Friday, 28 June 2013

Belladonna by Fiona Paul

Belladonna is the second book in Fiona Paul's Secrets of the Eternal Rose series set in Renaissance Italy. I reviewed the first book, Venom, last year.
Cassandra Caravello is trying to forget Falco, the wild artist who ran off with her heart, as she grows closer to her strong, steady fiancé, Luca. But Luca seems to have his own secrets. When he′s arrested by soldiers in the middle of the night, Cass′s life is once again thrown into chaos. She must save Luca, and that means finding the Book of the Eternal Rose -- the only evidence that will prove he is innocent.

So begins her journey to Florence, a city haunted by whispers of corruption, secret soirées and clandestine meetings of the Order of the Eternal Rose. And home to Falco, who′s working for the Order′s eerily stunning leader, the Belladonna herself.

Can Cass trust her heart to lead her to the truth this time?
I enjoyed Belladonna much more than Venom. I think there are a few key reasons for this. Venom had Cass taking risks for Falco, the class-inappropriate artist who seduced her, and dwelling on him a lot more. In Belladonna, the love triangle between Falco - Cass - Luca is much less important. Cass does start out moping about Falco but as the story progresses and Luca's life is in danger she tends to spend more time worrying about actual important things. She still takes a lot of risks and doesn't seem to have much of a sense of self-preservation, but I'm willing to forgive this as there wouldn't be much story if she always chose to do the safe thing.

The story takes Cass to Florence as she seeks to absolve Luca and find out more about the mysterious Order of the Eternal Rose. I quite enjoyed what came of that storyline, particularly the mix of alchemy and pseudoscience the Order has been investigating. Although everything is mostly realistic, I think that aspect of the plot will appeal to spec fic fans more than the first book which did not have as many speculative elements. There are, for example, accusations of vampirism. And conspiracies. Gotta love a good conspiracy.

I found that, in Belladonna, Paul has come into her own with her writing style. I remember there were bits in Venom that I felt like skimming over, but this was not the case in Belladonna. In particular, the description was more smoothly integrated throughout. Maybe that's partly because a lot of the setting was set up in the first book. Either way, it was appreciated.

Overall I enjoyed this book. I suggest that if you weren't sure after reading Venom, give Belladonna a go. For new readers, I suggest starting with book one, although I don't think it's quite as necessary as with some series. I imagine if you don't there'll be some confusion but overall the book will still make sense. I recommend this series to lovers of historical YA and I expect readers of speculative YA will also enjoy it, so long as they don't object to a lack of magic.

4 / 5 stars

First published: July 2013, Harper Collins AU (and Penguin US with a much less pretty cover)
Series: The Secrets of the Eternal Rose book 2 of 3
Format read: paper ARC
Source: HC's lovely publicist

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Happy Endings by Will Elliott

Happy Endings is a collection of short stories by dark fantasy author Will Elliott. This is my first exposure to Elliott's work, although I know he's written several novels, some of which I'm very keen to read. I should also note, this is an ebook only publication.

Most of the stories in this collection are very short. Flash fiction short as well as shorter side of short story short. As such, while I've done my usual thing of comments after finishing each story, there was often not much I could say without spoiling the entire story. Most of them — except for the one novella — are of the quirky "punchline" variety, meaning there's some twist at the end often casting the story in a new funny or creepy light. I am generally a fan of that sort of story (blame Asimov) and I think it's a winning formula for flash fiction in general.

Of the stories a few stuck out for me as being memorable for different reasons. "Mrs Claus's Christmas" stuck in my mind in part because of the food-related ick factor as well as my general amusement at Santa being one-upped. "The Hungry Man" is probably the scariest story, but I'm not sure I can say why without spoiling it. I also quite liked "Charlie the Sheep" and "Axed". And the novella "Lucy's Wrists" is an interesting trip into a psych hospital with a doctor experimenting on some of his patients.

All the stories had male protagonists and with a lot of them (mostly not ones mentioned above) I felt like they just weren't written for people like me. Which is fine since this is a single author collection and the author can write whatever he wants, it just wasn't my sort of thing a lot of the time. And I should point out I didn't find any of the stories to be particularly sexist — I mean, some of the characters were, but that's different — they just struck me as often quite... masculine. I think that's part of the reason I enjoyed "Charlie the Sheep" more than some of the others; the farmyard animals were significantly more androgynous. Even "Lucy's Wrists", in which one of the four point of view characters is female and in the title, focussed much more on the stories of the male characters than on Lucy. That said, it wasn't as though Lucy had to be female for the story to work, so that's a plus.

There was also a lot of food ick factor, which is just something I do not like. In fact, I suspect I've classified some stories as containing food ick when other people wouldn't necessarily see them that way, like "Mrs Claus's Christmas".

Overall, I didn't hate this collection but a lot of the stories were just not my thing. I suspect others might enjoy it more than I did. I would recommend it to fans of short short and flash stories who also enjoy dark fantasy and surreal horror. Although more of the stories fit into horror than dark fantasy I think. And with some of them, although I didn't find them scary or creepy, I'm not sure what to call them if not horror. Notes on individual stories follow.


Ain't No Ordinary Ham — An odd story about a bloke with a strange ham attachment. Couldn't decide if  being a vegetarian while reading was a pro or a con.

Saying Goodbye — A man drawn to a house he hasn't lived in for a while, suffering from unusually strong nostalgia.

Pre-emptive Strike — A man describes why he thinks his brother is a sociopath and possibly a serial killer.

Mrs Claus's Christmas — the titular character wants a go at running Christmas. Not only are her ideas a bit extreme, but she also has to get Santa out of the way first.

Axed — A hilarious story about a guy who realised he's life is a sitcom, laugh track and all. One of my favourites so far.

The Magic Secret Book — Very amusing. The story of how a homeless man became terrified of money.

Hungry Man — A more horrific, gruesome story.

Letter to the Living from Dead City — Dark fantasy with necromancers and a wizard. Didn't entirely do it for me, including the "punch line".

Dhayban — (Mystical) snakes and a main character with minimal self-preservation instincts.

The Frog Story — A giant frog appears in Toby's lounge room and he must deal with it.

Job Interview — of hellish doom.

Lucy's Wrists — A much longer and more substantial story than those that went before it. Without checking the word count, I think this is a novella. Diel, Tristan and Lucy are patients in a psychiatric hospital. One of the doctors is experimenting with a new drug intended to promote psychic powers, covertly giving it to the three patients. The story follows Diel mostly, as he deals with the new voices in his head and other consequences of the drugs. Not a bad read although a slightly confusing one to put down and come back to. It was a relief to have something meatier after all the very short stories.

Charlie the Sheep — A quick story about farmyard animals and their views on the farmer-as-servant. I liked it. Ending the collection on a high note. (Well, not for the sheep.)

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2013, Harper Voyager
Series: no
Format read: eARC
Source: The publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Horror Reading Challenge

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

New Booksies: Epic post of epicness

So I recently did a post about the books I picked up at and close to Continuum Convention, but what I didn't include were a bunch of books I ordered beforehand from Booktopia (which were waiting for me in Melbourne, when I arrived) and some more that just arrived today and some review copies that appeared in the interim. This is the post for that.

Since most of my Booktopia haul is more stocking up for the apocalypse rather than near-future reading matter, I'll start with the various review copies. (Really, it's a similar impulse to rescuing books for $2 each when Borders went under, but with slightly less altruism.) These were acquired over the past month.

From Harper Collins I got a paper copy of Belladonna by Fiona Paul, the sequel to Venom. I'll also be participating in the Australian blog tour for this book with an interview coming at the start of July. So keep and eye out for that!

From the author(s) I received The Changeling Detective by Phillip Berrie, which has just come out (SmashWords link) and which I'll be reviewing late July.

From Orbit, Strange Chemistry, Disney-Hyperion and Random House (US) via NetGalley I received:
  • Parasite by Mira Grant
  • Control by Kim Curran
  • The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pierce
  • Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson


A book I bought because I wanted to and also it's an achievement unlocked book, is The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. I loved Zoo City and this was either on sale or just cheap, so yeah.

Booktopia books (in three hauls but not listed in any particular order other than clumping same-author books, with screen caps from LibraryThing below because lazy):
  • A Blight of Mages by Karen Miller (already reviewed)
  • The Reluctant Mage by Karen Miller
  • The Nameless Day by Sara Douglass
  • The Wounded Hawk by Sara Douglass
  • Dark Heart by Russell Kirkpatrick
  • Slave of Sondelle by Bevan McGuiness
  • Scarred Man by Bevan McGuiness
  • Shadow by Will Elliot
  • Graveminder by Melissa Marr (aka the odd one out of this haul, if you can work out the real reason why at a glance, you get the book geek points)
  • Path of the Stray by Kim Falconer
  • The Invisible Ring by Anne Bishop

So wow, large pile of books, but some very exciting stuff in that haul.

Monday, 24 June 2013

A Trifle Dead by Livia Day

A Trifle Dead by Livia Day is the first crime book by renowned fantasy author Tansy Rayner Roberts. Since I love her fantasy books, I was expecting to enjoy A Trifle Dead. What I didn't particularly expect was to read it in a single evening (including staying up in bed until it was over). And I don't even like food.
Tabitha Darling has always had a dab hand for pastry and a knack for getting into trouble. Which was fine when she was a tearaway teen, but not so useful now she’s trying to run a hipster urban café, invent the perfect trendy dessert, and stop feeding the many (oh so unfashionable) policemen in her life.

When a dead muso is found in the flat upstairs, Tabitha does her best (honestly) not to interfere with the investigation, despite the cute Scottish blogger who keeps angling for her help. Her superpower is gossip, not solving murder mysteries, and those are totally not the same thing, right?

But as that strange death turns into a string of random crimes across the city of Hobart, Tabitha can’t shake the unsettling feeling that maybe, for once, it really is ALL ABOUT HER.

And maybe she’s figured out the deadly truth a trifle late…
Needless to say, I really loved A Trifle Dead. Tabitha is plucky and keeps sticking her nose into police business. It's just as well that she knows just about all of the police force, thanks to her father being the former superintendent, and can ply them with delicious café food.

I really loved the picture the author painted of Hobart. I've only visited Hobart once, but I had no difficulty imagining the various settings. It also made me want to move to visit Hobart again. The setting also extended to numerous pop-culture references, from obscure super heroes to Tumblr and Twitter. They made me smile many times. It's also this aspect of geek culture that I think makes this crime novel particularly accessible to a lot of spec fic fans (compared with some other miscellaneous crime novel). It also makes it a very "now" book, but I'm not convinced that's a bad thing.

There's a bit of a love triangle in A Trifle Dead but unlike in many other books (admittedly many of which are YA, but still), Tabitha does not spend very much time angsting about boys, or even thinking that much about them while more important things are happening. And the love triangle wasn't used to generate tension — that's what the plot was for. I was left with the overwhelming sense that this is how actual adults people might behave. This is how you love triangle.

On the topic of the crime aspect, I didn't guess whodunnit before it was revealed, although once it was, all the hints from earlier fit nicely into place. Which is mostly what I want out of a mystery. (It's no fun if you work it out far earlier than the characters and then have to heckle the page over their slowness.)

A Trifle Dead is a delightful read. I enjoyed it immensely and could not put it down. I highly recommend it to pretty much everyone. I'm sure crime fans will enjoy it if the blurb appeals, but because of the pop culture references I suspect it will have higher appeal to spec fic fans than other crime novels. I am eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2013, Deadlines (Twelfth Planet Press)
Series: Café la Femme book 1 of ?
Format read: PAPER ZOMG
Source: Purchased at Continuum!
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead is the first adult (as in not YA) book of hers that I've read. I wasn't sure what to expect, having only vague recollections of it being space opera (not quite). That's partly because I tend to erase blurbs from my mind between deciding to read a book and actually starting it. The blurb does do a pretty good job of describing the content.
In a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.

When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board.
The setting is a not-too-near future world without space travel (hence not being space opera, although one could make a case for space opera confined to Earth and with no aliens...) but with fancier technology, a good step above what we have now, and super soldiers. After some global strife caused by a few things, some large nations arose to govern more efficiently. The RUNA is one of them, as is the EA (Eastern Alliance), although we see less of them. Outside of these nations life is a bit harsher, less technological and more dangerous, particularly in the sense that there is much less gun control. Within these nations, people are surprisingly segregated in some regards. For example, Mae is a member of the Nordic caste — and there are other castes, like Celtic and Nipponese — which means that her family lives in a Nordic enclave of homogeneity and looks down on plebeians, ordinary people. Outside of castes reproduction is regulated based on genetic compatibility in an attempt to control/eliminate a genetic disease which castals tend to suffer from.

Among our three main characters, we have a reasonably broad representation of different groups (albeit the affluent ends of the groups). Mae is Nordic, Justin a plebeian and Tessa, his ward, comes from the "province" of Panama, which lies outside RUNA. It was interesting to be able to see the breadth of the society from each of their perspectives.

After the aforementioned global strife, the RUNA and friends started regulating religion, granting licenses only to benign cults. I've heard some people call Gameboard of the Gods a dystopia and this is honestly the only reason I can guess for that. And quite frankly, regulating religions and their powers seems like a great idea to me, even before we see some of the worrying antics they get up to in this book. (But really this is not a dystopian novel. The government isn't evil, the people aren't oppressed, and the plot does not seem to be leading up to a revolution or the need for one.) The most interesting thing about the religious regulations is that, as it turns out, the gods are real. Most people aren't aware of that, and this fact is central to the plot. The gods work similarly to in Pratchett's Small Gods, but with bigger gods from various cultures, for those of you who've read that.

I particularly enjoyed the writing in Gameboard of the Gods. Unlike Mead's YA novels, there is less witty banter in the dialogue — but not none — and the story deals with more adult matters such as politics and casual sex. However, just because it's written in a slightly more serious style does not prevent it being a very compelling read. If anything, I'd say it's better written than the Bloodlines books (which are similar to but fresher in my memory than the Vampire Academy books) in terms of style at least. I was expecting to read it alternately with another book, but I ended up being so drawn in I had difficulty putting it down.

Gameboard of the Gods was an excellent read. I recommend it to fans of science fiction and science fantasy. The fantasy element comes solely from the existence of the gods and otherwise this would be a science fiction novel. I'm not usually particularly enamoured of science fantasy, but this one really worked for me. I would suggest that liking or not Mead's YA books bears little relevance to liking Gameboard of the Gods. If the blurb and what I've talked about sounds appealing to you, definitely give this one a read. Although it's the first of a series, it's quite self contained. I am looking forward to reading the next book, but I'm not dying of cliffhanger. Actually what I'm hoping for is more info on the Decline and how northern America acquired some of its castes (some seem obvious extensions of ghetto-like cultural groupings, but some seem a bit random to me, like the Nordic or Celtic ones). Hopefully it won't be a terribly long wait until book 2.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2013, Penguin (US and Aus and probably rest of English regions)
Series: Age of X book 1 of ?
Format read: eARC
Source: the publisher, via NetGalley

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A Blight of Mages by Karen Miller

A Blight of Mages by Karen Miller is a prequel to her Kingmaker, Kingbraker duology. I read the duology The Innocent Mage and Innocence Lost, many years ago, when they first came out (circa 2005, and golly was that cliffhanger between the two of them painful to wait through). A Blight of Mages tells the story of how the world in Kingmaker, Kingbreaker came to be how it was and why, in the future duology, the world needed saving.

I had only faint memories of Kingmaker Kingbreaker when I started reading (centring mostly on the presence of aforementioned cliffhanger) and it took me a little while to work out exactly how the characters related to the future world, but that had little effect on my enjoyment. This definitely isn't the kind of prequel that needs the original series to be enjoyed.

The story follows two powerful mages, Barl and Morgan. Barl is unranked (meaning not a member of the noble class) and as a result is not allowed to enter the illustrious College. She is frustrated working for her artisan boss who doesn't appreciate her powers and who is jealous of her better mageworking. Instead of encouraging her, he seeks to thwart her at every turn. The fact that Barl knows she's a better mage than most and isn't afraid to say so, doesn't really help her case.

Morgan is a ranked mage and the youngest to be admitted to the Council of Mages, which rules over all matters of magical law. He too finds it frustrating that other mages won't recognise his superior talents, particularly two of the other mages on the Council. Having access to more resources he strives to create better and more powerful incants in his spare time. In the course of events Morgan and Barl's paths cross and they find in each other kindred spirits.

A Blight of Mages was an enjoyable read. Barl's part of the story deals a lot with the injustice of class systems — ultimately ironic if you've read the future duology — and somewhat dramatic consequences of perpetuating the system. On the other hand, it was nice to see that there was gender equality in Miller's world, with women able to take on the same roles as men depending only on their magical abilities (I have absolutely zero recollection whether this was also true in the duology). Indeed Barl herself is one of the most powerful mages to ever come along and the fact that she is female is never an issue. Which is nice, given how many fantasy worlds are oppressive to women.

The only time I lost interest in the story was close to the end where there is a gap of several months summarised in a few pages and then the story jumps to a whole new character's point of view. It seemed to me like that time, and the new character, could have had an entire novel all of their own. On the other hand, that would have necessitated an extra storyline or two in addition to the main story already present in A Blight of Mages and I can understand the author not wanting to make the prequel into a duology of its own. And the new character was important to setting up some aspects of the duology. Happily, the story picked up back to the usual pace after that and ended with an appropriate bang.

All in all, A Blight of Mages is a solid fantasy read that stands alone well (although if read first, I can see it acting as a gateway drug to the duology). I recommend it to fantasy fans and fans of Karen Miller's other books, particularly those set in the same universe. (On the other hand, if Empress of Mijak is the only book of hers you've read/enjoyed, A Blight of Mages is entirely dissimilar.)

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2011, Harper Voyager
Series: prequel to the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology
Format read: Paper! Gasp!
Source: Purchased from Booktopia for a scandalously low price
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Breakfast of Champions is not the first of Kurt Vonnegut's books I've read. I suspect if it had been the first book of his I encountered, I would have been rather put off. I should also mention that I listened to the audiobook of this novel and apparently the print edition includes sketches by the author, which, of course, I missed. I imagine they would have improved matters. I also find audiobooks a little tricky to properly pay attention to and I did listen to the start of this on a plane, waxing and waning in and out of consciousness... As far as the audio experience goes, I don't think I lost much, but literarily, eh, probably.

The blurb I found on Goodreads follows.
In Breakfast of Champions, one of Kurt Vonnegut’s most beloved characters, the ageing writer Kilgore Trout, finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. What follows is murderously funny satire, as Vonnegut looks at war, sex, racism, success, politics, and pollution in America and reminds us how to see the truth.
I've enjoyed Vonnegut's books in the past, particularly Cat's Cradle, Mother Night (a favourite), Galapagos, Player Piano and Slaughterhouse Five. A key character in Breakfast of Champions, Kilgore Trout, also appears in Slaughterhouse Five and Galapagos (and several other books I think) so I had a bit of a reference point coming into Breakfast. Which was a good thing because Breakfast of Champions was more self-referential and full of wank than any of his other books I've read.

In true Vonnegut style, there's a lot of philosophising about everything. He often writes in the style of describing everyday artefacts to aliens or people from the distant future. This can be surprisingly helpful on occasion to a reader born more than a decade after the book's publication. He also gives us extraneous information on many of the characters and bit players, focussing particularly on penis sizes and female measurements (as in bust, waist, hips), including the author's own penis, having written himself into the book. Yeah. Did I mention wank?

Speaking of featuring in his own book, I didn't entirely mind that section. The meta idea of author talking to his own characters and interacting with them in his book — both in the sense of "I forced him to do blah" as well as being injured in the fictional bar fight — was amusing.

The blurb claims that Breakfast of Champions is satire dealing with sex(-ism) and racism, among other things, but I disagree. While it's clearly a satire, and I suspect Vonnegut thought he was being the opposite of racist I'm not sure it stands up to time. Of course it could be worse, but readers sensitive to race issues, specifically black American issues, may wish to skip this one. (And to be fair, there are plenty of non -ist reasons to skip it as well.) Pointing out that society is racist is all well and good but then going on to unironically perpetrate some is murky at best. And I'm not sure what he was trying to do with the female characters.

All in all, this isn't the worst book I've ever read, but I don't particularly recommend it. If you're new to Vonnegut, definitely don't start here. If you're a completionist, sure go for it. Otherwise, meh. Personally, I plan to read Sirens of Titan (because I haven't yet and own a paper copy) but after that I'm not sure how much effort I'll bother making to track down more of Vonnegut's works.

3 / 5 stars

First published: 1973
Series: Not as such
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Purchased several years ago via an Audible subscription

Sunday, 16 June 2013

iD by Madeline Ashby

iD by Madeline Ashby is the sequel to vN, which I reviewed last year. It picks up not too long after the first book ended and deals with the consequences of events in the first book. This review will contain some spoilers for vN but not for iD. It's also the kind of series you have to read in order for it to make sense; iD depends on a lot of worldbuilding laid down in vN.

iD starts with Amy and Javier, our two protagonists from vN, living a reasonably idyllic life with Javier's kid (from the first book) treating them both as his parents... and then of course, everything goes horribly wrong. The majority of the book follows Javier as he tries to fix things (like the world and his life). We also learn much more about his character — who was more of a friend/sidekick figure in book 1 — and about his past. Amy isn't in it very much.

The first book dealt a lot with sentience and humanity through Amy, a vN without a failsafe. (The failsafe being the coding which makes the vN shutdown/bluescreen/die if they harm a human or through inaction allow a human to come to harm.) By contrast, Javier has an intact failsafe and his story is more about exploring his identity independent of humans and interrelationally with humans. The reader is confronted more often with the reason why vN make good prostitutes/lovers — because the failsafe makes them want to make humans happy, they feel compelled to be good lovers even though they might not normally be interested. What constitutes rape when it's done to a robot? Is sentience enough to condemn it as a deplorable act or does the fact that the vN don't feel pain mean it isn't really rape? These and other interesting questions are addressed as we follow Javier's journey.

I have to say, I didn't enjoy reading Javier's character as much as Amy's. Not because he was badly written or anything, more just a matter of personal preference. I was interested to see what would happen next, what was going on in the world and how it was all going to turn out, but I felt ambivalent towards Javier. I can see why Amy wasn't the point of view character this time, but I do hope Javier isn't the focus of the next book. Maybe one of the kids will be.

I originally thought this was a duology, although in retrospect that's probably because I've read so many Angry Robot duologies recently rather than any specific marketing I saw. I did think it was going to wrap up until I got to the end and then BAM! Epilogue! So I'm fairly confident there'll be a sequel even if the internet won't confirm that. And I look forward to reading it. The epilogue set up a potentially very interesting book three.

I enjoyed iD and I definitely suggest reading it if you enjoyed vN. If you're new to the series, I highly recommend it to fans of science fiction and/or robots and suggest starting with book 1. I look forward to reading about this world and the characters in future books.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 25 June 2013, Angry Robot
Series: Machine Dynasty, book 2 of ?
Format read: eARC
Source: The publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Compay Articles of Edward Teach by Thoraiya Dyer / The Angælien Apocalypse by Matthew Chrulew

This book is a novella double from Twelfth Planet Press, printed so that the "front" cover has cover art for one novella and when you flip it over the "back" cover forms the front cover for the other novella.


The Company Articles of Edward Teach by Thoraiya Dyer is the first novella I read of the two. I've made no secret of admiring Dyer's work in the past, and this is no exception.

The story is about two disaffected teenagers, both of whom have zero desire to follow the paths their parents have in mind for them. Layla's parents want her to be a doctor, but she just wants to party, have fun, and make boys fall in love with her. Avi's parents want him to become a lawyer, but to avoid that fate he broke several driving laws so that his impending criminal record would prevent that future career.

At first I was a bit confused as to how Layla and Avi's lives matched the cover art and title, but then they both wander into a costume shop with a shifty shopkeeper and bam, magic costumes transport them back in time and into other bodies and also a pirate ship. The titular Edward Teach is Blackbeard the pirate (which some of you may have already known, but I didn't) and the two present day teens find themselves in the bodies of pirates with future and piratey memories warring inside their minds.

The story follows them as they learn how to function in this new world and try to survive. Dyer shows us a traumatic and life-changing experience for the teens in a brutal cut-throat (literally) world. I enjoyed reading about how each of them came to terms with their situation and their lives and how their experiences changed them.

The Company Articles of Edward Teach was an excellent read. I highly recommend it to fans of realistic pirates, fantasy and Dyer's work. It is worth buying this double just for this novella alone.

4.5 / 5 stars


The Angælien Apocalypse is the first work I've read by Matthew Chrulew and Goodreads leads me to believe it might be his longest work thus far (short stories in anthologies are also listed).

It's about the end of days in the Christian Rapture sense,  except instead of what one might think of as conventional angels, the beings coming to Earth are aliens. Angelic aliens. Angæliens. And Demœliens. And the main characters get mixed up in the whole apocalypse thing.

And it was severely not my sort of thing. There wasn't anything specifically wrong with it that I can point to and say was done badly (well, except for the nitpicky thing where one of the characters', Joachim's, nickname, Joke, is pronounced like the noun not "yo-keh" as it ought to be). It was the combination of theme and content, I think. Possibly I'm a bit over stories which riff off biblical ideas in this way.

It wasn't badly written and there was a lot of action. I just felt my attention wandering a lot while I was reading and, as a result, it took me much longer to get through than the Dyer novella (a few days, interspersed with other reading compared with one evening). As I have said, I can't quite pinpoint why and I suspect your mileage may vary.

3 / 5 stars


First published: 2010, Twelfth Planet Press
Format read: Paper! Made from trees!
Source: Purchased at Continuum Convention
Challenges: Half of it goes towards the Australian Women Writers Challenge

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Continuum Wrap-up

Last weekend hubby and I went to Continuum, an annual spec fic convention held in Melbourne most years.

It started Friday night with (for us) the Opening Ceremony. The opening video was set to this amusing song (but with appropriate spec ficcy visuals, of course). Then, after introducing the various guests, it was pretty quickly on to the Chronos Awards. (I live tweeted them and, as it happened, seem to have been the only person to do so.) The Chronos Awards celebrate the best (as voted by Continuum members) fiction and fan work produced by Victorians in the previous year. This year's winners and shortlists (winner in bold, nabbed from here):

Best Long Fiction

  • Bread and Circuses by Felicity Dowker (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Salvage by Jason Nahrung (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Walking Shadows by Narrelle M. Harris (Clan Destine Press)
  • Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror 2011, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Dyson’s Drop by Paul Collins (Ford Street Publishing)

Best Short Fiction

  • "Five Ways to Start a War" by Sue Bursztynski in Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, edited by Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)
  • "The Mornington Ride" by Jason Nahrung in Epilogue, edited by Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)
  • "Nematalien" by LynC in The Narratorium (website), edited by David Grigg
  • "Fireflies" by Steve Cameron in Epilogue (FableCroft Publishing)
  • "The Dd" by Adam Browne in Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, edited by Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)

Best Fan Writer

  • Alexandra Pierce
  • Jason Nahrung
  • Nalini Haynes
  • Bruce Gillespie
  • Grant Watson
  • Steve Cameron

Best Fan Written Work

  • "Reviewing New Who" series by David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

Best Fan Artist

  • Dick Jenssen

Best Fan Artwork

  • "The Entellechy" by Dick Jenssen, cover art for Interstellar Ramjet Scoop for ANZAPA 267 edited by Bill Wright

Best Fan Publication

Best Achievement

  • Continuum 8: Craftonomicon (51st Australian National SF Convention) Program by Julia Svaganovic, Emma Hespa Mann, and Caitlin Noble
  • "Snapshot 2012" by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright

We headed home straight after the awards because we were exhausted from jetlag.

On Saturday morning we rocked up in time to have a nice chat with some friends, both new and old, before guest of honour Nora (NK) Jemisin's speech. It was a great speech, which you can read in full here.

Then, after lunch, we went to two panels: The Heroines of YA and Fighting Like a Girl, both interesting and on similar topics. And we headed home early again because of another commitment.

Sunday started early with me giving a talk about astro a room full of interested folk. Then it was the nomadic Plot 101 panel, which was probably my favourite panel of those I wasn't participating in myself. It was nomadic because the original room it was scheduled in was too small for the number of people who showed up. So we moved to a temporarily empty room... then got kicked out shortly thereafter when the guest of honour speech in the following session... and ended up setting up shop in the foyer. Good thing the authors on the panel had interesting things to say!

After lunch we went to the Silence in the Library panel about Doctor Who non-fiction and then it was time for my first panel, The Devil in the Details. Which went quite well, with Pete Aldin moderating, Richard Harland and me talking about what details we think are important, me talking about how violations of basic physics make me angry, and everyone generally coming to the agreement that you can have one or two big impossibilities (FTL travel, teleportation, giant world-shaking machines, etc) but should try to be as accurate as possible with the other mundane stuff in your story. And if you don't know enough of <insert field you're writing about> yourself, then try to learn or ask someone. As someone in the audience said, high school physics/chem/bio textbooks are a good place to start. An enjoyable panel.

Then it was time for the We Do This Stuff So You Can Write About It, a not-really-panel where the idea was people could ask the participants about the interesting/unusual things they do or know about. I liked the idea of this, but I thought the room was a bit small (a recurring theme during the con) and I saw some people turn away when they saw how cramped it was, even after we spilled out into the corridor as well.

Then early dinner and off to the book launch of Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott. Then it was time for my next panel, Spacetime and Spaceships which was probably my favourite participating-in panel. The four of us riffed on various spacey/astro-y topics. My favourite comment was from an audience member saying we were like the verbal equivalent of Wiki-drifting, lol. (Actually, he used a different phrase that escapes me now but it was along those lines.) It was a fun panel to be on and we probably could have gone for several more hours.

We were planning to go home not long after that panel, but instead ended up sitting in the bar talking for a few hours. Good times.

Monday was a bit of a haze of tiredness. It started early with us attending the Dark YA panel, in which the panellists decided that at least part of the reason darker things are finding their way into YA is because publishers like the marketing opportunities in YA more. And apparently, kids enjoy being depressed. As for how dark things are allowed to get, that's generally up to the publishers. Then we went to the Watching the New Who panel, which was, again, Doctor Who-y, as might be expected.

I have no recollection of what happened after that, except that it was followed by lunch. After lunch was my last panel Rise of the Dystopia, which had a lot of interesting discussion, but drifted off into who SF is generally bleaker now than it used to be. I was expecting it to be more about why YA dystopias are now so popular. Much more talk about 1984 (and Neuromancer) than I was expecting.

Then I went to the Adventures in Book Reviewing panel, in which many an amusing tale was told (and I sort of wished I was participating in it). And that was it. We skipped out before the Closing Ceremony due to exhaustion.

All in all, Continuum was a fun weekend. There was a nice atmosphere and everyone was very welcoming. The only low point was the venue, which wasn't terrible, but could definitely have been better. And of course, it was great to catch up with friends, old, new and from the internet (or combinations of the aforementioned).

Monday, 10 June 2013

New Booksies, Continuum edition

I will do an actual con wrap-up post in the near future but for now I thought I'd start by posting my book haul, which takes much less brain effort. I am too tired to brain. And my book photos are a bit terrible because they were taken with my phone at night (as in indoor lighting << daylight). I also had a bunch of books waiting for me when I got back to Melbourne, that I'd ordered from Booktopia, but I'll include them in a later post.

Starting before Continuum, however, I picked up a few books in ordinary bookshops. I saw Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott and, particularly since it's not available in ebook form, I couldn't resist it (and then I got it signed at Continuum, so yay). Then, with a bit more planning I picked up Black Sun Light My Way by Jo Spurrier, the sequel to Winter Be My Shield which I enjoyed immensely last year. While in the CBD Dymocks on Friday before the Continuum opening ceremony, my husband and I saw the display for Fairytales For Wilde Girls by Allyse Near complete with notification of the book launch in the evening. So I bought a copy and we went along to the launch and had a lovely chat with the author.

Then it was time for Continuum. I bought a bunch of books in the dealers' room over the weekend. I'd say I probably spent too much money on books, but at least I haven't been buying that many books lately in general so I suspect my bank account will survive the blow.

In the con bag, we all got a shiny copy of Words Next Door, an anthology from Fablecroft edited by Tehani Wessely. In the dealers' room I picked up:
  • Broken Kingdoms by NK Jemisin (the guest of honour) 
  • A New Kind of Death by Alison Goodman
  • A Book of Endings by Deborah Biancotti, a short story collection
  • Bood Stones, an anthology of dark fantasy edited by Amanda Pillar
  • A Trifle Dead by Livia Day (aka Tansy Rayner Roberts, it's her first crime book)

And I also picked up two of Twelve Planet Press's novella doubles, which are double sided volumes.
  • The Company Articles of Edward Teach by Thoraiya Dyer / The Angaelien Apocalypse by  Matthew Chrulew
  • Above by Stephanie Campisi / Below by Ben Peak

Yay, books!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Stuff and Things (AWW and Continuum)


If you haven't been keeping up with the Australian Women Writers Challenge, might I direct you to the AWW homepage, where my spec fic round-up for the month of May just went up. These monthly round-ups we (the AWW team) have been doing summarise the reviews participants have submitted in the past month. I've also included links to my earlier round-ups below.


And in other news, I'll be at Continuum the weekend, including the Chronos Awards, which I'm looking forward to. Over the course of the weekend I'll also be on four panels and will give a talk about astrophysics. Panel list below. Good thing I looked at those again, some of time times either changed or my calendar wanted to trick me with timezones.

So if you're at Continuum come along and say "Hi", especially if you're interested in the astro talk, because talking to an empty room is depressing.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Outcast by Adrienne Kress

Outcast by Adrienne Kress is a YA novel set in a small town in the southern US. The blurb  was the factor that made me want to read it. Unfortunately, the blurb was also the high point of the entire book.

After six years of “angels” coming out of the sky and taking people from her town, 16-year-old Riley Carver has just about had it living with the constant fear. When one decides to terrorize her in her own backyard, it’s the final straw. She takes her mother’s shotgun and shoots the thing. So it’s dead. Or … not? In place of the creature she shot, is a guy. A really hot guy. A really hot alive and breathing guy. Oh, and he’s totally naked.

Not sure what to do, she drags his unconscious body to the tool shed and ties him up. After all, he’s an angel and they have tricks. When he regains consciousness she’s all set to interrogate him about why the angels come to her town, and how to get back her best friend (and almost boyfriend) Chris, who was taken the year before. But it turns out the naked guy in her shed is just as confused about everything as she is.

He thinks it’s 1956.

Set in the deep south, OUTCAST is a story of love, trust, and coming of age. It’s also a story about the supernatural, a girl with a strange sense of humor who’s got wicked aim, a greaser from the 50’s, and an army of misfits coming together for one purpose: To kick some serious angel ass.

Outcast was severely overwritten. I felt that, with the possible exception of the dialogue, just about every second sentence could have been cut. Reilly's inner monologue is very repetitive, driving home statements far more than necessary. A direct consequence of this was an abundance of telling rather than showing (which isn't automatically a bad thing, but was in this case). It was very frustrating to read.

I mostly kept going because I was hoping for the big reveal regarding the angels and world building to be interesting.  It was distinctly underwhelming. (But by the time it came around I was too close to the end to stop reading and sacrifice writing this review.) And the romantic resolution at the end was a bit odd <spoiler redacted>.

The one upside is that this is another book about angels (along with Rise of the Fallen) that did not annoy me because of the way the angels were treated (I get the feeling that without direct evidence of weird shit going on Riley might have been an atheist). Yay, "only" bad writing! Oh and most of the supporting characters were pretty good, especially the non-cookie-cutter cheerleader and the Catholic priest disenfranchised by the angels. Although I also thought that some of their interactions, notably at critical moments,  could have been more complex in terms of motivation.

If you're the kind of person that notices when a book is poorly written, definitely give this one a miss (unless you're into that kind of thing). If you're not usually one to notice poor writing and the plot has got you interested,  then by all means,  give it a go, just don't set your expectations too high.

2.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2013, Diversion Books
Series: no
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher, via NetGalley