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.

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.

 

 

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

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.

AWW15: Avery by Charlotte McConaghy

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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.