Wednesday, 31 October 2012

New Booksies

I like books. Breaking news, I know.

I got two lovely new books in the mail recently from Rowena Cory Daniells: Exile and Sanctuary, books 2 and 3 of the Outcast Chronicles. You can read my review of book 1, Besieged, here.

Photo of Exile and Sanctuary.

Inscription for Exile on the right reads: "To Tsana the Astrophysicist. How cool is that! cheers, R". Inscription to Sanctuary on the left reads: "To Tsana, Hope this book sweeps you away & leaves you wanting more! cheers, R" the last part of which is a cruel thing to write in a book 3 ;-p
And then I accidentally discovered that Lois McMaster Bujold's new Vorkorsigan book, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is out (I wasn't expecting it for a few weeks) so I had to spend one of my accrued achievement unlocked books on that, as I predicted I would when I instigated the ban on spending the +1s until Xmas. In my excitement, I've already read and reviewed it.

Cover of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

In case you're interested, subtracting a book for Bujold means that I've currently got two books saved up from my read-three-buy-one scheme (and one more to read before I unlock another). My reading has been a bit slower than usual because real life has been a bit busier than usual (and probably won't let up until, well, next year). Sigh.

And finally, I got Shine Light, the last in Marrianne de Pierres's Nightcreatures trilogy, following Burn Bright and Angel Arias. Thanks to Random House Australia and Netgalley. Looking forward to reading this soon and seeing how the series concludes.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

I thought I was showing great restraint when I didn't immediately buy Baen's eARC of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold and endeavoured to wait until the November release date to buy a final ebook edition. But happily, I went to the Baen website the other day to link a friend and lo and behold, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance was out a couple of weeks earlier than expected. Huzzah!

For those of you who haven't read any of Bujold's Vorkorsigan books before, what have you been waiting for? Go start with either The Warrior's Apprentice (to be found in the Young Miles omnibus) or Cordelia's Honour. For those of you who are otherwise up to date, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is a real treat. I'd say you don't have to have read all the preceding books to be able to pick it up, but for best effects, read Memory and A Civil Campaign beforehand (which, yes, do require some of their own prior reading — really there's no reason not to read the entire series anyway). By the way, chronologically speaking, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance comes (a few years?) before the second most recently released Cryoburn. I'm afraid the rest of this review is going to be most accessible to people who have some familiarity with the Vorkorsigan universe.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, as the name suggests, follows Ivan Vorpatril for a change, rather than Miles, his cousin and more usual protagonist. At the end of A Civil Campaign, poor Ivan found himself one of the last among his set to find a spouse. Quite cruelly, all the girls he wanted to court in that book were snatched away from him by others. Now it's finally Ivan's turn. Told jointly from Ivan's point of view and Tej's Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is easily the second most hilarious book in the Vorkorsigan saga (the first remaining A Civil Campaign). It's less a comedy of errors and more a comedy of everyone ganging up on Ivan.

Not that Ivan has been absent from Bujold's other books — indeed he has played a key role as the closest thing Miles has to a brother — but we haven't spent that much time inside his head. It was interesting, albeit unsurprising, how much Miles and his many achievements hangs over Ivan's head. And how much his comparatively minor misadventures in the past have affected him. In a way that's as much a reflection of Miles's determination to go on no matter what horrible things have happened to him as it is an indication of Ivan's dislike of being locked in small underground spaces. There were several "I bet Miles would have..." moments as well as a lot of oblique references to past events (which were fun to try to place). In short, if you don't have Ivan (how could anyone hate Ivan?), there is much to love about this book.

Tej is the other main character. She's on the run from bounty hunters when her path crosses (amusingly) with Ivan's. She wasn't a bad character, and I was definitely rooting for her and Ivan, but I didn't fall in love with her quite as much as I did with Ekaterin (or Elli). Of her assorted family members, Grandmama was by far the most interesting and awesome. I found myself somewhat ambivalent to the rest outside of plot-progression issues.

Because the focus was on Ivan, we also ended up getting to know his mother, Lady Alys, a bit better. And we got to see Simon Illyan in a different light to how Miles sees him since he's Ivan's um-stepfather rather than long-suffering boss. And I have to say, the only way in which Ivan was a little slow was in not realising the way in which everyone was ganging up on him. Silly Ivan.

This was an excellent science fictiony read (somewhat soft science fiction, although earlier books have been harder and contained more science. There are still spaceships and wormholes). So if you have already read the earlier Vorkorsigan books, get onto Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, you won't regret it. If you've read this far and think you want to give the series a shot, I would recommend starting with the earliest books. If you really can't wait, then you could try starting with Komarr (which immediately precedes A Civil Campaign).

5 / 5 stars

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Crewel is Gennifer Albin's debut novel and, as I discovered when I reached the end, the first of a series. (Although it's almost self-contained.) A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review. This review contains mild spoilers but nothing major or of plot-related importance.

What first caught my attention was the blurb which I saw reposted somewhere or other online. Copied from Goodreads:
Incapable. Awkward. Artless.
That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: she wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen as a Spinster is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to embroider the very fabric of life. But if controlling what people eat, where they live and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.
Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and wove a moment at testing, and they’re coming for her—tonight.
Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her Dad’s stupid jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.
Because once you become a Spinster, there’s no turning back.
Of course, the blurb only captures the opening of the novel (as a good blurb ought) and there's much more to the story than I was expecting. The worldbuilding is excellent. I can't argue with the fact that it's a dystopia, but it struck me as a much more realistically built one than, for example, the Divergent/Insurgent universe.

The world runs on magic. They have a level of technology a bit more advanced than ours and, as far as I could tell, magic is what makes it all work. The magic is based around the idea of the world as a tapestry woven from reality. Certain magic users, of varying levels of power control all aspects of the world including crops and food production, birth, death, and weather. The old and dying are woven out of the tapestry to save them the pain and suffering of death, births are scheduled and any dissidents are rewoven to make them better contributing members of society.

Women are the only ones who might have the power to see and manipulate the weave. However, the society is strongly patriarchal. The ordinary citizens live in neighbourhoods segregated by the gender of their children so that under-age boys and girls rarely meet. The girls are all tested for potential Spinster skills at sixteen and then those that aren't called are expected to be married and starting a normal family unit by the age of eighteen after meeting potential suitors in very controlled environments. Homosexuality is, of course, dangerous deviant behaviour (and I liked that the author bothered to address this directly — albeit briefly — instead of just ignoring it). The evil patriarchy aspect lacks some subtlety, but that's OK because not everything has to be subtle to be a real threat.

All the girls aspire to be called by the Guild to be Spinsters because if they're not they're stuck being secretaries and assistants or maybe nurses. Only men are allowed to have Real and Important jobs. Needless to say, despite women having all the magical power, the Guild is run by men. Spinsters get to live in the lap of luxury, but it's very much a gilded cage, as Adelice quickly realises. They're never allowed to leave, but at least they get to look pretty! The fact that Albin touched on the ways in which clothing can be used to restrict freedom was one of my favourite things. Sure, Adelice's complaints about some of the clothes being uncomfortable might seem trivial on the surface but being forced to wear a dress with no underwear to a ball then not having time to change properly afterwards isn't exactly liberating. At least she's allowed to wear pants sometimes, just not while she's being a doll on a Guild official's arm.

Adelice isn't stupid. She starts off a bit naïve, but less so than the other girls because her parents prepared her to fail her spinning test. Her parents didn't tell her everything, though, and she doesn't adjust that well to the gilded (and sometimes dank and stony) cage she's thrust into. There was a minor twist which I suspected before Adelice worked it out, but I was gratified that she did work it out herself; I was expecting her to be surprised when someone finally told her. She makes a few dangerous decisions, mostly relating to not being a docile drone, but these seem entirely in keeping with her character. Looking back with end-of-book hindsight, playing along better would probably not have made as much difference as she hopes.

I think I've probably prattled on long enough about Crewel, which I enjoyed very much. I recommend it to YA dystopia fans, of course, but also to anyone interested in a not too heavy feminist book. I enjoyed how the author used her heavily patriarchal world to emphasise some aspects of oppression. But if that's not your thing, it's possible to read the book as just another dystopian society shrouded in secrecy and not worry about the gendered power-plays.

4.5 / 5 stars

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Dodger is Terry Pratchett's latest book and not, despite the cover, a Discworld novel. It's set in Roundworld London in the first part for the 19th century, which of course bears no resemblance to Ankh-Morpork, not at all.

The back cover blurb:
Dodger is a tosher — a secret scavenger living in the squalor of Dickensian London.

Everyone who is nobody knows him. Anyone who is anybody doesn't.

He used to know his future; it involved a lot of brick-lined tunnels and plenty of filth. But when he rescues a young girl from a beating, things start to get
really messy.

Now everyone who is anyone wants to get their hands on Dodger.
When I first started reading, I found it very difficult to get Ankh-Morpork out of my head. He doesn't mean the Thames, I thought, that's clearly the Ankh! And indeed, Ankh-Morpork has always looked a bit like old London seen in the right light and from the right angle. It didn't actually take me all that long to get into the swing of London as a setting. The different slang and the inclusion of real historical figures such as Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens definitely helped. And if you needed any more evidence that it's set in Roundworld, there was a footnote referring the reader to Google.

I liked the eponymous character. He rises quickly from sewer-searching tosher to someone a bit more respectable, through no intentions of his own, never takes his eye off the ball and never forgets what's important. He has a very strict moral code and, thanks to his room-mate/landlord Solomon Cohen, he knows how to wash to avoid catching anything horrible from the sewers. As a side note, hubby and I were arguing about how old Dodger is. I think he's maybe twenty, give or take a year, but hubby insists that he's a teenager, making Dodger a YA book. My thinking is, he must be old enough to shave regularly and being the stringy type that probably happened a bit later in life. Not that it's important.

My favourite character was definitely Solomon Cohen, Jew living in England after doing a lot of escaping persecution across Europe and the Middle East. He helps keep Dodger on the straight and narrow by forbidding theft, making him wash and helping him spruce up when when the time comes. He's also the character with the best lines, making him enjoyable to read.

Charles Dickens was also an interesting character and, overall, I suspect I might have got more out of Dodger if I'd read more any Dickens. Which isn't to say it wasn't a highly enjoyable read without much prior knowledge of Dickens' history.

I recommend Dodger to any Pratchett fans and to anyone wanting to get into Pratchett that perhaps isn't a fan of fantasy. Written in the style of Discworld but without any magic, I think Dodger would make a good gateway drug to Pratchett's other works.

4.5 / 5 stars

Sunday, 21 October 2012

New Booksies

Two new books since my last post, both from Netgalley:

Crewel by Gennifer Albin. I was interested by the blurb when I first read it and added it to my want list in goodreads. Then I saw that the UK edition (out a couple of months after the US one) was on Netgalley and here we are. Oh, and I just discovered that the title is not a misspelling of "cruel", as I first thought, but relates to a type of embroidery. So there you go.

I very much liked Ekaterina Sedia's The Secret Life of Moscow, so I'm looking forward to seeing what this collection has to offer. SLoM was a bit depressing but I loved that it included a bunch of Russian fairytales that I grew up with, without completely misrepresenting/misinterpreting them like many western authors do (it's a pet peeve).

Friday, 19 October 2012

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent by Veronica Roth is the second in the Divergent trilogy. I have to admit that somewhere between pre-ordering it and it actually being released (in May), I became somewhat jaded about the worldbuilding in Divergent, the first book. That's why I put off reading Insurgent for so long.

The background from Divergent is that humanity collectively decided it was sick of conflict and split itself up into factions based on which characteristic they thought was most to blame for conflict. Those blaming cowardice formed the Dauntless factions, those blaming selfishness joined Abnegation, those blaming war joined Amity, those blaming lies joined Candour, and those blaming ignorance joined Erudite. At sixteen, in this world, kids have to choose their lifelong faction: either the one they were born into or one for which they have a greater aptitude/affinity for. Those who have an aptitude for multiple factions are called Divergent (hence the title of the first book) and are generally feared and persecuted. The origin of the factions baffled me in book one, especially after the excitement of reading the action had worn off.

The main character, Tris, is Divergent. In Insurgent, she and her fellows are left running for their lives thanks to the events at the end of book 1. As far as dystopian YA goes, the conflict which signals the overthrowing of the society isn't instigated by the main characters or their allies, but by the bad guys, breaking formula slightly. Of course Tris and friends do end up playing a key role or there wouldn't be as much story.

Tris's emotional journey in Insurgent involved a lot of turbulence. Her sense of self-preservation isn't especially high and this becomes even more important in Insurgent. I think Roth does a good job showing that Tris has multiple aptitudes but her characterisation of the other characters, particularly the non-divergent ones, felt a bit simplistic. In showing how they had one and only one faction aptitude, there were some instances where they felt oversimplified: from the Erudite who only did "logical" things to the Dauntless who were literally incapable of thinking things through, even when prompted to.


My biggest peeve — which shouldn't come as a surprise to those of you who know me — was the vilification of intellectualism (by the main characters, not by the narrative overall, which is some salvation). Although there were some consequences for the gun-ho destruction of information and facilities ("no, I can't fix that injury because you burnt down the hospital"), and part of Tris's mission involved retrieving a particular piece of information before it was destroyed. However, I didn't really feel that made up for it since the focus was on specific information not being censored, rather than general knowledge being useful. There's enough general societal distrust of intelligence that books which fuel it even a little bit bother me. (As does the evil scientist trope, but for slightly different reasons.)

Anyway, Insurgent was full of action and kept me interested all the way through. I found Tris a bit annoying at times but that was mostly because I didn't empathise with her lack of self-preservation. I have to admit I was disappointed with the big reveal at the end because, not only did I guess what it was early on, but my guessed back-story for it turned out to be more complicated than Roth's. I had hoped it would strengthen the plausibility of the worldbuilding much more than it did. Roth's writing is strong and much as I might not have agreed with them, I did find Tris's emotions and choices plausible. I will definitely be reading the sequel, however I don't think I'll be pre-ordering this time.

4 / 5 stars

Friday, 12 October 2012

And All the Stars by Andrea K Höst

And All the Stars is the first novel I've read by Andrea K Höst, self-published Australian author. I usually only read self-published books by authors previously known to me — there are so many books out there, one has to filter somehow. However, Höst caught my eye because I remembered her being the first self-published author to be shortlisted for an Aurealis Award (last year, for the 2010 award). The shortlisting is a pretty good indication that her writing doesn't suck. Add that to science fiction element and I was sold. My copy of And All the Stars was provided by the author through Netgalley.

The novel opens with an apocalyptic alien invasion. Spires, piercing the ground, appear in many large cities around the world, including Sydney where our protagonist, Madeline, lives. Madeline survives the impact of the spire piercing the train station she was just leaving only to be infected by the mysterious alien dust the spires belched out. The dust gives her, and those others who survive the infection, blue (or green) patches of skin and some super powers. Then the invasion begins in earnest.

When I first read the blurb I wondered whether it might bear some resemblance to The Orphans Trilogy by Sean Williams and Shane Dix because of the spires, but it didn't even a little bit. If anything it was more like Tomorrow When the War Began but with aliens and Sydney instead of foreigners and a small country town. Particularly with the teenagers versus the invaders theme.

Madeline starts off coping with the invasion alone, but that doesn't last long. She soon meets Noi, an apprentice chef, and they quickly team up with some boys from a boarding school who'd had the presence of mind to get organised after people got sick and started dying from the dust.

There is a lot to like about And All the Stars. The writing is strong and tight, the characters are delightfully varied, including a diversity of cultures and sexualities representative of modern Australia. I particularly liked the part where Höst took into account that many boarding school kids would be rich international students since the rich local students don't need to board. It has a realistic (read: slightly embarrassing) first-time sex scene, something which is often avoided in YA or over-idealised if it isn't. Although the science fictional element surrounding the aliens is on the soft side (their powers might as well be magic, although fields and electricity are mentioned), the methodology of the characters in working out how all the new stuff works is rigorously scientific.

The aliens were alien. Not little green men, but something more strange and other. Their actions were mysterious at first but, by the end when their motivations were known, they weren't so baffling as to be completely incomprehensible.

The setting — modern Sydney — also reflects real modern technology. A bunch of people die when the aliens come, but the survivors tweet information to each other and use youtube to share videos of useful things. Some TV news services keep going and the electricity stays on. Just because an apocalypse is in progress, doesn't mean that society collapses immediately. It takes time for our infrastructure to run out of resources or break down. It was nice to see aliens not arbitrarily disable everything for flimsy reasons.

I was concerned while I was reading that this would be the first book in a trilogy or series but it was entirely self contained. Which was a relief not because I wanted it to be over, but because I'm sick of stories needlessly drawn out into trilogies.

And All the Stars was a solidly good YA book. I recommend it to science fiction readers as well as fans of YA. I'll definitely some of the author's other books to my mental TBR pile.

5 / 5 stars

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

New Booksies

From Netgalley I recently acquired The Lost Prince by Julie Kagawa. I haven't read any books in this series and although this is a book five, it's also advertised as the first in a new trilogy, so I'm hoping it'll turn out to be a good entry point. I enjoyed Kagawa's The Immortal Rules and I've only heard good things about this series, so fingers crossed.

And from Penguin Australia, also via Netgalley, I got Falling Kingdoms by Canadian author Morgan Rhodes. It's YA epic fantasy, which isn't a flavour of YA that I have read much of, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it is and how it differs to adult epic fantasy.

And I also bought the (inaugural?) Humble eBook Bundle, containing eight SFF books (or six if you want to pay less than the average) in a pay what you want model with a fraction of proceeds (you choose how much) going to charity. The Humble Bundle people run these for bundles of indie (small company) games a lot and I think this is the first time they've done it with ebooks (and with reasonably big name authors as far as the SFF field is concerned).

I'm particularly interested in the Scalzi, Doctorow and Mercedes Lackey, the latter because I have yet to read any of her books and this is a good chance to fix that. And I've already bought and read Zoo City, but hey that just means one less file to drag into iTunes and my Kobo. (And if you're wondering, it doesn't count against the book buying ban because it's for charity. Yep.)

Books: Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (graphic novel), Old Man's War by John Scalzi, Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow, Pump Six by Paolo Bacigalupi (short stories)...

Books: ... Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, Invasion by Mercedes Lackey, Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link and Magic for Beginners also by Kelly Link.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Harbinger by Peta Crake

Harbinger is Peta Crake's debut novel out from Penguin Australia's Destiny Romance imprint in August. A copy of the book was provided to me by the publisher through Netgalley.

Ophelia is a modern Perth girl with a job that sends her travelling a lot: she's one of the messengers of the gods. All the gods of all the pantheons. Mostly, the gods don't trust technology (ever since Loki hacked the internet and bugged their phones), so they communicate through hand delivered messages. Never mind that Ophelia has no special powers and is forced to drive or hop on a plane at their every whim.

For some reason, I was expecting Harbinger to be a YA paranormal romance. It wasn't. Ophelia is in her mid-twenties, hence too old for YA, and while there are romantic elements, they're not central to the main plot. Instead, this is an entertaining read with lots of good banter and mysterious happenings.

There's something going on with the gods, Ophelia soon comes to realise. It has something to do with her, but no one will tell her what or why. Instead she's taunted, tortured and kept in the dark. Eventually all is revealed but in the meantime it's a frustrating and painful world for Ophelia.

I liked Ophelia as a character mostly because she was so (comparatively) normal. She got kicked around by the gods and then she picked herself up and kept going, because what else could she do? My only issue in terms of plot was that it seemed she was a bit too tortured to survive as sanely as she did. It seemed a bit too much at times, although it made sense in the context of the story.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. There were some laugh-out-loud moments coming from the banter and some of the less life-threatening situations Ophelia finds herself in. Although Harbinger stands alone, I would probably read any potential sequels or other unrelated books by Crake. I look forward to seeing what she writes in the future.

3.5 / 5 stars

Sunday, 7 October 2012

#AWW2012 Fantasy and Misc Challenge, Round-up 3

The time has come when I've finished reading another ten books by Australian women writers, and so it is time for another round-up.

In this batch, I've read more new authors: Narrelle M Harris, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Maureen McCarthy and Gillian Polack and their books were all great, so I'm glad I did.

I enjoyed almost all the books in this batch, giving them 4+ star ratings. The only one which disappointed me was Keri Arthur's. You can read about my reasons in the review.

I read three book threes, two of which were final instalments in trilogies — Rogue Gadda by Nicole Murphy and The Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan. The other book three was Coyote by Rhonda Roberts in what I hope will be an ongoing series (and certainly seemed that way from the ending).

I also read two book ones in trilogies: The Interrogation of Ashayla Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells. Unfortunately, Walker Books who are publishing Ashayla Wolf don't seem to do ebooks so I suspect I'm going to have difficulties getting the rest of the series when they come out, which is unfortunate. As for the rest of Rowena's books, I'm excited to read the rest of the series in the near future. I like Solaris's strategy of releasing trilogies a book a month.

Finally, there were three standalones (not counting Showtime by Narrelle M Harris because it's a collection of short stories and sort of its own thing): Careful What You Wish For by Maureen McCarthy, The Price of Fame by RC Daniells, and Ms Cellophane by Gillian Polack. The last two in particular surprised me a bit in a good way. Both were excellent reads and quite different from what I usually read.

And I just noticed while writing the previous paragraph that I read two books by the same author, Rowena Cory (/RC) Daniells. This is the first time I've done that during the challenge for books that weren't direct sequels.

The full list with reviews and in the order I read them:
  1. Showtime by Narrelle M Harris (review)
  2. The Interrogation Ashayla Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina (review)
  3. When You Wish Upon a Rat / Careful What You Wish For by Maureen McCarthy (review)
  4. Rogue Gadda by Nicole Murphy (review)
  5. Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells (review)
  6. Beneath a Rising Moon by Keri Arthur (review)
  7. The Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan (review)
  8. The Price of Fame by RC Daniells (review)
  9. Ms Cellophane by Gillian Polack (review)
  10. Coyote by Rhonda Roberts (review)

Saturday, 6 October 2012

New Booksies

An update on the books I've received since I last felt like doing a New Booksies post. But before I get to the books themselves, I wanted to talk a bit about the read three buy one restriction I've been following. I got the idea from Tansy (on Galactic Suburbia, I think).

The idea was for me to stop compulsively buying books every time I saw one (or a pile) I wanted. Especially with ebooks not requiring any effort for instant gratification, some book-buying structure was definitely useful. I've found is that I've gotten quite good at reading books as I get them, particularly since they mostly trickle in. What I haven't got the hang of is reading my TBR shelf backlog. My TBR shelf is overflowing, so I mostly have read new (paper) books as I've got them (or left them floating on the couch...) but I'm not actively making room on said TBR shelf. Ebooks are partly to blame since finishing an ebook, even if it's one I've had for a while, doesn't magically free up paper book space.

So from this I've learnt noticed that buying a bunch of books at once (for example when I was in Australia and dropped the restriction for Aussie authors or when I was in the US, the event which I believe prompted the restriction) reduces the chances of my reading them in a timely manner. On the other hand, buying a pile of books at once (especially paper ones which are physically stackable) does make me happy. Therefore, my new experiment is going to involve saving my +1 unlocked books up and buying multiple books at once. I'm not sure for how long this will work. Ideally until Christmas, but I can't not buy the new Bujold book when it comes out in November, so we'll see. Hopefully I'll be able to make a bit of a gap in that shelf, though.

On to my actual new booksies!

I got Harbinger by Peta Crake from Penguin Australia on Netgalley. I'm currently partway through it and enjoying it. It's not a "romance" novel as advertised nor YA as I had assumed for some reason, but that's OK. Messenger for the gods (all pantheons ever) and strange/abusive goddy shenanigans.

And All The Stars by Andrea K Höst, self-published and review copy via Netgalley. I normally don't pay much attention to self-published books that aren't by authors I'm somehow familiar with. This one caught my eye because the author was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award... last year? It's science fiction and the blurb sounded interesting (and it's probably less like a particular Sean Williams series than it sounds).

And finally, I got the Australian edition of Venom by Fiona Paul. It's technically historical YA but the plot sounds like it will appeal to my (more speculative) tastes. The tiny cover above is the only version of the Australian edition I could find. I've included the larger US cover below (where it's just been released — Aus release is December).

Friday, 5 October 2012

Coyote by Rhonda Roberts

Coyote by Rhonda Roberts is the third book in her Timestalker series. However, as with the earlier books it stands alone as a complete story and contains minimal spoilers for the earlier books (pretty much just back-story and love interests, I think). If you're interested, you can read my review of Hoodwink, the previous book, here.

Kannon Dupree is a private investigator with access to a time portal. She specialises in very cold cases. In Coyote she goes back to the wild west to investigate a massacre on behalf of the survivor/hero's descendent. More specifically, she's charged with finding the hero's diary as proof of what really happened. Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems or there wouldn't be much of a story.

I enjoyed this novel a lot and had fun reading it. Although the historical events and the places at the centre of the story in the Wild West are made up (other than the obviously real cities of San Francisco and Santa Fe), Roberts has obviously done her research. She includes a lot of interesting historical facts and details many of which were new to me, someone who hasn't read or seen many westerns.

I really like Kannon as a character. She kicks arse, although there is less of that in Coyote than in the earlier books, and her character development progresses nicely in Coyote. I wasn't a big fan of her love interest though, carried over from Hoodwink. He kept trying to protect and rescue Kannon, two things she is rarely in need of. It was frustrating for her and I completely empathised with her. Honestly, I was rooting for them to break up. Although, I should point out, not because he's a poorly written or boring character, more because his actions were annoying to both me and Kannon (except she also has feelings for him).

I am very much looking forward to reading the next book in this series. Each book has stood more or less alone and each has introduced a new weird thing (of the fantasy-ish variety) happening in relation to the past. So far they seem unrelated to each other but I'm wondering if at some point it'll come together. Or perhaps it will just be a series of strange events that follow Kannon around and which make the Timestalker series difficult to categorise as fantasy (techy time travel) or science fiction (weird stuff).

I highly recommend this series if you enjoy strong (in both connotations of the phrase) heroines and varied story lines. Coyote doesn't disappoint.

4.5 / 5 stars

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang

What's Left of Me is young author Kat Zhang's debut novel. It's just come out (October) from Harper Collins and a review copy was provided to me by the publisher.

What's Left of Me is set in a world where everyone is born with two minds in one body. The parents name both children and then, at around the age of six or seven, one of the minds will prove to be dominant and will take over sole control of the body. This is called settling and, in the Americas (ruled by a single president after much warring), it happens to everybody. Or almost everybody. Eva and Addie never settled. They pretended to, so that they wouldn't be taken away from their parents to a hospital to fix them. Now in highschool, with Addie the dominant mind and Eva, the point of view character, in the background, they try not to get noticed so that no one will suspect their secret.

At first I didn't really buy this as a dystopian novel. For most of the country, it's not really a dystopia. Mostly, it felt like our world, with democracy and everything, but with an alternate history past. Even the fact that everyone believes hybrids like Eva and Addie need to be institutionalised and fixed didn't strike me as particularly... un-real world-ish. From the point of view of the society, Eva/Addie are mentally ill for not settling and trying to fix and fearing people like them isn't wildly different to the way the psychiatric system works (or has worked in the past) in the real world.

So it wasn't until about half way through that I became convinced that, OK, maybe we can call this dystopian. It was mainly the structure of the climax of this (first book in a trilogy) and the hints for the sequels that did it (and some spoilery world building helped). To me, at it's heart, What's Left of Me is a classic science fictional "what if" story, wrapped up in the trappings of modern YA dystopia. What if every body contained two minds? We see some of the ramifications of this question in What's Left of Me with very obviously more left to come in the future books.

I enjoyed reading this book a lot. I was impressed with how well it was crafted and how fascinating the ideas were. The blurb, in my opinion, did nothing for it, making it seem a bit paranormal or evoking ideas of ghosts. It's not paranormal. No one has magic powers. It's down to Earth, high concept science fiction. And it's great.

I highly recommend what's left of me to fans of YA and to fans of What If science fiction who aren't predisposed to disliking the YA trappings. I am eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

4.5 / 5 stars

Monday, 1 October 2012

Courting Trouble by Jenny Schwartz

Courting Trouble is the second Aussie steampunk novella in Jenny Schwartz's Bustlepunk chronicles. I reviewed the first book, Wanted: One Scoundrel at the start of the year. A copy of this novella was provided for review from the publisher, which was nice because it meant I got to read it a bit sooner. You should be able to buy it from Carina Press from the day this review goes live, October 1.

Although Courting Trouble is definitely a sequel to Wanted: One Scoundrel, I think it will also stand alone fairly well. None of the plot, beyond the fact that the two main characters met in book 1, depends on earlier plot points.

Esme is a suffragette in Perth the Swan River colony, 1895. Book 1 introduced her love interest, the Californian Jed, who is still courting her now. Or trying to work out how to court a suffragette without making her angry. Their interactions amused me, especially Jed's attempts at courting. He's not very good at doing so at the start without reducing Esme to a damsel in distress and I completely shared Esme's anger at some of his antics.

Part of Schwartz's alternate universe is the introduction of Bombaytown in the Swan River colony. Much like Chinatown, but Indian, it plays a central role in Courting Trouble when Gupta, the teenager Jed saved in book 1, comes to Jed and Esme for help. Of course, this leads to the central dastardly plot and direction of action. In the end, the bad guy seemed to me to be as much a victim of colonialism/the British Raj as of his own crazies, something I didn't think was quite addressed as much as it could've been.

All in all, Courting Trouble was a great fun read and I was a bit disappointed when it was over so soon. I certainly wouldn't object to reading a novel-length story set in the same world. From Wanted: One Scoundrel to Courting Trouble, I feel Schwartz's writing has improved, becoming tighter. The steampunk elements which originally drew me to the series are still crucial to the plot, though perhaps less prominent (or less silly?) than in Wanted.

I definitely recommend Courting Trouble to anyone who's read and liked Wanted: One Scoundrel or to anyone interested steampunk, particularly those looking for a different setting. (Also, if anyone knows of any other Australian-flavoured steampunk books, please let me know; I'd love to read them.)

4.5 / 5 stars