Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Other Tree by DK Mok

The Other Tree by DK Mok is the author's first novel and the second thing I've read of hers, the other being a story in One Small Step. The Other Tree is an amusing adventure story that takes our Australian protagonists around the world (well, to Europe and the Middle East anyway).
It’s been four years since Chris Arlin graduated with a degree that most people think she made up, and she’s still no closer to scraping up funding for her research into rare plants. Instead, she’s stacking shelves at the campus library, until a suspiciously well-dressed man offers her a lucrative position on a scientific expedition.

For Chris, the problem isn’t the fact that they’re searching for the Biblical Tree of Life. Nor is it the fact that most of the individuals on the expedition seem to be fashionably lethal mercenaries. The problem is that the mission is being backed by SinaCorp, the corporation responsible for a similar, failed expedition on which her mother died eleven years ago.

However, when Chris’s father is unexpectedly diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Chris sees only one solution. Vowing to find the Tree of Life before SinaCorp’s mercenaries, Chris recruits Luke, an antisocial campus priest undergoing a crisis of faith. Together, they embark on a desperate race to find Eden. However, as the hunt intensifies, Chris discovers growing evidence of her mother’s strange behaviour before her death, and she begins to realise that SinaCorp isn’t the only one with secrets they want to stay buried.
The story follows Chris, a cryptobotanist, and Luke, the hapless priest she drags into her mission. With a few starting advantages, they race against the big corporation's cronies to locate and get to the Tree of Life first. I would have been more sceptical about their ability to even come close to competing with the corporation if it weren't for the fact that Chris and Luke generally took different paths and different approaches (and to some extent were lucky). After three intercontinental flights I was pretty sceptical about their finances, however...

The Other Tree was a mostly entertaining read with quite a bit of humour thrown in throughout. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it a comedy, but it was definitely light hearted most of the time (basically, apart from the bits with high body counts or weird creatures trying to eat the protagonists). As an adventure tale, I thought it dragged a bit in the second half. They got pretty close to their goal not far past the half-way mark — which made me sceptical about how the climax would play out, but the climax climaxed as it should — and then a lot of words were spent getting from just outside Eden to the inner part where the climax happened. I suspect it didn't help that there were fewer jokes (because there was more almost dying) in the latter half also. I wouldn't go quite so far as to say it was boring, but the writing could have been tighter.

I was also half-expecting Luke to have some kind of mysterious secret — since there was a definite mysterious past vibe about him — and maybe turn out to be a vampire or something vaguely supernatural. (Especially after a bit implying that the power had a tendency to flicker in his presence, but maybe I misinterpreted that.) Alas the only supernatural things that made an appearance were plants and animals. And sort of Eden, but Eden turned out to be really damned weird.

While I enjoyed reading about Chris and Luke I wasn't that attached to the premise. I suspect that's why I didn't like that so many words were given over to the goal (or well, the bits close to the goal) and I think it's similar to my dislike of angel books, ie personal preference. I thought the best bits were Chris and Luke's banter and random high jinks along the way. There were a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. Also, Mok's approach to some of the players on the corporation side was refreshing and somewhat plausible, especially in the case of Emir, the most important fleshed-out lackey.

I should also mention the setting. Chris and Luke are based in Australia and, although there's a significant amount of travel, there's also a significant amount of Australian setting. The Australian locations are all fictional and yet feel very familiar. I always enjoy reading Aussie settings and, despite its fictitiousness, The Other Tree did not disappoint in that department.

I would recommend The Other Tree to fans of contemporary-set fantasy looking for something different to most urban fantasy or paranormal romance books. At it's heart it's an adventure story, following two adventuring laypeople in their quest to find the Tree of Life (or, well, on their quest to find out what happened to Chris's mother and also to see what happens next). A fairly enjoyable read.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published:
January 2014, Spencer Hill Press
Series: Don't think so.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Stained Glass Monsters by Andrea K Höst

Stained Glass Monsters by Andrea K Höst is a standalone (ish) fantasy book from an author whose books I've enjoyed several times in the past. I added the "ish" because I just saw a listing on her website indicating that there will be another book in the same universe, apparently a sequel, but the first book is pretty self-contained.
When a motionless woman dressed in white appears in the village of Falk, Kendall Stockton has no inkling that the strange apparition will soon leave her homeless, and tangled in the affairs of mages and monsters. For the white figure is the first sign of a spell which will shatter cities, and make the caster as powerful as the gods.

Saved by a stranger who claims her goal is to stop the woman, Kendall is torn between admiring the mage Rennyn Claire's strength, and doubting her methods. What is Rennyn willing to do to win? Do the best of intentions justify pragmatic sacrifice, or is Rennyn Claire no better than the monster she is trying to stop?
This was a nice read. The two main characters — Rennyn, the powerful mage who has been trained her whole life to save the world, and Kendall, the teenage orphan that coincidentally crosses her path — provide nicely contrasting points of view. Rennyn is focused on her task and saving everyone (particularly the world and protecting her brother). Kendall, on the other hand, starts off following events only because she has nothing better to do. She's not very invested in what's going on beyond her own safety and given the opportunity to learn magecraft, decides to only bother until she can learn enough to get paid to be the most basic kind of magic wielder.

I enjoyed Stained Glass Monsters, but it's not my favourite Höst book. Although I was never bored, I did feel it moved a little slowly, especially in the middle. There was an element of following Rennyn as she went from points A, B, C to achieve X, Y, Z stages in her quest to save the world. To Höst's credit, we are spared needless details about X, Y, Z and all those scenes include some other element to drive the book onwards, usually character development.

I really liked that Rennyn was allowed to be a powerful and highly competent character. She had obstacles to overcome, but those were mostly external. What internal obstacles she faced were irrevocably linked with the whole world-saving thing. That she struggled to overcome them was because they were hard and anyone else would have struggled more. Also, Rennyn wasn't running around saving the world because she was a mystical chosen one. Her family, for historical reasons, saw it as their duty to protect the world and hence trained and planned extensively for the task. This is the only source of Rennyn's specialness. She was the only one who could do it (well, her or her brother, who was also prepared but Rennyn took point as the eldest) because she was the only one who had properly been prepared to do it. (Well, OK, one small aspect was because of her lineage, but not quite in the traditional "chosen one" sense.) It's a thoughtful twist on the "chosen one" trope.

You know what I've just noticed about Höst's books? It came up when I was reviewing Hunting as well. I start writing my review thinking "well, I enjoyed that but I'm not sure how much I have to say about it" and then I start writing it and, in the course of reflecting on the book, end up finding added depths that I didn't necessarily notice while I was actually reading. Thumbs up. There's also the fact that almost all the key players in Stained Glass Monsters were women, apart from Rennyn's brother and her love interest. Which makes me happy.

Stained Glass Monsters was a pleasant read and I recommend it to fantasy fans. Especially to readers of fantasy not wanting to commit to a long series, since it stands alone nicely (although I can see where the sequel might go).

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2011, self-published
Series: Sort of. Stands alone but there's an upcoming sequel.
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from SmashWords
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Friday, 17 January 2014

Tsana's January Status

Welcome to my first new-style monthly status post. I'm going to start by dividing this into recurring sections, which I will hopefully get around to making little graphics for at some point when everything around me isn't going wrong. (Seriously, it feels like the only thing that hasn't gone wrong lately has been the weather: I got out of Melbourne just before that horrific heatwave and now it's snowing and I like snow.)

In actual news, I have a story, "Transit of Hadley", coming out in Aurealis issue #67 in February, which is exciting! I'll post links to where you can get your hands on it when it's out.

What have I read?

Normally this would be what I've read since my last status post, but since this is the first, I'm going to arbitrarily go from my last New Booksies post in December. Links, of course, go to the reviews.
  • Pawn by Aimée Carter — a pretty good YA dystoipa. Plausibility is the watch word. Well, on a worldbuilding level anyway. It occurs to me just now that operations which change someone's physical appearance to exactly resemble someone else (including height and skin colour) are maybe not as plausible as many movies would have us believe.
  • Mars, Inc by Ben Bova — don't bother, unless you enjoy sexist tripe. It wasn't even that sciencey either.
  • These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner — a nice YA science fiction novel about two teens shipwrecked on an empty(-ish) planet that gives me hope for the future of the genre.
  • The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead — Bloodlines book 4. If you've read the others you probably already know whether you're going to read this one.
  • The Dreaming (Volume 1) by Queenie Chan and also Volumes 2 and 3 — an Aussie horror manga I quite enjoyed. I hadn't read anything like it (particularly form-wise) before. Would recommend to others, including those who haven't read much/any manga before.
  • Jump by Sean Williams — another excellent YA science fiction novel, with a depth of worldbuilding as one would expect from a veteran hard SF writer (and yes, he's written other things too)
  • Shadowplay by Laura Lam — which I had been looking forward to for quite a while and finally read on the plane (first good plane book I chose in the past several long-haul flights). Sequel to Pantomime which can be summarised as "intersex girl runs away to join the circus as a boy".

What am I currently reading?

Two books right now.

The one I started first, which my Kobo tells me I'm 43% of the way through, is Rare Unsigned Copy by Simon Petrie. It's a hefty collection of short stories with the subtitle "Tales of Rocketry, Ineptitude, and Giant Mutant Vegetables". So far have read stories which cover all three of those, although no more than two simultaneously, I think. I am enjoying it a lot, especially the humour, but I'm not sure when I'll finish it. The thing with short stories is that I find it difficult to read too many of them in a row; I prefer to sandwich them between other things. The fact that many of these are so short only exacerbates how slowly I get through them since it's the idea-overload that I mainly want to reduce. Anyway, I'll probably pick it up again when I finish my current novel...

Which is Stained Glass Monsters by Andrea K Höst. I felt like reading something I had absolutely no external pressures on me to read (so not a review copy and not a paper book that was at risk of being left in Melbourne), and this was what I semi-randomly chose. For fun. I'm almost done (about 80% last I checked) and I expect a review will be going up quite soon.

New Booksies

I have a lot of these since my last post and I'm feeling quite uninspired to upload all the cover art. But I shall, for that is the price one must pay for living through Christmases and trips to Australia and end of/new year sales. Alas. ;-p
  • The Disappearance of Ember Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina — sequel to The Interrogation of Ashayla Wolf. Purchased paperback.
  • Jump by Sean Williams — see above for review. Paperback won in giveaway.
  • The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead — see above for review. Purchased paperback.
  • Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett — latest Discworld book. Purchased hardcover.
  • The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter — sequel to The Long Earth. Purchased (trade) paperback.
  • The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan — been meaning to read something of hers for a while, this one was available for rescue from the sad (read: discount) bookshop. Purchased (if you can really call it that) paperback.
  • By Chuck Wendig, from Angry Robot promotional sales. Have yet to read anything of his other than his blog. Purchased ebooks.
    • Blackbirds
    • Mockingbird
    • The Blue Blazes
  • Born of Empire by Simon Brown — rescued from sad bookshop, Aussie author. Purchased paperback.
  • The Catalogue of the Universe by Margaret Mahy — haven't read anything of hers but turns out she's a well-known NZ author. Paperback rescued from sad bookshop.
  • All three volumes of The Dreaming by Queenie Chan — see above for review. Volume 1 purchased paperback, volumes 2 and 3 purchased ebooks (e-comics? emanga?)
  • Act One, Wish One by Mindy Klasky — liked her other books, this is a new-to-me series. Review copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.
  • Darkwitch Rising by Sara Douglass — book 3 of the Troy Game, I have the first two and have read the first. Mainly got it because it was on sale. Purchased paperback.
  • Small Shen by Kylie Chan and illustrated by Queenie Chan — was inspired to get this by The Dreaming. Purchased paperback.
  • Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells — sequel to Emilie and the Hollow World. eARC from Strange Chemistry via NetGalley.
  • The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M. G. Buehrlen — upcoming release from Strange Chemistry. eARC via NetGalley.
  • Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina — new upcoming fantasy book from Angry Robot. Prompted to request it because the new-to-me author is Russian (and female). eARC via NetGalley.
  • I also got a bunch of magazine issues due to promotions and kickstarter rewards, but I'm not listing those individually because there are too many and this list is already too long.

Yay, books! *falls in a heap from exhaustion of uploading covers*

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Shadowplay by Laura Lam

Shadowplay by Laura Lam is the sequel to Pantomime, which I rather enjoyed. Where Pantomime can be loosely summarised as "intersex girl runs away to join the circus as a boy", the story in Shadowplay builds up in complexity, particularly in regards to worldbuilding only hinted at in the prequel. The blurb and parts of my review will contain spoilers for the previous book (though not for Shadowplay itself). You have been warned.
The circus lies behind Micah Grey in dust and ashes.

He and the white clown, Drystan, take refuge with the once-great magician, Jasper Maske. When Maske agrees to teach them his trade, his embittered rival challenges them to a duel which could decide all of their fates.

People also hunt both Micah and the person he was before the circus–the runaway daughter of a noble family. And Micah discovers there is magic and power in the world, far beyond the card tricks and illusions he’s perfecting…

A tale of phantom wings, a clockwork hand, and the delicate unfurling of new love, Shadowplay continues Micah Grey’s extraordinary journey.
Shadowplay, again written in first person to circumvent Micah's changing attitudes towards their male and female aspects, is somewhat more focussed on fantasy elements than its prequel. Although there definitely is continued exploration of Micah's nature. Although they're living as a boy for almost all of Shadowplay, there are times when their female aspect is very relevant (like having boobs and periods). There's also the new romantic relationship which, depending on who is watching (and I mean this literally) is presented by Micah (+ lover who I won't name because slight spoiler) as either homosexual or heterosexual, based on how Micah wants other people to see them. (Although in the end all the people Micah cares about know about their genitals, there's still some weight to how they present themselves.) I found it very interesting to read about, even though it's not really the central driver of the plot. (And I'm finding it hard to refer to Micah gender-neutrally since they're always referred to as either he or she or a name in the book.)

As I predicted in my review of Pantomime, we learn more about the history of the world in Shadowplay; a lot more, including what the background is on those weird artefacts and glowy buildings. And the damselfly that we met in the first book (and which just surprised me by being a real word and not making spellchecker sad). Also what happened to the mysterious ancient Alder race which seemed to have just disappeared. So basically many questions are answered. Not all of them, but its clearer which direction the next book will take in that respect, whenever it may appear.

The actual plot of Shadowplay, focusses on Micah and Drystan making new friends while on the lam and also learning magic tricks. The new characters introduced are Maske, the master magician and Cyan, who completes their magic performance team. I believe Cyan is the one on the front cover. Speaking of characters, I kept forgetting that Drystan isn't actually that much older than Micah (only six years, apparently), especially in the first book when he was introduced as a clown. Maybe it was just because he was lumped with the other clowns who I (also) assumed were middle aged. Eh, there was reason enough to remember his relative youth in this one.

Shadowplay was an enjoyable read. I'd say it's a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Pantomime. For readers new to the series, you can read the second book first, but I strongly recommend starting with Pantomime. The background to the characters, especially Micah, will make much more sense that way. I would recommend the series to all fantasy fans, not just fans of YA fantasy. There is a depth of worldbuilding not often found in YA that I suspect will appeal to readers who might usually read BFF (big fat fantasy), although these books are definitely shorter than the standard BFF fare.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2014, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes. Book 2 of ?
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 10 January 2014

Jump by Sean Williams

Jump by Sean Williams is the first book in the Twinmaker trilogy from the veteran Australian SF writer. It's set in a post-scarcity future where everyone can teleport to wherever they want and fabricate all the food, clothes, etc that they need for free.
Clair lives in a world revolutionised by d-mat, a global teleport system that allows people to transport themselves instantaneously around the world. When a coded note promises improvement – the chance to change your body any way you want, making it stronger, taller, more beautiful – Clair thinks it’s too good to be true, but her best friend, Libby, is determined to give it a try.

What starts as Libby’s dream turns into Clair’s nightmare when Libby falls foul of a deadly trap. With the help of Jesse, the school freak, and a mysterious online friend called Q, Clair’s attempt to protect Libby leads her to an unimagined world of conspiracies and cover-ups. Soon her own life is at risk, and Clair is chased across the world in a desperate race against time.
One of the basic tenets of the d-mat system is conservation of information. People going in have to come out in exactly the same state. As the blurb hints, someone starts suggesting that people can "improve" themselves (get rid of an ugly birthmark or shrink a large nose) using d-mat. Obviously, this isn't the sort of thing that can end well and a lot of the plot revolves around Clair trying to save Libby after the latter attempts improvement.

The main strength of Jump is the worldbuilding. It doesn't come as a surprise, since Williams has written many a hard science fiction novel in the past, but the worldbuilding is rigorous and well thought-out. For example, in a post-scarcity society, why isn't overpopulation a problem? Well, it's not directly addressed but the Water Wars, fought over rising sea levels a generation ago, would contribute to a lowered present population. The rules governing d-mat are explained in a clear (albeit mostly metaphoric) manner so that it's easy to follow the parts of the plot which hinge upon them. It makes for an engaging story which doesn't get bogged down in technical details.

As someone who has read a lot of science fiction in the past, there was one aspect of the plot which came with a later reveal that struck me as obvious from the get-go. Although the reveal was done quite well and was not in anyway frustrating, even though I saw it coming. On the other hand, I suspect less experienced readers (for example teenagers who haven't been exposed to as much science fiction) would not necessarily see that aspect as obvious like I did. And of course this paragraph is a bit ambiguous because spoilers. But it had to be said.

I enjoyed reading about Clair and her plight. When thrown into a shitty situation she quickly steps up to the challenge — sometimes without necessarily realising that she's doing so — and propels the story forwards. Williams doesn't pull any punches as to the sorts of situations she finds herself in either.

Also, given that it's trivial to travel around the world, the main cast is pleasingly diverse. Clair is black, Zep is Asian, Libby lives in Scandinavia and Jesse is a white American. I'm pretty sure that's meant to be Clair and Jesse on the cover, although I'm not sure Clair wore anything like that for most of the story.

Jump was an enjoyable read from a writer whose work I've enjoyed in the past (albeit pre-blog, so there's less evidence ;-p ). I am looking forward to reading the sequel, which I hope won't be too long coming (pretty sure the release is some time in 2014, just not sure when). I recommend it to fans of science fiction and to fans of YA looking for something a bit meatier than most YA SF.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2013, Allen & Unwin (AU version)
Series: Twinmaker book 1 of 3
Format read: Paper!
Source: Won in a competition hosted on Vegan YA Nerds
Challenges: Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Dreaming (Volumes 2 and 3) by Queenie Chan

The Dreaming (Volume 2) by Queenie Chan is the second part of the three-volume story begun in (gasp!) Volume 1. My review of Volume 1 is here. Because they really are part of the same story, this review will also include Volume 3 below. Also note that the blurb and the review contain spoilers for Volume 1.
Greenwich Private College grinds to a complete halt after the discovery of Millie's body. As gloom and despair sets in, most of the students leave the school. But Jeanie's curiosity keeps her on campus, and when she's led down the path of the Greenwich's dark history, has she awakened a ghostly curse?
In Volume 2 the story picks up right where Volume 1 left off. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it mostly serves as a chance for Jeanie to learn more about the history of the school — y'know, the history no one wanted to talk about in the first Volume before everything went wrong. And on top of that, there aren't many students left at the school, to make the building extra creepy.

We are also treated to a build up of creepiness which is obviously setting up the story for the concluding volume. What will happen next? Who will survive? Will anyone get out of the school alive, or will it just merge into the surrounding bushlands, never to be seen again? And what's with the Victorian dresses?

To answer these questions, (and more!) I read on to the last volume...

4 / 5 stars


Finally, The Dreaming Volume 3 concludes the story.
Where did the ghostly girls come from? And what do they want? Before the students know it, the missing girls enter the school, where Amber spots Millie, who speaks to her almost as if to warn her of something. Is there more to this supernatural mystery than just the school itself? The answers to why these girls have come back and what caused their death are revealed in this haunting series finale.
This final instalment mostly focusses on Jeanie and Ms Anu gradually unravelling the mysteries of the school. And a side note I didn't really think about until this Volume, it's nice to see a story where the main characters are Asian and Indigenous rather than defaulting to Anglo.

Of course it turns out there's more to the weird goings on at the school than there initially seemed and — no spoilers — there was a twist I didn't see coming. Oh and there was more creepiness, building on what was already established in the earlier two volumes.

Overall I quite enjoyed reading this manga. It's quite different, especially in form, to anything else I've read and I'll definitely be seeking out other work by Chan in the future. (Perhaps starting with Small Shen in collaboration with Kylie Chan, or maybe her Legend of Zelda fancomic.) I highly recommend The Dreaming to fans of horror/dark fantasy, including those who might not usually read manga.

I'm also interested in checking out a few other manga authors if anyone has any suggestions as to where to go from here. (Though I won't be switching over from predominantly text-based reading any time soon.)

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2006 and 2007, respectively; Tokyopop
Series: The Dreaming Volumes 2 and 3 of 3
Format read: ebook (e-manga?)
Source: Purchased from ComiXology amid much angst and shouting at the iPad
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Aussie Horror Reading Challenge

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Dreaming (Volume 1) by Queenie Chan

The Dreaming by Queenie Chan is almost the first manga I've read. I say almost because I did read Red String online a few years ago (and then bought a couple of paper volumes) but I never got to the end because I lost track of it once I was up to date with the online pages. Anyway, The Dreaming is quite different, being both horror and Australian.
When twin sisters Amber and Jeanie are accepted into an exclusive Australian boarding school, their future looks bright. But the school's halls harbor a terrible secret: students have been known to wander into the surrounding bushlands and vanish...without a trace! No one knows where they went--or why. But as Amber and Jeanie are about to learn, the key to the school's dark past may lie in the world of their dreams...
I am by no means an expert on art but, to me, the art style was nice and added to the story. (People wanting to judge for themselves can see examples on Chan's website and this Asia Education Foundation page.) Especially some of the creepier images (pages? scenes?) definitely added to the vibe of the story. Especially the ones that sort of jumped out at me.

As for the story, this is Volume 1 of 3 so it was only the first part of the story, the set up for the overall story arc. The story is narrated from Jeanie's point of view and begins with the girls arriving at their new school, very isolated in the Middle of Nowhere, NSW. It's a co-ed school, which I thought was odd, especially since there's only one boy who appears briefly in this volume. (But presumably he or some other boy will be back at some point in Volumes 2 or 3, otherwise I don't see why it wouldn't just be a girls' school. This was the only thing that bothered me.)

The horror set-up in this volume includes a terrifying vice principal with a strong aversion to twins — to the extent that the girls have to pretend to be ordinary siblings born a year apart — a mysterious room, girls historically disappearing in the bush, and strange dreams. And, as I began to suspect once I was about half-way through, it ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. I suspect reading the omnibus version of this would be better, but Volume 1 was all that the bookshop had. I've discovered that the paper versions are non-trivial to get a hold of outside of the US (shipping costs more than the book/s), but I will be buying the remaining volumes on the iPad via Comixology, so stay tuned!

Not strictly part of the story, but the "Introducing Australia" page at the end was comedy gold.

I enjoyed this start to a horror story. I am definitely going to read the remaining two parts, because, as I've said, the story is just not complete. I highly recommend it to fans of horror and manga, especially readers interesting in either in an Australian setting. I'm not usually much of a fan of comics (longer than webcomics, anyway) or graphic novels because I prefer words to pictures and experience existential angst over which I should be paying attention to, but this worked for me. I would urge others who don't usually read manga to give it a shot (and it's not as though it's a long read).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2005, TokyoPop
Series: The Dreaming Volume 1 of 3 (one continuous story)
Format read: Paper!
Source: Robinsons Bookshop (bricks and mortar, well... wood and... glass?)
Challenges: Aussie Horror Reading Challenge, Australian Women Writers Challenge

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Tsana's peculiar best of list for 2013

Like last year, instead of doing a straight "best of" list this post is going to cover the most stand-out books I've read during 2013. The books I enjoyed most at the time (and hence gave five stars to) are currently displayed in my left sidebar and will be archived on my favourites page once I start (finishing and) giving 2014 books five stars.

Also notable are the books I read for my various challenges in 2013. There was the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and two challenges I set myself: Aussie Science Fiction and Aussie Horror. Almost all of them were excellent reads. I feel like Aussie (spec fic) authors are a bit underrated, especially outside of the community. So if you're wondering how I managed to read 49 books by Australians, I encourage you to have a look at those summary posts. But only 48% of the books I read were by Australian authors, and of course some of the others were excellent reads too.

Jumping in with no particular order in mind, and tongue firmly in cheek...

Most surprisingly good science fiction book
Trader's Honour by Patty Jansen — not because I was expecting a bad read from Patty, but because I couldn't get into the prequel and ended up not finishing it. But I will be continuing on with the series!

Best collection by an American woman
The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories — she really is an excellent writer. Although I didn't love every single story (I still remember it was the first and last stories I was least impressed with, although I still remember what both were about so they weren't unmemorable), the collection overall was excellent. An honourable mention in this category goes to In The Company of Thieves by Kage Baker (posthumously).

Best post-apocalyptic novel with a diverse protagonist
Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes — not only is the main character is autistic but the worldbuilding turned out much more complex than it appeared on the surface. Not only was it a post-epidemic world with a significantly reduced population, but there was also time travel, which I really didn't see coming. I am deeply curious to see where this goes in the sequel(s).

Most surprisingly good YA fantasy début
Chasing the Valley by Skye Melki-Wegner — again this was one I had underestimated, mostly because of the cover. Once I started reading, it became clear that the author was onto a good thing. In the realm of YA, it had a lot of unique elements. And who doesn't like steampunk-flavoured magic?

Best Twelfth Planet Press Collection
Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer — this is the book that introduced me to Thoraiya's writing and I was very impressed. I will definitely be trying to keep up with other work she produces.

Best collection of horror and dark fantasy stories
The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton — I had mainly only read her novels before and a few isolated short stories. This collection really brought home to me how complex Jo's worldbuilding is, even in the space of a short story. Impressive and recommended.

The book which I most expect to win awards
Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near — this would have been an impressive book for any author, but for it to also be a début was stunning. I will be keeping a close eye on Allyse's future output. In many ways her style reminds me of Margo Lanagan but with a thematically younger bent to it.

Most consistently funny author
Simon Haynes — in 2013 I read Hal Spacejock: Baker's Dough, Hal Spacejock: Safe Art and Hal Junior: The Gyris Mission. If you're looking for hilarious science fiction, this is it.

Best literary science fiction that almost made me cry
The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke — if you don't require your SF to be full of action, then you must give this a shot. A ponderous story of a girl and her robot. It's more or less her life story in a not-too-distant future.

Best new-to-me horror author
Kirstyn McDermott — I read both her novels this year: Madigan Mine and Perfections (although not in that order)

Best fantasy book written by a man
Valley of Shields by Duncan Lay — Looking forward to the concluding volume of this series in 2014. Duncan Lay's books (both series) are among very few (the only I can think of...) which focus on father-child relationships in a positive light and from the father's point of view.

Best hard science fiction novella
Flight 404 by Simon Petrie — I was very impressed with this, with the physics and the characterisation, neither of which were done lazily. I am very much looking forward to reading more of Simon's stories in 2014.

Anthology with the most memorable opening story
One Small Step edited by Tehani Wessely — the rest of it was good too, but that first story by Michelle Marquardt really stuck in my mind. Like a lot.

Best vampires
Narrelle M Harris — a fresh take. Narrelle's undead lack creative thinking and problem solving skills, because their brains are dead and can't make new connections. The books were also quite humorous. Oh, and the human lead was a librarian. What's not to like?

Best book about running away to join the circus
Pantomime by Laura Lam — goodness this was a good read. Not only was it "noble girl runs away to join the circus", it was "noble intersex girl runs away to join the circus as a boy". Also, other things happened. Looking forward to reading the sequel very soon.

Best audiobook
Redshirts by John Scalzi — no competition. Narrated by Wil Wheaton. Also, a great story.

Best non-spec fic book
A Trifle Dead by Livia Day — crime and food and geekiness. Special mention to Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein but Tansy wins by dint of being very significantly more upbeat.

Best medical SF novel
Parasite by Mira Grant — I could also have called this "best novel about something living inside people". Anyway, definitely worth a read if that's your sort of thing. (And there's less blood than in her Newsflesh series!)

Most mainstream popular book I read
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green — which is popular for a reason, but I probably wouldn't've picked it up if not for all the hype. First choice for reading while moping alone in a hotel room. Not sure about the upcoming movie, but I'm glad I read the book first.

Favourite camp fire stories 
The first three stories in Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren —"Mountain", "Creek" and "Road". I think "Creek" remains my favourite, looking back.

And finally, because I could not choose just one, 
My top two BFF (Big Fat Fantasy) books/series of the year and the two runners up*

And close runners up:

All excellent. Go have a look at the reviews for more details. (Also, all no book ones, except for The Dark Griffin, but that's only because I read the entire series this year.)
*three runners up if you count Valley of Shields by Duncan Lay which already got its own award above.


Finally, don't forget to have a look at all the 5-star books in my side bar/on my favourites page.