Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 1: Squirrel Power written by Ryan North and illustrated by Erica Henderson. It is the first trade paperback collection of Squirrel Girl comics, containing issues #1–4 and also the first issue she ever appeared in from 1990.

Wolverine, Deadpool, Doctor Doom, Thanos: There's one hero that's beaten them all-and now she's got her own ongoing series! (Not that she's bragging.) That's right, you asked for it, you got it, it's SQUIRREL GIRL! (She's also starting college this semester.) It's the start of a brand-new set of adventures starring the nuttiest and most upbeat super hero in the world!

OK. Squirrel Girl is my new favourite. Sorry Carol/Chewie and Kamala, you are now number two. (For the record, Spider-Woman and She-Hulk are number three. For now.) This comic is awesome. I had read issue #1 before, but while it stands as a nice introduction, the real meat of this story arc happens in the other three issues. Issue #1 does introduce Doreen, her surroundings, her squirrels and her room mate, though, so don't like, y'know, skip it or anything silly like that.

The main arc of this volume is Squirrel Girl saves earth from Galactus (I don't think it's a spoiler that Earth doesn't get destroyed, especially not this close to Earth/reality actually being destroyed in Secret Wars). She has a limited amount of time before Galactus reaches earth and by golly do other things just keep getting in her way. Hilariously. And OMG the Squirrel Girl and squirrel armour/space suits were the absolute best. Especially Tippy's version. *flails and dies of cutedorable*


(I wrote the rest of this review, other than this paragraph, before reading the 1990 issue.) The retro issue, which I suppose isn't that terribly retro since it's from the 90s, was a better read than I expected. It had the old art style and, even ignoring the weird 80s make-up, Squirrel Girl didn't look as nice as she does now. (Notably, her tail was less fluffy and her uniform was a bit meh.) BUT! It did cover the backstory with Iron Man that she kept alluding through in the modern story arc, so that was pretty cool. The actual story was enjoyable and almost as funny as the modern story, so whoo, not a dud. Squirrel Girl is awesome no matter what! This kind of makes me want to go back and read other old Squirrel Girl-having issues... at some point when I've subscribed to Marvel Universe again.

This comic/volume was hilarious and super fun to read. Unless you hate fun or adorableness (or squirrels, I suppose), this is the comic you should be reading. I cannot wait for the next volume, which luckily is only three months away, whoo. I am very tempted to go buy the floppies/digital floppies so that I can have MOAR NOW, but we have made a pact to only buy trades so I will be strong and wait. (I want a squirrel-ear headband. I would probably only wear it at cons, but still.) Also the trade included the letters columns, which I wasn't expecting but which kind of makes sense, in retrospect, given issue #4. So if you like letters, you still get them in the trade. Bonus! You also DO get the hidden text along the bottom which I'd heard somewhere we wouldn't so YAY because it is awesome.

Read Squirrel Girl!

5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2015, Marvel
Series: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, first volume of first run of solo series containing issues #1–4 plus Marvel Super-Heroes #8 from 1990
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Online book shop which is entirely not affiliated with Amazon.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Invisible Republic Vol 1 by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Sara Bechko

Invisible Republic Vol 1 by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Sara Bechko is the first collected volume of an ongoing comic book series. It caught my eye on NetGalley because of the SF/space aspect and kept my attention because of the female name on the cover. Turns out it's written by a husband and wife team (and illustrated by the husband), which I didn't realise until the bios at the end.

Arthur McBride's regime has fallen. His planet has been plunged into chaos, his story shrouded in mystery, until reporter Croger Babb discovers the journal of Arthur's cousin, Maia. Inside is the violent, audacious, hidden history of the legendary freedom fighter. Erased from the official record, Maia alone knows how dangerous her cousin really is, and what truly happened to bring him to power.

This comic hooked me pretty quickly. It's set in two time periods: the "present" after the fall of a dictatorship on the planet Avalon, and the "past" at the time the regime is coming into power. A journalist from the future finds a journal written by the former dictator's cousin, telling a story different from the official party line. The story is then split between his time trying to track down more information and the past as told from Maia's point of view.

I liked how the art style distinguished between the time periods through use of colour as well as a few actual year headings. Although it wasn't a hard and fast rule, the past tended to be more golden toned, while the future had cooler tones.

Invisible Republic is a story about revolutions and convenient lies. This first volume only really sets the scene, but it does so in a satisfying way. I felt that there was enough story for me to get a feel for the series but, of course, there's plenty more to tell in upcoming issues. Also, there was a nice cliffhanger/revelation at the end of this arc just in case you needed more reason to want to keep reading (I didn't, but I still liked the reveal).

I highly recommend Invisible Republic to all fans of SF and comics. It has a pretty rad female protagonist and also bees. I am definitely looking forward to continuing with the story when the second volume comes out.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2015, Image Comics
Series: Invisible Republic, Volume 1 of on-going series, containing issues #1–5
Format read: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Monday, 21 September 2015

Captain Marvel Vol 3: Alis Volat Propriis by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Captain Marvel Vol 3: Alis Volat Propriis by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by David Lopez is the third collected volume of Captain Marvel comics (well, or the 5th or 6th depending on how you want to count, but there is a "3" on a spine) that started with issue #1 in 2014 (see my reviews of Vol 1 and Vol 2). It's also the collection of the last comic issues before the Secret Wars mega event, when the Captain Marvel series is replaced by Captain Marvel & The Carol Corps.

Captain Marvel's time as an astronomical avenger has pitted her against some of the worst the galaxy has to offer (lookin' at you J'Son). The Haffensye Consortium has been tracking Captain Marvel and Tic for weeks. Now, they've finally caught up to them both! Captain Marvel was barely able to survive the last time she squared-off against the Haffensye - think she'll be so lucky again?

Because this is the last normal collected volume of Captain Marvel of this run, it's a bit shorter than usual, comprising of only four issues. The first two form an arc that's mostly about Chewie the cat (and I suppose somewhat crucially ties up Tic's storyline). Aside from the recurring issues Marvel has with plausibility of space physics — Astrophysics: Marvel's one weakness! — I really loved this story. Partly because Chewie had a bit of a Mad Max moment and partly because I think I finally understand how Carol's suit works in space. So that was issues #12–13 and they were a nice way to tie up Carol's time in space.

However, issue #14 was a dud. It was part of some sort of cross-over event ("The Black Vortex") which has apparently mainly taken place in a bunch of other series. The story only made borderline sense and did not end with an actual conclusion, which was disappointing. I took half a star off the volume's rating for issue #14 being such a nonsensically incomplete story. (Would it have killed them to add in another issue to round things off, especially given how short the volume is?)

The last issue was lovely though. Carol goes back to Earth and the story ties up the loose ends of her relationship with Tracy, who has been a constant background presence throughout DeConnick's entire time on Captain Marvel. It was bittersweet but a really nice way to leave things. I love it.

If you've been enjoying Captain Marvel thus far, I strongly recommend picking up this volume, even if you're a bit put off by its shortness. That said, if you have the option to grab just issues 12, 13 and 15, then that's probably a satisfactory alternative. In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting the collected Captain Marvel & The Carol Corps and also A-Force.

4 / 5 stars

First published: September 2015, Marvel
Series: Captain Marvel (2014) Volume 3 and the end of the run, though it is followed by Captain Marvel & The Carol Corps
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Non-Amazon online book shop

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Saga Volume Five by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga Volume Five written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples is the fifth volume of collected comics in the ongoing Hugo Award-winning series. If you haven't been keeping up with the series, this is not the point to jump in at. I strongly recommend starting with the first trade collection.

Multiple storylines collide in this cosmos-spanning new volume. While Gwendolyn and Lying Cat risk everything to find a cure for The Will, Marko makes an uneasy alliance with Prince Robot IV to find their missing children, who are trapped on a strange world with terrifying new enemies.

Unsurprisingly, Volume Five picks up and continues the story from where we left off in Volume Four. The story continues incrementally, as it has been, with some progress from all the main character groups. I thought it was tied together particularly nicely by the main character's narration.

I'm honestly not sure what else to say that I haven't said in earlier. I love Ghüs and Lying Cat and the central stories are all a bit tragic. And there's the obligatory horrifying giant genitalia. Basically, if you've been enjoying Saga thus far, there's no reason not to pick up this next volume.

I'm looking forward to rereading the entire series when it's complete (whenever that is) and being able to post a meatier review. As it stands, I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

4 / 5 stars

First published: September 2015, Image Comics
Series: Volume 5 collecting issues #25–30 of the ongoing series
Format read: Paper! Trade paper! Back!
Source: A random comic book store while travelling

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Wayward Vol 2: Ties That Bind by Jim Zub and Steven Cummings

Wayward Volume 2: Ties That Bind written by Jim Zub and illustrated by Steven Cummings is the second collected volume of the ongoing comic book series. I have previously reviewed Volume 1, which ended on quite a dramatic note.

After the traumatizing finale of volume one, everything has changed for our supernatural teens. Who is Ohara and how does she fit into the great pattern of destiny and power that will change Japan forever? Jim Zub (Conan/Red Sonja, Samurai Jack) and Steve Cummings (Deadshot, Legends of the Dark Knight) continue their supernatural spectacle that combines the camaraderie and emotion of shows like Buffy with Japan's engaging culture and mythic monsters. This volume includes design artwork by artist Steve Cummings and profiles on mythical creatures by noted monster researcher Zack Davisson.

I enjoyed Volume 2 much more than Volume 1 — and Volume 1 was far from a drag. What I think makes Volume 2 so much more compelling is the way in which in brings a lot of separate story threads together into a cohesive whole. Vol 1 ended on a cliffhanger, which I thought was a little overwrought. Vol 2 doesn't resolve it straight away, instead introducing us to a new character, Ohara, who I liked just as much as Lori. Although this arc starts off focussing on Ohara, the other characters we loved in the first volume quickly make a reappearance (and so many cats, even more cats than before).

Although I don't disagree with the general pitch of "Buffy but in Japan", Ties That Bind takes Wayward in a more unique direction.  The ensemble cast is very different, with a different set of skills and personalities and more cats, and the background mythology, of course, is much more Japanese. In Ties That Bind a lot of the worldbuilding backstory comes together in a way that there wasn't room for in Volume 1. I highly recommend reading the two volumes as a single unit. At the very least, if you were on the fence about volume 1, I suggest giving volume 2 a chance.

I enjoyed Wayward Vol 2: Ties That Bind a lot and not just because there were many cats. I am definitely looking forward to the next instalment. This is a great comic series and I highly recommend it to comic and fantasy fans. And fans of Buffy.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2015, Image Comics
Series: Wayward Volume 2 containing issues #6–10 of the ongoing series
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased from a real book shop!

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Tsana’s September (and August) Status

Oops. Some of you may have noticed that I skipped my August status. Time and external pressures caused it to completely slip my mind. On the other hand, it's been a pretty quiet two months on the blog/reading/reviewing front for the same reason. Part of it is work-related deadlines eating up a lot of my time but part of it has been Defying Doomsday reading. The latter has gone quite well; Holly and I have finished making our way through the slush and are now narrowing down our shortlist to TOC-length. Exciting times.

Also, I am currently on exceptionally shitty hotel wifi, so this post will not have images in it like my updates usually do. Honestly I'll be glad if the text component posts within the first five tries.

What Have I Read?

What Am I Reading?

I recently started Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley, the sequel to Mirror Empire. I kind of wish there'd been a shorter gap between books because most of the names completely escaped my memory. But I've gotten back into it quickly enough.

I am also partway through Jason Nahrung's Blood and Dust, although I'm taking a break for now because my reading mood shifted.

I've also made some headway on Letters To Tiptree, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein. It's a good book to dip into when I only have a short amount of time to read.

New Booksies

For internet is slow reasons, books are listed in reverse order, from most recently acquired to oldest.
  • Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts — the full ebook as a perk of supporting her Patreon
  • The Joy of Witchcraft by Mindy Klasky — review copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme
  • Wayward Volume 2: Ties That Bind by Jim Zub — trade comic book purchased from real life book shop
  • Planetfall by Emma Newman — ARC from NetGalley
  • Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond — hardcover was a present. Already reviewed, see above.
  • The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu — purchased ebook
  • Letters To Tiptree edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein — review copy received from Twelfth Planet Press
  • The Starry Rift by James Tiptree Jr — purchased ebook (in anticipation of reading the above), already reviewed, see above
  • Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb — purchased ebook
  • Shutter Vol 1: Wanderlost by Joe Keatinge — purchased trade paperback, already reviewed, see above
  • Spider-Woman Vol 1: Spiderverse — purchased trade paperback, already reviewed, see above
  • Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung — review copy from Clan Destine Press
  • The Big Smoke by Jason Nahrung — review copy from Clan Destine Press
  • Cloudwish by Fiona Wood — review copy from NetGalley, already reviewed, see above
  • Water by KJ Taylor — the last Drachengott book, review copy from NetGalley

Friday, 11 September 2015

Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond

Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond is a licensed fiction novel set in it's own version of the DC universe. As should be obvious from the title, it's about Lois Lane, the reporter will work with Clarke Kent (aka Superman) at the Daily Planet when she grows up. It's set when she's in high school and has just moved to Metropolis with her family, now that her army general dad has gotten a permanent posting. It's not quite set in the same universe as any other Superman property that I'm aware of; it puts teen Lois in our near future.

Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over—and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight. As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it’s all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy.

Fallout was a fun read, which is pretty much what I expected from it. Lois is the new girl at school and sees herself as a permanent outsider because her family moves so much. Despite this, she quickly makes friends and finds an underdog to defend. We also see her coming into her own as a junior journalist (junior as in, it's kind of a high school programme).

When I was adding this book to Goodreads, I couldn't help but notice a review in which someone was complaining that Superman/Clarke wasn't in the book (a great disappointment to that reviewer). Given that complaint, I was quite surprised at how much SmallvilleGuy was in the story. He might not have shown up at Lois's school in person but he was absolutely the second most prominent character in the story — Lois spends a lot of time chatting with him online.

Fallout was a very self-contained book and I don't think you even had to know the whole Lois Lane/Clarke Kent schtick to enjoy it. (But surely everyone knows that right? If not, you do now!) I am much less in touch with the DC universe/s than I am with the Marvel cannon and I had no trouble understanding what was happening. It's really just a YA science fiction novel that happens to have two popular characters at the centre of it (and a bunch of new characters who are basically just ordinary high school kids).

I enjoyed Fallout and I will definitely be reading the sequel when I can get my hands on it. Anyone after a fun YA read with a bit of creepy conspiracy and a whole lot of kick-arse heroine thrown in should absolutely try to track it down. My copy was a US import (that may have circumnavigated the globe) but apparently it's coming out in the Commonwealth in March for easier access.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2015, Switch Press
Series: Yes. Book 1, book 2 is coming, beyond that not sure. Also, obviously set in a DC universe
Format read: Hardcover. *GASP*
Source: Present

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Shutter Vol 1: Wanderlost by Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca

Shutter Vol 1: Wanderlost written by Joe Keatinge and illustrated by Leila del Duca is a comic I picked up after reading a free issue #1. The first issue set up a lot of questions... which were mostly not answered in the rest of the volume. It took me more than a week to get through the book... which given that it's a comic, isn't exactly a good sign.

INDIANA JONES FOR THE 21st CENTURY! Marvel Knights: Hulk and Glory writer Joe Keatinge teams up with artist extraordinaire Leila del Duca for her Image Comics debut in an all-new ongoing series combining the urban fantasy of Fables and the globe-spanning adventure of Y: The Last Man. Kate Kristopher, once the most famous explorer of an Earth far more fantastic than the one we know, is forced to return to the adventurous life she left behind when a family secret threatens to destroy everything she spent her life protecting.

Basically, this comic is pretty weird and not quite my kind of weird. It started promisingly with a flashback/memory of the crazy adventures the main character used to have with her father before he died, but quickly devolved into "people are trying to kill her for mysterious reasons". We get some point of view sections from the bad guys, which don't shed a lot of light on the matter, and do start to learn a bit of what's going on by the end of the volume.

The world Shutter is set in is really weird. At first I thought it was just the main character and her father going on adventures to weird places, but turns out the world actually is full of aliens, dinosaurs and mythical creatures. Also, she has a pet clock cat (see cover), who was probably my favourite character. Not that I disliked the main character, but I was pretty ambivalent about everyone else.

Basically, Shutter didn't really do it for me. It was just the wrong mix of weird, mysterious and violent. Your mileage my vary. But fair warning, this volume ends on quite the cliffhanger, if that's not your kind of thing. I don't think I'll bother continuing on.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Image Comics
Series: Yes. Shutter ongoing series. Collects issues #1–6
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Real life book shop!

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Starry Rift by James Tiptree Jr

The Starry Rift by James Tiptree Jr is one of only two collections of short stories readily available as ebooks. I admit I chose to buy it first partly because it was only $3 and partly because it was shorter and I could more easily fit it in before getting to Letters to Tiptree.

These are the heroes of the Starry Rift, a dark river of night that flows between the arms of our galaxy: A headstrong teenaged runaway who makes first contact with a strange alien race. A young officer on a deep-space salvage mission who discovers an exact double of a woman he thought he'd lost. The crew of an exploration ship who must plead for the human race to avert an interstellar war.

The Starry Rift is set up with a framing narrative about two students seeking library materials for class. The books the librarian gives them form the three stories contained within this collection. The stories are all set around the same general region of space: Federation Base 900, the frontier outpost on the edge of the Rift. (Hence the title.) The Rift is an area of space devoid of stars, apparently not quite in between spiral arms of the Milky Way, but something like that.

I have to say, the science in this book was a bit off. Some of it was quaint — as in, not up to date, as would be expected of an older book like this — and some of it did not entirely make sense. I was a bit confused about the relativistic and also normal time passing effects of space travel which didn't seem to be addressed in the first story but were explained more in the third. On the other hand, the scientific points in these stories were generally not dwelt upon, decreasing the likelihood of an egregious error. None of the stories were about new inventions; they were all, first and foremost, about characters in unusual situations. (But aliens who have FTL comms but not pretty fundamental chemistry? Come on!)

Anyway, as per usual I have made comments on the individual stories which you can find below. In general, I would recommend this collection as a good example of classic SF. While the science may not have stood the test of time, the concepts explored in the stories mostly have.

The Only Neat Thing to Do — A fourteen year old girl (with rich parents) gets a space coupe from her parents, tricks it out with extra fuel tanks and goes exploring to the edge of Human-explored space. It started out as a fun adventure, if a little unlikely since fourteen year olds can't have cars, and took some interesting and then emotional turns. (I really wasn't expecting the sort of ending it had.) There were a few weird science-related moments but they weren't dwelled on by the narrative, so I found them easier to skip over than in most books. (Why do so many books use bad science as a lynchpin?) As a first introduction to Tiptree, I found it a solid story. (Coming back after finishing the collection, this was my favourite of the three.)

Good Night, Sweethearts — A space salvager/repairman/portable refueller comes across a stranded ship that's out of fuel. It transpires that it contains someone from his past. A past that, almost interestingly (it could have been explored further), he doesn't remember due to what I gathered to be PTSD-type treatment he received after being in a war. Some external action provides excitement and the climax and the main character is left with some difficult decisions. I was disappointed with how much these objectified the female characters. I also found his final choice baffling, though perhaps less so, given some of what I've recently learnt about the author's life.

Collision — This is the story of first (well, second) contact between the human Federation and a large alien empire. Told from points of view on both sides, we learn a lot about the culture and unusual biology of the aliens before the human protagonists come across them. The biological procedure of reproduction was very unusual — honestly it struck me as a bit inefficient — for all that the aliens resemble kangaroos in superficial ways. I liked that after explaining the mechanics of it, the notion turned out to be relevant to the plot in an unexpected way. On the human side of things, the story starts off being told through long-delayed communications capsules. We listen to the story along with the people at base, knowing only that the explorers survive long enough to send the capsule, but nit whether there'll be another capsule. Although this is actually a relatively cheery story in the end, there is still some death, notably of the only two human women (although they didn't die because they were women). It's still less bleak than the first story in this collection.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 1986, this edition SF Gateway
Series: Well, not really but there are other stories and a novel set in the same universe
Format read: eBook
Source: Purchased on iBooks

Friday, 4 September 2015

More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than This by Patrick Ness is a book I chose on a whim when I was browsing digital audiobooks from the library. I chose it partly because of the author (I read The Rest of Us Just Live Here a little while ago, review coming closer to the release date), and partly because of the blurb.

A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighbourhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this...

This book was incredible. I'm not sure what I expected, other than to be entertained, with The Rest of Us Just Live Here as my other other impression of Ness. More Than This was much heavier and, well, there was more to it. Heh. More Than This opens with the main character, Seth, dying. It's a pretty intense and graphic scene and feels very final except that it's the start of the book.

Seth wakes up in a place that resembles his childhood home except that the town is empty and everything in it has deteriorated to almost nothing. He assumes he's in hell and most of the story is about him trying, with varying levels of success, to work out what's going on. The book parcels out information in very discrete packets, with little foreshadowing to warn us of what's coming. As a result, while I'd very much like to talk about some of the later developments of the book, I don't think I can without spoilers. (Especially, y'know, when it comes to the ending.)

The title is very much the theme of the book. Seth is always questioning what's going on and even the reader is never 100% sure of how real some things are. That's what makes it such a fascinating and thoughtful read. We slowly discover the world with Seth (with some level of uncertainty) and also learn about Seth's life — and the lives of those around him — in bits and pieces. There were a lot of revelations that turned everything around throughout the book. I really enjoyed how the story took a different turn every so often.

More Than This is an excellent YA novel that I highly recommend to YA fans and speculative fiction fans. It's a pretty heavy read, dealing with some difficult issues — coming out in a hostile environment, suicide, child abuse, death — but very enjoyable. One of my favourite books of the year.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013
Series: No.
Format read: Audiobook (Bolinda Audio)
Source: Library via BorrowBox app

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood is contemporary YA novel about a Vietnamese-Australian girl at the start of year eleven. Born to parents who came to Australia as refugees and who still live in a Housing Commission flat, she's on a scholarship to a fancy private school. It's a situation ripe for the exploration of cultural and class divides.

For Vân Ước Phan, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing, or pointless. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, for example? Pointless. It always left her feeling sick, as though she'd eaten too much sugar.

Vân Ước doesn't believe in fairies, zombies, vampires, Father Christmas - or magic wishes. She believes in keeping a low profile: real life will start when school finishes.

But when she attracts the attention of Billy Gardiner, she finds herself in an unwelcome spotlight.

Not even Jane Eyre can help her now.

Wishes were not a thing.

They were not.


Wishes were a thing.

Wishes that came true were sometimes a thing.

Wishes that came true because of magic were not a thing!

Were they?

This is the first book I've read by Fiona Wood, although I was very keen to read Wildlife, and I still intend to. (Stay tuned.) It's about Vân Ước's first few weeks (monthish?) in year eleven. She has to navigate the tricky landscape of strict parents, an increased workload, conflicted feelings about her future, the cultural clashes that come from living in a white-Anglo-centric culture while not being Anglo, and boys.

Her relationship with her parents was probably the most interesting story within this book. They are typically strict and uncompromising in their desire for Vân Ước to do well at school and have a good and affluent life like they couldn't. They have strong aspirations for her to become a doctor and make enough money for them all to live in a nice house in Kew. But they also don't speak English very well and so rely on Vân Ước to be their language and cultural translator, whether that involves school forms or doctor's instructions. Vân Ước realises she lives in a different world to her parents, not just because she goes to a private school now, but also because she speaks English like a native while her Vietnamese is not as good as her parents'. They can communicate, but the question of whether they can ever truly understand where the other is coming from is raised. This is further exacerbated by the fact that they haven't spoken to Vân Ước much about their experiences getting to Australia/escaping Vietnam and Vân Ước feels like this is a barrier between them. As Vân Ước's relationship with them, and especially her mother, shifts throughout the book as she learns more. If anything I was hoping that story would keep going a bit longer when the book ended because I really wanted to know what happened next.

The story, however, is framed around Vân Ước's boy drama, as you may have gathered from the blurb. In the first class of the year she idly wishes that the popular boy she has a crush on would like her back and then is shocked when he appears to. The romantic storyline was amusing and a nice twist on the whole boy/girl thing since Vân Ước spends a lot of time doubting its veracity. I didn't especially like or dislike Billy, her love interest, but he fit into the story well as privileged rich boy with a bit more depth under the surface.

The one thing that annoyed me about this book was that Wood got a key detail of the IB programme wrong. We know that Vân Ước studies English, French, Physics, Maths and Art and we are giving to believe she's also taking Chemistry. Since her parents want her to be a doctor, it would make sense that she'd take the necessary Chemistry to put off confronting her parents about wanting to become an artist, which seems in character. And chemistry is mentioned a few times. But the problem is, you can't do two sciences and an art in IB. You have to give up an art to do the second science. And she doesn't have a humanity. So it's kind of a minor thing, but the fact that she does art is pretty crucial to the plot and the fact that the author overlooked this detail really bothered me since she'd got other details like CAS and TOK right. And I realise it's an annoyance that probably won't bother most people, but irritated me enough to write a ranty paragraph. YMMV.

On the topic of random details, I absolutely loved that Vân Ước had a lot of angst about casual clothes day. Although my problems weren't quite as acute as hers, I didn't have a huge amount of non-school uniform clothes when I was in high school and it was always a balance of trying to remember what I wore last time and what would be the most acceptable thing to wear this time. (If you're wondering, I am 100% pro school uniforms and find it weird that other countries don't have them.)

Cloudwish was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to all YA fans, especially fans of real world, contemporary stories. I always love reading Australian-set stories, especially ones which feature Melbourne, my home city. (Although that can also be a bit of a detriment since I'm a little baffled as to where the imaginary school is — pretty sure the walk to Kew is shorter so why didn't she sit for those scholarships? Ahem.) If you enjoy realistic YA then definitely read Cloudwish. I will definitely be reading Wood's other books.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2015, Pan Macmillan
Series: Sort of? Set in the same universe/school as Wildlife and Six Impossible Things but with a different main character. In that sense, book 3 of 3 but since I read it first that's not an important attribute
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge