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.  And a librarian.

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.

 

 

 

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”

 

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.