March in review

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Physical books received this month.

 

And here we are, somehow (almost) at the end of March.  Where is this year going?

Writing

  • I finished the zero draft of Never.  Which is terrible, as all zero drafts ought to be, and littered with notes to myself on the things that I need to fix.  I’m aiming to let it rest a little longer before I come back and start the next draft, but we’ll see where my head goes.
  • I spent some time after that draft meandering about in the between projects abyss, but have just found my way into a short story that I’m writing to submit to an upcoming anthology.  It may be one of the most depressing things I’ve ever written.
  • I also finished editing the novella I’ve been working on for the last *mumblemumble* and have sent it off into the aether.  I have no idea what its chances really are, but I have a massive amount of respect for the editor in whose virtual desk it rests.
  • I got to announce that I’ll be part of the TOC of the upcoming Ticonderoga Press anthology Hear Me Roar with my story Broken Glass.  I am so chuffed to be in this anthology, I don’t even have the words.
  • And Escapement (one of my weird dystopia/steampunk series of stories, and the first to see publication) garnered a Tin Duck nomination in addition to its Ditmar nomination.

Reviewing

  • A quieter month for me reviewing, since I’ve been devoting a chunk of my reading time to research for the short story I’m working on.
  • Only one Netgalley review this month (though technically I also originally got an eARC of one of my AWW books from Netgalley, too): Aquila.
  • Australian Women Writers (AWW) Challenge reviews: Graced by Amanda Pillar and Liesmith by Alis Franklin.  Spoiler: I loved them both.

Miscellaneous

  • I received my lovely hardcover copy of Cranky Ladies of History in the mail, which is on my pile-o-stuff to review soon.  It is a truly beautiful book.
  • I’ve been catching up on a lot of podcasts.  Finally started (and finished) listening to Serial  and started listening to Alisa Krasnostein’s new podcast Champagne and Socks.  Champagne and Socks is really enjoyable – and I don’t even craft (yet!).  I have wanted to learn to crochet for ages (though I don’t know how my fingers and wrists would hold up to it) and I should get back into knitting.
  • And we have been playing a lot of Diablo III.  Like, a lot.  It’s just fun to play when my brain needs a break.
  • I have been doing a lot of decluttering, including starting to get ruthless with books.  I’ve long since run out of book shelf space (despite having a lot of it) and I have no choice but to get rid of stuff that I know I’ll never read.  I also need a proper organisational system, since everything is everywhere.  I did have books loosely shelves by genre, but that system broke down as shelves started to explode.  I need Compactus shelving.  Ana a librarian.
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AWW2015: Liesmith by Alis Franklin

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Working in low-level IT support for a company that’s the toast of the tech world, Sigmund Sussman finds himself content, if not particularly inspired. As compensation for telling people to restart their computer a few times a day, Sigmund earns enough disposable income to gorge on comics and has plenty of free time to devote to his gaming group.

Then in walks the new guy with the unpronounceable last name who immediately becomes IT’s most popular team member. Lain Laufeyjarson is charming and good-looking, with a story for any occasion; shy, awkward Sigmund is none of those things, which is why he finds it odd when Lain flirts with him. But Lain seems cool, even if he’s a little different—though Sigmund never suspects just how different he could be. After all, who would expect a Norse god to be doing server reboots?

As Sigmund gets to know his mysterious new boyfriend, fate—in the form of an ancient force known as the Wyrd—begins to reveal the threads that weave their lives together. Sigmund doesn’t have the first clue where this adventure will take him, but as Lain says, only fools mess with the Wyrd. Why? Because the Wyrd messes back.


 

Note: An eARC of this book was received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I have since purchased my own copy.

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015.


Liesmith is Australian author Alis Franklin’s debut novel.  It is the first book in the urban fantasy series, The Wyrd.  Two more books in the series are forthcoming.

Let’s get one thing up front: I make no secret of the fact that I am really, really burned out on a lot of what passes for urban fantasy these days.  I am tired of love triangles and of seeing characters doing dumb things to perpetuate love triangles.  I am tired of seeing mythology thinned, turned into yet another cookie-cutter book filled with the same old tropes.

And so I approached Liesmith with some trepidation.  Worried that this would be yet another same-old same-old.

I shouldn’t have worried.

Because seriously, Franklin has knocked this one out of the park.

Sigmund Sussman is a geek.  He works in IT – and worse, the brand of “Have you tried turning it off then on again?” IT – he’s chubby, somewhat awkward with non-geeks, and he plays DnD.  Refreshingly, though he’s unashamedly geeky, he’s not portrayed as a loner – his two best friends, both female gamers, Wayne and Em, are always there for him.  Sigmund can also always sense when someone is lying, an ability that he keeps to himself.

Enter Lain Laufeyjarson, hipsterish new addition to the IT department.  Sigmund brushes Lain off originally (at which point I was pretty much cheering because no love at first sight trope!), but Lain is immediately interested in Sigmund.  He slowly takes his time getting to know him (double hooray!) and the two of them are drawn together.

You make think this is a standard romance, but beneath Lain’s skin lies someone – and something – else, and Sigmund and his friends are thrown into a world of monsters where gods can be reincarnated and not everything is as it seems.

First of all, the romance in this is wonderful.  There’s no love at first sight, just a believable growing together of two people.  Without spoiling anything specific, Franklin could very easily have thrust these Lain and Sigmund together, but she chooses not to, instead creating a very gradual relationship (including the awkward moments that happen in any nascent relationship).  This is no stereotypical Powerful Character falls in love with Squishy Mortal story, but something that feels very, very real.  The fluid treatment of sexuality is also to be commended.

The fantasy elements in this are also amazing.  Franklin has taken the Norse myths and created something pretty damn amazing.  What lies beneath Lain’s skin is monstrous, but there’s a deep humanity to him, even in his most inhuman moments.

I seriously do not have enough words for how much I love this book and want to thrust it at everyone I know who reads urban fantasy (and those who don’t).  The romance is wonderful, all of the characters are well-rounded (including Wayne and Em, who could have easily been just so much window dressing in a lesser writer’s hands), and the fantastical elements are original and solid. On top of everything, the writing is brilliant, and there’s fun and humour and darkness in just the right balance.

Franklin is most definitely a writer to watch.  She brings something truly fresh to urban fantasy in Liesmith and I hope we get to see many more books by her.  Based on Liesmith alone, she’s on my instant buy list for life.

 

 

 

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Hear Me Roar table of contents announced

I am very happy to announce that I’ll have a story appearing in the upcoming anthology from Ticonderoga Press, Hear Me Roar, edited by Liz Gryzb.

The TOC announcement can be found here, and the TOC is copied below:

  • Cherith Baldry, “Star Bright”
  • Jenny Blackford, “The Sorrow”
  • Kay Chronister, “Dustbowl”
  • Stephanie Gunn, “Broken Glass”
  • Kathryn Hore, “Generation Zero”
  • Kathleen Jennings, “A Hedge of Yellow Roses”
  • Faith Mudge, “Blueblood”
  • T R Napper, “The Silica Key”
  • Rivqa Rafael, “Function A:save(target.Dawn)”
  • Alter Reiss, “Catalysis”
  • Jane Routley, “Barista”
  • Cat Sparks, “Veteran’s Day”
  • Kyla Ward, “Cursebreaker: The Mutalibeen and the Memphite Mummies”
  • Marlee Jane Ward, “Clara’s”
  • Susan Wardle, “A Truck Called Remembrance”
  • Janeen Webb, “A Wondrous Necessary Woman”
  • Eleanor Wood, “The Fruits of Revolution”

 

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AWW2015: Graced by Amanda Pillar

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City Guard Elle Brown has one goal in life: to protect her kid sister, Emmie. Falling in love–and with a werewolf at that–was never part of the deal.

Life, however, doesn’t always go to plan, and when Elle meets Clay, everything she thought about her world is thrown into turmoil. Everything, that is, but protecting Emmie, who is Graced with teal-colored eyes and an unknown power that could change their very existence. But being different is dangerous in their home city of Pinton, and it’s Elle’s very own differences that capture the attention of the Honorable Dante Kipling, a vampire with a bone-deep fascination for a special type of human.

Dante is convinced that humans with eye colors other than brown are unique, but he has no proof. The answers may exist in the enigmatic hazel eyes of Elle Brown, and he’s determined to uncover their secrets no matter the cost…or the lives lost.


 

An eARC of this book was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  I also subsequently purchased a copy of this book myself.

NOTE: I was an beta reader for this book and have worked with Amanda Pillar as an editor, and consider her a friend.  Neither of these things have influenced my review.

This review is presented as part of my commitment towards the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.


Graced is writer and editor Amanda Pillar’s debut novel, and is published by Momentum Books.

At first. the world of Graced looks much like many other urban fantasy/paranormal romance worlds.  There are vampires who live in an aristocratic society, there are werewolves, and there are humans.  But here is where Pillar brings something new to the genre: within the humans are a subset of magically talented people known as the Graced, identifiable by their coloured eyes (Non-Graced humans have brown eyes).  The Graced believe that their powers are secret, and want to keep it that way.

Elle Brown is a City Guard working in the primarily vampire-occupied Pinton.  Her primary concern in life, other than keeping the peace, is the wellbeing and happiness of her much younger sister, Emmie.  Their Grandmother, Olive, a strong Green (a Graced with green eyes, and strong powers), believes both of her granddaughters to be useless.  Elle has hazel eyes and no powers, and Emmie has unusual Teal eyes, but appears to only have latent powers.  Olive has far-reaching schemes for the Graced, and invites the werewolf Clay Lovett to Pinton.  Elle and Clay meet, and there is instant chemistry between them.

Meanwhile, the vampire Dante Kipling is growing curious about humans with coloured eyes – he suspects that the colours must mean something, but he doesn’t know what.  His experiments result in the deaths of two Graced, and Olive sends Elle to spy on the Kipling family in disguise as a servant.

And, quite simply, all hell breaks loose.

At first, I wasn’t quite sold on the idea of the Graced – special eye colours are a well-worn trope, and I feared that I would be seeing the same-old same-old here.  I shouldn’t have feared, because Pillar adds so much originality and meaning to an old trope – and there are hints that there are deeper threads again to the Graced (and I hope very much that Pillar revisits this world to explore them).

All of the characters are amazing.  Elle is a fabulous strong (in the literal meaning of strong) female character, and her love and protective instincts for Emmie make her very relatable.  Clay is charming from the moment he steps onto the page, and the chemistry between he and Elle is palpable.

There has to be a mention about the diversity of sexualities in this book.  There is little shame in sexuality, and we see characters who are bisexual (and use the word to describe themselves, which happens far too little) as well as asexual.

The setting of this world feels a little nebulous at first – very much like any alternate earth.  But as the story progresses, there are hints and clues that this is not just an alternate earth, but in fact something else.

There is much that could easily have become problematic in this book.  The implication that a young girl could possibly be bred with an older character is there, but strongly objected to by many characters (so many that you know as a reader that it’s never going to happen).  There’s also a good portrayal of a character with a physical disability, who is never maligned for it (except by himself).

This is a fast-paced, fun read that will likely appeal to fans of work such as Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books (without their problematic issues).  Pillar brings a new voice to urban fantasy and has introduced readers to a fabulous new world that I truly hope she returns to.  Highly recommended.

 

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February in review

February books

Books received in February.

 

I’ve decided to start a new blog series this year, just keeping track of everything.  Also known as “Oh hell, it’s *insert month here* already???

Somehow, it’s the end of February already.  Yeah, I don’t know how that happened, either.  My son started full time school this month, which means that I now have more time to work on everything.  Which means that this has been one of the most productive months I’ve had in a long time.

Writing

  • I have written 46,687 words on the Zero Draft (of utter crapness) of Never.  It is literally the worst draft I have ever written and I do not care.  I have a metric tonne of notes to myself scattered through the Scrivener file for things I need to fix on the next draft.
  • I have managed to work myself up to a minimum of 2k written per day, with some days creeping closer to 3k.
  • A cycle of edits on a novella based on some beta feedback.  It just needs a final going over and I can start trying to find it a home.
  • Have also been pounced on by two ideas for short works, one of which will probably be a novella, the other a novelette.
  • There is also good writing news that I am not at liberty to share yet ;)
  • And Escapement got nominated for a Ditmar!  And the anthology it was part of, Kisses by Clockwork, was just nominated for an Aurealis Award.

Reviewing

Reading

  • You can see above a photo of the books I physically received this month.  I also received a bunch of eARCs from Netgalley.
  • Also purchased on the kindle: Graced, by Amanda Pillar, Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins, A Darker Shade of Magic  by V.E. Schwab, Havenstar by Glenda Larke and How to be Both by Ali Smith.
  • And my ecopy of Cranky Ladies of History also arrived in my inbox (I took part in crowdfunding the anthology, and if I remember correctly, I should also be getting a hard copy.  Trusting my memory is rarely a good thing, though).
  • Yes, that is a lot of books.  I know.
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AWW2015: In My Mother’s Hands by Biff Ward

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There are secrets in this family. Before Biff and her younger brother, Mark, there was baby Alison, who drowned in her bath because, it was said, her mother was distracted. Biff too, lives in fear of her mother’s irrational behaviour and paranoia, and she is always on guard and fears for the safety of her brother. As Biff grows into teenage hood, there develops a conspiratorial relationship between her and her father, who is a famous and gregarious man, trying to keep his wife’s problems a family secret. This was a time when the insane were committed and locked up in Dickensian institutions; whatever his problems her father was desperate to save his wife from that fate. But also to protect his children from the effects of living with a tragically disturbed mother.

In My Mother’s Hands is a beautifully written and emotionally perplexing coming-of-age true story about growing up in an unusual family.


 

This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

I purchased this book.


 

When the Stella Prize longlist for 2015 was announced, I went through and downloaded samples of the books that interested me.  This is the first book for which I read the sample and had to keep on reading.

Biff Ward grew up in a house that was unlike the houses of the people she knew.  There was the shadow of her sister Alison, said to have drowned in her bath as a baby when her mother fainted.  And there was Biff’s mother, a woman who always seemed distracted, apart from her family.  At times this distraction broke and became something else: a paranoia that they were being watched, that people were coming to get them.

As Ward grows up, her mother becomes more and more detached, more unstable.  She begins to gouge at her hands, pare back her nails with a razor, trying to rid herself of a “rash”.  She wears gloves all the time that she is not gouging.  Ward’s father copes as best as he can, though at times this “coping” seems to veer very close to abuse.  He has a string of affairs, but he always returns to his wife, this woman who seems empty, who seems so incredibly sad.

It is as an adult, living apart from her mother, that Ward sets off on a journey to discover what really happened to Alison, what really is wrong with her mother.  As she uncovers the truth, there is an indescribable sorrow that flows beneath the words of the book.  Sorrow for Ward and her brother, essentially growing up without a mother.  Sorrow for Ward’s father, who sought to protect his wife from a state asylum, the only treatment for mental illness at the time.  And sorrow most of all for Ward’s mother, suffering most likely from postpartum psychosis and schizophrenia.

Ward draws parallels between her life and Jane Eyre, with the mad wife Bertha locked in the attic.  Reading this book, I wonder how many Berthas there have been, essentially locked away for lack of real treatment for mental illness.  Ward’s mother lived in a time before antidepressants and antipsychotics, a time when mental illness was hushed up, swept beneath the rug, hidden by gloves.

This is an incredibly important memoir, and I can only begin to imagine how painful it must have been for Ward to write.  Without real help, her whole family suffered because of her mother’s mental illness.   There is no blame in this memoir on Ward’s part, just that deep sorrow for the woman her mother might have been, if there had been real help for her at the time.  Ward is to be thanked for her honesty and strength.  This is not an easy read, by any means, but it is a book that is very much worth reading.

 

 

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Ditmar ballot 2015 announced

The Ditmar ballot for 2015 has been announced.  You can see the ballot here, and if you’re eligible to vote for the awards, you can do so here.

I’m kind of stunned that my weird steampunk dystopia Escapement has made it to the novella/novelette ballot.  I doubt I have a hope in hell of winning, given who I’m up against, but I am chuffed to be nominated.  And I also snuck in on the Best Fan Publication as part of Snapshot.

Best Novel

  • The Lascar’s Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette)
  • Bound (Alex Caine 1), Alan Baxter (Voyager)
  • Clariel, Garth Nix (HarperCollins)
  • Thief’s Magic (Millennium’s Rule 1), Trudi Canavan (Hachette Australia)
  • The Godless (Children 1), Ben Peek (Tor UK)
  • No Award

Best Novella or Novelette

  • “The Ghost of Hephaestus”, Charlotte Nash, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • “The Legend Trap”, Sean Williams, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “The Darkness in Clara”, Alan Baxter, in SQ Mag 14 (IFWG Publishing Australia)
  • “St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, Angela Slatter, in Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3 (Review of Australian Fiction)
  • “The Female Factory”, Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, in The Female Factory (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “Escapement”, Stephanie Gunn, in Kisses by Clockwork (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • No Award

Best Short Story

  • “Bahamut”, Thoraiya Dyer, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • “Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “Cookie Cutter Superhero”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “The Seventh Relic”, Cat Sparks, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • “Signature”, Faith Mudge, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • No Award

Best Collected Work

  • Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Phantazein, edited by Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)
  • No Award

Best Artwork

  • Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, in Black-Winged Angels (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, of Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, in The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings (Tartarus Press)
  • No Award

Best Fan Writer

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work
  • Tsana Dolichva, for body of work
  • Bruce Gillespie, for body of work
  • Katharine Stubbs, for body of work
  • Alexandra Pierce for body of work
  • Grant Watson, for body of work
  • Sean Wright, for body of work
  • No Award

Best Fan Artist

  • Nalini Haynes, for body of work, including “Interstellar Park Ranger Bond, Jaime Bond”, “Gabba and Slave Lay-off: Star Wars explains Australian politics”, “The Driver”, and “Unmasked” in Dark Matter Zine
  • Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including Fakecon art and Illustration Friday series
  • Nick Stathopoulos, for movie poster of It Grows!
  • No Award

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium

  • Snapshot 2014, Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, and Sean Wright
  • It Grows!, Nick Stathopoulos
  • Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Andrew Finch
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
  • Galactic Chat, Sean Wright, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, Alexandra Pierce, Sarah Parker, and Mark Webb
  • No Award

Best New Talent

  • Helen Stubbs
  • Shauna O’Meara
  • Michelle Goldsmith
  • No Award

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

  • Reviews in The Angriest, Grant Watson
  • The Eddings Reread series, Tehani Wessely, Jo Anderton, and Alexandra Pierce, in A Conversational Life
  • Reviews in Adventures of a Bookonaut, Sean Wright
  • “Does Sex Make Science Fiction Soft?”, in Uncanny Magazine 1, Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Reviews in FictionMachine, Grant Watson
  • The Reviewing New Who series, David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Tehani Wessely
  • No Award
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Review: Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz

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FLEX: Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.

FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.

PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form.

But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.


 

NOTE: This book was received as an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion.


 

I’ve been a longtime reader of Ferrett Steinmetz online, and his short stories remain some of the works that have resonated with me the strongest (seriously, if you haven’t read Shoebox Heaven, you should.  Bring tissues.).  I was therefore extremely happy when Steinmetz announced the sale of Flex to Angry Robot, and happier still when I managed to snag an eARC.

This is the world Steinmetz gives us in Flex:  people who become obsessed with things become ‘mancers, their obsessions strong enough to become magic that can bend the rules of physics.  ‘Mancy comes with a price – every “flex” of reality creates “flux” as reality bends back.  ‘Mancers in Europe have created enough Flux that they have literally broken reality; as a result, ‘mancers are seen as something that needs to be kept controlled.

This magic can also be distilled into a physical drug, known as Flex.  Snort Flex, and luck will bend to your will.  If a bullet is fired point blank at your head, the universe will find some way – even the one in a billion happenstance – that will make you not die.

Paul Tsabo is an ex-cop who lost his foot to the last ‘mancer he hunted.  Paul Tsabo also loves order, is obsessed with the idea of finding the “Unified Universal Form” that will make bureaucracy simple.  Paul Tsabo’s obsession is so great that it has made him a ‘mancer, a discovery that will change everything about his life, and about the life of his daughter, Aaliyah.

This world is amazing – just the idea that an obsession can bend reality enough to create magic is a brilliant one.  We see all kinds of ‘mancies in this book – gamemancy, Paul’s bureaucromancy, musclemancy.  The idea on its own brings something fresh to urban fantasy, and was enough on its own to draw me into the book.

Paul himself is also an interesting character.  His relationship with his daughter is finely written, and I never wavered in the belief that he would do literally anything to save her life.  I may have literally yelled at my Kindle at one point early in the book, just before I realised that something bad was going to happen, I already cared about Aaliyah so much as character from seeing her through her father’s eyes.

My only issues with this book are Valentine, the gamemancer who Paul joins forces with, and Anathema, the ‘mancer they hunt.  Both characters felt a little thin to me.  It’s clear the Steinmetz made an effort to develop Valentine, but she still came off a lot of the time like someone being drawn to fit a particular box in the story, and not a fully-developed character.

Despite these issues, I enjoyed this book a great deal.  The world alone is fascinating – and I really hope that Steinmetz returns to it, because I really want to see just how broken Europe is, and I want to see how Aaliyah’s story develops.  If you’ve burned out on a lot of urban fantasy, I can recommend picking this one up, as I believe Steinmetz brings something new and fresh to the genre.

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AWW15: Avery by Charlotte McConaghy

Avery - cover image

The people of Kaya die in pairs. When one lover dies, the other does too. So it has been for thousands of years – until Ava.

For although her bondmate, Avery, has been murdered and Ava’s soul has been torn in two, she is the only one who has ever been strong enough to cling to life. Vowing revenge upon the barbarian queen of Pirenti, Ava’s plan is interrupted when she is instead captured by the deadly prince of her enemies.

Prince Ambrose has been brought up to kill and hate. But when he takes charge of a strangely captivating Kayan prisoner and is forced to survive with her on a dangerous island, he must reconsider all he holds true . . .

In a violent country like Pirenti, where emotion is scorned as a weakness, can he find the strength to fight for the person he loves . . . even when she’s his vengeful enemy?

Avery is a sweeping, romantic fantasy novel about loss and identity, and finding the courage to love against all odds.


 

NOTE: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This review is presented both as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 and as part of the Avery blog tour.  You can find the previous blog tour stop at Words Read and Written and the next blog tour stop at A Word Shaker.


 

Avery is the first book in a new Young Adult series by Australian author Charlotte McConaghy, The Chronicles of Kaya.

When Ava’s bond-mate Avery is killed, Ava naturally expects to die as well.  But Ava does not die.  She fades, grows numb, loses her sense of taste, but she does not die.  Rejected by her family and friends, she sets on the only course she can: revenge against the Queen of Pirenti, murderer of Avery.  Pirenti is a barbaric country where travelling as a woman is too dangerous, and so she disguises herself as a boy and takes her dead lover’s name, Avery.

In Pirenti, love is seen as weakness and power comes from violence.  The princes of Pirenti are Ambrose and Thorne.  Thorne is married to the fragile and strange Roselyn, a woman for whom he can express his love for only as violence.  When Ava’s path crosses Ambrose’s, and eventually Thorne and Roselyn, everything must change for them all.

This is a book that I would have adored as a teenager.  The hook–lovers bonded for life–would have grabbed me and not let go.  I can easily see this book and series being a gateway for many younger readers into fantasy, especially those who have mostly read only mainstream YA.

As an adult, and especially as one who has read a lot of fantasy (aimed both at YA and adult audiences), I was initially wary of many of the tropes McConaghy uses in the book.  The bonding between lovers veers very close to love at first sight, and the fact that Kayans have colour changing eyes seemed yet another recycling of old tropes.

However, as I read on, I found that McConaghy was pushing past many of these tropes.  The colour-changing eyes was used to good effect, and the bonding was shown to be something that didn’t necessarily have to be instantaneous.  More refreshing is that Ava herself is never a weak character–she doubts herself at times, but she’s never a damsel in distress.

Some readers will likely find the parts of the story which focus on violence against women (especially Roselyn) confronting, and may wish to avoid the book on that basis.  However, as with the other plot threads, I felt that McConaghy explored this with respect (and with an actual cultural reason for the said violence in Pirenti).  I actually found Roselyn to be one of the most fascinating characters in the book, and I hope that her story is further explored in the future.

All in all, this was a satisfying read for myself as an adult reader who has consumed a great deal of fantasy, and I could see it easily being an almost obsessive read for many a younger reader.  Highly recommended.


Celebrity_photographers_sydney_glamour_nudes_art_photography_SeductiveCharlotte McConaghy grew up with her nose in a book. Her first novel, Arrival, was published at age seventeen, followed by Descentwhen she was twenty.
She soon started her first adult fantasy novel, Avery, the prologue of which came to her in a very vivid dream. Avery launched The Chronicles of Kaya series, and is followed by Thorne – Book Two and Isadora, the third and final in the trilogy. She then published Fury, and Melancholy, the first and second books in a dystopian sci-fi series called The Cure.
Charlotte currently lives in Sydney, and has a Masters in Screenwriting at the Australian Film, Television & Radio School.

 

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Review: Cold Comfort by David McDonald

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Strap yourself in as three tales from award winning speculative fiction author David McDonald take you on a tour of time and space.

Visit a frozen post apocalyptic Earth, a galactic delivery service, and very Australian dystopia to discover what happens to ordinary people faced with extraordinary choices or challenges.

Published by Clan Destine Press.

 

NOTE: Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

Cold Comfort is a collection of three stories from Australian author David McDonald; two of the stories are reprints and one is original to this collection.

Cold Comfort (originally published in Fablecroft Publishing’s Epilogue)

Ice spiders, snow bears and deadly cold are only most obvious of the dangers a young trader faces as she searches for the secrets of the Elders on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Epilogue is an anthology which focused on apocalypse, and more, strove to explore the world beyond it–is there hope beyond the end of the world?  Cold Comfort explores these themes in a frozen world, where people survive only in sealed domes and heat itself is a currency.  The story follows Vanya as she travels through the icy wilderness, fighting off wild creatures as she searches for a dome in which she can trade, and discovers so much more.

There is a deceptive sparsity to McDonald’s writing which well suits this story.  Everything feels truly bleak and utterly real: the reader struggles with Vanya as she searches the frozen world.  It really feels as though there is a whole world here, and that McDonald has only just begin to explore it (and as a reader, I hope that he does return to it, because it is fascinating).

Through Wind and Weather (originally published in eMergent Publishing’s Deck the Halls)

A rebellious pilot races against time to make a vital delivery to a planet in need. But in the face of the worst solar storm in years, his only ally is a sentient spaceship who is an outcast even to its own kind.

From the Christmas-themed anthology Deck the Halls, this one is (obviously) Christmas themed.

This is a slighter story than the others in Cold Comfort, but it has no less impact.  Without spoiling anything, this is the kind of story that I’m not usually a fan of, but McDonald makes it work by adding in just enough fascinating worldbuilding.  I kind of want one of these spaceships, and now please.

Our Land Abounds

In a world divided by war and wracked by food shortages, the Republic of Australasia is an oasis protected by its isolation and the Border Patrol. But, a chance encounter leaves a weary veteran asking whether the price of plenty is too high.

This story is original to this anthology, and is my favourite.

In the possibly-all-too-near future, Australia has suffered through a war, and in order to protect itself and its wealth, has closed its borders.  But all is not well in the Republic: a teacher is taken away for daring suggest that Australia has enough wealth to share, and illegal immigrants are hung for their “crime”.

This closed-off republic is not a kind one, however–a teacher is taken away for daring suggest to her students that Australia has enough wealth to share, and “criminals” are hung for being discovered as illegal immigrants.

This story in particular cuts very close to the bone, with respect to the Australian government’s current policies, and it feels far too much like a plausible future.  I feel like, as with Cold Comfort, McDonald has shown us only the tip of a horrifying and fascinating Australian dystopia, and I would love to see him return to or expand upon it.

In summary

This is a brilliant collection, and especially recommended if you haven’t read any of McDonald’s work before.  The stories are well described by the collection title Cold Comfort: these are not easy worlds, but McDonald manages to place hope even in the middle of despair.  Vanya discovers that her world isn’t as lost as she thought, Nick and his sentient ship will find a way through, and even in the depths of dystopia, people still speak out.

Highly recommended.

 

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