Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Snapshot 2014: Jason Nahrung

Jason Nahrung grew up on a Queensland cattle property and now lives in Ballarat with his wife, the writer Kirstyn McDermott. He works as an editor and journalist to support his travel addiction. His fiction is invariably darkly themed, perhaps reflecting his passion for classic B-grade horror films and ’80s goth rock. The co-author of the novel The Darkness Within (Hachette Australia), his most recent long fiction title is the Gothic tale Salvage (Twelfth Planet Press), with his outback vampire duology Blood and Dust and The Big Smoke coming soon through Clan Destine Press. He lurks online at www.jasonnahrung.com.

Your novel Blood and Dust and the sequel The Big Smoke are soon to be released in paper form for the first time by Clan Destine Press (and ebook as well). Can you tell us a bit about the series and when we can expect to see them around?

(2012 digital-only release)
Publishing is a funny old game, isn’t it? Blood and Dust came out originally in 2012 as a digital-only release, but we got the rights back and now Clan Destine is putting both it and the sequel out in both paperback and digital formats. I’m incredibly happy about that, because the original idea for the story first saw light of day more than 15 years ago – a vampire story that wouldn’t die!

In Blood and Dust, Kevin, a mechanic in an outback town, has a major spanner thrown in the works when a vampire gang comes to town. In The Big Smoke, he has to travel to Brisbane to finish off some outstanding business. Central to the story is the idea that these vampires need blood not just to keep going physically, but emotionally as well – they feed on memories. Opposing Kevin is a rather nasty city vampire by the name of Mira, and her worn-out sidekick, Reece, a former cop who investigated one case too many, back in the day. I manage to tear up most of Queensland over the course of the two books.

Lots of landscape, lots of action, lots of angst.

As for the books’ release date, well, Blood and Dust is largely sorted, but The Big Smoke still has edits to come, so we haven’t set a date yet.

You’ve written a mix of short stories and longer stories (novels, novellas). Is there a length you prefer to work with or does it depend on the story you’re telling? What are some of the pros and cons?

It totally depends on the story, although I’ve noticed my stories tending towards the 5,000-word-plus mark in the past few years. The joys of the short story are that you can get in, hit the yarn, and get out pretty quickly (though not always, some just don’t behave at all!); they have a relatively speedy turnaround from completion to rejection (or acceptance!) compared to novel submissions that can take months and months; and you can play with voice and form without it costing you too much time if it all goes awry. For example, I’ve just written two shorts, less than 3,000 words each, based on the same core idea but starring different characters. Fascinating to see how the story changes!

It’s quite a morale boost to get a story accepted – kind of keeps you going while you’re beating your head against a longer work.

Novels give a hell of a lot of satisfaction, and kudos, when they hit the shelf, but it’s a long process. You’ve got a lot of terrain to play with, so you can have a lot of texture with all those subplots and minor characters muddying the pool with their own wants and needs. Juggling it all is a headache, but a fun headache, and I do find the marathon nature of it tiring at times, especially if you want to go back and change something that then causes ripples through the rest of the story. And then, of course, you’ve got what can be inordinately long wait times to hear back from (legacy) publishers, and then the lengthy production process as well, before the book hits the shelves.

The ideal compromise is the novella. I enjoyed writing Salvage so much – enough length to introduce some complexity and indulge in some scene setting and character development, but not long enough to make edits onerous.

Will there be more books about Kevin the Vampire or is The Big Smoke the end of his story?

I’m not planning any more stories about Kevin, although there’s room for them. I’ve spun a short story out of the novels’ world (‘The Preservation Society’, published this year in Dimension6), and at the end of The Big Smoke, there’s a nod to my first book, The Darkness Within. There’s a sequel to that at the back of the hard drive, somewhere – I’m actually thinking it might make a novella …

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Firstly, it was awesome to see Kirstyn’s Perfections released in paperback, and such a beautiful paperback, too. I love that story: the perfectly timed reveals, the lingering conclusion.

It terms of new reading, Marianne de Pierres’ Peacemaker was a most enjoyable ride this year, Chris Bongers did a great job with (non-spec fic) Intruder, and I got a lot out of Tony Birch’s (non-spec fic) The Promise collection. And I finally caught up with The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, by Amberlin Kwaymullina – wonderful.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I don’t think the way I work has changed, although I have become even more aware that the chances of making any kind of living out of the stuff I write is rather remote. What is heartening is that with print on demand making publishing cheaper, and digital also making it easier to get work out, there are more markets for what I write, even if there’s also a lot more noise for readers to negotiate if they are to find that work once it’s published. I try to focus on writing the best yarn I can and let the chips fall where they may.

In five years, I expect I’ll still be working in the dark end of fiction. I’ve got a suite of short stories floating around at the moment, all set in a near-future flooded Brisbane, that might have risen to the surface by then – less fantastical than my usual work – and a couple of novels kicking around on the hard drive in all sorts of disarray that I’d like to get into some kind of order within five years.

As for reading, I’m trying to keep my reading base as broad as possible while supporting my fellow Aussies as much as I can; I’m expecting yet further genre blurring and genre pushing from them. I’m hoping they can keep setting their stories in Australia, with Australian characters, in Australian English – I don’t want to see our literary culture, or indeed our broader culture, succumbing to cultural and economic imperialism. Words – language – are important to cultural identity; that’s worth defending, not so much against evolution, but against supplantation.


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

http://tsanasreads.blogspot.se/search/label/2014snapshot (here)

Monday, 28 July 2014

Snapshot 2014: Jennifer Fallon

Jennifer Fallon is the author of 17 full-length bestselling novels and a number of published short stories in genres ranging from horror to science fiction.

In addition to 4 complete fantasy series - The Demon Child trilogy, The Hythrun Chronicles, the Second Sons Trilogy,The Tide Lords Quadrilogy and the Rift Runners series - Fallon has written both a tie-novel and short fiction for the TV series, Stargate SG1, an official Zorro story, a novella for the Legends of Australian Fantasy Anthology and has a superhero - The Violet Valet (CHICKS IN CAPES).

Fallon has a Masters Degree from the Creative Arts faculty of QUT. A computer trainer and application specialist, Fallon currently works in the IT industry and spends at least a month each year working at Scott Base in Antarctica.

You’ve recently released a lot of your books through Snapping Turtle Books and under the name JJ Fallon. Are those two developments related? And can you tell us a bit about why?

The JJ Fallon moniker was a joint decision between me and the publishers, in part to reach a greater audience. I know people try to scoff at the notion, but there truly is a gender bias when it comes to female fantasy writers and the idea that if a woman wrote it, it must be a romance. Robin Hobb and Lian Hearn both published under their own names but didn't truly hit the big time until they chose gender non-specific pseudonyms. It's sad but true I have to say, and so far it seems to be working.

As for Snapping Turtle, I know the people involved in starting up this company very well and given some of the appalling stories I could tell you about my treatment at the hands of some of the "big name" publishers, I was more than happy to go with a small publisher who shares the same vision for my work as I do. I still have contractual obligations to some HaperCollins Australia and Tor in the US, but any future works not related to those series that other publishers hold an ongoing right to, will be through Snapping Turtle. They're looking for manuscripts by the way, if any of your readers want to submit something. Details and submission are via their website.

The final instalment in the Rift Runners trilogy, Reunion, came out last year. In the series you play with a lot of different worlds. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for that set-up?

I like the idea of messing with history and I wanted to play in the real world for a bit. I was able to achieve both with this series. I also liked the idea of how everything is contextual. Darragh can do things in the Druid world that end up with Ren getting arrested in our world for the same thing. Also, ninja leprechaun. What more can I say?

With the most recent series of novels complete what are you working on next? What can readers look forward to?

I am going back to the world of the Hythrun Chronicles. The new series is called the War of the Gods, and the first book, The Lyre Thief, will be out next year.

Here is the blurb:
Her Serene Highness, Rakaia, Princess of Fardohnya, is off to Hythria, where her eldest sister, Adrina, is now the High Princess, to find herself a husband, and escape the inevitable bloodbath in the harem when her brother takes the throne.

However Rakaia has a dangerous secret, far more deadly than the prospect of marrying some decrepit old Hythrun Warlord to seal a trade deal. If she can just convince her baseborn sister, Charisee, to play along with her escape plan, she might actually get away with her life.

But when the demon child does a deal with Death to bring Brakandaran the Halfbreed back from the afterlife, the unthinkable happens. Adrina must somehow stop the peace treaty unravelling and enlist the help of the assassin Kiam Miar to bring her sister safely home.

...And in far off Medalon, someone has stolen a tiny golden lyre from the Temple of the Gods in the Citadel. The missing lyre and the thief who stole it will eventually touch all their lives in ways none of them could ever imagine.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

A couple of new authors Snapping Turtle is putting out – Ryn Lilley and Ashley Capes. Both Aussie, both great writers. I recommend both highly!

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I think ebooks are the way of the future and that traditional publishers have yet to work out that trying to price an ebook to match a hard copy edition is ridiculous. I have this discussion with them all the time:) I am yet to win the argument. I also think they have no idea how to leverage social media effectively, which is why most of the new writing "millionaires" are independently published. They are living in a world where size doesn't matter so much, and still trying to control it. As book stores close and the only place you can find the books you want is online, (when was the last time you saw all 18 of my books on a single shelf in a bookshop?), the electronic format will rule. A few years ago, I sold 1 ebook for every 10 print copies. Now it's the other way around.


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

http://tsanasreads.blogspot.se/search/label/2014snapshot (here)

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Snapshot 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting a lot of interviews of members of the Australian speculative fiction scene. This is part of the Snapshot 2014 project, which involves a group of us interviewing seriously awesome people. It also means I won't be posting any reviews until afterwards. A bit more about Snapshot:

Snapshot has taken place four times in the past 10 years. In 2005, Ben Peek spent a frantic week interviewing 43 people in the Australian spec fic scene, and since then, it's grown every time, now taking a team of interviewers working together to accomplish!

In the lead up to Worldcon in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014, conducted by 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. Last time we covered nearly 160 members of the Australian speculative fiction community with the Snapshot – can we top that this year?

To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it's all done:

http://tsanasreads.blogspot.se/search/label/2014snapshot (here)

And you can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 20052007, 2010 and 2012.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Silver Shadows by Richelle Mead

Silver Shadows by Richelle Mead is the fifth and penultimate book in the Bloodlines series. I have previously reviewed the earlier books. In reverse order: The Fiery Heart, Indigo Spell and The Golden Lily (Bloodlines was pre-blog). Silver Shadows is a solid instalment in a series that has becoming more interesting (and with higher-stakes) with each book. Note that this review (and the blurb) contains spoilers for the end of the previous book, The Fiery Heart.
Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets—and human lives.

In The Fiery Heart, Sydney risked everything to follow her gut, walking a dangerous line to keep her feelings hidden from the Alchemists.

Now in the aftermath of an event that ripped their world apart, Sydney and Adrian struggle to pick up the pieces and find their way back to each other. But first, they have to survive.

For Sydney, trapped and surrounded by adversaries, life becomes a daily struggle to hold on to her identity and the memories of those she loves. Meanwhile, Adrian clings to hope in the face of those who tell him Sydney is a lost cause, but the battle proves daunting as old demons and new temptations begin to seize hold of him. . . .

Their worst fears now a chilling reality, Sydney and Adrian face their darkest hour in this heart-pounding fifth installment in the New York Times bestselling Bloodlines series, where all bets are off.
I really enjoyed Silver Shadows. The book alternates point of view chapters between Sydney and Adrian, with Sydney locked up in the harsh Alchemist re-education centre and Adrian on the outside trying to get Sydney out. It's a darker book than the ones that went before it, mainly because re-education involves a lot of torture. It does also highlight Sydney's indomitable spirit as she refuses to be let herself be brainwashed. My favourite part was the ways Sydney finds to fight back against the system, even while she's in the re-education centre. Adrian, on the other hand, spirals into a pit of depression and binge drinking when he can't make contact with Sydney, reverting to his former self.

Of course, Sydney doesn't spend the entire book locked up and the last... quarter, maybe, is much lighter in tone than what went before it. I found myself chuckling several times and the surprise near the end was pretty great. I wish I could talk about it more, but it's definitely a spoiler.

While the premise of the series revolves around Jill, Sydney and Adrian have always been the main characters. This is even more evident in Silver Shadows, since Jill and the rest of the gang do not get much page time. But I think there was also an element of needing to sort out a lot of Sydney and Adrian's story so that the last book could bring focus back on Jill (I'm guessing).

I highly recommend Silver Shadows for anyone whose enjoyed the Bloodlines series so far. Really that should go without saying. For those new to the series, it really is the kind of series that needs to be read in order from the start. I would not at all recommend starting with Silver Shadows or any instalment other than Bloodlines.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2014, Penguin
Series: Bloodlines book 5 of 6 (and Bloodlines is a spin-off series of the Vampire Academy)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who by Paul Cornell and illustrated by Jimmy Broxton

The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who written by Paul Cornell and illustrated by Jimmy Broxton is a graphic story celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who (which was last year in 2013). I mainly read it because it was shortlisted for a Hugo Award this year.
In this special one-shot story celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, a strange force flings the TARDIS and the Doctor into our own universe! Once here, the Doctor encounters a 10-year-old girl who happens to be a huge fan of the Doctor Who TV show. The Doctor grapples with being a fictional character and monsters lurking at the girl's school on the way to coming face-to-face with the actor who portrays him, Matt Smith!
Honestly, I found this a bit meh. The story was all right and the illustrations were OK but not my favourite. What I liked best was the premise of the story. The TARDIS malfunctions and punches through to our universe from the Doctor's default universe. The Doctor encounters a twelve-year-old girl who at first mistakes him for Matt Smith, until he shows her (and her mother) the real TARDIS.

To be fair, it was an amusing story, especially when they go to a Doctor Who convention, but I couldn't help feeling that it could be more. More funny, more deep, more something. But it wasn't a bad way to spend half an hour.

I recommend The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who to completist fans and anyone interested in a quick read. Also anyone wanting to read a complete story arc in one hit (which is always nice). I'm not sure people not familiar with Doctor Who will get as much about of this.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, IDW Publishing
Series: No.
Format read: PDF
Source: Hugo voter packet

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is the kind of début novel that one hears so much good stuff about, one regrets not requesting an early review copy when one had the chance. But the good (and first person) news is that once it was shortlisted for a Hugo, I had the perfect excuse (and attendant deadline) to buy myself a copy and read it. The fact that it also won a Nebula, an Arthur C Clarke Award and a British Science Fiction Award (among others) did little to dissuade me.
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Once, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
What I had heard about most before actually reading Ancillary Justice was "the gender thing". For those that haven't heard, one of the most talked about aspects of this book is the fact that because the main character is a ship AI and because her native language and culture don't use gendered pronouns or visual cues (like clothing, hair style, manner) that define gender, she has a lot of difficulty working out the genders of people in other languages (which do have gender pronouns). And, because the book is obviously written in English, this concept is "translated" by having everyone referred to using female terms except, occasionally, in dialogue spoken in other languages. (To be clearer, Radchaai is the language and culture that lacks gendering and it's spoken/practised in the Radch empire.)

Don't get me wrong, the gender thing is interesting and I like the way Leckie's done it — it makes me wonder why I never thought of doing something like that — but it was not, to me, the main point of the novel. Not by a long shot. Up until something like two thirds of the way in, the story is told in two time-lines. There's the present, where Breq, an isolated human component of an AI warship (called an ancillary), is on a self-imposed mission. And in alternating chapters we are shown the past (twenty years earlier), when the Breq ancillary was still part of the ship Justice of Torren. Both time-lines are told in first person, even though in one the person is indeed a single person, while in the other the person is a ship and hundreds of human-bodied ancillaries.

I think the way Leckie handled the point of view issues was really good. In the scenes with the Justice of Torren and its ancillaries, I really got the feeling that the ancillaries were just additional appendages of the ship. Like hands that could also see things.

The main thrust of the plot concerns Breq wanting to at least partially fix the spoilery events that led to her having to function as an isolated unit. These spoilery events involve a pretty monumental conspiracy theory (I don't mean that as a bad thing, it's good conspiracy theory) and are complicated by the fact that the book opens with Breq picking up a stray human. Although the start of the novel is slow action-wise, I found the gentle introduction to the culture helpful (because it is pretty different to what we're used to) and I found the worldbuilding information interesting enough to want to keep reading. Really, Leckie has built a fascinating culture. The pace increases as the story progresses, especially towards the end which became very exciting.

I was delighted when I got to the end and realised that Ancillary Justice was the first book in a "loose" trilogy. The story is fairly self-contained but there is obviously more to tell and I want to know what happens next. I've just checked and the second book is scheduled to come out in October, which strikes me as sufficiently far away that I might have caught up on my reading by then (or not...). Either way, I'm definitely looking forward to it.

I highly recommend Ancillary Justice to fans of science fiction and fantasy. Those put off by technobabble needn't fear; it's mostly absent. Or, more accurately, what confusing concepts are conveyed are more linguistic or philosophical than they are scientific, I found.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Orbit
Series: Imperial Radch, book 1 of 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Google Play

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J McKiernan

Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J McKiernan is the author's first short story collection and, indeed, his first solo book. I should note up front that, once upon a time, the author and I were in the same writing critique group. What this mainly means is that I'd seen early drafts of a few stories, a long time ago, and had very vague memories of them. But I thought I should disclose that up front.

There was a decent variety of stories in Last Year, When We Were Young, with most of them tending towards the horror side of the spec fic triangle. (Spec fic is a triangle now. Or maybe a triangular Venn Diagram, but I digress.) Some were more contemplative and serious, while others were more... gory. One was even science fiction. Looking over the table of contents again, most of the stories have very good titles.

I found I most enjoyed the more contemplative stories. My favourites were "The Memory of Water", "White Lines, White Crosses" and the titular "Last Year, When We Were Young", although the latter is perhaps less contemplative per se. The former two stories deal with loss and death in a poignant way.

Actually, I liked most of the stories in this collection. My least favourite tended to be the most gruesome, which is reflective of my horror preferences more generally. And although I am using the term horror to describe the collection as a whole, I'm not sure the three circus-based stories (for lack of a more accurate phrase) count as horror. Certainly not "Calliope: A Steam Romance" nor "The Dumbshow". "All the Clowns in Clowntown" is perhaps more borderline since it definitely has a well executed feeling of dread to it, but on the other hand, it's about clowns. I suspect coulrophobiacs may disagree with me on that point.

I also liked "The Haunting that Jack Built" — in part for the name — and "The Desert Song", both of which were set in rural Australia and both of which had fairly traditional horror elements. I liked the Australian angle and difference between the Australia of the past and the Australia of a not-so-nice future. I also liked "The Message", which packed a powerful punch, nonetheless.

All in all, this was a pretty solid collection and I would recommend it to horror fans and fans of dark speculative fiction. With a few exceptions, there was nothing too extremely horrific in the stories and I think most of them would be enjoyed by a fairly broad audience.


The Memory of Water — A story I found difficult to put down. Siblings remember their departed parents.

White Lines, White Crosses — A teenaged boy and his family move from Sydney to a country town that is eerily obsessed with hooning. It was a disturbing story with a creeping sense of foreboding.

Calliope: A Steam Romance — A patent clerk is captivated by a woman playing a calliope (a steam-powered musical instrument). True steampunk set in Sydney, even more steampunky when we learn that the woman is actually an intelligent automaton. Also, points for many physicist/scientist shout-outs.

Love Death — A young man brings his new wife to a necromancer, hoping to get her back. I may be a bad person, but I found the circumstances around her death pretty (blackly) funny.

The Message — You know when you read a genre book and you know you're reading a genre book but the characters in it don't know they're in a genre book? This story made me think about that phenomenon. A woman takes a job answering a mysterious phone. Obviously, it's far from an ordinary phone and certain aspects of the past resurface...

All the Clowns in Clowntown — Surprisingly epic for a short story. In this world clowning isn’t just something someone does, it’s who they are. The clowns have clustered together in Clowntown, living their lives, until one day <cue ominous music> the circus comes to town.

Daivadana — a disturbing tale of a diplomat (sort of) who gets caught up in an old Tajik religion. Pretty gruesome at times.

The Dumbshow — Another story in the same universe as "All the Clowns in Clowntown", set (I think) shortly after the events of the previous story. It's much less eerie and, being shorter, a more straightforward story. Honestly not sure how it would stand on its own without the earlier background.

The Final Degustation of Doctor Ernest Blenheim — A little hard to get past the self-cannibalism. And honestly once past that it was still a weird story. As far as revulsion goes, I think it did improve as it went along.

Torch Song — The speculative element sneaks up on you in this one, but I quite liked it. A shot tale, good punch. Title very apt.

The Wanderer in the Darkness — Sci-fi horror, so it automatically put me in mind of Alien. My only issue with it was a character leaving an airlock without his helmet and then not dying. Oh well.

A Prayer for Lazarus — I think I read part of this before, possibly an earlier version. Anyway, creepy story told from a young girl's point of view about her mother's descent into a form of zombie-ism.

The Haunting that Jack Built — I quite liked this story. Set in a rural, small town in the Australian 1950s, Jack builds a house while the townspeople can't help but notice women disappearing when they come to visit him. (I think I'd read at least part of this story before.)

They Don’t Know That We Know What They Know — A weird story with a fitting title. Reminded me a little of "Daivadana", although it's actually pretty different in the details. A seer interrogating the dead body of a young terrorist.

The Desert Song — A sort of zombie story, set in rural future post-something bad Australia. I liked it and the ideas in it but I found it a little inconsistent.

Last Year, When We Were Young — One of my favourite stories in the collection. And it's a great title, which works well for the collection as a whole. A speed ageing plague has infected humanity and the concept is taken to its horrifying conclusion.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2014, Satalyte Publishing
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: review copy courtesy of the author
Disclaimer: although the author is a friend, I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review
Challenges: Aussie Horror Reading Challenge

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Tsana's July Status

Hello, readers! It's been a month heavy on reading and also comic books. I will admit, I took advantage of having bought the first three volumes of Saga by reading them all in a day and queueing up the reviews to post while I was on holiday. (In case you were wondering why that particular week seemed slow.)

It's been a bit of a long month, as well, with a lot happening, or so it feels looking back. The most dramatic news was that on of my favourite imprints,  Strange Chemistry (of Angry Robot), closed its doors. Very sad news, especially for authors with upcoming books that were cancelled with various degrees of suddenness. I still have some Strange Chemistry books left in my review pile, so keep an eye out of those. (Sadly, there was one book I reviewed that got pulled before publication and another ARC I have which is presently not being published and hence I probably shouldn't review... :-/ )

On a completely different note, my next status update will be a few days early (in the sense that I usually aim for the 15th of each month) because I will be off to WorldCon in London and then a holiday. Before that, there will also be something exciting coming to the blog, but you'll have to wait to find out what. It does mean that I'll probably have some reviews stored up to post while I'm away, so it won't be a complete black hole. Anyway...

What have I read? 

What am I currently reading?

I'm currently reading three main books, ignoring books I've been part way through since last month but haven't picked up since (but still plan to). The novel I'm currently reading is Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. It's been Hugo-shortlisted, which is why I'm reading it now, and I've heard lots of good things about it from many people, which is why I'm reading it at all. So far, it has lived up to expectations better than I expected. The start is a little slow (I'm about a quarter of the way through), but I'm finding it sufficiently interesting to make up for the pace.

The short story collection I'm reading is Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew McKiernan. I've only got four stories left, so the review should be up soon. They're mostly horror-ish stories, some more horrific than others.

And finally, I'm reading the non-fictional Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer. I was intrigued by the extract of it provided in the Hugo voter packet and then, when I saw it in a real-life bookshop, I was entranced by how pretty it is. And my husband agreed that it could be an early birthday present. And it's so pretty. I'm also reading it intentionally slowly — because it's that kind of book — so who knows when a review might appear (or what kind of review it would be).

New Booksies

I have another large book haul this month, which only serves to make me more behind on my reading. Such are the pitfalls of being a book blogger. And also of spontaneously buying books because you can.
  • Ambassador 1: Seeing Red by Patty Jansen — purchased because on sale and because I've been meaning to read it.
  • Bound by Alan Baxter — ARC from Voyager. Already reviewed.
  • Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis — purchased because it looks pretty great.
  • The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman — purchased paper book because we went to a paper bookshop and it saves me having to buy it when I'm at WorldCon or something.
  • The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter — purchased at the same place and for the same reasons as above.
  • Saga Volumes One, Two and Three — as above and also because Volume Two is Hugo shortlisted. Already reviewed: One, Two, Three.
  • Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer — purchased with above because it's pretty. And because I'm hoping it will motivate me to write a bit more than I'm currently managing.
  • A Wrong Turn At the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson — purchased because AWW and Aurealis Award shortlisting.
  • Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes — ARC from (US) publisher via NetGalley. Looking forward to it.
  • Help Fund my Robot Army!!! & Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects edited by John Joseph Adams — collection of SFF stories in the form of Kickstarter proposals. A Kickstarter that I backed a while ago (because that is the most obvious choice of delivery for such a book).
  • Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier — Purchased because. Already reviewed.
  • Big Bang (Hal Spacejock #7) by Simon Haynes — Purchased because I realised it existed.
  • Daggers of Dresnia by Satima Flavel — ARC of the first in a début fantasy series (which was a smidge late getting to me).
  • Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress — ARC via NetGalley of short (maybe novella?) SF book. Have enjoyed the author's short stories in the past.
  • Loving the Prince by Nicole Murphy — ARC via NetGalley, science fiction romance.
  • The Sorcerer's Spell by Dani Kristoff — ARC via NetGalley, fantasy erotica (eek).

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Chasing the Valley: Skyfire by Skye Melki-Wegner

Chasing the Valley: Skyfire by Skye Melki-Wegner is the concluding volume of the Chasing the Valley trilogy. I have previously reviewed the first book, Chasing the Valley, and the second book, Borderlands. It has been a journey I have enjoyed a lot; I don't think I've read anything quite like it before. This review will contain spoilers for the earlier books.
What if you achieve everything you’ve dreamed of – and it turns into a nightmare?

Danika and her crew of refugees finally reach the Magnetic Valley. Will it be the safe refuge and land of freedom they had imagined? When a runaway girl is shot down before their eyes, Danika and her friends realise that this new land is no paradise. They must try to fit in at all costs – even if revealing their secrets will mean a death sentence.

The conclusion to the Chasing the Valley trilogy will reveal explosive surprises and terrifying new dangers.
Skyfire picks up only moments after Borderlands left off. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that it opens with the sky (in the distance) literally on fire. The crew has reached the promised land of the magnetic valley but it is not the verdant utopia they were lead to believe. (I suppose there wouldn't've been much story if it were.)

The country they find themselves in is an improvement on what they left behind but not as much as they had hoped. There are strange laws about what people with certain proclivities (magic) can and can't do in society and the ruler is a three hundred year old man with a singular proclivity. The crew quickly learn that no one likes to question the ruler or speak against him at all (always suspicious). Have they stumbled out of the frying pan and into the fire? If you mean a literal fire (in the sky), then yes. But enough about the plot.

I'm a bit conflicted with how this series finished off. On the one hand, all three books have very different settings and new problems to go with them. The new setting isn't actually the part I feel conflicted about. It's the way in which the story escalated book to book. The personal stakes were already pretty high (death if they didn't flee in book one), but by the third book new revelations up the ante to the point of them needing to save the world.

But the thing is, it was all actually foreshadowed from the start. So although some elements seemed to me to come from left field, they didn't, not really. I have no doubt that the author had planned out the entire series before book one was done.

It also ended in a place where I wanted to know what happened next. Sure, the world was safe (that's so not a spoiler) and everything was probably going to be  OK... but that doesn't mean that the next step was obvious. I would like there to be more books about Dannika and the others, but I suspect there might not be.

Oh, and the thing I complained about in my review of Borderlands — someone not picking up an important object — was actually resolved. Not quite the way I would' have liked it to be, but in a way that made sufficient sense given the plot. So yay.

Anyway, Chasing the Valley is an excellent series. All three books have been very close to being five stars for me, but just not quite. Skyfire is the same. Obviously, that still makes it a really good series. I highly recommend it to everyone.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2014, Random House AU
Series: Chasing the Valley, book 3 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier is a YA historical fantasy set in Sydney in the 1930s. I have to admit, I didn't know very much about Sydney in the 1930s until I read this book but it certainly seems like it was an interesting period.
The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses—Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson—is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten.

Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment.

Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s ‘best girl’, experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn’t know what this day has in store for her.

When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie’s new protector. But Dymphna’s life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living . . .
Razorhurst follows two main characters, both of whom can see ghosts: Kelpie, a street urchin and Dymphna, the most expensive prostitute in the city. Kelpie has survived on the streets in large part thanks to some ghost who have taken her under their wings, helped her find food and taught her general survival skills. Dymphna has survived mostly by being good at what she does and having the right appearance and upbringing to impress higher society types.

One of the things I found really interesting was the way the story was told. Alternating chapters were from Kelpie and Dymphna's points of view and in between chapters there were short, semi-omniscient mini-chapters (I'd call them sections but they did have headings, if not numbers) telling the story of someone's past, usually. If not a flashback to one of the main characters' pasts, then the back story of one of the secondary or incidental characters. As a story-telling method it worked really well. The reader gained information that neither Kelpie nor Dymphna knew, which fleshed out the plot and, in some cases, cast other events in a new light. Or gave us back story for the main characters which it didn't make sense to insert into the main narrative. In this way, Razorhurst is as much about the region of Surrey Hills more generally as it is about Kelpie and Dymphna specifically. I found it a really effective way to set the historical scene.

I enjoyed Razorhurst a lot. Larbalestier has a way of revealing information gradually that worked really well for me. There were some things we didn't learn about Kelpie until much later, which other authors may have foregrounded much sooner. I'd be more specific, but I don't want to ruin the reading experience for others. In part, though, I think this is also a reflection of how Kelpie hasn't had much opportunity — until the start of the story — to put her own life into context with those around her who aren't also living in the streets. For example, she doesn't even know how old she is at the start of the story and doesn't understand why people keep asking her that anyway. Dymphna, on the other hand, has always been very aware of her place in life and society and how to play the roles she needs to to survive. More acutely horrible things have happened to Dymphna, but she's also had more opportunities and knows how to make use of them. Kelpie, on the other hand, has mostly only had to worry about finding (barely) enough food and somewhere warm to sleep.

The ghosts are an important element in the story but not actually the driver of the plot in anyway. They're just another form of character and, at times, a challenge for Dymphna and Kelpie to overcome. The main plot is of the "who will try to kill us next and where can we be safe" variety, and the whole novel spans approximately twenty-four hours.

I highly recommend Razorhurst to pretty much everyone. Well, not younger-than-YA readers, since there's several short bursts of acute violence — the story does revolve around razor gangs, after all — but anyone interested in historical fiction as well as the more speculative element. I think the story will work for both types of readers, and for readers who don't usually read YA.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2014, Allen & Unwin
Series: No.
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBookstore
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge