and I never got the impression that either they, or the events of the book, were being forced into situations simply to serve the plot.

Chris, in particular, is a fabulous character. She never wavers from her interests and beliefs, and is more than strong enough to carry the story, even without Luke. Together, they give a fascinating perspective into this Indiana Jones-like quest for the Tree of Life. It would be very easy for an author to lose any character development against the background of such an enormous plot, and Mok never does – these characters remain vivid and real the whole way through.

Recommended for anyone who likes adventures and good, character-based fiction.

 

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AWW2014: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

(I had decided to only post my AWW reviews on Goodreads, but have decided to cross-post here as well.  Adding reviews to date.)

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The Reckoning destroyed civilisation. Rising from the ashes, some people have developed unique abilities, and society is scared of them. Guided by the ancient spirits of the land, Ashala Wolf will do anything to keep them safe.

When Ashala is captured, she realises she has been betrayed by someone she trusted. When her interrogator starts digging in her memories for information, she doubts she can protect her people forever. Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?

 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is the first book in Ambelin Kwaymullina’s post-apocalyptic/dystopian series, The Tribe. The series itself is marketed as YA fantasy, and while this book does technically fit into that category, I believe it would miss a lot of readers who would otherwise enjoy it.

There’s a lot to like about this book. There’s an originality to the world that Kwaymullina creates, even though she uses often standard tropes in its creation. An ecological disaster – never fully defined, but implied to have come about because of mankind pillaging the world through greed, and upsetting the Balance – has changed the face of the world. People, too, have changed, with many developing powers – some can cause earthquakes, others can shape the sky to forms they wish, others can read thoughts, to name just a few examples. Those who have powers are tightly controlled by the government (where control equals living in a detention centre), lest they upset the Balance and cause another apocalypse. Those who flee are Illegals, and hunted.

Ashala Wolf is the leader of the group of Illegals who live as the Tribe. This is the story of her interrogation in a detention centre.

It is a fantastic story: Ashala is a fascinating character, as are the other characters we see over the course of the book. What we see of the world is intriguing: we see the giant lizard saurs, and pieces of the Firstwood. And while this isn’t like to bother many of the YA target audience, sometimes, reading this as an adult reader, I found it frustrating that we *only* get to see these hints. I feel as though Kwaymullin has actually developed this world (which does feel very much like a post-apocalyptic Australia, though Australia itself in this future does not exist), but we don’t get to see *enough* of it. I do hope that more of the worldbuilding will be revealed over the course of the series.

The structure also didn’t quite work for me. It feels very much the debut novel it is, as Kwaymullin reaches to peel back the layers of story and truth in a fashion that *almost* works. I actually found myself having to check several times over the first third of the book that this was indeed the first book in the series, since so much was referred to but not explained. It’s nice not to see huge infodumps, but there could have been some more backstory explained.

Overall, this is a start to a very promising series by an Australian author, and an extremely accomplished debut. I’ve really only deducted a star for the structure that didn’t quite work for me, and I would recommend this whole-heartedly. I know that if I’d read this as a fifteen-year-old, I would have been dreaming of running away to join the Tribe.

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Tin Duck!

Soooo, I kind of won a Tin Duck last night.  Second time winning for Fan Writer.

(for those not in WA or Australia, the Tin Ducks are the Western Australian science fiction achievement awards – this years nominations can be found here; I’m guessing the wiki will be updated with the winners when everyone is home from Swancon).

I am very chuffed that my friend Pia van Ravestein won the short fiction category for her short story Street Dancer.  I beta read that story, and I still think of the cat in it (and the world, but hey, the cat kind of won my heart) all the time.

 

 

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Reaching for the light

Because it has been too damn long since I picked up my camera.

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A podcast recommendation

Because the interview with Juliet Marillier is fantastic.  And my favourite Wardruna song also precedes the interview.

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Kisses by Clockwork

The table of contents for the Ticonderoga Publications anthology Kisses by Clockwork, edited by Liz Gryzb, has been announced:

  • Marilag Angway, “Smuggler’s Deal”
  • Cherith Baldry, “The Venetian Cat”
  • Gio Clairval, “The Writing Cembalo”
  • M L D Curelas, “Ironclad”
  • Ray Dean, “Practically Perfect”
  • Stephanie Gunn, “Escapement”
  • Richard Harland, “The Kiss of Reba Maul”
  • Rebecca Harwell, “Love in the Time of Clockwork Horses”
  • Faith Mudge, “Descension”
  • Nicole Murphy, “The Wild Colonial Clockwork Boy”
  • Katrina Nicholson, “Lady Presto Magnifico and the Disappearing Glass Ceiling”
  • Anthony Panegyres, “The Tic-Toc Boy of Constantinople”
  • Amanda Pillar, “A Clockwork Heart”
  • Angela Rega, “The Law of Love”
  • Carol Ryles, “Siri and the Chaos-Maker”
  • DC White, “South, to Glory”

I am most pleased about this sale, because Escapement is one of a twinned set of novellas/novelettes that explore a new world – a kind of twisted post-apocalyptic steampunk world – for me.  I very much look forward to the release of the anthology in April.

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Australian Women Writers 2014

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I’d debated about whether I was going to sign up for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge again this year.

Not because I didn’t enjoy the challenge last year, but simply because I want to focus most of my energy on writing this year, and not so much on reviewing.

But then while looking through my Goodreads feed, I found a book that I want to read for the challenge.  And so, I am signing up again.

I am signing up at the Franklin level again (read at least 10, review at least 6) and will be cross-posting my reviews on the blog here (and from here to Livejournal and Dreamwidth and Tumblr) and at Goodreads.

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2013, the year that was

So, it is almost the end of 2013.

This has been a year that has been very much interrupted.  Looking back at my goals for the year, I have achieved very few of them.  I’ve made progress, which is something, but completion?  Not so much.

The Australian Women’s Writer’s Challenge 

I aimed to read at least ten books and review at least six.  Looking at my Goodreads page, I read and reviewed nine.  Which looks on the surface as though I didn’t complete the challenge.  But!  In my reading for the Aurealis Awards, I’ve read far more books that technically count for the challenge (though I didn’t formally review them).  As of today, I have completed reading 44 books, of which 26 are (on a quick skim) by female writers.  So, challenge completed?

I’m actually not certain if I’m going to sign up for the challenge again next year.  I’ve done it the last two years, and I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m not certain how much energy I want to devote to reviewing work.  I really like being able to promote good books, and I’ll keep on tracking my reading through Goodreads, but I’ve gotten somewhat disillusioned with reviewing in general (and in the nature of some of the types of reviews I keep seeing posted to the site).  We’ll see, anyway.

Writing

Looking at the bare bones of the year, I didn’t accomplish as near as much as I’d wanted to writing-wise.  Health issues interrupted me several times (nothing that ended up being serious, mind, just flare-ups of the usual chronic illness stuff, with a few new things that got investigated).  I’d planned on getting at least one novel to a submittable/publishable level, and that didn’t happen.

However, I did spend a good five months working on something that was entirely for fun, and not for publication.  And it made me really step back and look at the career that I want to have, and what I want to achieve with writing.

Long story short, I have a whole lot of Plans for 2014.  Not sharing them in public yet, but I feel like I have direction now, and I’m hoping that I can get a lot accomplished next year.  It helps that the kidlet’s going to be going into kindy next year, so I’ll have a few days of undisturbed time to work in.

Reading

If you care to, you can see all of the books I read over at Goodreads.

There will be more added by the time the new year officially comes around, thanks to Aurealis reading, but as of right now, I’ve read 222 books, which is the most I’ve managed since I had the kidlet.  Kids getting older and being able to entertain themselves more = awesome.

I can’t talk about any of the Aurealis books yet (well, I can with disclaimers, but I’m not going to), but I can mention some of the books I particularly enjoyed out of that group.  And yes, you will see a lot of mountaineering books in that list if you go and look.  I developed a bit of a fascination with the sport and the people who do it over the year.  I have a story forming with the men in the basement based on it – either a novella or a novel, I’m not sure yet.

My picks of the year’s reading:

Joe Hill – NOS4R2

Laurie Edwards – Life Disrupted

Mira Grant – Parasite

Helen Marshall – Hair Side, Flesh Side

Nancy Kress – After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall

Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

M.T. Anderson – Feed

Paul Cornell - London Falling

Rainbow Rowell - Eleanor and Park

Kate Forsyth - The Wild Girl

Karen Healey - When We Wake

Andrew K Host - And All the Stars

Kaaron Warren - Through Splintered Walls

One thing I did fall down on was keeping up with my reviews of galleys from Netgalley.  I want to keep on top of them a bit better next year – and especially give myself permission to just put a book down if I’m not grabbed within 50 pages or so.  I want to extend that permission to reading in general.  I have more than 1000 books on my to-be-read pile (both real and virtual) and I’m not going to have all the time in the world to read everything.  It’s time to give myself permission to not like things that other people do, and not have to justify to anyone why I didn’t finish it.

I have a lot of goals for 2014, but I’m not going to share them in public.  I’m looking forward to a more productive year, however.

 

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An interesting link for the weekend: Wonderbook Editor’s Roundtable

Via Ferrett Steinmetz - who is an extraordinarily talented writer and whose blog is very much worth the read – Wonderbook’s Editor’s Roundtable, wherein a group of editors look at the same story and give feedback, as though they were reading the story from the slush pile.

Seriously, anyone who’s trying to sell short fiction (especially if you’ve had little success or a lot of close-but-not-close-enough rejections), go and read this.  Even if you don’t have time to look at the detailed comments, look at the general comments.

I read slush for ASIM.  Sometimes, I get very frustrated reading slush for ASIM, but that’s another story entirely.

Well, I’ll give one one part of that story: I usually know by the time I’ve finished the first paragraph if I’m going to give the story a positive or negative response.  If there’s nothing to grab me there, I will not want to read on.  Note that I always read the whole story out of fairness to authors who have sweated over the work, but I have yet to come across anything where the first paragraph hasn’t grabbed me, and then the rest of the story is awesome.

Now, Dust and Deadduns.  If I came across this story in the slush pile, it would probably have been a “meh” vote – middle of the line.  I am a reader who is drawn to character primarily, and there’s very little about the actual characters in the first paragraphs.  However, there is also a character of type in the interesting setting, and that’s the only thing that would have kept me reading long enough to get into the actual characters.  The dialect, I find off-putting, but it’s not done badly enough to make me stop reading.

And then I would have read down to the introduction of zombies, and this is probably the point at which I would have lost interest.  Because a vaguely interesting setting, combined with characters who feel, at this stage, two-dimensional, and a trope that’s been done a thousand times, equals loss of interest for me.

And I emphasise that for me.  And note that I am merely a lowly slush reader, and then point you to the awesome editors and their opinions.

Seriously, go and read the post.  It’s worth it.  I suspect that the entirety of Wonderbook will be worth the purchase, and I am eagerly awaiting my own copy, which is somewhere in the world on its way to me.

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