Sunday, 31 January 2016

Private Eye (Deluxe Edition) by Brian K Vaughan

Private Eye (Deluxe Edition) written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Marcos Martin is a self-contained science fiction comic. This edition contains all ten issues of what I gather was originally a web comic (maybe?). As mentioned in the blurb, they are presented in landscape format, which makes it ideal to read on iPad (although my ARC was a digital version of the hard cover, so it may not be relevant.

Because retailers, readers, and ROBERT KIRKMAN demanded it, the online sensation from’s BRIAN K. VAUGHAN (SAGA, PAPER GIRLS) and MARCOS MARTIN (The Amazing Spider-Man, Doctor Strange: The Oath) is finally coming to print with this gorgeous deluxe hardcover edition, presented in the story’s original widescreen format!

Years after the digital cloud “bursts” and exposes all of our worst secrets, THE PRIVATE EYE is set in an inevitable future where everyone has a secret identity. Following an unlicensed P.I. who is thrust into the most important case of his life, this sci-fi mystery explores the nature of privacy with frightening prescience.

This was an interesting read. It's set in the future after the internet ceases to exist and everyone is obsessed with privacy. Most people (over 18) go around with masks or other disguises on and are allowed to have several identities (kind of how you can currently have several online identities...). The main character is a private eye, not dissimilar to the usual archetype. However, rather than police, the law-keepers of this world are the Fourth Estate, i.e. the press. And our PI lead isn't so much called a PI by most people, but one of the paparazzi.

That's a bit of a weird set-up, as is the fact that we're first introduced to the main character in a rather negative light. Basically, he seems like a peeping tom and I, at least, kind of expected the other guy, who looked more like a detective to be the main character. But he turned out to be a minor part of the plot. As a result, it took me a while to warm to the main character.

The science fictional setting was actually the main source of humour, especially when it came to the grandfather complaining about not having internet or wifi or anyone to play online games with. I didn't enjoy the part where his (i.e. our) generation was demonised, but you can't win them all.

Overall I found this an entertaining read. I, of course, particularly liked that it was a complete and self-contained story. It wasn't my favourite story ever (I mean, I still like Saga more, as far as Vaughan stories go), but it was sufficiently entertaining and adequately science fictional.

4 / 5 stars

First published: December 2015, Image Comics
Series: I don't think there's more than contained here, but I may be wrong
Format read: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis is an apocalyptic YA novel. It's about an autistic girl, set about twenty years in the future when a comet hits the Earth. Location-wise, the book is set in the general vicinity of Amsterdam. Also, don't you think the cover is gorgeous? I think I would buy this book just for the cover, even if I was unfamiliar with the author's other work.

January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one.

Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter outside their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

A last-minute meeting leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship, scheduled to leave Earth behind to colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

This book starts in a stressful place. Denise, the main character, and her mother are running late for their assigned temporary shelter. At the opening, the shelter will take longer for them to get to than they have time left before the predicted comet strike. This sets the stage for Denise's interactions with her mother for the rest of the book. Her mother is unreliable, in large part due to her drug addiction, and this reader got the impression that Denise would be much better off without her mother around. For a while there I was crossing my fingers for the mother's death.

Just about everyone else in Denise's life (that showed up in the present of this book) was a more positive force. The narrative is tightly in the first person, which means that often the reader is left to draw conclusions, mostly about people, that Denise does not reach. On the other hand, the tight narrative really gets us into Denise's head and I found myself sympathising with her quite strongly. I also really enjoyed watching Denise make friends when given the opportunity outside of school; that was a real highlight.

Duyvis does a particularly good job of maintaining tension in the narrative of On the Edge of Gone. Although Denise survives the apocalypse and, since it's written in first person, her survival until the end of the book is a safe bet, there is a lot of other uncertainty. Will Denise be safe? What trouble is her mum going to get (her) into next? What will be the consequence of the risky choices Denise makes throughout the book? It was very well written. Ordinarily I would have expected this to be the sort of book that I could read in one sitting, but I found myself having to pause a few times and get some distance because it was so intense. The apocalypse is obviously always going to be somewhat depressing, but the extra layer of tension that Duyvis writes over the top of it, really brings it home.

I strongly recommend On the Edge of Gone to anyone who is interested in apocalyptic fiction, YA or otherwise. Apart from anything else, this is a solid science fiction book centred around a scientifically plausible response to a disastrous event. People interested in reading about autistic main characters should also be aware that the author herself is autistic and, as noted in the afterword, is partly writing from experience.

5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2016, Amulet Books
Series: No. But it is set in the same world as Duyvis's Defying Doomsday story.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Disclaimer: I have worked with the author for Defying Doomsday, but I don't think that has affected the objectivity of my review

Sunday, 24 January 2016

SHIELD Vol 1: Perfect Bullets by Mark Waid

SHIELD Vol 1: Perfect Bullets written by Mark Waid and illustrated by a bunch of different people is a SHIELD comic based on the characters from the TV show. This first volume mainly treats Coulson as the main character, although many other familiar characters are involved. I bought this as digital single issues when they were on sale and skipped buying issue #2 because it was included in Ms Marvel Vol 3 which I have already reviewed.

High-tech weapons. High-stakes missions. High-octane adventure! Special Agent Phil Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team bring together the best and the brightest, the gifted and the elite from across the Marvel Universe to confront, combat and curtail dangers beyond the scope of any conventional peacekeeping force! Coulson and Agents Melinda May, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons face a possessed Heimdall! Simmons goes undercover at Ms. Marvel's New Jersey high school! When magical terrorists strike, Coulson and Spider-Man must lead a strike team into Dr. Strange's mansion! S.H.I.E.L.D. reveals its most secret agent yet: Sue Richards, the Invisible Woman! The team's super-science is useless when a mystical threat rears its head - luckily, the Scarlet Witch might be able to help! But can a battered and broken S.H.I.E.L.D. team protect Earth from the Mindless Plague? Welcome to level eight!

I didn't enjoy this collection very much. The most interesting thing was probably learning more about Coulson in issue #1, and watching him choose the perfect superheroes to throw at a situation throughout the volume was kind of interesting. But I don't have strong feelings about Coulson and characters I am more invested in, like May, weren't in it all that much. I did realise, when I started writing this review, that Simmons was in the Ms Marvel issue that I skipped and had hence forgotten about, so that explains why I thought it was a bit unbalanced between Fitz and Simmons while I was reading.

However, that isn't really the main problem I had with it. What passed for an overarching story was focussed on Doctor Strange, who I don't really like. Marvel annoys me when they put magic into their superhero stories, possibly even more than when they screw up space stuff. So that didn't go over well with me. It didn't help that one of the Doctor Strange-adjacent issues featured Spiderman being the least interesting that I've ever seen him.

Also, some of the art was dreadfully sexualising of the female characters. There is absolutely no need for us to see both butt and boobs on a tiny figure running away in the distance, WTF. I mean, I've seen worse comic art, but in a comic that was already not doing it for me it was a bit much.

I don't particularly recommend this series. It could've been worse, but unless you really love the TV show of Marel's Agents of SHIELD (or Coulson), probably don't bother. Meh. I obviously won't be reading more.

3 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Marvel
Series: Yes. This volume contains issues #1-6 and there were more and also the series has been rebooted since so I don't know. Who cares.
Format read: Digital
Source: Purchased from Marvel online store (or possibly Comixology, I don't remember)

Friday, 22 January 2016

Gwenpool Holiday Special by Gerry Duggan and Charles Soule

Gwenpool Holiday Special by Gerry Duggan and Charles Soule and a bunch of other, is a one-off fifty-page comic ostensibly about the new Gwenpool character but actually a She-Hulk story with a bunch of cameos. But who the hell is Gwenpool, you ask? Apparently she started out as a variant cover when Gwen Stacey was doing the variant-cover-rounds dressing up as various characters (I assume to promote Spider-Gwen). Then, when the Marvel powers-that-be saw how popular she was (how many people were cosplaying her), they gave her her own series. So that's pretty cool. I just wish they'd also given her pants (or a skirt, I'd settle for a skimpy skirt). This holiday special is a lead-in to that upcoming series, which doesn't start until April. She is also, apparently, in/going to be in the first three issues of the rebooted Howard the Duck, but I haven't read any of those.

An All-New, All-Different Marvel Holiday Special! She-Hulk throws a holiday party and invites the entire Marvel U! Deadpool teams up with both Hawkeyes- Kate and Clint- to...stop a pickpocket? Ms. Marvel takes on her most dangerous threat yet: the holiday blues! And then there's the reason for the season (al special): Gwenpool! Yup, you read that right- Gwen. Pool. C'mon, you know you're curious.

As I said, this is mainly a She-Hulk comic. She-Hulk has to save the building her office is in from being sold. She enlists the help of her paralegal with a magic monkey and Patsy Walker (Hellcat) to throw an end-of-year party with all her superhero friends. That's the overarching story that ties everything together.

We also have short cameo stories from a few groups of characters: there's Ms Marvel hating the Christmas (and Chanukah) season because she feels left out; there's the Hawkeyes and Deadpool catching a bad guy; and there's Gwenpool who has a little mission before the party. These were all fun, with the Ms Marvel story being my favourite. Gwenpool was an interesting new character who seems to be Marvel's version of a teen Harley Quinn. (From a bit of googling, it seems her backstory is she's from the "real" world and has been transported into the world of Marvel comics, which she read in the real world, and thinks that everything is a video game and has no consequences. So that's kind of fun.)

This was an enjoyable issue, long enough to feel worth my time and money, but still pretty quick to get through. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in any of the characters mentioned above. And don't worry, you don't have to like or hate the holiday season to enjoy it.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Marvel
Series: Not yet
Format read: Digital
Source: Purchased from Marvel store thingy

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb

Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb is the second book in The Fitz and The Fool trilogy, which itself is the third trilogy about those two characters (following the Farseer Trilogy and the Tawny Man trilogy). I previously reviewed the immediate prequel, Fool's Assassin, but the other related books were all read long before I started this blog. This review, and the blurb, inevitably contain spoilers for the first book in the series.

After nearly killing his oldest friend, the Fool, and finding his daughter stolen away by those who were once targeting the Fool, FitzChivarly Farseer is out for blood. And who better to wreak havoc than a highly trained and deadly former royal assassin? Fitz might have let his skills go fallow over his years of peace, but such things, once learned, are not so easily forgotten. And nothing is more dangerous than a man who has nothing left to lose…

This is not a book to read without having read the previous volume. I'm not sure it's a book to read without having read the two main previous trilogies, either. Unlike Fool's Assassin, which started out more self-contained, Fool's Quest relies not only on its immediate prequel but also on more background knowledge than I think a reader who had only read the prequel would have. A large portion of the book is set at Buckkeep Castle and Fitz spends a lot of time remembering events from both earlier trilogies. I read those six books long enough ago that my memory is quite hazy and I wouldn't've objected to a refresher. The narrative did remind us of the relevant events pretty explicitly, so it wasn't a big problem for me, but I imagine it would be a bigger problem for a new Hobb reader.

The only frustrating thing about this book was Fitz not bothering to tell people things. I was shaking my fist at him several times. In a case of "the reader knows more than the characters", it was abundantly clear that if Fitz had just spent a few minutes filling people in on some details (mostly the Fool), then he could have put certain pieces of the puzzle together sooner. Of course, that would probably have made the story much shorter, but it was annoying.

On the other hand, this book made it more clear than the previous one that Fitz has grown as a person since he was a teenager and younger adult. He is sixty now, so that's hardly unexpected, but there were a lot of parallels to his earlier adventures and instances where he would once have run off without thinking but doesn't now. As much. Mostly.

The thing I thought was particularly well-handled in this book was the discussion of rape and other atrocities. Firstly, it's always called rape not "forced himself on her" or any other euphemisms and the perpetrators are immediately referred to as rapists. One character is even called "the handsome rapist" for a long time before we know his name. The consequences of rape on the victims and bystanders is also explored. I don't actually remember if there was much/any rape in Hobb's earlier Fitz books but the way it was treated in this one was appropriate and felt in touch with modern discourse. It also wasn't gratuitous or very on the page; the consequences were much more present. Whether or not there was rape in the earlier books, I feel sure that a younger Fitz would not have been able to comprehend the situation as well as he now can, which allows for this thoughtful portrayal.

All that said, this story is really about Fitz, Bee and the Fool. At the end of the previous book we see Bee kidnapped and getting her back is obviously a central focus of this book. Just not quite in the way you might initially expect. (No spoilers.) The Fool's situation is also very central to the book. And people who adore the Fitz/Fool relationship will not be disappointed.

As with most of Hobb's books, this was an excellent read. If you're a fan and are otherwise up to date, definitely pick up this latest instalment. If you're new to Hobb and have read this far down in my review anyway, I suggest starting with Assassin's Apprentice. I am looking forward to the concluding volume as I wonder how it will all pan out.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, HarperCollins
Series: book 2 of 3 in Fitz and the Fool trilogy, which follows directly on from the Farseer Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy and the Liveship Traders trilogy (and probably less directly on from the Rain Wild Chronicles, but I haven't read those and didn't feel lost as a result)
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo store

Monday, 18 January 2016

Harley Quinn Vol 1: Hot In The City by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti

Harley Quinn Vol 1: Hot In The City by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti is the first collection of "New 52" Harley Quinn comics which, I believe, included a redesign of the character. I'm not as familiar with DC oeuvre as I am with Marvel, but my understanding is that Harley Quinn started out as a Batman villain and now gets to be the protagonist of her own stories. I'm sure I'm skipping a lot of details there. This particular book was recommended to me as a good place to start with regards to Harley Quinn.

Fresh from BATMAN: DEATH OF THE FAMILY and SUICIDE SQUAD, Harley Quinn returns to her first solo series in the New 52! The writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti (ALL STAR WESTERN) and Amanda Conner (BEFORE WATCHMEN: SILK SPECTRE) unleashed Harley on an unsuspecting DC Universe, as she encounters various heroes and villains ... and leaves no one unscathed in her wake!

The best way I can think of to describe Harley Quinn is "Harley Quinn is your problematic fave." Or my problematic fave, at least. There is much about her basic character to raise an eyebrow at, starting with the fact that she is "crazy", skipping over the violence, and ending with her full-body bleach job.

In general this is a light-hearted comic. Harley Quinn's main aim in life, as far as I can see, is to have fun once the basic necessities are taken care of. This volume opens with her inheriting a building on Coney Island and needing to raise some money to maintain it. In pursuit of this she takes a job on a roller-derby team and as a therapist (which, as Dr Quinn, she is actually trained to do). She also gets involved with a large number of rescue pets and torturers (not simultaneously).

My favourite parts of this comic were those featuring Harley's best friend, Poison Ivy. Ivy has actual superpowers — unlike Harley — relating to plants and generally helps out with or is an accomplice to Harley's shenanigans. My other favourite aspect of this comic was the way in which Harley (and co) were not sexualised in the artwork. Harley has a tendency to wear skimpy clothes (see cover), but they are always her choice and she was not posed in any icky ways. Yay for the artists!

Ultimately, I think this Harley Quinn comic is designed to be entertaining so long as you don't think too hard about it. It is very violent, which might put some people off, and while it is "joke" violence, in a way, it is still pretty graphic. I plan to keep reading this series for the time being, and ignoring the part of my mind that points out all the problematic elements.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, DC Comics
Series: Vol 1 of "New 52" run of Harley Quinn, contains issues #0–8 of the ongoing series
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: non-Amazon online book shop

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Tsana's January Status

Compared with 2015, the start of 2016 has been much more gentle. This time last year I was madly reading Aurealis books, whereas this year I am sedately reading whatever I want, more or less. I've said many times that 2015 was an odd year, but let's use graphs to see just how odd. Because pie charts!

First let's have a look at the books read per month.

The peak in January is from when I was doing Aurealis reading and the peak in May is from when I had a month-long Marvel Unlimited subscription. I think the dip in August is from being a bit more sick than usual, but I don't really remember.

Comics saved me a lot this year when I was feeling too stressed to read a prose book. They are obviously quicker to read but I tried to make up for that by counting a couple of trades at once from the same series if I read them in a row. That more applies to the long Marvel Unlimited runs rather than the random comics that I read as they came out. In any case, the number of comics I read was definitely significant in my 2015 reading. As you can see in my "forms" pie chart:

The anthology/collection wedge is probably bigger than it would have been without the Aurealis reading (since that was my category). However, overloading on short story books at the start of the year kind of put me off them for the rest of the year. I think I only read two others (if you don't count Defying Doomsday slush). I am hoping to get through more short stories this year.

So that's it. 131 books in 2015 with a satisfactory spread between science fiction and fantasy (more horror would have been good). A more even spread in gender too, due largely to the comics, since the majority of the novels I read are by female authors.

What Have I Read (in the past month)? 

Currently Reading 

I just finished Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb. Stay tuned for the review in a few days. I about about to start On The Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis, a YA apocalyptic novel, set in the same world as one of the stories in Defying Doomsday. Looking forward to it! Probably some comics in the near future too, because life is getting a bit stressful again.

New Booksies

Not a huge number, yay.

  • Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold — for review from Edelweiss and already read.
  • Star Trek Voyager: Homecoming by Christie Golden — purchased after binging on the TV series and already read.
  • Star Trek Voyager: The Farther Shore by Christie Golden — the disappointing sequel to the above, already read
  • Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar — for review from Edelweiss, looking forward to it.
  • Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales From Shakespeare's Fantasy World — an anthology that seems to be well-described by the subtitle. For review from NetGalley.
  • Central Station by Lavie Tidhar — this science fiction book looked really interesting and will be my first Tidhar, also for review from NetGalley.
  • Kaptara by Chip Zdarsky — an SF funny comic, apparently. Also for review from NetGalley.
  • Runaways: Battleworld by Noelle Stevenson — a purchased trade of the Secret Wars Runaways run.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Star Trek Voyager: The Farther Shore by Christie Golden

Star Trek Voyager: The Farther Shore by Christie Golden is the direct sequel to Homecoming, and together the two books form a duology. They are more like one longer book that was split in two, however, and neither of them stand alone. This review contains spoilers for Homecoming, and probably some for The Farther Shore, too, but I will put those under a spoiler shield thingy unless they are very minor.

When the long-lost Starship Voyager returned home to Earth, did Kathryn Janeway and her crew unwittingly bring with them a deadly Borg infection from the heart of the Delta Quadrant? Many in Starfleet think so, and Seven of Nine finds herself the prime suspect as the carrier of the plague. Now, following the events of Homecoming, Admiral Janeway must reunite her crew in a desperate attempt to discover the source of the contagion -- and save the people of Earth from total assimilation into a voracious Borg collective.

This book made me pretty angry. There were two main elements which led to this. First, the prologue and a bunch of out-take type scenes in Homecoming featured extensive violent and sexual child abuse over many years of the victim's life. I had no idea where those scenes were going in the first book, so I largely filed them away in the "will probably be relevant later" draw. In The Farther Shore their purpose was revealed: the child abuse existed to motive the villain being a villain. There are so many things wrong with this, I don't even know where to start. Let's start with the obvious that most victims of domestic violence don't go on to pursue world domination. Also, while domestic violence is endemic in our society, it really seems like the sort of thing the Star Trek future should have largely dealt with and mostly eliminated. Certainly, I find it implausible that it continued for her entire childhood without the future having given her mother the tools to get herself and the child out of the situation. But more importantly, the whole being repeatedly raped as a child making someone a villain and turning into a literal monster is a very damaging trope. I was very annoyed to find it a pivotal plot element.

The other thing that really annoyed me was a bit of a spoiler, so it is under a spoiler shield.
There was scene where revolting holograms kidnap a bunch of people, choosing mainly based on convenience regarding where they worked. Then, to emphasise how much holograms have been treated as slaves (a point, I might add, that is explored much better in the actual series), the people are beaten and threatened with rape. We see things from the point of view of a male security guard and he surmises that, since the holograms have apparently gone mad and started whipping him, a woman that got carried off by angry holograms might get raped. To be fair, we only see things from this one guard's point of view and by the end it seems likely that she probably wasn't raped (or possibly wasn't real) but it was such an extreme and misplaced way of punishing a few randomly chosen humans for the apparent crime of conforming to society's view on holograms that it pissed me off. Rape as punishment is never OK. Even less so in this context. So that pissed me off.

Overall, there were minimal redeeming plot qualities but the rest of the book wasn't terrible. The hologram revolt sort of fizzled out and the Borg threat was, predictably, stopped by our main characters. The characterisation was all right, but the characters weren't exactly put in optimal situations. Even the well-meaning but mislead character who kept standing in their way had an unsatisfactory about-turn. Libby, a new character who I liked in the first book, still played a pivotal role but did not get enough page time in the resolution. B'Ellana's story line was completely separate from the main elements of the plot. Although it wasn't bad, it really could have been removed without ruining anything. The only relevant part was that she was off elsewhere while Tom was with the other main characters. I assume it's purpose was to set up some future book, but, well, meh.

I have been a bit harsh, though. The first part of The Farther Shore wasn't too bad. Aside from the specific things I singled out above, only the ending was a bit disappointing. On the other hand, from about half-way through my desire to get through it so I could write an angry review, which I have now done, started to outweigh my desire to find out what happened next. The latter, however, is why I didn't just put it down. (Also because it's not that long.)

I don't particularly recommend this book to anyone. Which is unfortunate, because the previous book wasn't bad, but definitely doesn't stand alone. Part of me wants to know more of what happens to these characters, but I think it will be a while before I pick up another Voyager book, alas. (But my TBR rejoices at not having the competition.)

2.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2003, Pocket Books
Series: Star Trek Voyager licensed fiction, book 2 of 2 in the Homecoming duology
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Google Play

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Night Terrace Season Two

Night Terrace Season Two is the second season (obviously) of the Night Terrace audio drama. I received it after backing their Kickstarter, as I did with Season One. I believe the general release is scheduled for February. The blurb below is taken from their Kickstarter page.

Scientist Anastasia Black had retired from her job saving the world, preferring the adventure of a good book and a pot of tea. Then her house unexpectedly began travelling randomly through time and space, taking with it hapless university student Eddie Jones. From the far future on other worlds to the distant past of Earth, Anastasia and Eddie have faced deadly monsters, evil corporations and a sinister disco, before finally discovering the origins of the house's strange power.

But with no way to direct the house back home, there are even stranger adventures awaiting the tenants of "Night Terrace": impossible spaceships, unlikely quests, ghosts of the past and the most terrible peril of all: a new housemate...

The season, so far (there should be a ninth episode coming because of a stretch goal), consists of eight episodes, around half an hour in length each. They are all self-contained stories, but there is an overarching plot linking them. It's been more than a year since I listened to Season One, so it did take me an episode or so to re-orient myself with the characters. But that just made me want to re-listen to both seasons in one stretch.

The tone, as with the first season, is somewhere between Douglas Adams and Doctor Who, but much more Australian. I was laughing out loud on several occasions. This season focuses a bit more on why the house is travelling through time and the, er, consequences of the reason.

Night Terrace is excellent, hilarious, and very Australian. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially to fans of Douglas Adams and humorous science fiction in general. I am very much hoping they will go on to make a third season and more.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2016
Series: Night Terrace season 2 of hopefully many more
Format read: With my ears, because it's an audio drama (like a radio play, but without the radio part)
Source: Kickstarter! But check out their website to buy.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Star Trek Voyager: Homecoming by Christie Golden

Over the past month or so, I ended up marathoning all seven seasons of Star Trek Voyager (that's 172 episodes, if you're wondering). And when I got to the end my prevailing thought was, "But what happens next?!". A bit of googling lead me to Star Trek Voyager: Homecoming by Christie Golden, a media tie-in novel that directly follows on from that series finale. So I bought it, and I inhaled it. And the only reason I'm not currently inhaling the sequel — for it is part of a duology, not a standalone — is because I'm writing this review. This review (and the blurb below) contains spoilers for the Star Trek Voyager series, including the finale.

After seven long years in the Delta Quadrant, the crew of the Starship Voyager now confront the strangest world of all: home. For Admiral Kathryn Janeway and her stalwart officers, Voyager's miraculous return brings new honors and responsibilities, reunions with long-lost loved ones, and for some, such as the Doctor and Seven of Nine, the challenge of forging new lives in a Federation that seems to hold little place for them. But even as Janeway and the others go their separate ways, pursuing new adventures and opportunities, a mysterious cybernetic plague strikes Earth, transforming innocent men, women, and children into an entirely new generation of Borg. Now the entire planet faces assimilation, and Voyager may be to blame!

The story picks up right where the series left off and follows many of the ensemble cast as they are welcomed back to Earth/the Federation. Things, of course, do not quite go as planned. As well as the expected difficulties of reintegrating back into normal society, some unexpected obstacles/disasters crop up.

My main small complaint is that with so many characters, we don't get to spend very much time with each of them. We get the important parts of the picture, but it was a little frustrating that there were so many to cycle through. On the other hand, a new (sort of) character is introduced with good effect: Harry Kim's girlfriend, who we met briefly in an alternate-timeline episode. Turns out, when Harry disappeared for seven years she, among other things, became a spy. She ends up being the character that has the most pieces of the puzzle, letting the reader in on some useful information.

The most pertinent thing to repeat is that this is not a stand-alone novel. The ending is more what you'd expect from the first episode in a two-episode arc of a TV show and offers no resolutions whatsoever. There is only cliffhanger doom.

I enjoyed Homecoming and I will definitely be reading the sequel. I recommend it to fans of Star Trek Voyager who want to know what happens next to the character of that show. Or who are having difficulty letting go of it, like I am.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2003, Pocket Books
Series: book 1 of 2 in a self-contained duology, but one of many Voyager novels. Chronologically, takes place immediately after the series ends.
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased on Google Play

Friday, 8 January 2016

Miss Mayhem by Rachel Hawkins

Miss Mayhem by Rachel Hawkins is the sequel to Rebel Belle and the second book in the trilogy. It picks up the story more or less where the first book left off and is not the sort of series I'd recommend reading out of order. Also, this review contains spoilers for the first book in the series.

Life is almost back to normal for Harper Price. The Ephors have been silent after their deadly attack at Cotillion months ago, and her best friend, Bee, has returned after a mysterious disappearance. Now Harper can focus on the important things in life: school, canoodling with David (her nemesis-turned-ward-slash-boyfie), and even competing in the Miss Pine Grove pageant.

Unfortunately, supernatural chores are never done. The Ephors have decided they’d rather train David than kill him. The catch: Harper has to come along for the ride, but she can’t stay David’s Paladin unless she undergoes an ancient trial that will either kill her . . . or make her more powerful than ever.

Following on from the first book, Harper, the overachiever, still has Buffy-like powers and still has to use them protect her now-boyfriend and work with her mage ex-boyfriend to do so. Her ex-boyfriend has also started dating another girl, who is a bit suspicious of seeing him with Harper so often, so no teenage dramarama there at all /sarcasm. There's also the part where her best friend has been kidnapped by a group of people that, based on the events in Rebel Belle, definitely seem dangerous. The stage is set for drama and danger.

This book has an interesting plot structure and deftly avoids any "middle book syndrome". One of the major unresolved issues that book one suggested might end up being the main plot of Miss Mayhem is resolved quite quickly. The story then seemed like it was going to be a fairly standard, but enjoyable, read about the main character overcoming obstacles thrown at her. And it sort of was (that is, definitely enjoyable, sort of about overcoming obstacles). There was also some teenage drama and angst thrown in for good measure, and a little bit of the reader noticing things the main character did not.

But then, rather than building up to some sort of generic "this is what you're going to have to save the world from in book three" kind of story line, we get a rather unexpected ended. Kudos to Hawkins for mixing up a common formula. Obviously, I'm not going to spoil the ending in this review, but I disagree with one of the quotes on the back of the book: it is not, per se, a twist ending.

I quite enjoyed this book and got through it quite quickly once I started reading it properly. I definitely recommend it to fans of Rebel Belle, and I recommend this series to people who enjoy the teenagers vs supernatural phenomena kind of YA books. I will definitely be reading book three when I can (it's not out until April and then only in the US).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Putnam (in the US)
Series: Rebel Belle book 2 of 3
Format read: Hardcover (gasp!)
Source: Non-Amazon online bookshop

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp is a YA novel about a high school shooting. The whole book, except for a brief epilogue, takes place over the span of less than an hour. That should give you an idea of what sort of book this is.

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won't open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

This was exactly the kind of book I expected it to be. I was concerned I would be forced to read it in a single sitting, sacrificing sleep, but I managed to spread it out over two. (And only because I had to get up early, really.) The tension and horror of the situation is deftly maintained throughout the book.

There are four point of view characters in This Is Where It Ends, all students who were in different places when the shooting started and who have interesting back-stories that tie in with the events. There's the two girls — girlfriends — who are in the auditorium with most of the students and teachers, there's the track team who were exempt from assembly to train, and the two students who had been sent to the principal's office. Each point of view character has some sort of additional connection to the shooter, beyond just being schoolmates. There's the sister, the ex-girfriend, the nemesis, the (other sort of) victim. And they all have other people in the auditorium to fear for. As well as documenting the fifty-four minutes of the main story, we also have a sizeable amount of back-story delivered in flashbacks and memories to flesh-out the characters, making the reader care about them and fear for their lives.

Between chapters there were a few tweets and blog posts from people at and connected to the school, desperate to find out what's happening. Those were probably my least favourite element of the book. They added a small amount of extra sympathy for minor characters, but I didn't feel they brought that much to the story. I didn't hate them either, just meh.

Obviously, this book is a bit on the violent side. People die. People are injured. People watch other people get shot. If you don't want to read about gun violence, for whatever reason, then this probably isn't the book for you. If you are after a tense thriller then I highly recommend This Is Where It Ends.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2016, Sourcebooks
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Lumberjanes Vol 2: Friendship to the Max by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis

Lumberjanes Vol 2: Friendship to the Max written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis is the second collected volume of Lumberjanes comics, about a summer camp for girls and one particular cabin of friends. I previously reviewed Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy.

Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are not your average campers and Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types is not your average summer camp. Between the river monsters, magic, and the art of friendship bracelets, this summer is only just beginning. Join the Lumberjanes as they take on raptors and a sibling rivalry that only myths are made of.

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the first one too, but Friendship to the Max just seemed that little bit more awesome. Possibly because by this second volume I'm familiar with the setting and characters, and I was able to relax and enjoy the story instead of focussing on who's who.

As with the first volume, only four issues are included, so it's a fairly quick read. The first volume had what felt like a complete story arc, and this second volume also contains a full arc. It does, however, directly build on the story from the first volume, even as new elements and characters are introduced. I'm a fan of continuity, so I enjoyed that.

I highly recommend Lumberjanes to fans of comics and female characters. Especially if you're looking for non-superhero comics, for whatever reason. I recommend starting with the first volume for better continuity, but I think this second volume could still be enjoyed by itself (but may not make as much sense). The art is bright and colourful, and there's action, magic and a smidge of romance. What's not to like?

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2015, Boom!
Series: Lumberjanes vol 2 of ongoing series, containing issues #5–8
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: A comic book shop while travelling

Friday, 1 January 2016

Reading Challenges in 2015 and Goals for 2016

For the third year running, I kept track of the Australian-authored science fiction and horror I read throughout the year. Note I say kept track of, rather than challenged myself to read, since I wasn't particularly successful. I also participated in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for the fourth year. I've already written a detailed round-up for AWW, so in this post I will focus on my other two challenges.

On the science fiction front, I just scraped in at my goal. I read ten books and three new-to-me authors. Over the next year, I would like to exceed the bare minimum, although I'm not going to update my goal. In any case, finding three new-to-me Australian science fiction authors should be a bit of a challenge, increasingly as I read more authors.

The books read for my Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge in 2015 are:

  1. Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington (review)
  2. Space Dogs by Sophia Parsons Cope (review)
  3. The Female Factory by Lisa Hannet and Angela Slatter (review)
  4. Winning the King by Nicole Murphy (review)
  5. Crash by Sean Williams (review)
  6. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (review)
  7. Curses and Confetti by Jenny Schwartz (review)
  8. Letters to Tiptree edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein (review)
  9. Fall by Sean Williams (review)
  10. Cold Comfort and Other Tales by David McDonald (review)

I did rather more poorly on the horror front. I planned to read five horror books by Australian authors, and basically managed one. I did read a couple more for Aurealis judging which I didn't review, but that still doesn't meet my target, alas. I'm not changing my goal for 2016, but hopefully I will actually meet it.

The one Aussie Horror book I read was:

  • Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin (review)

As well as the SF and Horror reading challenges, I will of course be participating the Australian Women Writers Challenge again. I will also still be writing the monthly round-ups for the AWW website. In the past I haven't set a specific number of books to read for AWW. This time I'm going to be slightly more explicit and say I want to read at least twenty-five, since I only managed twenty-two this year.

And finally, I want to do something about that list of books I haven't read but should've. I plan to cross off as many books from that list as I can, hopefully all of them (although it's not a short list...).

So those are my reading plans for the coming year. What are your goals and challenges, reading-wise, for 2016?