Monday, 20 January 2020

Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern

Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern is a graphic novel that caught my attention with its blurb (see below). It looked like a funny romp and the fact that the author had previous written a webcomic called "My Life As A Background Slytherin" (which I had come across before) was a point in its favour.

Set in early nineteenth-century Britain, Bloodlust & Bonnets follows Lucy, an unworldly debutante who desires a life of passion and intrigue—qualities which earn her the attention of Lady Violet Travesty, the leader of a local vampire cult.

But before Lucy can embark on her new life of vampiric debauchery, she finds herself unexpectedly thrown together with the flamboyant poet Lord Byron (“from books!”) and a mysterious bounty-hunter named Sham. The unlikely trio lie, flirt, fight, and manipulate each other as they make their way across Britain, disrupting society balls, slaying vampires, and making every effort not to betray their feelings to each other as their personal and romantic lives become increasingly entangled.

In Bloodlust and Bonnets we meet Lucy, who doesn't have much interest in being an ordinary proper Lady type person and who ends up having a bunch of dramatic adventures with Lord Byron (who's a bit useless without realising it) and Sham, who is the most interesting character in the book. The characters encounter rather a lot of violence and vampires and magic. The book has an absurd/silly fun sort of tone and lot of gallivanting around.

It was a fun read, but I felt like it lasted a bit too long. I ended up putting it down for a while when I was about half way through and taking longer than I'd like to come back to it. The issue, I think, was that it maintained the same kind of silly tone throughout and, while there was some plot and intrigue, it mostly moved along near the start and towards the end. The middle was a lot of the same sort of thing, which wasn't bad per se, just samey. Others may find that's exactly what they're looking for, but it didn't really work for me.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2019, Andrews McMeel Publishing
Series: No?
Format read: PDF eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Monday, 13 January 2020

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire is the latest novella in the ongoing Wayward Children series. It’s another ensemble story, but as you can probably guess from the title, the story is mostly about Jack (and to a lesser degree, her sister Jill). While I have enjoyed all of the Wayward Children books, only a couple of the prequels are needed, in my opinion, to enjoy and make sense of Come Tumbling Down. The first Wayward Children novella, Every Heart A Doorway, can be thought of a direct prequel to Come Tumbling Down, and Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel to both, giving the origin story of Jack and Jill. The other novellas are great and provide background on the side characters in Come Tumbling Down, but aren't as essential to following the story.

When Jack left Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children she was carrying the body of her deliciously deranged sister--whom she had recently murdered in a fit of righteous justice--back to their home on the Moors.

But death in their adopted world isn't always as permanent as it is here, and when Jack is herself carried back into the school, it becomes clear that something has happened to her. Something terrible. Something of which only the maddest of scientists could conceive. Something only her friends are equipped to help her overcome.

Eleanor West's "No Quests" rule is about to be broken.

Again.

This was a pretty dark story. But that's true of this entire series, so if you've come this far (even if you only read the prequels to this book), you should have some idea of what to expect. Come Tumbling Down engages more directly with what it means to be a monster and about becoming monstrous. As the blurb suggests, there is also a quest, which a band of heroes sets out on. Although Jack's story is the most central in this book, I enjoyed the way in which the narrative jumped around to follow different characters as they stepped into or out of the action. It was Jack's book, but Christopher and Kade and Cora and Sumi were important parts of it, and they all had a little bit of character development.

It seems that this marks the end of Jack's story (for now, anyway), which seems fitting after playing a central role in three books. I have enjoyed the story of Jack and Jill, and I have also enjoyed the ensemble cast nature of this book (and also Beneath the Sugar Sky). Honestly, I will be happy to read either type of story (ensemble or single character focussed) set in the world of the Wayward Children.

If you haven't read any Wayward Children books, I highly recommend them. In particular, I suggest starting with Every Heart A Doorway, both because it's the first book written and also because it's where we first meet Jack and Jill. It's not that Come Tumbling Down doesn't work standing alone... but I don't think it would be as enjoyable without at least some background on the characters and world building.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2020, Tor.com
Series: The Wayward Children book 5 of 5 so far (ongoing series)
Format read: ePub
Source: Publisher via NetGalley and also purchased from Apple Books

Friday, 10 January 2020

Daughter of Lies and Ruin by Jo Spurrier

Daughter of Lies and Ruin by Jo Spurrier is the second book in the Tales of the Blackbone Witches, following on (in an episodic way) from A Curse of Ash and Embers, which I previously reviewed and which introduces the main characters. Although the second book follows on from the first, the stories in both are entirely self-contained.

There's something strange brewing in this tinder-dry forest - a girl with a sword and a secret, a troupe of vicious bandits vanished without a trace, beasts that don't belong and a witch with a macabre plan.

Elodie hasn't been learning witchcraft for long, but she knows enough to be worried, and the fact that her mentor Aleida wants to pack up and leave in short order isn't helping to settle her nerves.

Elodie just hopes to get everyone out of this mess unharmed, but it's looking more unlikely with every passing hour. And when the strange witch's ire falls on her, Aleida's wrath sparks a fire that threatens to scorch the earth itself ...

In Daughter of Lies and Ruin we see Dee and Aleida on the road, tending to some business in another region, when they start noticing strange magical things happening around them. When Aleida says they shouldn't get involved... well what stories would there be if protagonists could ignore trouble when they stumbled upon it?

In this book the dynamic between Dee and Aleida is very different to the first book. They are no longer getting to know each other and have fallen into a stable teacher-apprentice relationship, wherein both characters influence the other. So while Aleida teaches Dee magic, it's also nice to see Dee's empathy starting to rub off (a tiny bit) on Aleida. I also appreciated the aspect of magical worldbuilding whereby different witches have different strengths and Dee does not have the same strengths as her teacher so can't necessarily be taught directly in all forms of magic.

And then there's the new characters we meet in this book. We get another spunky teenaged girl, but one who is spunky in a different way to Dee (and introduces her to the concept of trousers on women), there's a surprising number of bandits, and an antagonist who isn't even doing it out of malice. I won't say more for fear of spoiling too much, but the combination made for an enjoyable read.

I enjoyed Daughter of Lies and Ruin and I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book or who enjoys epic fantasy. I believe this series is being marketed as YA, however, although the protagonist is sixteen, it feels more like a BFF (big fat fantasy) book to me than a YA book (lengthwise it's probably somewhere between BFF and YA). Jo Spurrier continues to be one of my favourite Aussie fantasy writers, and I will continue buying every book she writes.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2019, Harper Voyager
Series: Tales of the Blackbone Witches book 2 of ?
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo

Sunday, 29 December 2019

The Dragon Republic by R F Kuang

The Dragon Republic by R F Kuang is the sequel to The Poppy War, which I previously read and reviewed. Unlike the first book in the series, which I read in only a few days, I ended up reading The Dragon Republic over almost two and a half months. It’s not because I disliked the book that I kept putting it down, rather I needed breaks to read something lighter and it didn’t quite suck me in as much as the first book. I still enjoyed it.
The war is over.

The war has just begun.

Three times throughout its history, Nikan has fought for its survival in the bloody Poppy Wars. Though the third battle has just ended, shaman and warrior Rin cannot forget the atrocity she committed to save her people. Now she is on the run from her guilt, the opium addiction that holds her like a vice, and the murderous commands of the fiery Phoenix—the vengeful god who has blessed Rin with her fearsome power.

Though she does not want to live, she refuses to die until she avenges the traitorous Empress who betrayed Rin’s homeland to its enemies. Her only hope is to join forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who plots to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new republic.

But neither the Empress nor the Dragon Warlord are what they seem. The more Rin witnesses, the more she fears her love for Nikan will force her to use the Phoenix’s deadly power once more.

Because there is nothing Rin won’t sacrifice to save her country . . . and exact her vengeance.

The Dragon Republic takes place not long after the conclusion of The Poppy War and is not the sort of book I’d recommend reading without having read the prequel. That said, I didn’t really remember much about the secondary characters when I picked this one up, but I found it not to be a huge problem. The book did a good job of orienting me and reminding me who everyone was (and if worst comes to worst, there’s a list of characters in the back, although I didn’t realise this until I finished reading).

In this book, we mostly see Rin and friends preparing for and fighting skirmishes and battles. We also see a lot of character growth from Rin, who goes from who she was at the end of The Poppy War to a more competent and assured commander towards the end of the The Dragon Republic. It’s not a painless journey, however, and some frustration at Rin possibly contributed to me putting the book aside temporarily, especially in the first half.

Overall, if you enjoyed The Poppy War, I definitely recommend reading The Dragon Republic. In many ways it’s a less intense book, but it has its moments. The overarching story is left incomplete at the end and I am expecting a third book to come, rounding this series out into a trilogy. (It doesn’t end of a cliffhanger, but a lot is unresolved.) If you haven’t ready any of this series yet, definitely start with The Poppy War, but be warned it is not a gentle read, especially not as the story progresses.

4 / 5 stars

First published: August 2019, Harper Voyager
Series: The Poppy War book 2 of 2 so far (but I think it will be a trilogy)
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Apple Books

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Short stories after a long break (111 to 115)

It has been quite some time since I blogged any short story reviews. This is mainly because I stopped reading as much of anything, as you might have noticed from my infrequent blog posts. Part of that is due to reading submissions for Rebuilding Tomorrow, but also because of focussing on other things in my spare time 🤷‍♀️

Anyway, the stories below were read in July, September and December. I am hoping there will be a few more of these review posts before the end of the year, but we'll see.

~

The Fermi paradox Is Our Business Model by Charlie Jane Anders — Aliens come across a mostly destroyed Earth, bicker amongst themselves and make choices their bosses will probably disapprove of. I was entertained and amused. Source: Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders

The Dangerous Choice by Emma Newman — A vignette about a character from After Atlas. I suspect there’s some interesting nuance I missed because it’s been too long since I read the book. Source: Emma Newman’s newsletter

They Keep Killing Astra by Tansy Rayner Roberts — Another short story set in the Cookie Cutter Superhero universe. I still love the Australianness of the setting. This was an interesting story and addition to the cannon but I wanted more! It ended with more questions than answers. Definitely looking forward to the promised final story in this world, which I’m hoping will provide answers. Source: Tansy Rayner Roberts’s Patreon

I Am Not the Hive Mind of Transetti Prime by Steven Fischer — A particularly poignantly written flash piece. I enjoyed it. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02420-y

As Good As New by Charlie Jane Anders — This was a brilliant and somewhat absurd story about the end of the world and the best way to resolve the apocalypse. I really enjoyed it and the many facets that made up the story (I don’t want to be more specific because spoilers). Source: Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee is a space fantasy book aimed at younger readers. It's the first in a series and is entirely unrelated to Yoon Ha Lee's other books, which are adult science fiction. I don't generally read much middle grade, but I picked this one up mainly because of the author. I'd say its also at the older end of the category: the protagonist is thirteen years old, but spends much of the book pretending to be sixteen, so there is a bit of a YA feel to it as well.

THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD MIN comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you'd never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times.

Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

Dragon Pearl follows Min as she sets out on an illicit adventure to find out what really happened to her brother. She sets off with almost nothing other than her fox-based shape-shifting magic and magical Charm, and finds herself very far away from her home planet. It was a fun space adventure involving morally ambiguous adults, new friends and dangerous situations. I enjoyed it a lot and I look forward to any sequels that may be forthcoming. Although the story is quite self-contained, it sets up a possible series and I definitely want to read those other stories.

As well as not being a big middle-grade reader, I also tend to steer away from space fantasy books, having been burned a few times before. To be honest, I wasn't sure how strong the fantasy element would be before I started reading, but I was assuming it would mostly be science fiction. It is set on other planets and in space, so it's science fiction if that's your definition of it. But the world building is very deeply steeped in Korean folklore and the associated magic. The story very prominently involves shapeshifting supernaturals and ghosts, and the titular pearl is a magical terraforming device. This worldbuilding worked for me very well. It felt very consistent — perhaps because it's directly based on real mythology rather than being entirely fictional. (I am trying very hard not to name the authors that previously ruined magic in space for me, can you tell?)

I highly recommend Dragon Pearl to fans of science fiction and fantasy, especially space adventures. Readers who are already fans of Korean folklore, or just want to learn more about it, will also find much to like here. I hope I will have the opportunity to give this book to my niece before she outgrows it.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2019,  Rick Riordan Presents (Disney)
Series: book 1 of ? (I thought I saw the second book announced, but I am failing to find any info right now)
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo store

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Keep Calm and Kill the Chef by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Keep Calm and Kill the Chef by Livia Day is the third book in the Café La Femme series of cosy culinary crime novels. Chronologically, it follows on from A Trifle Dead and Drowned Vanilla, but in practice you don’t have to have read the earlier books to follow this one.

Scones, tea, and a stabbing…

When Tabitha Darling entered Cafe La Femme in a reality TV show hosted by an infamous “bad boy” Chef, she never expected to be a suspect in his murder.

When Xanthippe Carides quit working in a cafe to become a private detective, she never expected one of her first cases would be keeping Tabitha out of jail…

These two friends have a mystery to solve, and only one of them is telling the whole truth.

Keep Calm and Kill the Chef is told from two points of view and two timelines: we get Tabitha's point of view from before the murder and Xanthippe's from after the murder. Since Tabitha is a potential suspect in the eyes of some of the police (though otherwise a sympathetic character), and Xanthippe is investigating the murder, this sets up an interesting dynamic, especially since they're best friends. I also enjoyed the way in which this setup conveyed information to the reader — in pieces from both ends of the timeline.

Because the plot of this book is centred around a reality TV cooking competition show, there are more descriptions of ridiculous food (for various definitions of ridiculous) than the previous books in the series, and fewer descriptions of more realistic foods. This worked better for me personally since I have a lot of food problems and descriptions of delicious desserts I can't eat were less fun for me than descriptions of ridiculous desserts that most people won't get the opportunity to eat. What kind of ridiculous? Well let's just say the cover is only the half of it.

I don't usually read crime or mystery books, but I like this series for its light-heartedness (most of the time) and the geekiness of the characters. If you enjoy cosy crime books, particularly those set in locations less frequently seen in fiction (Hobart, in this case) and especially if you liked the earlier books in the series, I highly recommend Keep Calm and Kill the Chef.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2019, Twelfth Planet Press
Series: Cafe La Femme, book 3 of 3 (so far...)
Format read: ePub
Source: Bought as a Kickstarter add-on
Disclaimer: The author is a friend, but I have endeavoured to write an impartial review

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Chasing the Shadows by Maria V Snyder

Chasing the Shadows by Maria V Snyder is the second book in the Sentinels of the Galaxy (I assume) trilogy. I have previously read and reviewed the first book, Navigating the Stars, of this YA SF series. It is the kind of series I discourage reading out of order. Also, the blurb below contains spoilers for the first book.

Year 2522. Lyra Daniels is dead. Okay, so I only died for sixty-six seconds. But when I came back to life, I got a brand new name and a snazzy new uniform. Go me! Seriously, though, it's very important that Lyra Daniels stays dead, at least as far as my ex-friend Jarren, the murdering looter, knows.

While dying is the scariest thing that's happened to me, it morphed my worming skills. I can manipulate the Q-net like never before. But Jarren has blocked us from communicating with the rest of the galaxy and now they believe we've gone silent, like Planet Xinji (where silent really means dead).

A Protector Class spaceship is coming to our rescue, but we still have to survive almost two years before they arrive - if they arrive at all. Until then, we have to figure out how to stop an unstoppable alien threat. And it's only a matter of time before Jarren learns I'm not dead and returns to finish what he started.

There's no way I'm going to let Jarren win. Instead I'll do whatever it takes to save the people I love. But even I'm running out of ideas...

Chasing the Shadows picks up not long after Navigating the Stars left off. Our protagonist, Ara, is now training as part of the security team and the planet Yulin is still cut off from the rest of humanity and still under threat from violent raiders. Ara's job is to learn to spar and shoot, get her fitness up and, most crucially, find a way to communicate with the outside world.

What I enjoyed most about the first book is still present here — interesting worldbuilding and an interesting mystery surrounding the terracotta warriors which have been left on planets throughout the galaxy. We get to learn more about the warriors in Chasing the Shadows, which I enjoyed. That and Ara's explorations of the Q-net (magic quantum internet) were the most interesting. I was less invested in her relationship, which is well-established now and not a significant source of drama. There's nothing wrong with the relationship, per se, I just felt like the bouts of making out were slowing down the story a bit.

I wouldn't be me if I didn't comment on the physics in this, a science fiction novel. It's mostly fine. There was one bit where a basic (high school-level) explanation was not at all up to scratch but, a little confusingly, the implementation of the information was OK. So overall, only one short section annoyed me, which I'll call a win.

I enjoyed Chasing the Shadows and I'm looking forward to reading the next book when it comes out, presumably next year. There's a few fun reveals throughout the latter part of this book, which promise for a high stakes conclusion to the story. I recommend the Sentinels of the Galaxy series to fans of science fiction and YA.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2019, Harlequin YA (AU)
Series: Sentinels of the Galaxy, book 2 of (I'm guessing) 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer is a YA novel set in the world of the short story "Cat Pictures, Please", which does not require previous knowledge of that story to enjoy. This was an excellent book which I accidentally started reading and then didn't put down until 4 am, several months before its release date. Whoops.

My two favorite things to do with my time are helping people and looking at cat pictures. I particularly like helping people who take lots of cat pictures for me. I have a fair amount of time to allocate: I don’t have a body, so I don’t have to sleep or eat. I am not sure whether I think faster than humans think, but reading is a very different experience for me than it is for humans. To put knowledge in their brains, humans have to pull it in through their eyes or ears, whereas I can just access any knowledge that’s stored online.

Admittedly, it is easy to overlook knowledge that I technically have possession of because I’m not thinking about it in the moment. Also, having to access to knowledge doesn’t always mean understanding things.

I do not entirely understand people.

As if an endearing AI wasn't enough, this book's human protagonist also has an excellent voice, turning this book into quite a page-turner. The story mainly focusses on Steph, who moves around a lot with her mother and hence doesn't have much chance to make friends in meatspace, instead forming her closest friendships online. Starting at yet another crappy school, Steph finally does make some friends and this sets off a complicated chain of events which results in a very high-stakes climax.

It's just as well this book is written in an extremely up-beat tone, because it deals with some pretty heavy issues, mostly surrounding domestic violence and the appalling state of the US education system (near-future or not) but also with passing nods to racism. It would have been a very depressing read if it wasn't funny — and if we didn't have the AI as a bit of a wildcard to mix things up.

Catfishing on CatNet is an excellent book and I highly recommend it to all fans of science fiction — especially AI — and YA. If you want to get a feel for the book without committing to it, the short story "Cat Pictures Please" will give you a very good idea of the tone, even if it's about the AI rather than Steph. This is a completely self-contained read but there is potential for sequels or spin-offs. I would be more than happy to read more stories about any of the characters in this book.

5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2019, Tor Teen
Series: Maybe? Same world as "Cat Pictures Please" but a self-contained story with a potential hook for a sequel
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Rebuilding Tomorrow is crowdfunding now!

If you follow me on Twitter, then you might have seen me tweeting about Rebuilding Tomorrow, the new anthology that I'm editing. I and the team at Twelfth Planet Press are currently crowdfunding it on Pozible.  As well as pre-ordering the book in ebook, paperback or exclusive hardcover, you can grab an enamel pin or two, a mug, or a print of our gorgeous cover art.

So what's Rebuilding Tomorrow about, anyway?

To recap: Rebuilding Tomorrow will focus on disabled and/or chronically ill protagonists and it will still have a somewhat post-apocalyptic theme. But! Rather than focussing on survival in the immediate aftermath of an apocalypse like Defying Doomsday did, the stories in Rebuilding Tomorrow will be set a significant time after whatever apocalyptic disaster. These will be stories that show society getting back on its feet and people moving past subsistence-level existence into a new, sustainable world, even though it’s one that has been irrevocably changed by an apocalypse.

We just had a reveal of the full wraparound cover over at The BookSmugglers, so head over there to check it out in its full glory.

To pre-order your copy of Rebuilding Tomorrow, head over to the Pozible page and help us make this book!