Saturday, 31 January 2015

Space Dogs by Sophia Parsons Cope

Space Dogs by Sophia Parsons Cope is a comic drawn and written by an independent artist living in Melbourne (who also happens to be a friend of mine). Friendship or not, I was drawn to the idea of experimental space dogs getting up to things on their own (y'know, instead of dying or coming back).
SPACE DOGS is a comic about dogs in space- more accurately, it's speculative fiction about the last soviet space dog experiment... but let's face it, "dogs in space" sounds way cooler.
So this is very much a first issue. It has its own little story arc, but it seemed to me to be mainly working through the premise to set up future stories. I believe the plan is for there to be more issues if this first one does well enough (so go buy it — space and dogs, what more do you want?).

The first halfish of the story is set on Earth (in the USSR because, well, Soviet space dogs) but because the main doggy character, Raketochka, doesn't speak much Human, there are a lot of talking bubbles with floating Cyrillic characters, with the story told primarily through pictures. I thought that was a really cute way of doing it. Later, when Raketochka talks to other dogs, their speech bubbles are in English.

The art style is kind of similar to the front cover except not quite because the interior is all black and white. As I lack any sort of expertise in art, here is a small panel on the left to give you an idea. It's all very cute, anyway. If you're interested, you can see some "work in progress" pics on the creator's Instagram and Tumblr (go back about a month).

Space Dogs is a cute comic that delivers exactly what it promises. I would recommend it to fans of dogs, space and comics. But seriously, if the idea of dogs in space appeals to you, definitely give this a try. I read it as a PDF which looked quite good on my (admittedly also quite good) computer screen. There will be a print version eventually, but why wait? Space. Dogs.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2014, self-published
Series: Hopefully. Issue #1
Format read: PDF
Source: Gumroad
Disclaimer: The creator is a friend of mine but I'd like to think this review is mostly unbiased.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn

Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn is a contemporary YA novel about an Egyptian-American girl whose father sends her to stay with her grandmother in Egypt after she gets into (normal teenager) trouble at home.
When my first party ends in jail, I think things can’t possibly get worse. But then my parents send me to my grandmother in Cairo, and I’m sure my life is over. My sittu is Darth Vader’s evil sister, and I’m sure the only sites I’ll get to see in Egypt are the rooms in her apartment.

Turns out she’s not so bad. We ride camels by the pyramids and ice skate at a mall.

As Sittu says, “Sometimes a moment can change your life.” But it can change the life of a country too. When a girl named Asmaa calls the people of Egypt to protest, I find myself in the middle of a revolution, running from tear gas and guns.

Oh yeah, and I meet the cutest guy I’ve ever seen. Fall in love for the first time. And have my first kiss.
I have some mixed feelings about this novel, I think mostly stemming from the fact that I don't read a huge number of non-speculative contemporary YA. The story starts with Mariam in jail because the party she went to with her best friend, Deanna, was busted by police. Her somewhat conservative father panics and decides to ship her (and Deanna) off to Egypt to stay with his mother. Mariam has spent her life hearing stories about how horribly strict her grandmother (sittu) is and expects to spend her whole time in Egypt locked inside and not allowed to do anything. Her friend is much more optimistic and excited about trip.

They get to Egypt a couple of days before the 25th of January 2011, which is when a revolution began (you might remember seeing it on the news, particularly when the internet was cut off). Anyway, when the girls arrive, they are confronted by a more oppressive environment than Mariam was prepared for but also a more liberal grandmother.

This is a type of coming-of-age story, although perhaps "accepting yourself" is a more accurate description. Mariam feels out of place in New York where most of the other kids at school are racist and mean and the teachers are often unintentionally (or so it seemed to me) racist. Growing up in the US post-9/11, she doesn't feel that being Muslim or Egyptian is anything to be proud of and she just wants to fit in and be normal. Having her parents send her away for going to a party does not strike her as something that will help her fit in.

In Egypt Mariam learns a lot more about her sittu than she learnt from her father's reminiscences and learns to be proud of being Egyptian. The title is probably a bit stronger than actual events in the book, but it has a nice ring to it. Suffice to say the protests that kick-off the revolution play a part in the story. The "mixed feelings" I mentioned at the start of the review are mostly over the ending, so I won't spell them out here.

One last thing I want to mention that I wasn't particularly expecting is Deanna's disability. She is unable to move the muscles in her face which govern facial expression (I think from birth), so she can't smile or frown, etc. Deanna and Mariam partly bonded over the fact that they're both weird outsiders as far as the other kids at school are concerned, and it means that although it's for different reasons, Deanna can empathise a lot with Mariam's self-loathing. The fact that Deanna comes from a very different background (single, liberal, lawyer mother) provides a nice counterpoint to Mariam's family background.

I highly recommend Rebels by Accident to fans of contemporary YA and in particular anyone looking for a good diverse read would do well to give this one a shot.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2014, Sourcebooks Fire (First published 2012)
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Ditmar nominations close alarmingly soon

Basically, there are not many days left to get your Ditmar nominations in. Normally I would do a post about all the eligible books I liked in the past year that I think are particularly worthy of being nominated. This year I don't feel like I can publicly mention any anthologies/collections/short stories because of Aurealis judging, which would normally a big part of the post. But I'll still mention some novels I enjoyed last year.

Before I get into it, here is a link for the nomination form, here are the full rules, and here is the eligibility list wiki page. Remember, the deadline for electronic nominations is 11:59pm Perth time (GMT+8), 1st of February, 2015.

I'm listing stuff below in the format you can copy straight into the nomination form. Oh, and as an exception to not listing short stories, I will mention that I had a short story published last February, on the off chance that you enjoyed it. ("Transit of Hadley", Tsana Dolichva, in Aurealis 67.)


(Links to my reviews)


Remember, you don't have to be an art expert to have an opinion on artwork. You can nominate cover art you liked from, well, books that had Australian cover artists, or from other publications.

For example, you could nominate an Aurealis cover you like (#67 – #76 are the relevant ones) or a cover from Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (Issues 59 – 61).

If you saw a cover or other kind of illustration that caught your eye, nominate it! If you've noticed an artist whose work you've enjoyed, nominate them (or a few of their works)!

Other fan stuff

There's Best Fan Writer for which you might consider nominating me if you like this blog, or other fan writers whose blogs/fanzines you might like, such as Nalini Haynes of Dark Matter Zine, Sean the Bookonaut or Tansy Rayner Roberts for her blog.

For Best Fan Publication in Any Medium covers a lot of things such as podcasts (personally I'm a big fan of Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts and I've recently been listening to "Galactic Chat", Sean Wright, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, Alexandra Pierce, Sarah Parker and Mark Webb.

Another thing which fits into the Best Fan Publication in Any Medium category is the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction:

"Snapshot 2014", 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, Sean Wright.

which was a large interview project I was a part of. The link in the nomination thing is to the index of interviews hosted on SF Signal, while the interviews were spread over the above-listed people's blogs.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Imposter by Jill Hathaway

Imposter by Jill Hathaway is the sequel to Slide, which I read back in 2012. The series (or duology, I suppose) is about a girl who can "slide" into other people's heads and see what they're doing and (spoiler for the first book) take control of their actions temporarily.
What if a killer took control of you?

Vee Bell’s gift (or curse) of “sliding”—slipping into the mind of another person and experiencing life, briefly, through his or her eyes—has been somewhat under control since she unwillingly witnessed the horrific deaths of her classmates six months ago.

But just as things are getting back to normal, Vee has a very bizarre experience: she loses consciousness and finds herself in a deserted area, at the edge of a cliff, with the broken body of the boy who took advantage of her on the rocks below.

As Vee finds herself in stranger and stranger situations with no memory of getting there, she begins to suspect that someone she knows has the ability to slide—and that this “slider” is using Vee to exact revenge on his or her enemies.
I have to say, Slide was too many books ago for me to remember much about it other than the premise and that I enjoyed it. Luckily, the recap at the start of Imposter was both unobtrusive and sufficient to orient me to the world and characters again. The story in Imposter is set about six months after Slide which, I'm pretty sure, puts it in the same school year. But instead of worrying about prom, like Vee belatedly realises everyone else has been, Vee worries about loosing consciousness at an inopportune moment. But then, instead of blacking out and sliding into someone else, Vee starts blacking out and doing things she can't remember, almost as though she's the one being controlled by another slider.

The gist of the plot is Vee trying to work out what's happening to her while dealing with the creepy guy that tried to rape her at Homecoming (the dance) and her late mother's long-lost sister, who comes visiting out of the blue. The book deals with sexual assault between teenagers a bit, but does not delve into the issue in a huge amount of depth. Hathaway showed us some different responses from victimised girls and their friends but I felt like the message she was trying to convey got lost somewhere along the way. The story pulled its punches too much, in that respect. It's easy enough to agree that "that guy is a dangerous jerk", but then another character starts feeling sorry for him because of his family situation and I didn't feel Imposter went into enough depth on that aspect.

It wasn't a very long book and certainly not one that was at all difficult to read (I mention sexual assault but neither of the girls mentioned actually know what happened and you certainly don't see it on the page). The different plot lines are intertwined nicely and there was even one slightly surprising revelation. I did think that near the end everything wrapped up a bit too quickly. The neat ending was appropriate, but some plot elements were glossed over a bit too quickly, I found.

Anyway, Imposter was a fun light read which made a nice break from more serious short stories I've been reading lately. The series overall is enjoyable, quick and easy to read, but with a few darker streaks (people do have a tendency to die or almost die and the first book was about murder). I recommend it to fans of YA looking for something to fill in some time.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Harper Collins
Series: Slide book 2 of 2 (or at least, I can't find any evidence of further books)
Format read: iBooks ePub
Source: Purchased from iTunes a while ago

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Guest Post: Duncan Lay on Writing Battle Scenes

Today I have a guest post from Duncan Lay, whose new book, The Last Quarrel, is coming out from Momentum over the next few months. Starting with Episode One on the 22nd of January, there will be a new episode out every fortnight. The full book in the omnibus edition will be out on the 23rd of April. In the meantime, read on to learn about writing plausible battle scenes, something Duncan does so well.

Once upon a time, fantasy books could take the Bilbo Baggins approach to battles. In other words, the hero gets hit over the head and misses the entire thing, waking up after all the intestines have been swept up into a nice pile and the screaming has stopped. CS Lewis was also notorious for skipping battle scenes, usually by having forests come alive and chase all the baddies away. Which seems silly on the part of the trees, seeing as all that blood and bone makes excellent fertiliser. But, thanks to Peter Jackson and the Narnia adaptations, as well as the likes of 300, today's audiences aren't going to be satisfied with merely the hint of a battle. They want to see dramatic battles, ferocious swordplay and an impressive body count.

However, before you decide to go all Legolas and have heroes slaughtering baddies in enormously inventive ways, you had better think about how battles were fought in human history. In fact, when it comes to your battles and army training, you almost need to be writing more historical fiction than fantasy. Today's reader has a very strong dodginess detector and you run the risk of losing them unless you have done some research.

Fantasy asks the reader to suspend their disbelief from the moment they open the cover. But there is a fine line there. Force the reader to accept too much and, at best, you lose all the dramatic tension you just spent 200 pages building up. Worse, you could lose them completely.

You can't be lazy and just "wing" the battle scenes. You have to take it seriously, or don't include it at all. It's better to find another way to resolve the drama than give the reader something they find unsatisfying.

You must remember that:
  • Peasants can't just pick up weapons and take on hardened warriors. It takes even fit men months to develop any sort of proficiency with weapons. If you don't have that time available, then you need to think of something else. Sure they won't be swordsmen in anything less than six months but they could learn to hold a spear or pike in a week or two.
  • Archery is a skill that takes 10 years to master. But they could be reasonable with a crossbow in a week or two.
  • Armour does provide protection from swords and knives, but not spears. Edged weapons quickly get blunt and can't cut but instead bludgeon. Fighting in armour, with swords, is exhausting and after no more than half an hour, even the best warrior will be so tired they cannot lift their sword.
  • Armies need to eat. Unless they have wagons full of food, they can't march long distances and fight.
These are all simple ideas but can have a dramatic effect on your battle plans. You have to take the time and trouble to work these things out. After all, you wouldn't create a world that makes no sense, with jungles next to snowfields. So why have a battle scene like that? You can't be lazy, or the reader will punish you for it.

So do some research, plot out your battle with as much detail as a pivotal emotional scene and then all you need to do is garnish with blood, brains, bones and intestines. Your talking, walking, fighting trees will thank you for it - and so will your readers.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Tsana's January Status

So 2015 is off to a hectic start for me. I was contacted right at the end of 2014 about filling in as an Aurealis Awards judge for the anthologies and collections panel. So now I am trying to read ALL THE BOOKS before the deadline, which is something like a month away. It's hectic, as I said, but manageable. It does mean that I don't have nearly as much time to read non-Aurealis books at the moment and hence have fewer reviews.

Since my last status update I posted a lot of wrap-up type posts, as well as a few reviews. I'll list them for you shortly, but first, something I didn't post earlier: the silly little Goodreads challenge widgets.

My reading for 2014:

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tsana has completed her goal of reading 100 books in 2014!

And the 2015 widget:

2015 Reading Challenge

2015 Reading Challenge
Tsana has read 0 books toward her goal of 100 books.

Whoo, very exciting. (Sorry the icons look silly, because they're not hosted here, I couldn't turn off the image borders.)

Anyway, My wrap-up posts from the end of last year, and other non-review posts from early-January:

What have I read?

What am I currently reading?

A rapid succession of Aurealis books, mainly. With a few YA novels in between to give myself a break.

New Booksies

I am not including the Aurealis books here, mainly because I'm lazy. And because it's more fun to focus on the books I've bought myself and had to put off reading. I am going to list them from most recently acquired first, for a change, because it's a bit easier to go through my LibraryThing.
  • The Dagger's Path by Glenda Larke, (purchased) sequel to The Lascar's Dagger
  • The Fall of Fair Isle by Rowena Cory Daniells, (for review) a trilogy (omnibus) set in the same world as Besieged
  • The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay, (for review) the first book in a new series that I believe is set in the same world as his other books.
  • Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer (for review) first and surprisingly short book in this series
  • Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter, purchased short story collection, I believe they're all set in the same world
  • Saga Volume 4 by brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples, (purchased as pre-order) already reviewed
  • The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings by Angela Slatter, is technically an Aurealis book but it's also one I got for Christmas in the fancy hardcover edition so I'm including it here.
  • Cold Comfort and Other Tales by David McDonald, (for review) a short collection of stories
  • The Female Factory by Lisa L Hannet and Angela Slatter, also an Aurealis book, but I also got it earlier because I have a Twelve Planets subscription
  • Dangerous by Shannon Hale (purchased) a YA book I've had my eye on for a while and it was on sale
  • The Swan Book by Alexis Wright (purchased on sale) been meaning to read for a while thanks to AWW
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (this and the next nine books were purchased, in paper *gasp* as a Christmas present to myself)
  • The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (as above)
  • When We Wake by Karen Healey (as above)
  • Inheritance by Malinda Lo (as above)
  • Once We Where by Kat Zhang (as above) already reviewed
  • Rebel Nation by Shaunta Grimes (as above)
  • Unraveled by Gennifer Albin (as above)
  • Altered by Gennifer Albin (as above)
  • Captive by Aimée Carter (as above) already reviewed
  • Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins (as above) already reviewed
  • Not Our Kind (Tales of (Not) Belonging) by Nayad Monroe (kickstarter backer) an anthology

This post is low on images because I am too stressed (with work stuff that materialised after I agreed to AA stuff as well) to do something that fiddly and annoying. Instead you get relevant images that I had previously uploaded to Blogger.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington

Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington is a stand-alone YA speculative fiction novel. I picked it up as a break from awards reading and accidentally stayed up till the wee hours reading it in one sitting (well, lying-in-beding).
For as long as she can remember, Sabine has lived two lives. Every 24 hours she Shifts to her ′other′ life - a life where she is exactly the same, but absolutely everything else is different: different family, different friends, different social expectations. In one life she has a sister, in the other she does not. In one life she′s a straight-A student with the perfect boyfriend, in the other she′s considered a reckless delinquent. Nothing about her situation has ever changed, until the day when she discovers a glitch: the arm she breaks in one life is perfectly fine in the other.

With this new knowledge, Sabine begins a series of increasingly risky experiments which bring her dangerously close to the life she′s always wanted... But just what - and who - is she really risking?
This was an enjoyable read. It starts out a little pedestrian as we get to know Sabine but soon becomes interesting. Sabine's two lives — in what seem to be parallel universes — are generally archetypal apart from the fact that there's two of them. In one life her family is struggling to get by, living in Boston, putting on a bit of a tough goth façade, and in the other life she comes from a wealthy family with a large suburban house with a pool and an unlimited supply of clothes. Up until the opening of the book, any physical alternations to her body carried over between worlds, so she had to be careful about apparently unexplainable injuries and leaves her hair long since she can't think of a hairstyle that would suit both lives (and dye doesn't travel over, lol). Having to live each day twice is exhausting and gets tedious but she can't see a way out.

The story starts when she breaks her arm in the poor life only to have the break not travel with her to the rich life. For the first time in her lives, physical changes are not carrying over. That her first impulse is to experiment and verify that all types of physical changes are immune made me quickly warm to her. I mean, she was a bit reckless, but at least she was methodical and probably braver than I would have been.

The story got really interesting when Sabine's experiments landed her in the psych ward because her parents thought she was suicidal and delusional (the latter because she told them about her other life). From there, the novel briefly examines the isolation and deprivation of rights of psych patients, particularly ones who have been committed, all while rich Sabine has to try to hold her life together while knowing her other life is falling apart.

Rich Sabine's life isn't perfect either. Her parents are divorced, her brothers are a bit mean to her and she can't stand having to kiss her boyfriend, despite him being "perfect" on paper. These obviously amount to fewer problems than she has in her other life, but she isn't particularly happy despite trying to convince herself that she should be. I was at one point wondering how much like Sliding Doors it was going to end up being, but it turned out to be pleasantly unique (even if the very end was a smidge predictable). Although the start of the book is level, the ending sequence was gut-wrenching in both lives. I really couldn't put it down until it was over.

I highly recommend Between the Lives to fans of YA both contemporary and speculative. The speculative element is minor enough that it could be categorised as pure contemporary (and I think it was by the publishers) but there's a distinctive "what if" science fictional vibe to it which should also engage fans of speculative fiction.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Harper Collins AU
Series: Nope.
Format read: Paper
Source: Purchased in Australia, probably on sale in a physical bookshop, I've forgotten
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Evolution of a Reader

The other day, when I was lamenting my impending dearth of book review posts for January (because of last-minute Aurealis reading), the lovely Gillian suggested I instead write about the evolution of my reading habits. In particular, she suggested "a retrospective of the changes in your reading since you started focussing on women's writing".

Well my first reaction was that I've never not read women. Going back to my childhood, the big names that stand out are Enid Blyton, Tamora Pierce, Isobelle Carmody... Then Traci Harding, who was the bridge, for me, between kids' books and adult books when I was thirteen*. The only male name that stands out as starkly as those women I read in my formative years is Isaac Asimov, who I think I started reading at around age twelve. It was not long after, during high school, that I started reading a lot of Australian female fantasy authors: Jennifer Fallon, Trudi Canavan, Glenda Larke, Karen Miller... a lot of which was thanks to discovering the old Voyager Online forums from an ad in the back of one of the Traci Harding books. <waves to Purple Zoners>

* I remember the age specifically because I got The Ancient Future for my thirteenth birthday, from a friend who said "It was the most depressing end of the world book I could find," which... is both an interesting commentary on who that friend thought I was at the time, and the ability of a cover to completely confuse a not-quite-thirteen-yet year old as to the actual content of a book. (A year later we were no longer friends.)

It was around that time that I started to shy away from male fantasy authors, after being burned a few times. I have always liked my female characters to be actual people in stories*. For a while there I was of the opinion that men couldn't write decent (BFF) fantasy that I would want to read and that women didn't seem to write science fiction. The latter statement is easy to disprove, of course (it wasn't long before I became aware of the existence of Marianne de Pierres, but rather longer before I discovered Bujold), and as for the former, well there's Duncan Lay and Brandon Sanderson† and probably others I haven't read yet. These days I'm perfectly willing to pick up male-authored fantasy books, so long as they sound promising, much like with any other books I pick up.

* This is also the reason my "let's read classic SF other than Asimov and Clarke" venture didn't get very far at all. Unlike every other mid-20th Century (very loosely speaking, time-wise) SF writer I've attempted to read, those two have not offended me deeply with their fiction.
† Not an exhaustive list. None of them have been. This is a blog post, not a bibliography.

But all the above was, as I said, my first reaction. My second reaction was this: the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which was the impetus for me to start book-blogging in 2012, started a few months after I had moved across the world. I had brought a bunch of books with me (many of which are still on my TBR shelf, sigh) but I think it would have been easy to slip into the habit of buying more easily accessible books. What makes an Australian book accessible around the world? Well being published by an international publisher, for a start, and being available in ebook form for a finish. (Trust me when I say you do not want to cart paper books across continents.) Both those criteria cut out a reasonable chunk of the Australian oeuvre, but not enough to leave me completely bereft of books I want to read. (And going out of my way to eventually get a hold of my favourite authors is not that much of a burden.)

Enter the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I signed up to the challenge because I figured I read a lot of books by AWW anyway, the challenge part would be to review them. And as an added challenge, I would have to find at least ten science fiction books to read for the challenge. That and my subsequent addition of a horror sub-challenge the following year has certainly broadened my horizons in terms of what's being produced in Australia outside of Voyager. I was previously aware of many of our small presses but hadn't read a huge number of their books before the challenge. That definitely changed with the AWW Challenge. As did branching out in genre. Especially when it comes to horror, which I read very little of before (unless you count vampires, which we generally shouldn't any more). And I've definitely read more short stories, a form I hadn't delved into much after running out of Asimov collections, since reading small press output more regularly.

And there you have it. I have always read women, but the breadth of my reading generally has increased since I've, well, been challenging myself to branch out more. I've never made a secret of the fact that book blogging is something I'm doing for now and not something I see myself doing forever. But I'd like to think that having gone through this reading transformation, I will continue reading as broadly whether or not I have a blog or challenges to push me into it.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Saga Volume Four by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga Volume Four by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples is the fourth volume of collected comic issues of the ongoing series Saga. It includes issues 19 to 24 inclusive. If you haven't already, you can read my reviews of Volumes One, Two and Three. This review is definitely going to contain some spoilers for the earlier volumes. Blurb from the back of my (paperback) edition, not Goodreads:
Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe. As they visit a strange new world and encounter even more adversaries, baby Hazel finally becomes a toddler, while her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana struggle to stay on their feet.
I always find it hard to review these, because how much is there to say about such a short snippet of story. I can't imagine choosing to read them issue-by-issue. So this review will be brief.

The main new thing this volume brings — thrusts upon us with the opening page — is a baby born to the robot prince couple. What happens to the baby is a significant storyline that is followed throughout the volume. (Side note, if baby robots poop, how do they eat with screens for faces? Inquiring minds need to know.) Related to that, we also learn more about the Robot Kingdom and it's hierarchy. The Prince and Princess have sort of shiny fancy screen faces, as we've already seen, but peasants and other lower classes have crappier TV screens, like with knobs and/or in black and white. And we finally meet the Robot King, but I won't spoil his appearance. Suffice to say lol.

The story of the main family — Hazel, Marko and Alana, and co — jumps forward to Hazel's toddlerhood and the family eking out a relatively stable existence (for the time skipped, anyway). The cover art features Alana bringing home the bacon by acting in entertainment on "the Circuit". It may the source of some tensions. Other characters from earlier in the story also make brief appearances throughout the volume.

I think I enjoyed Volume Four more than some of the earlier ones (although they have blurred together a bit). Mainly, I suspect, because there's less squick factor. Or at least less of my personal squick factor, though I suspect others will beg to differ. Anyway, if you've been enjoying Saga thus far, why wouldn't you pick up the next volume? If you haven't read the series, I strongly suggest starting with Volume One, since the story is highly dependent on continuity.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2015, Image
Series: Saga Volume 4 of ongoing series (containing issues 19 to 24 inclusive)
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased from a real life bookshop's online preorder page ;-p

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Captive by Aimée Carter

Captive by Aimée Carter is the second book in the Blackcoat Rebellion trilogy, following on from Pawn, which I reviewed about a year ago. This review (and the blurb) contains some spoilers for the first book in the series. This is my first review of 2015, but the fifth book I've finished this year.
For the past two months, Kitty Doe's life has been a lie. Forced to impersonate the Prime Minister's niece, her frustration grows as her trust in her fake fiancé cracks, her real boyfriend is forbidden and the Blackcoats keep her in the dark more than ever.

But in the midst of discovering that her role in the Hart family may not be as coincidental as she thought, she's accused of treason and is forced to face her greatest fear: Elsewhere. A prison where no one can escape.

As one shocking revelation leads to the next, Kitty learns the hard way that she can trust no one, not even the people she thought were on her side. With her back against the wall, Kitty wants to believe she'll do whatever it takes to support the rebellion she believes in—but is she prepared to pay the ultimate price?
I really enjoyed this book. It does not suffer from middle book syndrome and takes some unexpected turns along the way. Things seeded in the first book are developed further, most notably the rebellion of the series title. Captive takes the story to the next level, shows us more of the world (well, more of the dystopic US, no word on what's happening in the Rest of the World) and sets up the last book for the dramatic conclusion.

I like Kitty. She does have a tendency to rush headlong into danger without a huge sense of self-preservation, but it does certainly push the plot forward, even if things don't always turn out the way she hoped. She can be a little too trusting — and there's one point in particular that really drives that home — but given that she has so few people that know who she is, let alone anything else, I found it understandable. I still cringed when her actions led to bad things. But then, if you live in a world that doesn't give you access to accurate history books (and forget about subversive dystopian novels), I can see how you might grow up without immediately understanding your own social context.

In Captive we also learn more about the ominous "Elsewhere" which was introduced in stages in Pawn. It turned out to be part less bad than what I expected, and part worse in some aspects than expected. I know that's pretty vague and sort of requires mind-reading to make sense, but I want to avoid spoilers.

Captive was a captivating read (sorry, couldn't resist) which made a good reward/break book in between some heavier stuff. And whenever I say things like that, I always have to pause and wonder how oppressive regimes, torture and war can feel like a "light" read. I think it must be in the writing style and pacing. Anyway, The Blackcoat Rebellion trilogy is a great read and I'm looking forward to the last book which is not coming out until November, alas. Highly recommended to all fans of YA and dystopias.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Harlequin US
Series: Blackcoat Rebellion book 2 of 3
Format read: Hardcover of dubious American quality
Source: Purchased from a non-Amazon-owned online book shop

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Statistics of books Tsana read in 2014

With pie charts!

I was planning to write a post like this anyway but then something unexpected cropped up which has changed the shape of my January (and some of February). Due to drop-outs I've been asked to fill in as an Aurealis judge for the Anthologies and Collections panel. What this means is that I'm going to spend the start of 2015 madly catching up on reading and not writing reviews.

I'm one book in and I'm already having review withdrawals. Tweeting a sentiment to that effect, the lovely Gillian suggested I do a series of posts reflecting on my reading habits, changes since starting to review, etc. So consider this the first of a few posts on the general topic. Also I'm going to include the goodreads challenge progress widget thingy in these posts, at least until I forget about it. It's the only way (other than my spreadsheet) I have of marking books read, if I can't review them.

2015 Reading Challenge

2015 Reading Challenge
Tsana has read 1 book toward her goal of 100 books.

I've been keeping track of my reading in a spreadsheet since I started blogging and I thought I'd share some of my statistics with you. I missed doing this last year, but if you're interested, you can see my pie charts from 2012 here.

Let's start with nationalities of authors. The largest chunk of authors I read were Australian (46%). No surprise given I go out of my way to read books by Australians. The second largest demographic was US authors (34%, down from 40% in 2013), again not surprising given US cultural saturation.  The NZ slice is probably an underestimation at 3% (up from 0% in 2013 and 2% in 2012) since if something was mixed ANZ it tended to be counted as Australian. In the interest of cultural balance I'd like to see the UK slice consume more of the US slice in the future, but I'm not pinning my hopes on it.

On a completely different note, what formats was I doing my reading in? To my absolute lack of surprise, most (76%) of my reading was of ebooks. This is down ever so slightly from 80% in 2013, which I put down to finally setting up digital audiobook library loans (I've been using the BorrowBox app, which strikes me as less irritating to set up than Overdrive, and there's a slightly different spread of available books, even within a library, between the two). Prior to that, the audiobooks I read were either Kickstarters (two of them) or a Doctor Who licensed fiction of my mum's. My print book reading has remained pretty constant since 2013 (17%) although it was much higher in 2012 (33%) when I was still adjusting to the whole living overseas thing. I imagine this distribution will stay relatively constant in the future, barring any weird audio-binges I may go on.

The next big thing is author gender. Anyone who's been paying any attention to by blog will not be surprised to see that the majority of my reviews (two thirds) were of books authored by women. What might be surprising is to learn that this is actually quite a drop from 2013 (82%) and 2012 (83%). This wasn't a conscious shift and I'm not entirely sure what caused it. More male-authored books grabbed my attention? The way the review copy distribution happened to fall? A product of my trying to branch out into new author land? Probably contributions from all of those factors and others I haven't thought of. It will be interesting to see how this shifts in 2015.

The genre distribution of my reading is not something that has changed significantly since 2013. Comparing 2014 to 2012, however, there is significant growth in the Horror and Other wedges. The first seems pretty obviously due to my starting an Aus Horror Reading Challenge and the latter I would put down to being exposed to more books, mainly through the AWW Challenge, but also through just existing as a blogger.

The distribution of publication years of books read is a bit heavily skewed towards books published in 2014. This is absolutely a direct consequence of book blogging and receiving new books for review, usually before they come out. The number on the y-axis of the bar graph is number of books, by the way, which is almost the percentage since I read 102 books. I would like to catch up on older books more than I have been in the future. On the one hand, there does come a point where one catches up with favourite authors' backlists... on the other hand I'm not there yet for a lot of authors (but I am for others, which actually means some of my favourite authors haven't been reviewed very much on my blog). I don't have 2013 or 2012 data to compare with this (and can't be bothered creating it), but let's see how this changes in 2015.

Next up is ratings, as in, the star ratings I allocate books. I give the majority of books 4 of 4.5 stars, which shouldn't be surprising. I am more likely to read books I expect to enjoy. This is pretty similar to the distribution in 2012. 2013 seems to have been aberrant with my 4.5 star ratings expanding to 44% of all books read and more 3 star ratings as well (11%). Not sure what happened there. The lack of unfinished books in 2014 is more a case of my not writing them down than their non-existence. I kept thinking I would get around to finishing them even as the year drew to a close. Oops?

Last thing is the number of books I read per month. Interesting that 3 out of the 4 the lowest months were months during which I travelled recreationally. And in the fourth month I had builders impinging strongly on my sanity. It would seem that work trips limit my reading less than holiday trips (not surprising since I tend to sit alone in my hotel room reading when I'm on a work trip, so...). The elevated number in July is from reading 3 volumes of Saga that month. This is another thing I don't have older data for, but it will be interesting to see how it changes.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Reading Aussie Science Fiction in 2014

For the second year running, I've kept track of the Australian (authored) science fiction books I read. In 2013 I aimed to read at least ten books and managed fourteen. For 2014 I also aimed for at least ten and got to fifteen, so yay for slightly more books!

My Aussie SF reading this past year has also been a little more diverse than in 2013, with a wider variety of authors represented. Yay again. I'm going to continue keeping track of Aussie SF read in 2015 and again I'll aim to read at least ten books. Why change a good thing? The only caveat I'll add is that I'd like to read at least three new-to-me authors. I already have two in mind and we'll see what life brings for the third one.

So here is my list of the fifteen Australian-authored science fiction books I read in 2014:

Jump by Sean Williams (review)
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.
Rare Unsigned Copy by Simon Petrie (review)
All in all, I would definitely read more Simon Petrie stories. I recommend this collection to all fans of speculative fiction. Although most of the stories were science fictional, I'd say they were pretty accessible even to people who don't usually read science fiction. (And a bunch were fantasy or somewhere in between.) Petrie doesn't shy away from exploring untapped corners of common narratives, and when he sets out to write hard science fiction, you can be sure the details are spot-on. Highly recommended.
Carrier by Vanessa Garden (review)
I really enjoyed this book. The Australian setting was, of course, something I like to see and the story was fresh and different. Being a short book it was relatively fast-paced but didn't feel rushed at any point. Mostly the pacing meant that Lena didn't have much time to relax before the next disaster/major event (except for at the very end, but I'll get to that).
Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres (review)
I enjoyed it quite a bit. It had me turning the pages all the way through without wanting to put it down (except for when I had to). Virgin is a compelling character, despite making some poor decisions throughout the book. She spends most of the book under the weather in one way or another — attempts on her life, sleep deprivation, miscellaneous wounds — and has plenty of reason to be distrustful of almost everyone who tries to help her, so there are reasonable reasons for what I saw as lapses of judgement.
Dead Americans and Other Stories by Ben Peek (review)
"Possession" shows us a glimpse into a desolate future and a look at a particular subterranean botanist's life. The future combines some sort of (post-) apocalyptic event and cyborgs as longevity-proofed humans (sort of). Really interesting once it got going.
Use Only As Directed edited by Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey (review)
Although not all of the stories were necessarily cheery, I found the anthology relatively up-beat on the whole. There is a wide variety of stories contained within; every story sticks to the theme, but there are a lot of very different interpretations. I appreciate the lack of homogeneity and the novelty of getting something completely different each time I picked up the anthology.
Angel Rising by Dirk Flinthart (review)
I enjoyed Angel Rising and, although it was short, it was a pleasant way to pass an otherwise boring (and, frankly, chilly) train ride. It showed me a very different corner of the New Ceres world to the Cat Sparks story and I am curious to see what other authors have done with it.
Langue[dot]doc 1305 by Gillian Polack (review)
 The characters are not at all what I expected. Artemisia, the only historian on the mission, is positioned very much as the main character, even as she is isolated from the rest of the expedition due to a clash of personalities and (research) culture. The scientists, quite frankly, often acted very pettily and put me in mind of the public servants in Ms Cellophane. I felt like I should be on the side of the scientists (because I am one) but they were mostly such annoying people that I was very much on Artemisia's side throughout.
The Ark by Annabel Smith (review)
The Ark tells the story of the community living in a sealed seed vault. The why and how their community became sealed is most central to the story, while other personal relationships and the story of the unrest outside the vault are part of the background tapestry. I quite liked the way in which the external unrest was conveyed. Most of it came across in a series of emails between a couple in the vault and the wife's sister on the outside. We got glimpses but never a full picture, which gave us enough information to draw our own conclusions and make assumptions about the conditions outside.
Loving the Prince by Nicole Murphy (review)
Generally I found Loving the Prince to be an enjoyable read and I would absolutely recommend it to any speculative fiction romance fans. It kept me entertained throughout and I am interested in reading the sequel (although I'm also a bit sad it will probably star other characters).
This Shattered World by Amie Kaufmann and Meagan Spooner (review)
Overall I highly recommend this series. If you haven't read These Broken Stars then there's no reason that you can't read This Shattered World first. The reading experience would be better starting from the start since the over arching storyline plays out in that order, but I think the books will stand alone reasonably well. I really like with the authors are doing with this series and with their brand of YA SF in general. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what they do next, starting with book three.
Difficult Second Album. by Simon Petrie (review)
I came to a realisation while I was reading this book: Simon Petrie is my favourite (and hence best) living science fiction short story writer. Those stories which are science fiction (not quite all of them) deftly weave accurate science into their tapestries. Of course accurate science shouldn't come as a surprise from someone whose day job is computational quantum chemistry, but I still found it enjoyable enough as to be notable. (And let's face it, how much scientific accuracy is there in the combined science fictional oeuvre? Not enough.)
Clockwork Gold by Jenny Schwartz (review)
Clockwork Gold was a quick fun read. I recommend it to fans of steampunk and romance. In particular, I would definitely recommend it to readers who enjoyed Schwartz's other books. This might not have been my favourite steampunk read ever, but I will be checking out her other new steampunk novella.
Horizon by Keith Stevenson (review)
I had no specific expectations for this novel and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Honestly my least favourite part was the opening because of all the vomiting (I am a touch emetophobic) but after that was done with it was smooth sailing. I quite liked the mystery aspect that was established right from the start. The crew (mainly seen from Commander Cait's point of view) wake up from deepsleep to find one of their number dead and something difficult to ascertain wrong with the computer. It takes most of the book to work out what happened and why. They also receive confusing communications from Earth which don't make anything much clearer.
Permutation City by Greg Egan (review)
My favourite sections, all the way through, turned out to be the bits from Maria's point of view. Superficially these sounded like they should be the most boring: a thought experiment featuring the molecular biochemistry of imaginary compounds does not seem like it should be interesting. But it really was. From an intellectual point of view I found those sections engaging and the idea of the Autoverse (the simulated universe) fascinating. I could very much relate to Maria's compulsive toying with it.