Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Vigil by Angela Slatter

Vigil by Angela Slatter is the author's debut novel but regular followers of this blog may recall that Slatter is also a much-lauded author of shorter stories and collections and a few mosaic novels. I have reviewed several of her works before, which you can peruse here. Most notable of those, to me, are The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings and Sourdough and Other Stories, two mosaic novels (collections of linked short stories) that I adored. Vigil is, in many ways, rather dissimilar.

Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds. The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength - and the ability to walk between us and the other - as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.

But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale - and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways - and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.

And Verity must investigate - or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.

Vigil is an urban fantasy novel starring Verity and set in the city of Brisbane. Verity is half-human, half-Weyrd and an investigator whose main job it is to solve crimes, especially those where Weyrd shenanigans impact on normal humans. The story mainly follows Verity as she gets embroiled in a few cases.

This was an interesting read because I am more familiar with Slatter's more historically-set fantasy stories, albeit not exclusively. Vigil is still quite dark in its fantasy elements, as I've come to expect from Slatter, but these elements are mixed in with the real-world normality of Brisbane. The story happens when the Weyrd leaks into the normal and contaminates it.

Verity and the other characters all have layers to them, which makes the book particularly compelling. As well as enjoying Verity's character, I rather liked a couple of the side characters in particular. The human police officer whose job it is to deal with the official side of the investigations was well done, as was Verity's human love interest. What I liked most about David, the love interest, is the way the relationship was important to Verity but not her main concern for most of the book. For most of the book solving murders is the main thing going on in Verity's life, closely followed by not dying and keeping the people important to her safe. I appreciated that the romantic storyline was in the background because, let's face it, a string of siren murders is kind of more interesting than a healthy romantic relationship.

I highly recommend Vigil to fans of urban fantasy and Angela Slatter's other work. It brings a fresh and elegant darkness to to the genre, tying multiple cases together into a single coherent story. I really enjoyed it and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel, although it was a self-contained story.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Hachette
Series: Yes. Verity Fassbinder book 1 of ? (at least 2)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Monday, 20 February 2017

Aurealis Award Shortlists announced!

It's that time of year again when the Aurealis Awards shortlists are announced. And what shortlists they are this year! (I might be biased — Defying Doomsday and one of the contained stories, "Did We Break the End of the World" by Tansy Rayner Roberts, were shortlisted *does a happy dance*)

You can go read the official announcement over on the Aurealis Awards website, but for your reading pleasure I have also reproduced it below, with added links to those books that I've reviewed. Hopefully, by the time the actual award announcements come around I will have added more reviews since a lot of these books are in my TBR.

And of course, a big congratulations to all the finalists!


BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION 
Blueberry Pancakes Forever, Angelica Banks (Allen & Unwin)
Magrit, Lee Battersby (Walker Books Australia)
Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket, Caleb Crisp (Bloomsbury)
The Turners, Mick Elliott (Hachette Australia)
When the Lyrebird Calls, Kim Kane (Allen & Unwin)
The Hungry Isle, Emily Rodda (Omnibus Books)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL / ILLUSTRATED WORK
Mechanica, Lance Balchin (Five Mile)
BROBOT, James Foley (Fremantle Press)
Negative Space, Ryan K Lindsay (Dark Horse Comics)
The Spider King, Josh Vann (self-published)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY 
“A Right Pretty Mate”, Lisa L Hannett (Dreaming in the Dark)
“Dune Time”, Jack Nicholls (Tor.com)
“No One Here is Going to Save You”, Shauna O’Meara (In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing)
“Did We Break the End of the World?”, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Defying Doomsday, Twelfth Planet Press)
“Pretty Jennie Greenteeth”, Leife Shallcross (Strange Little Girls, Belladonna Publishing)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY
“Non Zero Sum”, RPL Johnson (SNAFU: Hunters, Cohesion Press)
“Flame Trees”, TR Napper (Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2016)
“Penny for a Match, Mister?”, Garth Nix (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
“The Red Forest”, Angela Slatter (Winter Children and Other Chilling Tales, PS Publishing)
“68 Days”, Kaaron Warren (Tomorrow’s Cthulhu, Broken Eye Books)
“Life, or Whatever Passes For It”, Durand Welsh (Peel Back the Skin, Grey Matter Press)

BEST HORROR NOVELLA
“Box of Bones”, Jeremy Bates (Ghillinnein Books)
“Served Cold”, Alan Baxter (Dreaming in the Dark, PS Publishing)
“Waking in Winter”, Deborah Biancotti (PS Publishing)
“Burnt Sugar”, Kirstyn McDermott (Dreaming in the Dark, PS Publishing)
“Pan”, Christopher Ruz (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #62)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY
“Watercress Soup”, Tamlyn Dreaver (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #65)
“Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest”, Thoraiya Dyer (In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing)
“Dune Time”, Jack Nicholls (Tor.com)
“Penny for a Match, Mister?”, Garth Nix (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
“The Lighthouse at Cape Defeat”, David Versace (Aurealis #89)
“The Cartographer’s Price”, Suzanne Willis (Mythic Delirium Issue 3.1)

BEST FANTASY NOVELLA
“Raven’s First Flight”, Alan Baxter (SNAFU: Black Ops, Cohesion Press)
“By the Laws of Crab and Woman”, Jason Fischer (Review of Australian Fiction)
“Forfeit”, Andrea K. Höst (The Towers, the Moon, self-published)
The Bonobo’s Dream, Rose Mulready (Seizure Press)
“Burnt Sugar”, Kirstyn McDermott (Dreaming in the Dark, PS Publishing)
Finnegan’s Field”, Angela Slatter (Tor.com)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY
“Trainspotting in Winesburg”, Jack Dann (Concentration, PS Publishing)
“The Baby Eaters”, Ian McHugh (Asimov’s Science Fiction 40/1)
“The Autumn Dog Cannot Live to Spring”, Claire McKenna (In Your Face, Fablecroft)
“Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart”, Samantha Murray (Clarkesworld #122)
“68 Days”, Kaaron Warren (Tomorrow’s Cthulu, Broken Eye Books)
“The Least of Things”, Jen White (Aurealis #94)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA
Waking in Winter, Deborah Biancotti (PS Publishing)
“Salto Mortal”, Nick T Chan (Lightspeed #73)
“Going Viral”, Thoraiya Dyer (Dimension6 #8, coeur de lion)
The Bonobo’s Dream, Rose Mulready (Seizure Press)
“All the Colours of the Tomato”, Simon Petrie (Dimension6 #9, coeur de lion)
“Did We Break the End of the World?”, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Defying Doomsday, Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST COLLECTION
Crow Shine, Alan Baxter (Ticonderoga Publications)
Concentration, Jack Dann (PS Publishing)
A Feast of Sorrows, Angela Slatter (Prime)
Winter Children, Angela Slatter (PS Publishing)

BEST ANTHOLOGY
Dreaming in the Dark, Jack Dann (ed.) (PS Publishing Australia)
Defying Doomsday, Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench (eds.) (Twelfth Planet Press)
Year’s Best YA Speculative fiction 2015, Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein (eds.) (Twelfth Planet Press)
Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 10, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Solaris)
In Your Face, Tehani Wessely (ed.) (Fablecroft Publishing)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
Elegy, Jane Abbott (Penguin Random House Australia)
The Bone Queen, Alison Croggon (Penguin Books Australia)
The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale (Penguin Random House Australia)
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers)
Gemima: Illuminae Files 2, Amy Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
Goldenhand, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

BEST HORROR NOVEL
Fear is the Rider, Kenneth Cook (Text Publishing)
My Sister Rosa, Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)
The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren (IFWG Publishing Australia)

BEST FANTASY NOVEL
Nevernight, Jay Kristoff (Harper Voyager)
Fall of the Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette Australia)
Den of Wolves, Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Vigil, Angela Slatter (Jo Fletcher Books)
Road to Winter, Mark Smith (Text Publishing)
Sisters of the Fire, Kim Wilkins (Harlequin Australia)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
Watershed, Jane Abbott (Penguin Random House)
Confluence, SK Dunstall (Ace Books)
Gemima: Illuminae Files 2, Amy Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
Squid’s Grief, DK Mok (self-published)
Stiletto, Daniel O’Malley (Harper Collins Publishers)
Threader, Rebekah Turner (Harlequin Australia)


Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Chatting with my friend Katharine, who also runs a book blog, Ventureadlaxre, it came out that she'd been meaning to read Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga and I had been meaning to re-read it, since I read most of them before I started blogging. And so, an idea for a blogging project was born.

Katharine and I will both read a Vorkosigan book a month, going through them in internal chronological order, more or less, and then, as well as any ordinary reviews, we will write a discussion-type blog post about each book. She will bring the "reading for the first time" perspective and I will bring the "re-reading and what it adds" perspective. These posts will be cross-posted to both our blogs.

I haven't re-read anything since I started blogging except Harry Potter (because of the illustrated editions) and books I was actively working on (Defying Doomsday, science checking stuff), so this will be interesting.

Now get ready for a monthly parade of horrible covers as I re-read some of the best science fiction books around.

Baen has the worst covers, mainly because of their font choices.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis is a children's novel (the main character is 12ish) about a young dragon that gets turned into a human girl and has to make it on her own in a strange new city. And also chocolate.

Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. And she's ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when the human she finds tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw.

But she's still the fiercest creature in the mountains -- and now she's found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is get herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she'll be conquering new territory in no time...won't she?

This was a delightful read. Sometimes I, as an adult, find books for younger readers a bit too condescending or talking-down to the reader too much, in a way that probably wouldn't have bothered me when I was closer to the intended age bracket. This is absolutely not the case with Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. It's a lovely book that will be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

The story follows Aventurine, a young dragon who's sick of being stuck in her family cave, waiting to  grow up so she can safely hunt and fly around outside. One day she decides to experiment with going outside and the first human she meets transforms her from a dragon into a human girl. As well as being traumatic, the transformation, which hinged on an enchanted hot chocolate, awakens Aventurine's love of chocolate. As well as working out how to live as a human, Aventurine becomes fixated on tasting chocolate again.

This book has a lot of delicious chocolate descriptions in it, which made me a bit sad not to be having any chocolate when I read the book. Recommendation for reading: consume with hot chocolate. The setting is a vague Germanic medieval fantasy world, which we don't see much of beyond the city and the mountains. We hear a bit about a few other cities too. The main focus is definitely on the characters: Aventurine and her friends, family and other people she encounters.

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart was the kind of story in which the bad guys are merely annoying rather than actually evil, which was refreshing, especially coming out of having read a few more dire books. It's not that everything always goes well for Aventurine, but nothing especially dire happens and overall this was a very feel-good book. Highly recommended for people looking for a heartwarming read.

I highly recommend this book to all fans of fantasy, dragons and books for younger readers. It is, like I said, written for a younger age group than YA usually is, and I'm not sure that all teens will necessarily enjoy reading about a twelve-year-old. But I think it can be enjoyed equally as much (if not more) but adults (and maybe teens who are less self-conscious).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2016, Bloomsbury (UK/ANZ)
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor is a sequel novella to Binti, which I reviewed here and which went on to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novella. The sequel follows on from the original story, showing us the next chapter of Binti's life, and focussing on a very different set of experiences. This review will contain some spoilers for the first novella.

The thrilling sequel to the Nebula-nominated Binti.

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she left her family to pursue her dream.

And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.

But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.

After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

The first Binti novella followed Binti on her eventful and ultimately traumatic journey from her home on Earth to the prestigious Oomza University. Binti: Home opens on Oomza University and follows Binti as she makes the decision to go home for a visit. Rather than focussing on the journey this time, the story focusses on what happens after Binti gets home.

The novella deals a lot with change and belonging. Binti was changed by her time at Oomza, from learning new things and living in a different environment with a diverse assortment of people. She was also changed, both emotionally and physically, by the events en route to Oomza. How does she then go about fitting in back home? In a culture where no one leaves (usually) the very act of going away and coming back is subversive in itself, but the added changes of the journey are revolutionary. The scenes with Binti's family were the most upsetting, I thought, and although some of their reactions are understandable I, as the reader sympathising with Binti, couldn't help but be outraged at how unfair they were.

If you enjoyed Binti, I definitely recommend reading Binti: Home. It's the next part of Binti's story and, as the ending strongly implied, it's not the last part either. I hope there will be a third story because Binti: Home ended on more of a cliffhanger than I was expecting. I turned the page expecting more story and was met with "About the Author"! I need to know what happens next! Argh! If you haven't read Binti, I recommend picking that up first, since Home builds a lot on what came before. If you're a fan of thoughtful science fiction, I highly recommend this series of novellas.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2017, Tor.com
Series: Yes, Binti book 2 or 2 so far
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley