Thursday, 31 December 2015

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest instalment in Bujold's extensive Vorkosigan saga. It is, to date, the most latterly set and features Cordelia Vorkosigan and Oliver Jole as the main characters. Cordelia, of course, being Miles's mother, and Jole having formerly been the late Count Aral's senior subordinate. Among other things. I read most of the Vorkosigan books shortly before starting this blog, but I did review the second most recent, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, when it came out in late 2012.

Three years after her famous husband's death, Cordelia Vorkosigan, widowed Vicereine of Sergyar, stands ready to spin her life in a new direction. Oliver Jole, Admiral, Sergyar Fleet, finds himself caught up in her web of plans in ways he'd never imagined, bringing him to an unexpected crossroads in his life.

Meanwhile, Miles Vorkosigan, one of Emperor Gregor's key investigators, this time dispatches himself on a mission of inquiry, into a mystery he never anticipated; his own mother.

Plans, wills, and expectations collide in this sparkling science-fiction social comedy, as the impact of galactic technology on the range of the possible changes all the old rules, and Miles learns that not only is the future not what he expects, neither is the past.

The first thing I want to say is: this is a romance book. Surprisingly little happened that wasn't at least romance-adjacent, for all that there were some political and logistical things going on in the background. And unlike A Civil Campaign, it is not a comedy of errors. It has it's funny laugh-out-loud moments, but does not compare with some of Bujold's earlier books as far as humour goes. The blurb, which was at the front of my edition, encouraging me to read it when I normally wouldn't, is also quite misleading. It suggests significantly more intrigue than is actually present.

None of which is to say that I didn't enjoy Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. I had two or three later-than-intended nights because of it. But I do kind of wish the blurb had been more up-front about the fact that this was a romance. I kept expecting Miles to show up and there to be some sort of plot somewhere, possibly involving Cetagandans. But Miles didn't appear in the first half of the book at all and when he did come along he was very much a minor character. Which worked quite well in a book about Cordelia and Jole. I think the moral of this story is to not read blurbs when you know you're going to read the book anyway.

One of the more unexpectedly interesting things in this book are the descriptions and encounters with Sergyar fauna and flora (but mostly fauna). As well as Jole himself becoming increasingly interested in the more exotic wildlife, there are several encounters with more mundane species, like the local equivalent of mosquitoes. (Not actually a type of insect and involved in the most memorable line in the book, which involved "flaming snot". There was much laughing on my part.)

This is a book for fans of the Vorkosigan universe and, particularly, fans of Cordelia. I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point for the series, mainly because it isn't all that representative of most of the other books. However, if you have read at least some of the other books (and don't mind spoilers for certain life events of Miles's and Cordelia'a), then this is an enjoyable read. I would generally recommend having read the Cordelia books (Cordelia's Honour, which contains Shards of Honour and Barrayar) and The Vor Game to get the majority of the older references and reminiscences in Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

4 / 5 stars

First published: February 2016, Baen
Series: Vorkosigan saga, book 16 in both publication and current chronological order
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 wrap-up

Over the past year, I reviewed twenty-two books for the Australian Women Writer's Challenge, which is the smallest number I've managed since the challenge began. But it's been a strange year. so I can live with that. And, actually, I read more than that because of Aurealis judging, but most of the Aurealis books did not get reviewed, for various reasons. Here's to getting more AWW books read in 2016.

So what books did I read in 2015? Well, here's a list:

  1. Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington (review)
  2. Space Dogs by Sophia Parsons Cope (review)
  3. The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner (review)
  4. Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin (review)
  5. Graced by Amanda Pillar (review)
  6. The Female Factory by Lisa Hannet and Angela Slatter (review)
  7. The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings by Angela Slatter (review)
  8. Winning the King by Nicole Murphy (review)
  9. Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely (review)
  10. The Dagger's Path by Glenda Larke (review)
  11. The Astrologer's Daughter by Rebecca Lim (review)
  12. The Blackmail Blend by Livia Day (review)
  13. Drachengott: Wind by KJ Taylor (review)
  14. Drachengott: Earth by KJ Taylor (review)
  15. The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig (review)
  16. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (review)
  17. Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (review)
  18. Curses and Confetti by Jenny Schwartz (review)
  19. Letters to Tiptree edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein (review)
  20. Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter (review)
  21. Drachengott: Fire by KJ Taylor (review)
  22. Drachengott: Water by KJ Taylor (review)

Breaking that down into categories with a little more detail about each...

YA books

  • Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington (review) is an interesting story about a girl who lives in two parallel universes, swapping over in the middle of the night to the other life.
  • The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner (review) is a standalone YA fantasy/steampunk book set in a world where magic is intrinsically linked with music. A very enjoyable read.
  • The Astrologer's Daughter by Rebecca Lim (review) is a contemporary novel (with a mildly supernatural feel) set in Melbourne about a girl whose mother just disappears one day. Among other things, the story involves her dealings with the police and trying to work out what happened to her mother.
  • Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (review) is a modern epistolary tale. Set mostly on space ships in the distant future, a collection of message logs, transcribed security camera footage, and AI data tells the story of an attack on a mining colony and two teenagers that barely escape with their lives.
  • Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (review) is another contemporary novel, this time about a high school girl (also in Melbourne) whose parents came to Australia as refugees in the 70s. Since she won a scholarship to a private school she has had to deal with many differences between her schoolmates lives and her own family's Housing Commission flat.

Fantasy books

  • Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin (review) is a collection of four (longish) short stories that all tend towards darker themes. One could call them horror, really. They are all gorgeously imagined and very good, if disturbing.
  • Graced by Amanda Pillar (review) is paranormal romance, more or less, set in a world quite different from our own. There are vampires, werewolves and magic, all the key ingredients for a good, character-driven, paranormal romance.
  • The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings by Angela Slatter (review) was my first introduction to Slatter's gorgeous writing. This book is a collection of short stories all set in the same fantasy world and loosely linked with each other. I cannot recommend it enough.
  • The Dagger's Path by Glenda Larke (review) is the second book in Larke's current trilogy. Larke is on of my favourite authors and this latest book does not fail to deliver. Epic fantasy with a mis of magic and locales.
  • Drachengott by KJ Taylor is a four-part epic fantasy story. Each of the four instalments (Wind, Earth, Fire, Water) is quite short, but together they tell the story of four "chosen ones" coming together to defeat the mighty Drachengott.
  • The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig (review) is one of those books that sits somewhere between science fiction and fantasy. It uses science fictional ideas, like nuclear war and dystopia, but ultimately it's more magical than it is scientific. Either way, it was an enjoyable and less straightforward read than I had expected.
  • Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter (review) is a novella set in the same world as the Bitterwood Bible, and just an enjoyable to read.

Science Fiction books

  • Space Dogs by Sophia Parsons Cope (review) is a stand-alone comic written and drawn by a friend of mine. It's about Soviet dogs who were sent into space setting up their own colony and is an absolute delight.
  • The Female Factory by Lisa Hannet and Angela Slatter (review) is another collection of four short stories, this time science fictional and focused on reproduction, gender and women. Four quite different stories along similar themes, an intriguing read. (And also the winner of the Best Collection Aurealis Award.)
  • Winning the King by Nicole Murphy (review) might sound a bit like a fantasy book from the title, but is actually science fiction romance and the second in what I believe is a trilogy. It has mining, diplomacy, space travel and romance in it.
  • Curses and Confetti by Jenny Schwartz (review) is a steampunk novella set in Western Australia and following characters that have featured in some of Schwartz's other novellas. Steampunk + Australia, what's not to like?
  • And of course, Illuminae, covered under YA, is also science fiction.

Other books

  • Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely (review) is an anthology about — as the title suggests — historical women who were awesome, interesting and/or a bit scary. Technically this is a collection of historical fiction, but it has a bit of a fantasy vibe to it (perhaps not surprising given some of the participants).
  • The Blackmail Blend by Livia Day (review) is a cosy mystery novelette about the same characters as Livia Day's other, longer, books. It's quirky and full of food.
  • Letters to Tiptree edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein (review) is an anthology of mostly letters, written by contemporary authors and addressed to James Tiptree Jr/Alison Sheldon/Racoona Sheldon (who were all one person), released on the centenary of her birth. There are also some more academic extracts included in this anthology.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Fall by Sean Williams

Fall by Sean Williams (also called Hollowgirl in the US) is the final book in the YA science fiction Twinmaker trilogy. It follows on from Jump and Crash. Because of certain crucial events at the end of book two, which set up the premise for book three, this review, including the blurb, will contain some spoilers of the earlier books.

Clair’s world has been destroyed – again. The only remaining hope of survival is for her and Q to enter the Yard, a simulation as detailed – and as real – as the home they have lost. But in the Yard there are two Clair Hills. The other Clair is headstrong, impulsive, suspicious – just like Clair herself used to be, and their very existence is causing cracks.

As Clair searches for a solution, a surprising new ally emerges from the ashes. Together they fight their way through the digital and political minefield in the hope of saving Jesse, her friends and the whole of humanity.

In the rather dramatic conclusion to Crash, in which Clair and Q/Kari uploaded themselves to the Yard to escape the destruction of all d-mat processed matter on Earth. The story of Fall opens inside the Yard simulation where Clair and Kari run into Clair's friends, who were uploaded two weeks earlier near the start of book one. An earlier version of Clair is also with them. This allows a very interesting contrast between the Clair we had gotten to know and the Clair from before two books' worth of traumatic events. It's easy to side with Clair Two, whose experiences we had just spent a book reading about, but I also enjoyed the way in which Clair Two can almost always see Clair One's point of view. Clair One, however, has fewer reference points for understanding Clair Two, which becomes a source of friction between them.

I enjoyed Fall more than Crash, overall. Among other things, there were fewer piles of bodies and, if I'm remembering correctly, more exploration of philosophical problems. The only real let-down for me was the obviousness of the ending. Exactly how the characters got to the final resolution was the main story, of course, but for me as a reader, the general nature of the ending was never in question. That's not to say it was a bad ending, just an inevitable one. And I think that Williams did a good job of throwing sufficient obstacles at Clair and friends to make the journey an exciting and entertaining one.

The other thing that struck me as I neared the end of Fall was just how much more accessible this series was compared with, for example, Astropolis, Williams's adult SF series (beginning with Saturn Returns, all read pre-blog). Most of that is probably because Twinmaker is YA and not necessarily aimed at people who already know they like hard SF. Possibly making it a good gateway series. I think it's fair to say that if you enjoyed this series, you will probably enjoy other hard science fiction books (assuming the next hard SF you try reading doesn't offend you in some way, which is unfortunately not unlikely).

Ultimately, this series is a detailed exploration of the uses and dangers of teleportation (and fabrication) technology, in what is initially a post-scarcity society. And I'm pretty sure that's more or less what it set out to be. With characters and plot drama added in, of course. I enjoyed it a lot and I would recommend it to all fans of SF and YA and YA SF.

4 / 5 stars

First published: November 2015, Balzer + Bray (US) / Allen & Unwin (Aus)
Series: Twinmaker book 3 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Edelweiss courtesy of the US publisher
Challenges: Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Books I should've read this year but didn't

This is a list of books I bought but didn't get around to reading. It's been a busy year, so a lot of books slipped through the cracks. This list isn't restricted to 2015 releases, although I suspect they will dominate it. I'm also excluding ARCs because I already feel guilty enough about those. These are the purchased books that I'm very keen to read, but just haven't.

In no particular order, books I should've read this year but didn't:

  • Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb
    • Can't believe I haven't read this. Robin Hobb was one of my first favourite authors
  • The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
    • I love his writing in short story form, so am looking forward to this novel
  • Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier
    • It won the Fantasy Aurealis award this year
  • Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
    • Less behind on this one, since it only came out in December, but it's a book I'd normally start immediately
  • The Pyramid's of London by Andrea K Höst
    • I was looking forward to this for ages, and yet...
  • Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter
    • I've loved her other stories, but haven't gotten to this collection yet
  • Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins
    •  I love her writing and enjoyed a novella set in the same world
  • City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
    • The last (of six!) books about these characters, that I've had since it came out last year...
  • Thief's Magic by Trudi Canavan
    • Another favourite author and the second book is already out :-/
  • Hal Spacejock: Big Bang by Simon Haynes
    • Who doesn't want more SF laughs?
  • Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts
    • To be fair, the normal ebook version of this didn't come out too long ago
  • Rupetta by Nike Sulway
    • Won last year's Tiptree award...
  • A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson
    • Heard so many good things about this one!
  • The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
    • Bought this a while ago after reading some AWW reviews
  • The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller
    • Another author that I've been following, more or less, for some time.
  • Ambassador 1: Seeing Red by Patty Jansen
    • Been meaning to start this series...
  • Accessing the Future edited by Kathryn Allan 
    • I backed the Kickstarter and, well, it would have been relevant Defying Doomsday research
  • Skin by Ilka Tempke
    • An Aussie author and a book about my favourite Welsh historical/mythological figure, Taliesin

And that's just the ebooks... But here is a screen shot of most of them (as many as I could fit on the screen at once).

And then there are the paper books. I'm probably going to miss one of these because I'm basically making this list by line of sight, which has been compromised by my rearrangement of books by height (to make more aesthetically pleasing real estate photos). I also resorted to LibraryThing to check which books are actually at hand. Furthermore, I enjoy reading ebooks more than paperbooks, so I think the ebooks have a higher chance of being read sooner rather than later. But here it goes:

  • Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix
    • A newish purchase, but everyone has been saying good things
  • The Disappearance of Ember Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina
    • The third book is already out and I enjoyed the first book
  • Earthgirl by Janet Edwards
    • Been in my TBR for quite some time
  • The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013 edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene
    • Because it has the best stories, duh
  • Year's Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction 2013 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein
    • As above
  • Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
    • The second book in a series I enjoyed the first book of
  • Miss Mayhem by Rachel Hawkins
    • Fun YA romp. I almost started reading it once, but decided I wasn't quite in the mood, alas
  • Rebel Nation by Shaunta Grimes
    • The first book was great.
  • Midnight and Moonshine by Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter
    • Promises to be an excellent read
  • Altered by Gennifer Albin
    • I really liked the first book, which I read some years ago.
  • The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
    • Got this and the next book waiting for me.
  • Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
    • The first of the series, but related to the original Mistborn trilogy, which I enjoyed
  • When We Wake by Karen Healey
    • A YA read I've been interested in for some time
No images for the paperbooks, mainly due to laziness.

So those are my books that I should've read but haven't. What books do you have hanging over your head? Did this list add anything to your TBR? Which book do you think is most pressing for me to read, from this list?

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Silk Vol 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon by Robbie Thompson and Stacey Lee

Silk Vol 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon by Robbie Thompson and Stacey Lee is the first ever collection of Silk comics. Like Spider-Gwen, Silk became a popular character during the Spider-Verse event and now has her own book, whoo. Also like Spider-Gwen, she was bitten by the same radioactive spider as Peter Parker, but unlike Spider-Gwen, she's from the main Marvel universe and the reason we haven't seen much of her up to now (well, and earlier in some Amazing Spider-Man comics) is because she was locked in a bunker for ten years. Isn't being a female superhero great?

Cindy Moon exploded out of her bunker and into the Marvel Universe when we first learned that she had been bitten by the same radioactive spider from the first arc of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. She then went on to save Peter Parker's life (more than once!) and traverse the Spider-Verse alongside Spider-Woman. Now, as SILK, Cindy is on her own in New York City, searching for her past, defining her own future, and webbing up wrong-doers along the way! Robbie Thompson (writer from TV's SUPERNATURAL) fills this new story with his unique blend of antics and feels. Featuring interiors by future superstar Stacey Lee.

Questionable origin story aside (and, I should say, this isn't an origin comic), The Life and Times of Cindy Moon is a really, really excellent comic. The art is nice and respectful (funny how you don't get gratuitous objectification with a female artist...) and the choice of colours is sort of subdued, making the comic look more serious and less "larger than life" than a lot of superhero comics tend to do. Not that there's anything wrong with brightly coloured superheroes, but this book tells a serious and relatively down-to-earth story, so it works really well.

Cindy's focus is in finding out what happened to her family after she went into the bunker. As far as she can tell, they seem to have disappeared. In the meantime, she's working as a reporter (a strangely common occupation for superheroes), getting her start writing stories about the new superhero Silk. As Silk, she spends her time fighting minor (for now) bad guys, with occasional help from her sidekick, Spider-Man (the Peter Parker one).

I didn't realise before I started reading, but I think Cindy might be the first female Asian-American superhero from Marvel? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure I haven't read/seen any others. There are also a lot of Pokémon references, which is one way to get me on side. So that was pretty cool. I enjoyed spotting random Pokémon in the background of panels.

Overall, this was an excellent book. All seven issues formed a coherent story — which I always appreciate more than shorter story arcs — and even though the last issue was part of Last Days (the apocalypse immediately preceding the Secret Wars event), the story continued in a sensible manner and even managed to tie up a few loose ends before the inevitable post-event reboot. I just hope the post-Secret Wars continuation doesn't jump around too much. (I'm kind of hoping most of the comics I follow just ignore the whole Secret Wars thing as much as possible, really.)

Silk was an excellent read. Honestly one of my favourite comic books that I've read lately. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, especially compared with Spider-Gwen, who arrived on the scene at a similar time. Basically, Spider-Gwen has the cooler costume, but Silk is much better written. It's in my top 3 superhero comics. Recommended to all discerning comic book fans.

5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2015, Marvel
Series: Silk ongoing series (I suppose the post-Secret Wars numbering will start at Vol 1 since this is 0), issues #1–7
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Bought from a real life bookshop, I think

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Spider-Gwen Vol 0: Most Wanted? by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez

Spider-Gwen Vol 0: Most Wanted? by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez is the first collected volume centring on the relatively new character of Spider-Gwen. It collects the first five issues of Spider-Gwen, which are neatly all one arc and come to a close before Secret Wars. (The series restarts after Secret Wars, although Spider-Gwen herself makes an appearance in A-Force.) It also includes Edge of Spider-Verse #2, which is the issue in which Spider-Gwen came into existence, more or less. I have previously reviewed it, so this review will mostly focus on the rest of the volume. There's a time jump between that issue and the rest, while Spider-Gwen is off doing Spider-Verse things, but only a few days pass on her Earth while she's gone (not the same Earth as most of the rest of the Marvel Universe). And I think we can thank Spider-Verse for the lack of Secret Wars nonsense; two events in such a short period of time would really have been too much.

The breakout hit of the biggest Spider-Event of the century is taking the comics world by storm with her own series! Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman, but you knew that already. What you DON'T know is what friends and foes are waiting for her in the aftermath of Spider-Verse! From the fan-favorite creative team that brought you Spider-Gwen's origin story in EDGE OF SPIDER-VERSE, Jason Latour and Robbie Rodriguez!

The plot of Most Wanted? mostly focuses on the fact that people are suspicious of Spider-Gwen and don't trust her to be a hero. The press goes so far as to call her a supervillain and she's wanted by the police. Gwen is particularly disheartened since she's just come back from being a proper superhero during the Spider-Verse event (and that's basically all you need to know about Spider-Verse to read this comic). She does the classic teenager thing of withdrawing and not talking to anyone, making her father and, to a lesser extent, her friends worried about her. Her friends being her all-girl band, The Mary Janes. (And separately, wow, MJ is a drama queen.)

Of course there are also real villains for her to fight and an intriguing back story involving the parallel universe manifestations of characters we know from the main Marvel Universe. I have to admit my main knowledge of Matt Murdock and Fisk/Kingpin is from the Netflix series, but seeing their very different parallel selves was fascinating. It suffices to say that Matt Murdock is even more morally questionable in this universe than he is as Dare Devil. (Whether or not he is also Dare Devil in the Spider-Gwen universe remains to be seen.)

I enjoyed reading about Spider-Gwen although I wouldn't have minded seeing her be a bit more confident, especially after all the Spider-Verse arse-kicking I know happened. Also, while I found the Matt Murdock side plot interesting, I am a little wary of the fact that this female-centred comic had two male-centred subplots (the other featuring Gwen's father) and zero female ones. The stuff with the band is more about Gwen than it is about the other girls so I wouldn't call it a subplot per se. But it all made for interesting reading and Spider-Gwen is pretty cool and has a good costume (and I have a hoodie of her costume, so whoo) so I will definitely keep reading. I believe the rebooted series is called Radioactive Spider-Gwen, although it comes up on the Marvel website as just Spider-Gwen despite what the covers say.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2015, Marvel
Series: Spider-Gwen Vol 0 containing issues #1-5 and Edge of Spider-Verse #2
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased from a non-Amazon online book shop

Friday, 18 December 2015

Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger

Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger is the final book in the Finishing School series. I have previously reviewed the first three books: Etiquette and Espionage, Curtsies and Conspiracies, and Waistcoats and Weaponry. This final book ties up the main plot elements and dangers raised in the earlier books and provides a fitting conclusion for all of our favourite characters. (And, quite frankly, made me want to pick up Soulless again, when I finished reading, just to check some suspicions.)

Lessons in the art of espionage aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine’s floating dirigible have become tedious without Sophronia’s sweet sootie Soap nearby. She would much rather be using her skills to thwart the dastardly Picklemen, yet her concerns about their wicked intentions are ignored, and now she’s not sure whom to trust. What does the brusque werewolf dewan know? On whose side is the ever-stylish vampire Lord Akeldama? Only one thing is certain: a large-scale plot is under way, and when it comes to fruition, Sophronia must be ready to save her friends, her school, and all of London from disaster—in decidedly dramatic fashion, of course.

What will become of our proper young heroine when she puts her years of training to the test? Find out in this highly anticipated and thrilling conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Finishing School series!

This book was on form with humour and adventure. I feel like it might have been even funnier than the earlier books although it's hard to compare since it's been a while since I read them. In any case, Manners and Mutiny had me laughing out loud several times.

The story in this book focuses more strongly on Sophronia and then Dimity and Agatha than the previous books. While boys still exist, they are much less relevant than, particularly, they were in Waistcoats and Weaponry. Agatha has now become the third in Sophronia and Dimity's little group and plays a more prominent role now that Sidheag has left the school. After being the most background character in the first three books, we suddenly get to see Agatha in the foreground a lot more and learn more about her. So that was interesting and a bit surprising.

Most of the latter half of the book is taken up by the main climax of the series. I was a bit surprised at just how long the climactic event lasted, but it definitely wasn't boring at all. Even more than the earlier books, this one really tests Sophronia's mettle and allows her to learn more about herself (rather than learning about poisons or fan fighting). And of course, there's the part where Sophronia comes to the end of her Finishing school experience, a test of it's own.

Basically, this series is awesome. If you've read the earlier books, I can't imagine why you wouldn't read this conclusion. If you're new to the series, this is absolutely not the place to start. I recommend starting with the first book, Etiquette and Espionage. This was a wonderful series and I am looking forward to more Gail Carriger books in my life.

5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2015, Little, Brown Books
Series: Finishing School, book four of four
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Google Play

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Tsana's December Status

You may have noticed that I missed posting my November status update. That's because I was visiting London (including the Harry Potter Studio Tour) around the time I should've posted my November update and by the time I got back and got organised I figured a review would be better than a list of new books. And then it sort of got a bit late. So for the second time this year, I present two months' worth of update in one!

What Have I Read?

A bunch of stuff!

What Am I Currently Reading?

I just picked up the last in Sean Williams's YA Twinmaker trilogy, Fall (or Hollowgirl in the US). But I'll probably pick up Harley Quinn: Hot in the City or another comic before I finish that one.

New Booksies

So many that I'm going to skip the pictures, this time. Assume purchased unless otherwise noted. In the order in which I acquired them:
  • Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep edited by Peter Oberg — an anthology of Swedish-authored science fiction stories (all written in English)
  • Lumberjanes Vol 2 by Noelle Stephenson — girls at camp in the forest comic
  • Thor Vol 1: Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron — new Thor
  • Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter — a novella from NetGalley for review and already reviewed
  • Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger — the last novel in the Finishing School series
  • Thor Vol 2: Who Holds the Hammer by Jason Aaron — new Thor again
  • Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix — purchased hardcover because it was signed
  • Broken Prophecy by KJ Taylor — from NetGalley for review
  • The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil — YA, US edition (of Aussie book) also for review from NetGalley
  • Ms Marvel Vol 4: Last Days by G Willow Wilson — the last Ms Marvel collection before Secret Wars
  • Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps by Kelly Sue DeConnick — a Secret Wars Captain Marvel collection
  • A-Force Vol 0: Warzones — a all-female team book with its genesis in Secret Wars that will be continuing afterwards
  • Quartz by Rabia Gale — the first fantasy book in a new fantasy series
  • The White List by Nina D-Aleo — because Momentum, the publisher, was having a sale
  • He Died With a Felafel in His Hand by John Birmingham — also Momentum sale
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin — still Momentum sale
  • Fury by Charlotte McConaghy — last Momentum sale purchase
  • The Bloody Quarrel by Duncan Lay — for review from the publisher (who happens to be Momentum)
  • Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 2: Squirrel You Know It's True — the funniest comic series around
  • On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis — upcoming YA apocalypse novel, for review from NetGalley. Also, the author's Defying Doomsday story is set in the same universe.
  • Spider-Gwen Vol 0: Most Wanted? by Jason Latour — a parallel universe in which Gwen Stacey was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker
  • Silk Vol 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon by Robbie Thompson and Stacey Lee — the same radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker also bit Cindy Moon but then she was locked in a bunker for ten years. Because female superheroes get the rawest deals.
  • Harley Quinn Vol 1: Hot in the City by Jimmy Palmiotti — because it was recommended to me as a good (and inoffensive) place to start
  • Private Eye Deluxe Edition by Brian K Vaughan — SF mystery comic, for review from NetGalley

Monday, 14 December 2015

Drachengott: Water by KJ Taylor

Drachengott: Water by KJ Taylor is the fourth and final book in the Drachengott series. This is very much a series that needs to be read in order and this last book ties everything up and resolves the major conflict of the series (and brings in some of its own conflicts).

The time has come. Rutger, Elynor, Theodor and Syn set out on their final journey - to find the fourth member of their group, the one they need to destroy the Drachengott once and for all. 

But war has come to Wendland, and with three neighbouring countries now intent on destroying its people, it could be that the Drachengott is the only defence Wendland has.

But one final weapon remains to be found, though only its name is known: the Peace Bringer ...

To begin with, Water follows the pattern of the earlier three books by introducing us to the fourth "chosen one" character. It quickly deviates from the formula by throwing disaster into the mix and switching to the points of view of the other three chosen characters. But before we get to that, the reader — or at least, this reader — has enough time to not particularly like Karmain, the new character. Part of it is the situation she's quickly thrust into and part of it is her naïveté. But, since we learnt in the third book (and are reminded at the start of this book) that her weapon is called the Peace Bringer, perhaps naïveté makes sense. But I still wanted to slap her.

When the points of view split up between the four main characters, there was some added tension, especially when we still didn't know what had happened to the others at various points. However, from the readers' point of view it was pretty clear that the chosen four couldn't die, which detracted from some of the tension. The author used this mainly to motivate some of the characters and to add some "where is everyone" mystery for the reader.

It's kind of hard to say more without spoilers because almost this entire book is one drastic conflict or another. But if you've read the first three Drachengott books, I don't see why you wouldn't pick up this last one to find out what happens. I mentioned in my review of book three that it became more complex and less linear in plot than the first two books. The same is true of this concluding volume, even more so. The switching around of points of view alone would mix things up, as would the final confrontation. But there are more obstacles standing in the path of the chosen four and their friends than they may have originally anticipated.

I enjoyed this series, especially the second half of it. Each book is quite short and together they make up a single interesting story. As I've said in my reviews of the earlier books, I really do think this series would work best as an omnibus edition. Each book is a self-contained story but does not really stand alone. Omnibus or not, I recommend this series to fantasy fans, especially those who might be interested in consuming their fantasy in smallish chunks.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2016, Harper Collins Aus
Series: Drachengott, book 4 of 4
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Friday, 11 December 2015

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 2: Squirrel You Know It's True by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 2: Squirrel You Know It's True written by Ryan North and illustrated by Erica Henderson contains the latter four issues (#5–8) of the first solo Squirrel Girl run. Thanks to events, the numbers were reset after the issues in this volume (but no Secret Wars business happens in this book. Phew). There are also some extras from old issues (circa 2006), which are shorter stories and not, I think, any entire issues.

The breakout character of 2015 continues her one-woman crusade against injustice and jerks! These TAILS of the Squirrel Girl will show you the Marvel Universe's most powerful super hero from a bunch of brand-new perspectives, several of them QUITE ASTONISHING.

SQUIRREL GIRL IS AWESOME. This is 100% still my favourite comic book series. I laughed a lot. I was a little leery about the two new super-powered characters that are introduced as Squirrel Girl's friends and sidekicks — Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi, lol — but they don't overshadow Doreen at all. (Or Doreen's one true sidekick, Tippy Toe.) Mostly they help and accept that she's better than them and also there are way more squirrels in New York than chipmunks or koi fish. Haha. They contribute to the comedy of the book, too, so yay.

The break-out awesomest sidekick, however, was Nancy, Doreen room mate. We met her in the first volume but in this second trade she really gets a chance to shine. She's a normal human who writes Cat Thor fan fiction and loves her cat above all. And quickly jumps at being on team Squirrel Girl — so long as she doesn't get kidnapped too much more often. Also, we get to actually see some Cat Thor action in this volume, which was AWESOME and adorable.

The villain in the last story arc of the trade was an Asgardian squirrel goddess, so of course some of our favourite Marvel Asgardians also made an appearance (both old and new Thor, and Loki). There were also some background cameos from other Avengers and also a villain who was a hippo, which was also awesome (because hippos, like Squirrel Girl, are the best).

The commentary at the bottom of most pages also continues to add hilarity to an already hilarious comic. There are bits of some old comics included in the back, which are entirely skippable, but really not as terrible as they could be (as they are in basically every other franchise I've read that has included them to bulk out trades). My main takeaway message from those was that the Great Lakes Avengers sucked and Squirrel Girl was probably the best thing about them. Also 2006 was about a decade ago, wow.

Basically, Squirrel Girl and this book are awesome. If you haven't yet, you should buy it. If you haven't read the first four issues, you should also buy those. Read Squirrel Girl. Why wouldn't you want to? Squirrel Girl for all!

5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2015, Marvel
Series: Squirrel Girl, volume 2 of 2 of the first Squirrel Girl solo run containing issues #5–8. The numbering has restarted subsequent to these issues.
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased in person from a physical bookshop

Monday, 7 December 2015

Cold Comfort and Other Tales by David McDonald

Cold Comfort and Other Tales by David McDonald is a very short collection of three stories. They're all science fiction, but quite different subgenres.

Strap yourself in as three tales from award winning speculative fiction author David McDonald take you on a tour of time and space.

Visit a frozen post apocalyptic Earth, a galactic delivery service, and very Australian dystopia to discover what happens to ordinary people faced with extraordinary choices or challenges.

As usual, my thoughts on each individual story follow.

Cold Comfort — A longish story (novelette length, I think) about a frozen world where heat is currency and cold is death. The main character is a trader that travels between settlements (heat domes, basically) and comes across something interesting in a settlement no one else has visited in years. An interesting story. I particularly enjoyed the way more worldbuilding elements were revealed as it went along.

Through Wind and Weather — A short retelling of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer... In space. Amusing, especially if you enjoy Christmas-themed stories.

Our Land Abounds — A dystopian future Australia, in a world where food and water scarcity have replaced oil scarcity. And which treats refugees even worse than at present. I didn’t mind the world building, but I didn’t think it ultimately packed a strong enough punch. Not a bad story, but I think it could have gone further and done more.

A neat little collection if you're after a quick read. My favourite story was definitely "Cold Comfort" — it was the meatiest of the collection. I would recommend getting the collection just for this story if you haven't already read it (it appeared in the FableCroft anthology Epilogue). Overall, this little triad showcases the author's range with different styles, from serious to tongue-in-cheek, and different settings.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Clan Destine Press
Series: No.
Format read: ePub
Source: review copy from author
Disclaimer: I know the author but have endeavoured to provide an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Drachengott: Fire by KJ Taylor

Drachengott: Fire by KJ Taylor is the third book in the Drachengott series, of four. I have previously reviewed the first two books: Drachengott: Wind and Drachengott: Earth. Fire is another short read and it continues the story in a similar vein to the earlier books.

Nils doesn't know how old he is, or where he came from. Raised to worship the Drachengott, he will soon be granted the gift of magic at his initiation - but why does he dream of flying? And why, at his journey to the mountain of the Drachengott, does he feel compelled to steal something from the giant dragon - a strange stone with hidden power locked inside it? All Nils knows is what the Drachengott promises him on that day: that one day, he will live to curse his own name: Nils Schacher. Nils the Thief...

As with the two earlier books in the series, Fire closely follows the third "chosen one" character as he acquires magic and learns about his powers and his special weapon. But unlike the earlier books, things in the wider world are heating up now and Nils's story is less linear or straightforward. And the characters from the earlier books play a larger role in Fire.

By the latter half of this book I was more excited about the plot and characters (especially the overarching plot) than I had been in the first two books. Things get more complicated and the story started to deviate from the most obvious path. And the characters finally figured out something that had been obvious to the reader from the start (but which they couldn't've known earlier), so that was nice. I am going to pick up the last book straight away, to see how it all shakes out.

I still thing this whole series would be better read in a single omnibus edition. But in the meantime, if you enjoyed the first two books, definitely pick this one up. If you thought Wind or Earth were a bit slow or too uncomplicated, then I recommend giving Fire a go because it really does pick up. I am looking forward to starting the last book in the series this evening. If you're new to the series, definitely start with the first book because the overarching plot builds up book by book. They're also all quite quick reads (especially for fantasy books), if that aspect is appealing.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2015, HarperCollins Aus
Series: Drachengott series, book 3 of 4
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Thursday, 3 December 2015

A-Force Vol 0: Warzones by G Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett

A-Force Vol 0: Warzones written by G Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett and illustrated by Jorge Molina is a series that, having begun during the Secret Wars event, will be continuing afterwards. Hence this volume being numbered 0, presumably so as not to have two volume 1s in a row.

An all-new book featuring Marvel's Mightiest Women! In a secluded corner of the Battleworld, an island nation is fiercely protected by a team of Avengers the likes of which has only ever been glimpsed before. Fighting to protect the small sliver of their world that's left, the Amazing A-FORCE stands shoulder to shoulder, ready to take on the horde!

The whole Secret Wars and Battleworld thing remains deeply confusing after having read this volume. Perhaps a bit less confusing than in Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps. A relatively nice and peaceful area of Battleworld is guarded by A-Force, a large team of female superheroes headed by She-Hulk. There are a lot of heros that only appear in the background (or on covers...) with the main speaking/plot-driving roles going to She-Hulk, Medusa, Lady Loki, Niko, Captain Marvel, Dazzler and Ms America. And the newbie who isn't named until near the end.

Aside from the fact that the whole Battleworld thing is baffling, the plot in this volume of A-Force was all right. I mean, it wasn't bad but it wasn't that exciting either. And the culprit was hardly a surprise (but possibly wasn't supposed to be). But it was more or less a self-contained story, which I appreciate. I also enjoyed getting to know Dazzler a bit, since she's not a character I've read before. The Thor force didn't make more sense than it did in Carol Corps, but the choice of characters to Thor-ify was interesting.

The main thing that bothered me, after the general confusion of Battleworld, was actually the art. I liked how Molina drew She-Hulk's face in Dan Slott's run, but in A-Force there were just too many boobs almost falling out of costumes, and more butt emphasis than necessary. I mean, it could have been worse, of course, but I still didn't appreciate the level of sexualisation. Especially with Nico, who is under-age. The issue isn't that her costume is revealing, it's that her boobs really did look like they were about to pop out most of the time. Not cool.

Other than that, Captain Marvel had some crap dialogue, but there were a lot of good one-off quips by other characters, particularly those in cameo roles. I liked the new character too, the girl made of the night sky that you can see on the cover. She-Hulk's narration was also good and the introduction to the island of Arcadia where it's all set was actually pretty clear. (It's everything else going on in Battleworld that was confusing.)

I enjoyed A-Force and I would recommend it to fans of any of the characters I mentioned above, or of female superheroes in general. I am looking forward to reading the ongoing series which I am sure will have a less confusing background setting. I also kind of look forward to finding out some of WTF was going on in Battleworld when Secret Wars comes up on Marvel Unlimited.

4 / 5 stars

First published: December 2015, Marvel
Series: A-Force, collecting all the Secret Wars issues (and preceding what will be an on-going series)
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Real life book shop

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson and illustrated by David Lopez and Laura Braga is the Captain Marvel-centred volume that came out of the Secret Wars (Warzones) event. It features Carol Danvers and the Banshee Squadron that we saw in the very first run of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, back in 2012. (The volume also contains issue #17 of that Captain Marvel run, which makes for rather odd chronology.)

Atten-Hut! These ladies are the best of the best and will take you down if you threaten their Captain. Welcome to Hala Field, where being a part of the elite Carol Corps, requires guts, guile and a whole lot of grit. So put on your uniform and get ready for a high-fl ying Captain Marvel tale years in the making.

I have to start off by saying I have no idea what on Earth is going on with this event. Somehow Doctor Doom is like god and everyone is living in an alternate reality lacking memories of what we'd think of as the real world. And Doctor Doom's police/enforcement squad is made up of Thors, which he created. It was all very confusing and I don't really blame the main characters for being suspicious of the circumstances they find themselves with.

I liked the characters and the plot, in the most narrow sense, was enjoyable enough. That said, we didn't get any real resolution at the end, which was a bit of a cliff hanger. (If any one knows where that story is directly picked up again, please let me know — unless it's in A-Force which I'm about to read next.) I did like the appearance of the, well, one male character that wasn't a Thor. And the interactions between the Banshees and Carol were great; although I'm not a fan of Helen Cobb, I don't object to her existence. But gah I wanted to know what happened next.

I only flipped through issue #17 of the 2012 run at the end, which I had read before. You can see my thoughts here.

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps was a weirder volume than I expected. That is mostly the fault of the Secret Wars event making things confusing. So that was disappointing. But I always enjoy reading about Carol and the characters made up for the weird setting, for me anyway. I'm not sure how much to recommend this volume in isolation, however. Hopefully you can decide from what I've said above if this is something you'd enjoy.

4 / 5 stars

First published: December 2015, Marvel
Series: Standalone volume containing issues #1–4 of Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps and issue #17 of the 2012 run of Captain Marvel
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased in a real life bookshop