The middle book where everything falls to pieces . . .
To be honest, things were dissolving at the end of the first book, but The Shattered City just aThe middle book where everything falls to pieces . . .
To be honest, things were dissolving at the end of the first book, but The Shattered City just amped everything right up to a heightened level of ‘oh my goodness, that can’t happen! Can it?’
We start the book with a lot more knowledge about Aufleur and the Creature Court than when we opened the first book. We know about the many festivals which keep Velody, Delphine and Rhian in work, we know about the power plays and violence and alliances within the Creature Court. So, we’re fully prepared for what’s to come in The Shattered City . . .
In The Shattered City the events of night and day begin to overlap, with the disasters of the night bleeding into the usually bright atmosphere of the day, eating away at the city and its inhabitants. Ashiol points out at the beginning that there’s something bad on the way, as the death of The Ferax Lord has greater repercussions.
One of the (many) repercussions is the cancellation of the city’s festivals – and something which has always seemed a little frivolous turns out to be ritual of the highest importance. The Creature Court are forced to work together, while being deeply distrustful of each other, but it results in one of those ‘oh no, that can’t happen!’ moments which turn our usual understandings of narrative upside down. (Not to mention the ‘turn everything upside down again’ moment which happens late in the book . . . )
This is a really dense book with a lot going on. It wouldn’t have worked as a first book, without all the world and character building which had gone on before. Nor would it work as a last book – there’s too much going on without resolution. It’s a really perfect middle book, amping up the action and carrying the reader along towards the end and into the next book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m really looking forward to the third and final book in the trilogy.
Velody moves to Aufleur to attempt to become a dressmaking apprentice, but late one night she allows a mysterious young man to kiss her and steal theVelody moves to Aufleur to attempt to become a dressmaking apprentice, but late one night she allows a mysterious young man to kiss her and steal the magic she didn’t really know she had. Her life moves on, more or less as it is supposed to, until the Creature Court needs a new leader, and everything begins to unwind.
As the first book in a trilogy, this is definitely setting things up for us. We discover the new world (there are maps!), the way it’s structured, the way people talk and celebrate and relate to each other. We also have to meet the characters – which in the beginning felt a little overwhelming for me, but once I started to get them straight, I realised how much about them all fell into place.
I really love how natural the ‘different’ language feels when you’re reading. Although there’s a glossary available, it’s really not required, because the words work so well in context (plus they’re mostly based on languages we know/use). They work extremely well to build the world of Aufleur and beyond – you can see the prettiness and excitement, but also the risks and dangers of the city – a nice metaphor for the ‘real’ world and the Creature Court world.as well as a parallel with the beautiful, but dangerous Creature Court itself.
The use of animals, and people changing into animals, is something we see a lot of in fantasy. Here, though, I particularly enjoyed the way the Creature Court changes were described, and the way that the connection to animals went beyond a simple transformation. The use of animals continued that ‘lovely to look at, but will bite if it needs to’ feeling that was present throughout the book.
I have to admit that I’m completely, head over heels, in love with so many of the characters. I adore Velody’s devotion to her sewing and her friends and the way she uses these when she finds herself thrust into the Creature Court. I love (and occasionally want to shake) Ash, and the way he’s trying to reconcile his past with the present dangers. My absolute favourites, though, are the sentinels who are interesting and funny and so different from each other (I want them to have more back up, though. I’m very invested in them sticking around)
I finished it. That’s remarkably rare in the stories I’ve read so far [for the Hugo awards]. It was also the first story I read from the nominations wI finished it. That’s remarkably rare in the stories I’ve read so far [for the Hugo awards]. It was also the first story I read from the nominations where I actually cared about the characters at all and I wanted to see how it all ended up. The initial dialogue felt a little stilted, but that relaxed at the story progressed and the general writing was competent. It was also great to see named female characters in different positions – not just referred to in a sexual manner. However the story as a whole felt kind of unbalanced, like we spent too much time on some scenes and not enough on others. I wasn’t thrilled with the whole idea of a story around ‘tricking the aliens with death rituals’ – just not an interesting premise to be and not done in a particularly creative way. I’d read it and enjoy it in a collection of stories but it might not make my review and I don’t think it’s award worthy.
The non-slate story from the 2015 Hugos Novelette category. It had significantly better writing than the other four stories, so all credit to the authThe non-slate story from the 2015 Hugos Novelette category. It had significantly better writing than the other four stories, so all credit to the author and the translator for that. I liked the premise of the story and I really liked the balance between serious and almost whimsical as the story went on. I think the subject matter was well suited to the length, which was notable as well. However, there was a moment where the protagonist expressed such a cliched piece of sexist thought that it really threw me.
The Blackmail Blend is a mini-mystery set between A Trifle Dead and Drowned Vanilla. We can still feel the tension in Tabitha, who maintains that sheThe Blackmail Blend is a mini-mystery set between A Trifle Dead and Drowned Vanilla. We can still feel the tension in Tabitha, who maintains that she never intended to get involved in detective work, and definitely never intended to put herself in danger. There’s also tension lingering within her relationships – she’s not quite sure if she and Leo are going too fast or too slow or both at the same time and who knows what’s going on with Steward.
Meanwhile, a highly admired, yet deeply toxic romance author collapses during a regency high tea at Tabitha’s cafe. Several aspiring authors (who were attending a writing workshop with the author) are suspects while Tabitha really just wants her cafe cleared of any implication.
This is a really fun little mystery, a nice resting point between the two books. Personally, I prefer the more complex mysteries of the longer books, but I really enjoyed this chance to reconnect with the characters. The descriptions of food and tea are particularly well written, sending me to the kitchen searching for something to eat almost immediately.
I think this book would work well as an introduction if you haven’t read either of the others, but it’s also an excellent addition to the world of Tabitha Darling if you’re an established fan.
Recently I’ve spent a lot more time reading anthologies of one type of another. When you read enough of these, you develop a real admiration for goodRecently I’ve spent a lot more time reading anthologies of one type of another. When you read enough of these, you develop a real admiration for good editing in them, the way an editor has selected works, fitted them to the work, moved them around until they’re in the right place and created a cohesive feel to a work made up of many very individual pieces. Good editing highlights the absolute best works, while allowing every work to shine. Good editing also removes that which does not belong.
I was really looking forward to reading Speculative Fiction 2014 – there’s brilliant work being published on blogs and online magazines across the internet and a collection is a great way to enjoy them. However, when you’re essentially curating essays which are free to read, and then charging people for it, you’ve got to get the selection and arranging part of editing right. Speculative Fiction 2014 failed to do this.
There’s an immediate feel of whiplash in this book from the introduction which talks about reaching out into a growing and diverse community to the very first piece of work, A Guide to Fanfiction for People Who Can’t Stop Getting It Wrong by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Aja Romano which scolds and disparages people who don’t approach fanfiction (never fan fiction, according to their rules, if you use fan fiction you’re not ‘one of us’) in the same way they do. It might have been constructed as a funny piece of writing, but in the context of the book – and particularly occupying that opening, setting the scene, place, it comes across as a nasty, generalised and divisive piece of writing, which leaves a bad taste in the mouth for the entirety of the book.
This was followed by a number of articles which were so removed from context (there are links, but you’ve got to care enough to follow them – after the opening piece, I simply didn’t care) that it was hard to figure out why they mattered. Several of the pieces go on way beyond the initial point or completely off on some unrelated and uninteresting tangent – completely normal for blog posts, but really uncomfortable within a book.
Some of the selections felt really unbalanced too. If you only read this book, you might be left with the impression that LonCon (and World Cons by connection) was an uncomfortable experience based on one included essay (with completely valid points, but only one point of view) – this didn’t feel like a complete story compared to other things I read and heard, but nothing else was included about LonCon. Meanwhile, there were rebutting essays to whether authors should talk about their award eligible works and a rebuttal essay on whether or not How To Train Your Dragon 2 was feminist or not. Rebuttal essays are fine (though they can be kind of boring), but there are other ways to express different points of view, or to expand on points of view and those rebuttals don’t always need to be included when curating.
There were extreme highlights, of course N. K. Jemisin’s Wiscon Guest of Honour Speech is still magnificent as is Chinelo Onwualu’s The Unbearable Solitude of Being an African Fan Girl. These works are examples of why Years Bests are important – beautifully written, incredibly powerful and they retain their power even when read out of immediate context (I’m reminded of Julia Gillard’s Misogyny speech which retains the same out of context power). There were also less well known, but equally well written and interesting pieces which stood out and it’s a pity that they were overwhelmed by rambling or poorly chosen pieces or by a general feeling of ‘ugh’ over the entire work after the first piece of writing.
This is an important series of work, and with different editors, each year will look and feel different. I can only hope that the 2015 editors approach their role as curators, including the amazing pieces which are already being written this year, making thoughtful choices about when to leave things balanced or unbalanced and how things go together to make a cohesive picture of the conversations of a wide and diverse community.
When the Hipchicks went to War follows a pretty straight forward story. Kathy is sixteen, living in Brisbane, has left school and is finding herself pWhen the Hipchicks went to War follows a pretty straight forward story. Kathy is sixteen, living in Brisbane, has left school and is finding herself pulled between a growing Vietnam protest movement and loyalty to her brother who has been drafted. After growing bored with her first post-school ‘career’, Kathy turns towards dancing jobs and auditions as a dancer performing for the Australians in Vietnam. However, when she gets there, she discovers it’s very different from what she expected.
I’ve read some comparisons with The Sapphires, however I felt that this was a different story with a different aim, even though there was definitely some crossover themes. Kathy is much more sheltered than the characters in The Sapphires, though – although she’s beginning to learn about the darker edges of the world, she doesn’t have the oppression or fear or sadness in her past the way the other characters do.
I have to admit that I’m an absolute sucker for Brisbane stories, and this one was completely a Brisbane story, even when it went outside Brisbane. The Brisbane of Kathy wasn’t terribly different from the Brisbane I was a young child in, and I could feel the heat, and the boredom and even the atmosphere of the early protest movement which was full of big ideas, while still being quite provincial. I often get sad that there isn’t as many Brisbane stories as stories set in other parts of Australia, so this made me happy.
Other than that, there isn’t really anything outstanding about this book. It’s a good read – fun when it needs to be, sad or suspenseful or upsetting when it needs to be. But it doesn’t really stretch beyond being ‘just a good read’ and it doesn’t really stand up against some of the more recent YA books being released in Australia and beyond. I enjoyed it, I’m glad I read it, I’ll probably seek more from the author, but it wouldn’t make my best-of list.
Sydney’s world is upside down. Her charismatic (and problematic) brother, Peyton has been sent to jail after a horrific drink driving accident. Her paSydney’s world is upside down. Her charismatic (and problematic) brother, Peyton has been sent to jail after a horrific drink driving accident. Her parents are completely wrapped up in his world (or their own world) and she’s beginning at a new, very different school where she knows no one. But a chance visit to a pizza parlour introduces her to the Chathams, a family willing to take her in, share their world and support her when her family continues to drift apart.
I’ve been reading Sarah Dessen books for a few years now – since I discovered them for my classroom – so I kind of knew what to expect going in. Dessen has created a world for her characters – a series of locations and features which repeat from book to book (it’s always a little exciting to try and spot the familiar things from other books.) However, some of her books definitely lean on the darker side than others. Saint Anything is definitely one I consider darker.
Interestingly, it’s not Sydney’s new friends or her ‘dangerous’ new school (moving from a private to a public school) where the danger lies. Instead it’s in the obsessive behaviour her mother shows towards being the best mother over for her incarcerated brother and in the downright creepy behaviour of her brother’s friend Ames. I just wanted to kick her parents for not seeing how inappropriate Ames was and how much uncomfortable he made Sydney feel – Dessen does a brilliant job of making their interactions incredibly upsetting to the reader.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the way Sydney developed friendships with the Chatham family, especially Layla and Mac and moved on to develop friendships with their friends. The whole growing nature of friendship felt very natural – heightened because they’re in a high school environment, but still with a level of slowness about it as they learned more and more about each other and began to trust each other.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to the 12yr and up audience – there’s an awful lot to enjoy in it, and I can see it being one which is shared and passed around and enjoyed.
I’d heard a lot about this book and how much people had enjoyed it, but not specifically what it was about, so I headed into the story of Salisbury FoI’d heard a lot about this book and how much people had enjoyed it, but not specifically what it was about, so I headed into the story of Salisbury Forth without a lot of background knowledge. I found myself in a post-pandemic Melbourne, where a side-effect of a vaccine – sterility – has led to an uprising of the overly and outwardly pious who have banned artificial hormones and labelled those who don’t fit into neat little packages as ‘transgressors’. Adding in rolling power outages and power rationing, and a thriving hormone black market – and those who’d like to destroy it for their own means – and we’re in a world balancing between the familiar and nightmarish.
I was particularly struck by the world building in this book. There’s a lot going on, with the story touching on animal rights, government control over medications, government surveillance, how different subcultures behave under different circumstances and an old fashioned mystery to solve, but most of the time those elements are balanced well and the pieces fit together nicely.
I was thinking that this is a story which works better if you have some knowledge of Melbourne, because it relies on the Melbourne we know today to work (it’s definitely not a story which would work in a Brisbane setting). I read it while I was in Melbourne, so I don’t know how much that influenced my reading of the story – especially as someone holidaying there rather than living there. After a couple of brief discussions at Continuum, I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about how known places work in fiction, so this was book definitely fed and continued those thoughts.
As well as place thoughts, I have thoughts about the medical aspects of the story. The entire story balanced on the vaccine which made people sterile. Most of our vaccination schedule in Australia happens in a child’s first 18 months, so as a parents of a young child, I hear a lot about vaccinations. And inevitably you hear from anti-vaccine people or people who are ‘concerned’ about vaccines (and want to spread that fear to other parents – usually mothers.) So, to have a government sponsored vaccine as the catalyst for the story left me with some heavy moments of ‘hmmm’ and wondering whether to let that impact my enjoyment of the story. Ultimately, I decided to file it in a ‘I don’t like that choice, but it doesn’t impact the overall story’ pile, but I am still thinking on it.
A world where artificial hormones are only available through secretive, illegal means downright terrified me, though. I admit to a complicated history with artificial hormones since they helped me get my son, but they also threatened my life at the same time. I was under the supervision of a highly trained and experienced doctor who had to see me 2-3 times a week to ensure that I was safe. I’m one of those people who just overreacts to artificial hormones, so I can’t imagine absolutely needing them (as many people do for many reasons) but not having that constant care to ensure they’re as safe as possible. (Though, I imagine there’s a lot of people around the world who are put in this situation for financial/organisational/systemic reasons. More things to think on.)
Despite all the deep thinking thoughts the book inspired, it didn’t read to me like a ‘thinking book’. It was a fast-moving adventure of a story with a pretty large cast of characters who (thankfully) were well defined and differentiated from each other. It provided one look at a possible future, while inviting us to look at where we are and what we’re doing at the present time. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m glad I was able to get my hands on it.
Secret Lives of Books was on my list of ‘Absolutely Must Buy’ books to get at Continuum, and I grabbed it almost as soon as I could. One of the absoluSecret Lives of Books was on my list of ‘Absolutely Must Buy’ books to get at Continuum, and I grabbed it almost as soon as I could. One of the absolutely brilliant Twelve Planets series of books, it’s a collection of stories which almost feel like thoughts and dreams.
Rosaleen Love’s writing really felt like nothing I’d come across before. It was so calm and even and you found yourself being lulled into the story, gently carried through it. Until something twists, and you find yourself falling and you absolutely cannot stop reading as you tumble through the space of her stories.
My favourite story was definitely the title one with the man who loved his book collection just a little too intensely. I assume most other readers would also have strong feelings about books and their book collections and would also find themselves having strong feelings about this story. The other stories moved us to bike riders who aren’t really, to Mars explorers (I also adored this world, which was created so simply and so well) to collaborative music makers to feminists who are at the beginning and the end of everything.
The whole book felt completely fresh and new and relevant to me, yet there was an almost nostalgic feel to it – like you should have read it before. I am so thrilled to finally own this and so so happy to ‘discover’ Rosaleen Love’s writing – I only hope others can discover it too.
Disclaimer: Tansy and Stephanie are friends. However, I’d purchased the subscription to RAF before I knew they’d have stories in it
I think I learned aDisclaimer: Tansy and Stephanie are friends. However, I’d purchased the subscription to RAF before I knew they’d have stories in it
I think I learned about Review of Australian Fiction through the Galactic Suburbia podcast while they were discussing Australian awards. It’s a really interesting idea – new Australian short fiction published every two weeks covering a wide range of authors. Plus the price – especially the subscription price – is incredibly reasonable for what you get.
This particular issue came out just before Continuum where Tansy was Guest of Honour and Stephanie was in charge of programming, so I knew I would be meeting both of them and wanted to read it before then. However, I wanted to read both stories again before I reviewed them – and I’m thrilled that they both stood up to my initial thoughts.
Both stories create worlds both familiar and completely new, but in totally different ways. In Fake Geek Girl we find ourselves in a world where magic is the Real and the philosophy and literature and engineering we know are the Unreal. It’s a story of family – both the family/family connections we come with and those which we build around us. We’re plunged into the middle of it all, into a group of friends revolving around the band three of them belong to – a band which sings songs about geeky pursuits, even though the charismatic lead singer isn’t directly involved in those geeky pursuits.
It’s a world where magic sits beautifully alongside the world we know so well. There’s social media and a magical equivalent, there’s fire detectors and excess magic detectors. But there’s also a tension there which is wonderful. It’s very much a world I’d love to see more of and characters I’d like more stories about.
The Dàn Dàn Miàn of the Apocalypse is set in an apocalyptic setting around Melbourne and also looks at family and communities – those we have and those we build. It’s firmly set into the consequences of climate change (you can read some more of Stephanie’s thoughts here – she’s passionate on the subject and it’s a great read) but particularly the human impacts and how that influences our relationships with each other. Plus the Dàn Dàn Miàn sounds fabulous. (Side note – reading this after our trip to Melbourne and our journey on Puffing Billy in a similar area was very different to the reading it before we went)
Review of Australian Fiction is doing some really interesting things, and I highly recommend supporting them with a subscription. If you’re not interested in that, though, I cannot recommend these stories enough. They’re thoughtful and interesting and contain great world building, while allowing the reader the scope to build the world a little ourselves.
This is the beautiful follow up to Ruby Red Shoes, and I’m so thrilled that I was able to find both the books at the same time so I could read straighThis is the beautiful follow up to Ruby Red Shoes, and I’m so thrilled that I was able to find both the books at the same time so I could read straight from one to another. (I’ve also noticed these books popping up in a few more of my local book shops, which is excellent to see.)
In this story, Ruby and her Grandmother are on their way to Paris where they connect with family and explore the city. There’s not much more of a story than that, much like the first book. Instead, we the readers are given a tour through a world both different and familiar to ours, a little like a good travel narrative. We see more of what Ruby’s thinking here, through her letters home to her french speaking chickens and through the notebook entries she makes – almost always about noticing beautiful things.
The beauty of Paris is something which is strongly shown through the book, both through the whimsical illustrations and through the gorgeous, descriptive text.
“The sun is barely awake when Ruby sleepily opens one eye and hears the song of Paris wafting through the window. “It’s a chorus of tooting scooters, bicycle bells, delivery trucks inching down narrow laneways, ladies shoes clipping on cobblestone pavements and a harmony of delicate chinks as coffee cups kiss their saucers.”
You could definitely get a wonderful writing project inspired by the way Ruby writes about what she sees. I really love the way the book shows how Ruby records more than just plain descriptions, showing how she makes connections to the rest of her world. Of course there could also be a great project of writing Ruby Red Shoes fanfiction, sending her off to different parts of the world.
The Ruby Red Shoes books are a little different compared to a lot of other childrens books. They don’t feel like picture books, yet they’re not really beginner reader or middle grades books. I get the feeling we’re going to see more and more books of this kind moving into the future, particularly as graphic novels are now more present and available. Hopefully more stories about Ruby Red Shoes are also in the future.
I first heard about Ruby Red Shoes when I was wrapping up the 2014 Readings Children’s Book Prize (where its sequel was shortlisted). It certainly looI first heard about Ruby Red Shoes when I was wrapping up the 2014 Readings Children’s Book Prize (where its sequel was shortlisted). It certainly looked beautiful, but at the time neither the original or its sequel were easily found in my local bookshops or department stores, so I filed it away in the ‘nice to read it if I ever find it’ part of my mind.
Thankfully, a month or so ago, I did find both the books at my local Target (of all places) and my son then pulled them out of one of my many ‘to read’ piles and insisted on them. So we cuddled together on the couch and were introduced to the lovely world of Ruby (and her Red Shoes)
There’s really no plot to this book. Instead it’s an extended introduction to Ruby and her world and the philosophy her grandmother is using to bring her up. Ruby is a white hare who lives in a beautiful caravan with her grandmother, who wants her to be an aware hare – to treat the feelings of others with great care. We learn about her garden and her Francophile chickens who prefer croissants and baguettes to breadcrumbs and cheat at passionfruit soccer.
This is an incredibly calming book. The illustrations are soft and pretty with lots of gentle curves and the text is full of comforting words and phrases like ‘warm and cosy’ and ‘places to drift off and snooze’. My particular favourite paragraph talks about the caravan Ruby and her grandmother share and how it’s full of things they love:
“There are generous teacups for hot drinks feathery quilts to snuggle up in jars of colourful buttons and posies of flowers in pots and jugs”
This reminded me of so many friends and the way they fill their homes with warmth and beauty. To share this with a child is like sharing an ideal of a warm and cosy home, while reminding them that things we cherish aren’t necessarily the big and expensive.
As soon as we finished reading it (well, around the time my son was insisting we read it again), I knew I wanted to share this little gem of a book with other people. With the friends who create little nests for their families, for my mother in law who would just fall absolutely in love with the chickens, with my mother who would fall in love with the art throughout and with other children who’d just like to step into such a beautiful world.
This would also be a wonderful book to use in the classroom when talking about settings and feelings of a story. I think there could also be a particularly interesting conversation about books and stories without plots and of course it would be brilliant for a quiet readaloud during a hectic day....more