Monday, 30 December 2013

Challenge round-up: Australian Women Writers

This past year I have again participated in the Australian Women Writers Challenge. As well as reading and reviewing books as part of the challenge, I also joined the team running the challenge website and writing "round-ups" summarising the reviews challenge participants had submitted. (You can take a gander here.)

I didn't set myself a set number to review, since I knew I'd be reading more than 10 AWW books by default (as in, without particularly setting out to). Instead my goal was to read and review "as many as I could", which turned out to be 39 books. The full list with links to reviews is below. I'm going to include snippets from my reviews for the books I haven't already talked about in a post-challenge round-up, which means if you want to know more about the horror or science fiction books I read, have a look at my respective Aussie horror and science fiction reading challenges. So it'll be mostly fantasy books discussed below.

Will I be doing the challenge next year? Of course. I'm still part of the organising team and I have no intention of not reading and reviewing books. Again I don't want to set a low goal that won't be a challenge, but perhaps in light of the fact I was so close to a round number this year, I should aim for 40 books next year. For those of you wanting to join the challenge for 2014, you can read more and sign up here.

Remember, you can click on the review link next to any book to read my full review of it.

  1. After the Darkness by Honey Brown (review)
  2. Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren (review)
  3. The Dark GriffinThe Dark Griffin by KJ Taylor (review
    • The Dark Griffin is a compelling novel. Both the griffin and Arren suffer due to unfair circumstances they cannot be blamed for, and their parallel stories intertwine to powerful effect. Another brilliant fantasy read by a brilliant Australian author. I have read few run-of-the-mill fantasy novels (particularly BFF — big fat fantasy) by Australians, and The Dark Griffin certainly doesn't buck that trend.
  4. The Griffin's FlightThe Griffin's Flight by KJ Taylor (review
    •  The Griffin's Flight moves away from the exploration of racism that was The Dark Griffin; it's still there, but it's much less the main theme. In fact, thematically there isn't a single overarching theme tying everything together in The Griffin's Flight, which partly makes it feel a little middle-book-syndrome-y. Which isn't to say I found it boring or pointless, just that it was linking two disparate parts of the story: Arren's life as it falls apart in the first book, and the coming titular war of book three (The Griffin's War).
  5. Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski (review)
    • For a short book, there several different aspects of mythology packed in — werewolves, faeries, gods — but not, I think, too many. It's hard to judge since I am relatively familiar with Celtic mythology, but I thought the different ideas were sufficiently fleshed out and tied in well to the story.
  6. Rayessa and the Space Pirates by Donna Maree Hanson (review)
  7. The Griffin's War by KJ Taylor (review)
    • Although the Griffin's War concludes the trilogy well, tying up all the important loose ends, I can see which direction the sequel series might take, without reading the blurbs (and having glanced at one of them, I can see I guessed right). I look forward to reading more stories set in this world in the future.
  8. Walking Shadows by Narrelle M Harris (review)
    • I really loved this book. I was expecting to enjoy it after having read Harris' Showtime collection, in which the titular story featured Lissa and Gary, and it surpassed my expectations. Walking Shadows was full of amusing narration (in first person) and entertaining exchanges between Lissa and the  people in her life. I laughed out loud many times. The fact that it was set in Melbourne didn't hurt, either.
  9. The Opposite of Life by Narrelle M Harris (review)
    • The vampire mythos in Harris's world is refreshing in not being overly romanticised. Vampires don't feel much because they're dead. Their brains also don't work as well and they get firmly entrenched in old habits. Modern technology has made it harder for them to not draw attention to themselves and so they're not generally inclined to run around killing people willy-nilly (any more).
  10. The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (review)
  11. Ishtar edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor (review)
  12. Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer (review)
    • Overall the stories deal with themes of identity and belonging in different ways, a trend I noticed only now as I was writing the mini-reviews above. I like how the more I think about them, the more I'm finding things to think about in them. There is nothing simple here. An excellent collection.
  13. Stray by Andrea K Höst (review)
  14. Rise of the Fallen by Teagan Chilcott (review)
    • The ending was strong, setting up the next book in the series well. I read that the last chapter was what inspired the author to write the book, and looking back, I can see how everything was leading up to that point. It was definitely the most clearly drawn scene.
  15. Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst (review)
  16. Caszandra by Andrea K Höst (review)
  17. Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott (review)
  18. The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton (review)
  19. Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (review)
    • Sea Hearts is a thoughtful read rather than a fast-paced adventure. It is marketed as YA, but aside from having mostly young point of view characters, I wouldn't say it deals with uniquely teenage problems; it's a story for readers of all ages. I highly recommend Sea Hearts to all fantasy fans.
  20. One Small Step edited by Tehani Wessely (review)
    • The theme of One Small Step is addressed quite diversely between the stories. My personal favourites (in a very subjective way) were the ones that dealt with discovery in a more literal kind of way.  "Always Greener" by Michelle Marquardt opened the anthology strongly with human colonists on another planet and I felt it set the tone of expectation for what followed. The idea of deadly grass also stuck with me. "Firefly Epilogue" by Jodi Cleghorn about scientific discovery also struck me. "The Ships of Culwinna" by Thoraiya Dyer is another story that really stuck with me. Very well done, it's a story about old discoveries but, I thought, freshly told. "Morning Star"by DK Mok was another space-based journey of discovery and quite an emotional note to end the anthology on. Although they were quite different stories, there was some symmetry between the opening and closing; a search for safety in a hostile universe.
  21. Charlotte's Army by Patty Jansen (review)
  22. Hunting by Andrea K Höst (review
    • An aspect I particularly liked was the way in which so many little threads all came together in the end. There were some things which I took in stride as "just" being part of the set-up or backstory which turned out to be relevant to the main story. Hard to say more on this without spoilers. Also, a small thing but the fact that the main character's mentor was female not male was gratifying. And even though Ash was a girl dressed as a boy in a male-dominated society, there were actual other good female characters in the story (and only one of them was a laundry maid) who showed us other roles women could play in the society without having to dress as a man.
  23. Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (review)
    • Allyse Near is an author to watch. I will not be surprised if Fairytales for Wilde Girls makes next year's Aurealis shortlist. I look forward to seeing what Near writes in the future. I highly recommend Fairytales for Wilde Girls to all fans of dark fairytales and gothic fantasy. It's not a terrifying read, but it is dark and there are definitely elements of horror throughout. Readers of YA and adult fantasy alike will find much to enjoy in this book.
  24. Trader's honour by Patty Jansen (review)
  25. The Company Articles of Edward Teach by Thoraiya Dyer (review)
    • The story follows [the two teenage protagonists] as they learn how to function in [the world of Blackbeard] and try to survive. Dyer shows us a traumatic and life-changing experience for the teens in a brutal cut-throat (literally) world. I enjoyed reading about how each of them came to terms with their situation and their lives and how their experiences changed them.
  26. A Trifle Dead by Livia Day (review)
    • I really loved the picture the author painted of Hobart. I've only visited Hobart once, but I had no difficulty imagining the various settings. It also made me want to move to visit Hobart again. The setting also extended to numerous pop-culture references, from obscure super heroes to Tumblr and Twitter. They made me smile many times. It's also this aspect of geek culture that I think makes this crime novel particularly accessible to a lot of spec fic fans. It also makes it a very "now" book, but I'm not convinced that's a bad thing.
  27. Black Sun Light My Way by Jo Spurrier (review)
    • Black Sun Light My Way was an excellent read. I don't recommend skipping Winter Be My Shield, so if you haven't read the first book, do that first. In general, though, I highly recommend this series to all lovers of epic/high/big fat/whatever you want to call it fantasy. As I said earlier, it's not for the faint of heart, but on the other hand it's not significantly worse (in terms of ick and violence) than a lot of the genre.
  28. Jamie Reign: The Last Spirit Warrior by PJ Tierney(review)
    • I quite enjoyed Jamie Reign, despite it's predictability. It was a fun, quick read and I recommend it to fans of adventure stories, magic and martial arts. As I mentioned at the start, it's definitely the kind of book that will appeal to younger readers. I look forward to reading more books in this series when they come out.
  29. Chasing the Valley by Skye Melki-Wegner (review)
    • Chasing the Valley is an excellent tale of growing friendship and camaraderie. In some ways it's a traditional journey type story but Melki-Wegner brings enough originality to the table (in worldbuilding and so forth) to make it stand out. Her writing is polished and, as I said, I could tell as soon as I started that I was in for a good read. I'm glad I read this and I am very much looking forward to the rest of the series. This book is a cut above a lot of the YA renditions of high/epic fantasy I've come across.
  30. Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (review)
    • At its heart, Life in Outer Space is a story about Sam, a year 11 boy, his friends and, to a lesser extent, his enemies. The book tackles a few common teen issues such as parents getting divorced and difficult parents. There's also Sam's best friend, Matt, who mysteriously quits karate after years of loving it and Sam doesn't know how to confront or deal with the issue. Although there were some moments of teenagers being silly, I thought it was all quite realistic, despite Sam navigating his life with constant reference to movies.
  31. When the World Was Flat (And We Were in Love) by Ingrid Jonach (review)
  32. Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott (review)
  33. The Shattered World Within by Patty Jansen (review)
  34. King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniells (review)
    • Daniells is particularly good at writing characters that behave in irritating, yet entirely plausible ways. The group of point of view characters and their friends are all intelligent and well-educated (which makes sense since most of them are royalty) but their minor antagonists (as opposed to Cobalt the usurper) tend to be frustratingly short-sighted, ignorant or just horrible people. The utterly believable way in which Daniells wrote them had me heckling the page on several occasions and cheering when they were defeated — and a satisfying number of annoying characters got punched in the face, so that was also quite gratifying. I have said many times before that a mark of a good writer is the level of emotional investment they can get the reader to place in their characters, and Daniells has proved herself, once again, to be more than adept at doing so.
  35. Reunion by Jennifer Fallon (review)
    • One of the things I've always thought Fallon did quite well is write complexly motivated characters. Not only that, but the way she weaves their story lines together to form an intricate web is masterful. At every turn each character does the thing that absolutely seems most right to them in the situation but that has ramifications they could not have predicted. Generally rather entertaining ones.
  36. Mistification by Kaaron Warren (review)
  37. The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson (review)
    • The Blood of Whisperers was an enjoyable read. It took me a little while to become truly invested in the characters, but once I did it became difficult to put down. I would recommend it to fans of Japanese/Asian-flavoured fantasy or anyone who enjoys stories about rebels and political machinations (although I wouldn't say it's heavy on political intrigue per se). I am looking forward to reading the next book which is apparently due out in December, so not a long wait at all (yay).
  38. The Skeleton Key by Tara Moss (review)
    • I highly recommend this series to fans of not-too-heavy urban fantasy. Although I've said The Skeleton Key is darker than its predecessors, it's still on the lighter side of the urban fantasy genre, in my opinion. It builds on the earlier books more than The Spider Goddess did, so I don't recommend reading it before the others. But all in all, an enjoyable read, particularly in a week when I needed something relaxing to take my mind off business.
  39. These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meaghan Spooner (review)

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