Sep 8, 2016 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire

25526296Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

This my first time reading something by Seanan McGuire, and I was absolutely not prepared for it at all. This is such a beautiful and heart-wrenching story. I loved every second of it.

The characters were all fantastic, I can’t even pick a favourite. I want to know more about all of them, follow them all through their own experiences and how they’re coping with their return to the “real” world. I loved watching their personalities and stories unfold, and seeing how they come closer to finding their own imperfect place in an imperfect world.

The exploration of range of issues such as gender/sexual identity, mental illness and belonging is done so tenderly, and it was refreshing to see that no two characters came away from their experiences with the same responses – even if they went to the same world. Human experience is so varied, and I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see that reflected in a book.

The writing and worldbuilding throughout was spot on. McGuire created the perfect atmosphere for this murder mystery, and none of the beauty was lost even as it became creepier and creepier. The glimpses into the various worlds are tantalising, and I hope that future installments in the series will explore them in more detail.

I highly recommend this novella to anyone with a heart, and I’ll definitely be hunting down more of McGuire’s work.

Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: 5th April 2016
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I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sep 1, 2016 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE AERONAUT’S WINDLASS by Jim Butcher

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predatorto its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

I have been a fan of Jim Butcher since I first picked up a Harry Dresden book. His short, snappy writing style has always been perfect to slip in between the longer series I usually read. So, when I found out that he was writing a longer series – one with airships no less! – I was very excited.

While I’d hesitate to say it’s my favourite of all his books, The Aeronaut’s Windlass is full of all the things I like about Jim Butcher – it has a great plot, it has interesting characters, and it has a sassy feline. I’m not sure I could ask for anything better.

Grimm wasn’t one of my favourites, he was a bit prickly and it was hard to connect with him. He was surrounded by a great supporting crew though, so I found that easy to overlook. Overall, I liked Gwen, but there were a few moments where I rolled my eyes at her, she was a little exasperating. Bridget and Rawl, however, were very fun. I really enjoyed the feline society, and he definitely nailed their mannerisms perfectly. My absolute favourites though, were Master Etherialist Ferry and Folly – their whimsy was a constant delight throughout the whole book and I really look forward to seeing more of them.

Ultimately Jim Butcher has done exactly what he does best – written an action-packed, character driven novel that keeps one interested all the way until the end. I’m looking forward to seeing whether he can keep the momentum up throughout the rest of the series.

Publisher: Hachette Australia
Release Date: 29th September 2015
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Aug 25, 2016 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: INQUISITOR by Mitchell Hogan

Inquisitor Angel Xia, former mercenary turned detective, is used to being the hunter. But on another routine murder investigation the bodies begin to pile up, and Angel finds herself a target of sinister powers determined to conceal the truth.
The hunter has just become the hunted.
Betrayed by those she trusted most, and barely escaping assassination attempts, Angel receives a cryptic message from child begging for her help. Framed for horrific crimes, the only chance to clear her name is inextricably linked to a little girl – but the enemy is on her heels.
Running for her life, Angel races to forgotten places at the edges of known space that hold the darkest secrets of humanity…and the greatest threat to its future.

And all will be determined by what she chooses to do next. That is…if she can stay alive.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge sci-fi fan. The majority  of the time, the science side of things is so far beyond me that I simply can’t enjoy the story – I don’t understand enough about the theory to know what’s going on. So, when I find something that isn’t just understandable, but enjoyable, well I just cling to that book like the world is ending.

This is one such book.

I really enjoyed how it moved through several genres as the story progressed and developed, but without losing its way. It kept the plot fresh and moving. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews of Mitchell’s work, he has an excellent sense of rhythm with his work, and is fantastic at keeping the plot moving at a relatively quick pace, without sacrificing detail, character development or worldbuilding.

I also really enjoyed the characters, it was hard not to feel for Angel as she navigated her harsh new world. Charlotte-Rose creeped the hell out of me, but that was also fantastic in its own way. Everyone ought to be creeped out sometimes, and she was definitely intriguing.

Highly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in sci-fi, it’s well worth the time spent.

Publisher: Self published
Release Date: 12th June 2015
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Aug 21, 2016 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: PRINCE OF FOOLS by Mark Lawrence

The Red Queen is dreaded by the kings of the Broken Empire as they dread no other.

Her grandson Jalan Kendeth – womaniser, gambler and all-out cad – is tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures.

Until, that is, he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axeman and dragged against his will to the icy north…

I’m a little bit slow to read anything by Mark Lawrence, and this was my first foray into his work. Of course, now I’m kicking myself for not having picked up anything earlier!

This was such an easy book to read – not because it was simple, but because it was so engrossing that I had a lot of difficulty stopping for essential needs. The plot was brilliant, with the worldbuilding and plot reveals drip fed at just the right pace. And the characters! You quickly and easily get a great sense of who Jalan and Snorri are, and I found myself quite invested in both their stories almost immediately.

I was particularly fond of Jalan, he’s a bit of a fool and a bit of a coward, but he also ultimately ends up doing the right thing. He is immensely quotable and relatable, and I often found myself chuckling at his observations.

“I would miss the horse. I’ve never liked walking. If God had meant man to walk he wouldn’t have given us horses. Wonderful animals. I think of them as the word escape, covered in hair and with a leg at each corner.”

Mark Lawrence has a brilliant way with words, he’s just exceptionally good at creating sentences. It is, as far as I’m concerned, a type of sorcery – one that should be shared with as many people as possible. I highly recommend anyone that likes endearing, morally-ambiguous characters dumped in a brilliant epic fantasy setting pick up this book immediately.

Publisher: Harper Voyager AU
Release Date: 1st May 2015
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I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Australian SF Snapshot 2016 – Kirilee Barker

Kirilee Barker is a twenty-something writer from Brisbane, Australia. Her first novel, The Book of Days, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. She also received the John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers, and is in no way trying to pad this bio out, no sir.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m backpacking around Europe/Asia with my boyfriend for ten months, which has put a damper on writing time, but inspiration can spark in the strangest places and I was on an overnight train from Munich to Rome when I came up with the idea for my current WIP. It’s an odd epistolary novel about trying to restore the French monarchy, a girl who can grant people’s heart’s desire, and the 1889 Paris World’s Fair. It’s currently called Odd Novel I Can’t Genrify, so we’ll see what comes of it!

You also enjoy cosplay, do you have a go-to character, or do you play someone new each time?

I enjoy the costuming side of cosplay more than anything else, so I tend to care more about whether the character has an awesome look than having a go-to character. That being said, after certain badass events in the last episode of Game of Thrones, I might have to cosplay Cersei again. She is my drunk, evil spirit animal.

You can also check out my cosplay adventures and thoughts on tumblr at gallimaufrygirl.

The Book of Days ended with plenty of wiggle room for a sequel – do you have any plans to write any more of Tuesday’s adventures?

I would love to write a whole series about Tuesday! I’m about 30 000 words into the fully-plotted sequel, but I just wasn’t loving it, so I took a break to work on some new stuff. But if people want to read more about Tuesday and the gang, I’ll always be happy to write it.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

It might not be current, but I recently read Rosamond Siemon’s The Mayne Inheritance and loved it. I’ve been on a true crime kick recently and it definitely scratched the itch.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Having just taken some pretty long plane trips, I know that I’m not in the mood to chat to anyone during them, so maybe a long-dead author that I could kick off the seat next to me to get some more leg room? Maybe Shakespeare? I’m sure he’d write a sonnet about it.


Check out other interviews from 2016’s Australian SF Snapshot here.

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Australian SF Snapshot 2016 – Kylie Chan

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Kylie Chan married a Hong Kong national in a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony in Eastern China, and lived in Hong Kong for ten years as an information technology trainer and consultant. When she returned to Australia she studied martial arts, Buddhist and Taoist philosophy, and brought these together in her nine-book ‘Dark Heavens’ Chinese mythology-based fantasy series published by Voyager-HarperCollins worldwide. She is currently working with University of Queensland academic Dr Kim Wilkins on a research higher degree investigating the new wave of digital self-publishing. Kylie is based in Brisbane.


Black Jade sees the end of an epic series. How does it feel to close the door on a world that has been such a big part of your life for so long?

It was epic, and it felt very strange to not have any more John and Emma to write. That said, I’m planning a spinoff for one of the main characters, John’s daughter Simone, who will be a young adult in tertiary study having to deal with the aftermath of the end of the series and its consequences for her. My ability to create this is predicated on having enough access and research to be able to authentically and respectfully depict local Australian spirits – because the daughter of a powerful Chinese spirit would undoubtedly come across the locals. If I can’t do that then I won’t go there.

At Contact you spoke about The Bento Net as part of your Guest of Honour speech. For those that weren’t there, can you tell us more about it?

It’s all Queenie’s idea! It’s leveraging the new paradigm of print-on-demand in an extremely creative way. People originally thought that print-on-demand would be printing machines in bookstores – instead it’s turned out to be localised printing facilities that can print limited numbers of copies of selected books – instead of the huge offset print runs, these digital presses can print as few as a single copy of a book. The BentoNet (www.thebentonet.com) connects publishers who use the print-on-demand facilities provided by IngramSpark with bookstores who can act as distribution points.

A customer buys the publisher’s book through the BentoNet, and the BentoNet passes the order to the bookstore. The customer can then collect the book direct from the store (driving foot traffic into stores!) or have the book shipped directly to them. If a book is particularly successful then the store can order more copies to put on their shelves. Books are printed locally in the state or country where they are to be delivered to, so shipping costs are reduced. It’s a win situation for everybody.

We’re in our first month of production and it’s worked well so far – and now Queenie is setting up world-wide printing and distribution through IngramSpark’s print-on-demand service.

Congrats on the new contract with Voyager! What can you tell us about your new trilogy?

Exploding Space Dragons! It’s a straight-up science fiction romp, with space ships and aliens and interstellar political intrigue, set three hundred years in the future. I’m half-done with the first novel in the trilogy and having a lot of fun with it.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I’ve been lost in Kate Forsyth’s Dragonclaw series, and Alan Baxter’s Alex Caine series.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Can I sit between my two besties Isobelle Carmody and Marianne de Pierres? The three of us have an absolute blast at Oz Comic-Con together, we take photos of the cosplay and share our shopping. Being part of the writing community has made me so many terrific friends!


Check out other interviews from 2016’s Australian SF Snapshot here.

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Australian SF Snapshot 2016 – Nicole Murphy

nicole murphyNicole has been telling stories for as long as she can remember and been writing them down since primary school. She’s had five novels published – three as Nicole Murphy (the Dream of Asarlai trilogy with HarperCollins Australia) and two as Elizabeth Dunk (contemporary romance with Escape Publishing).

Her two main occupations thus far in her life – teaching and journalism – have taught her a great deal about writing. As a teacher, having to explain the nuances of story to young children helped to hone the information in her mind. As a journalist, Nicole has won awards for her writing (in particular a series of articles on mental illness) and has interviewed people such as Gary McDonald, Noeline Brown and Roy Billing. She is now onto her third occupation – professional conference organiser where again, her writing skills are at the fore.

This year has been quite full on for you (to put it mildly!), do you have plans to return to writing before the end of the year?

It’s been a year I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The fact I was able to stop writing for several months and I didn’t care told me how little I had in the tank to write. I think if I’d tried I would have created crap. Thank goodness for fabulous publishers who are happy to give you a break when needed. I’ll definitely be writing again soon. I’m starting to get itchy – ideas flooding my head, fingers literally itching to type at times. I’m thinking I’ll be easing back into it by the end of the month.

How do you balance your time between the spec fic and romance writing? Have you ever found that a story that started in one genre worked better in the other?

Up until the last year I’ve only had a contract for one genre or the other at a time so it’s been easy. Now I have two contracts so I have to be really strict with myself about when I work on what. I tend to plan out my year (because I have to fit it around work) and I focus on one project at a time which helps. My main issue is keeping romantic relationships out of all the spec fic – but it’s such fun!

Can you give us any sneak peeks of future projects?

I have two more contemporary romances coming out over the next 12-18 months. Then there is the new Gadda trilogy which I’m working on with Ticonderoga Publishing. Fans of the first trilogy will meet a whole new group of characters but their favourites are still there from the first books and things aren’t going brilliantly for them all… Plus someone is going to make a surprising comeback.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Defying Doomsday was just amazing. Such fantastic stories that just happened to feature people with disabilities of various kinds. I’m so in awe of the amazing short story writers out there. Also I’m lucky to be an Aurealis Awards judge but you’ll have to wait until next year to find out the great books I’m reading there.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Wow – what a question! Ok – Jane Austen. I might as well fan-girl out properly and I adore her work. But really I’d be happy sitting and gasbagging with anyone in the industry here in Aus. We’re an awesome bunch!


Check out other interviews from 2016’s Australian SF Snapshot here.

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Australian SF Snapshot 2016 – Dirk Strasser

dirk strasser

Dirk Strasser has won multiple Australian Publisher Association Awards and a Ditmar for Best Professional Achievement. His short story, “The Doppelgänger Effect”, appeared in the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology, Dreaming Down Under. His fiction, including his fantasy trilogy The Books of Ascension: Zenith, Equinox and Eclipse, has been translated into a number of languages. A collection of his short stories, Stories of the Sand, was recently published. His most recent short story publication has been “The Mandelbrot Bet” in the Tor anthology Carbide Tipped Pens. He founded the Aurealis Awards and has co-published and co-edited Aurealis magazine for over 25 years.

Aurealis is the longest running spec fic magazine in Australia. What do you attribute its success and longevity to?

Aurealis has been publishing continuously for 26 years, and we’ll reach our 100th issue milestone next year, so one thing you can say is that Aurealis hasn’t been a flash in the pan! A lot has changed in the time we’ve been publishing. We didn’t have email when we started, the first editions were laid out in old-fashioned physical paste-up, and the first covers were done using only three block colours without colour mixing. Looking back, it’s hard to see how we got through the early days.

I think the main reason we’ve lasted so long with such sustained success through all this change is our adaptability. I’m not a great believer in and head-wall banging when what you’re doing is no longer working. When we find that something that was once successful for us doesn’t work anymore, we change our strategy. We’ve gone through phases of full national newsagency distribution, bookstore distribution, high-volume overseas print distribution, and now we’re digital only. Just this year we changed again in our push to go global. We decided that we would open up to overseas authors while at the same time maintaining the number of Australian stories we published each year. The result will be that even more people around the world will be aware of what’s being published in Australian SF.

We’ve changed the process of story selection over the years. We’ve changed the editorial structure a number of times. We’ve encouraged a constant influx of new people and new ideas. We’ve also adapted in our story choices over the years and have deliberately avoided being stuck on a certain type of SF story. Anyone who’s read Aurealis knows almost any sort of speculative fiction can pop up. If it’s good, we’ll publish it.

Over the course of your career, you’ve been on both sides of the editing table. Do you approach editing your work differently to editing others?

It’s harder to edit your own work. I think you unintentionally skim more when reading your own fiction. You read what you think you’ve written sometimes, not what’s actually on the page. You read in a particular tone inside your head that sometimes doesn’t match the way other people would read the words. The best way to avoid this is to leave your draft lying dormant for as long as possible before you edit it. That way you can approach it closer to the way a new reader would approach it.

In the last Snapshot, you said that writers should inspire trends. What trends would you like to inspire over the next few years, either through Aurealis or your own work?

There always seems to be a new wave of writers coming along that are inspired by the very existence of a magazine with the profile of Aurealis within Australia. I would like to think that whatever new trend in SF comes along, it will find a home in Aurealis among the pantheon of previous trends.

In terms of my own writing, I would like to see a trend where SF finally takes its rightful place in the literary mainstream. There are still too many occasions where quality books that are clearly SF are disenfranchised from speculative fiction, science fiction or fantasy labels. We should all be fighting the “if it’s good, it can’t be SF” attitude on all fronts.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I know it was published a while ago, and many people would argue it’s not SF, but the Australian book I’ve had by far t greatest emotional response to in recent times is Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. I would argue that not only is it fantasy, the fantasy element is what gives it its power and depth. What other conclusion can you possibly come to about a book whose narrator is Death? The writing has a haunting simplicity. How can it be anything but fantasy when one of the narrator’s most striking lines is: “I’m haunted by humans”?

Out of recent Aurealis stories, I loved Bentley Reese’s “The Corpse Eater” in Aurealis #92, an unusual mixture of the lyrical and the brutal and Matthew R Ward’s “Surfing Time” due in September’s Aurealis #94, an unusual time travel story with a real twist.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

I would love to have a long chat with China Miéville. The weirdness of his ideas are off the scale, and I would try to get a sense of what his thought processes are, particularly the slake-moths in Perdido Street Station, the mosquito women in The Scar and the concept of unseeing in The City & the City. I’d probably end up trying to get him to change direction from his most recent works that seem to have strayed from “weird and accessible” to “weird and difficult”.


Check out other interviews from 2016’s Australian SF Snapshot here.

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Australian SF Snapshot 2016 – Lara Morgan

lara morganLara Morgan writes for both adults and teens and is the author of The Twins of Saranthium series and The Rosie Black Chronicles.

She lives in a coastal town in Western Australia called Geraldton which is a long way from most places and too close to others.

Her mission is to rid the world of tea, one cup at a time. This is going quite well.

 

You’ve had something of a rocky road getting The Twins of Saranthium published. How does it feel to see the journey reaching its end?

It’s been a great relief to finally get it done as I started writing the third and final book several years ago and to now have it complete feels like a weight lifted. For a while I wasn’t sure if the characters were going to be able to end their journey but I’m glad they have and I think I’m mostly satisfied with how it’s turned out. Is any writer ever totally happy with their finished product?! I only hope the readers who waited so long for the final book are still there!

If you could write a letter to your pre-published self, what advice would you give?

Make a promotion plan and get on it! When I first started I had no idea how much promotion authors are expected to conjure themselves and was really unprepared. I still struggle with working out how I can do my own side of the promotion and what works, what doesn’t, especially given my geographic limitations. I would also probably tell myself to try to write faster and not agonise so much over the details because rewriting is the key, to use the time I had better. Now I have two small children I look back and think of all the time I did have! Hindsight is a cruel mistress.

What’s next for you once the Twins series is complete?

I have ideas for both a young adult and adult novel but right now I’m working on a screenplay for my Rosie Black Chronicle series. It’s slow going but I’m enjoying doing something different. I can’t announce that a film is imminent after I complete it, but I can say watch this space….

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Jaclyn Moriarty’s Colours of Madelaine series is fantastic and Red Queen, Isobelle Carmody’s final Obernewtyn book

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Can I only pick one? I think Urusla Le Guin because I would love to hear her talk about how she writes and writing in general and also because she’s just such a living legend of fantasy and sci fi writing and is one of the trail blazers for women in the field. She’s an inspiration to me. Plus I think she would just be great company.


Check out other interviews from 2016’s Australian SF Snapshot here.

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