I do enjoy a bit of a crime romp, with a sassy but imperfect heroine and a supporting case of intriguing and maybe disreputable characters. Marianne DI do enjoy a bit of a crime romp, with a sassy but imperfect heroine and a supporting case of intriguing and maybe disreputable characters. Marianne Delacourt’s Sharp Shooter delivers on both counts, with the bonus of being set in an Australian city. Delacourt’s Perth is a step to the left of the real Perth, but there’s plenty that’s recognisable about my old stomping grounds.
Tara Sharp, former basketballer and aura-reader, seems to be failing spectacularly at life, but getting a little guidance from one Mr Hara sets her on a new path. Trying to use her aura-reading skills to establish herself as a professional body-language interpreter, Tara ends up on the wrong side of a notorious criminal, his notoriously dangerous lawyer and a number of notorious-to-demented people, one or more of whom seem to want her dead.
At the same time, Tara is negotiating her attraction to a man she’s meant to be spying on, the demands of her friends and parents and, well, trying to be a proper grown up. The way to keep out of trouble is to keep her head down and her mouth shut. That gets a bit hard when, first up, you’re not a woman who knows how to shut up and, secondly, when someone, as a favour, has painted your Monaro burnt orange with racing flame insignia.
It’s all as hectic and occasionally ludicrous as you can imagine from that premise. It’s also immense fun. There’s action, awkward situations, unresolved sexual tension, unlikely friends, running like the clappers and a general sense of whirlwind adventure, with just a whisper of the paranormal. A rollicking good read!...more
I reviewed the first of George Ivanoff’s YA adventure series, Gamers’ Quest, on my old blog, and said how much I enjoyed it.
I was delighted, then, thaI reviewed the first of George Ivanoff’s YA adventure series, Gamers’ Quest, on my old blog, and said how much I enjoyed it.
I was delighted, then, that this fast-paced fresh book had a sequel – Gamers’ Challenge – and even moreso to find out that George is in the throes of writing a third book in the series.
Gamers’ Challenge follows not long after the end of Gamers’ Quest where two games characters, Tark and Zyra, have defied the game designers, broken their programming with a kiss and chosen to live outside the rules of the game.
Of course, breaking the rules has consequences. They are no longer perennial teens who find game-play convenient tools and challenges as part of the game they once played: they need to sleep now, their hair grows and they get acne, for a start.
A more serious consequence is that balls of static energy now appear to be trying to kill them too.
Tark and Zyra finally meet with other people who have broken their programs and become ‘Outers’. They also learn that there are ‘cheats’, prophecies about escaping into the real world.
Gamers’ Challenge builds logically on the original world, where the characters inhabit a gaming environment full of strange magic, technomagic and technology. We find out more about Tark and Zyra’s environment, and the other gaming environments around them. There are new friendships (and not so friendly relationships) and mysteries to explore, but there’s also plenty of action and tension.
The characters are engaging and are certainly more than the simple gaming characters they were designed to be. Brave, loyal and flawed, Tark, Zyra, Hope and the others keep you caring about their fates and the fate of their world. Even the Ultimate Gamer and the Outers, though less the point of focus, have more going on that initially meets the eye.
George Ivanoff continues to write fun, fast-paced adventures for younger readers. The Gamers series might particularly appeal to boys, and the original book was listed on both the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge and the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge....more
The trends in paranormal fiction have been moving on apace from the vampire standard. Werewolves and zombies have taken their turn as protagonists, anThe trends in paranormal fiction have been moving on apace from the vampire standard. Werewolves and zombies have taken their turn as protagonists, and in the last few years angels have moved onto the scene. I haven’t really sought out any of the angelic paranormal fiction, partly because the one attempt I made was full of wafty, superior, rarified and, well, angelic characters that I found a bit dull. I wasn’t sure how the basic background was ever going to translate into textured and rather more human personalities, which I prefer.
Then Text Publishing sent me Paula Weston’s Shadows, the first book in the new Rephaim series, and I thought: Oh, this is how it works!
The story is narrated by Gaby, a young woman living in a Queensland beachside town, as she nurses her still tender wounds, a year after the terrible car accident that killed her twin brother.
The trouble is that Gaby isn’t quite what she thinks she is, and there are a lot of people who want to know what actually happened to her and her brother Jude. Well, I say people, but really, all of these visitors, who wish to visit varying degrees of agression on Gabe, are actually the Nephilim, the half-human, half-angel children of fallen angels. They call themselves the Rephaim now, and they are far from what one might think of as angelic.
One of the first on the scene is Rafa, a warrior who featured in Gaby’s recurring nightmares of fighting with demons. Only – are they dreams or memories? Is Rafa a friend or a foe? As those seeking Gaby and Jude start showing up in idyllic Pandanus Beach, the question of allegiances is shifting constantly, because Gaby-now doesn’t remember who she was, or what her alliances were then. She doen’t know who to trust, but then her very human friends get tangled up in these skirmishes and, like it or not, Gaby has to start doing something about it all. But who’s got her back, and will she ever remember who she was?
The story goes at a cracking pace from page one, and is full of fabulous, full-bodied characters like Rafa and Mags, Gaby’s best friend. There’s action, sexual tension, suspense and some hairy moments where Gaby is called upon to do things she can’t remember how to do. Some of the unanswered questions are frustrating, but there the reader shares Gaby’s frustration, because she can’t work out who she was and what happened to her, let alone who to trust.
The Australian setting is distinctive without being overwhelming, and the writing flows smoothly (and with frequent wit) as it rockets along to the conclusion. This first part of the story is wrapped up, although obviously, as the first in a series, there are still a lot of things to learn when you read the last page.
In any case, if you’re a bit lary of angelfic, as I was, this is a great story with a rollicking pace and engaging characters, so if you’re going to try the genre, this is a good place to dip your feathers in the water....more
A mixed bag, but a few weak stories are redeemed by gems like the interactions and mystery of The Devil's Foot, the cleverness of the Bruce PartingtonA mixed bag, but a few weak stories are redeemed by gems like the interactions and mystery of The Devil's Foot, the cleverness of the Bruce Partington Plans (where Holmes and Watson yet again get up to a little breaking & entering) and the macabre Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (where Watson gets to shine s but at the end, having made a hash of it to start with). ...more
A terrific selection of vampire short stories inspired by Australia. From urban to rural settings, using mythologies from Aboriginal legend to Chines
A terrific selection of vampire short stories inspired by Australia. From urban to rural settings, using mythologies from Aboriginal legend to Chinese vampires in the 1850s goldfields, the stories have breadth and depth of imagination. If you're looking for something a bit different in the vampire genre, you're bound to find it here. ...more
I’ve heard a lot about the publisher, Angry Robot, spoken of with enthusiasm and maybe a little awe by the likes of Alisa Krasnostein of Twelfth PlaneI’ve heard a lot about the publisher, Angry Robot, spoken of with enthusiasm and maybe a little awe by the likes of Alisa Krasnostein of Twelfth Planet Press and Tasmanian writer, Tansy Rayner Roberts. I had no idea Walking the Tree was an Angry Robot book, so I was killed two curiosity-birds with one e-purchase. The main reason for the purchase was to find out more about Kaaron Warren, who was also spoken of with much admiration.
Walking the Tree tells of a group of women who chosen to be ‘teachers’, who take a group of kids from their home village of Ombu on a pilgrimage around their island home, Botanica. The women are seeking other communities in which to settle and bear children (doing so within their own communities is taboo, because they are too closely related to the menfolk). The children go to learn about their world and the different societies that inhabit it. We see the journey mainly through the eyes of Lillah.
It took a little while to get my head around Walking the Tree. I definitely liked the writing style and the ideas. The world of Botanica was intricately built, both in its people and in the societies that lived around the girth of the giant tree that swallowed up the middle of the island. And when I say ‘giant’, I mean that the characters who go on the traditional pilgrimage around the tree know it will take five years to do so.
Five years. That’s one big-ass tree.
It took a little while to warm to the voice Warren use to tell the story. It has a quality of fable about it, like a very old fashioned fairy tale or Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia. The story didn’t unfold the way I expected it to, either. I’ve was expected an adventure story, following Lillah’s journey of self-discovery, perhaps. And it’s not that there isn’t one of those. But while Lillah seems to be at the centre of the story, she’s actually just the eyes through which we see the centre. Which is the tree and all the societies around it.
And about half way through the book, I got it. The purpose of the story is not to unravel and delve into the person of Lillah – it’s to unravel the world.
Walking the Tree is not one woman’s ‘adventure’. It’s more like a modern Chaucer’s Tales or The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s a science fiction fable.
The quality of the writing and the vividly drawn world kept me involved even when I wasn’t sure what kind of story I was reading. And once I cottoned on, well, the whole book crystallised for me.
Kaaren Warren, in taking us on this pilgrimage around the tree, shows us intricate layers of ideas and meaning about women, relationships, belief and society. Each society has different attitudes to the tree, to men and women, to the ocean and to death, creating a fabulous well that Lillah and the other pilgrims can dip into to unravel the ways that humanity is still, well, very human.
The characters are more than archetypes, though they are less individual, perhaps, than the world they inhabit. Lillah and her young charge, Morace, are intriguing and able guides to the world.
I’m glad I found a way to look at the book that clicked for me. It took my enjoyment of the prose to another level, to enjoy the entire spirit of the book. ...more
The Essential Lucy Sussex is 500-odd pages of some of the most textured, intelligent, witty, erudite and imaginative spec fic ever produced. That’s noThe Essential Lucy Sussex is 500-odd pages of some of the most textured, intelligent, witty, erudite and imaginative spec fic ever produced. That’s not what took me so long to read it, though. The book is also bloody heavy, which created certain problems with trying to keep it open as I read over breakfast. The whole experience prompted a blog post about some things I really like about e-books.
The physical weight of the thing notwithstanding, this collection is full of heft on its own accord. Which isn’t to say it isn’t also sometimes melancholy, funny or even surprising. The 25 stories that make up this collection are textured and fabulous.
Particular favourites in a book stuffed full of goodness are:
My Lady Tongue: This SF story about the vibrant Saffy, from a wimmin’s commune, getting injured and ending up in the care of her natural enemy, a man remains as fresh and exciting as the first time I read it. It references Shakespeare, particularly Beatrice and Benedick and their sharp, sparring dialogue. Such a fresh, lively voice in Saffy, is a joy to read and re-read.
Duchess: I’m not much into fashion, but this story make me see the attraction, with this intelligent, outrageous character and the suggestions of displacement in time, though it could just be madness.
Ardent Clouds: Love, volcanoes and disaster. Beautiful.
La Sentinelle: An intriguing take on the legendof the golem. I’ve always thought lifelike dolls were kind of creepy. This story has set the seal on that opinion.
Something Better than Death: This is a modern take and entertaining analysis of the folk tale of The Musicians of Bremen. It demonstrates Lucy’s capacity to go off in surprising directions, though admittedly, most of her stories do that.
Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies: A sly and entertaining retelling of the Waltzing Matilda story by the other witness to those (and related) events.
The collection contains a lot of stories playing with history, versions of reality, research and discovery, and twists on old folk tales. Every story shines a lot on something you knew nothing about, or thought you knew but didn’t really.
LucySussex was born in New Zealand but now lives in Melbourne. She’s researched and travelled widely, and has done Australian literature the great service of rediscovering one of the nation’s (and first) nineteenth century crime writers, Mary Fortune. Her awesomeness has many facets and very possibly no limits.
If you haven’t heard of Lucy Sussex, you should have. This amazing collection of her body of work spannign almost 20 year is not the whole of Lucy Sussex, but I’d agree it’s essential.
If you feel a bit daunted by the size of the book, get Lucy’s Twelve Planets book, Thief of Lives, first. You’ll be rushing to get her back catalogue once you’ve whet your appetite....more
Bad Power contains five short stories set in a world where there are people with powers, though no superheroes. Instead, people slowly come to realiseBad Power contains five short stories set in a world where there are people with powers, though no superheroes. Instead, people slowly come to realise that they have abilities – some of them very subtle – and have to confront what it means for their everyday lives.
Anyone who has read Biancotti’s Book of Endings will already be familiar with her ability to infuse the everyday - the mundanely human - with a sense of creeping horror. Her work is full of the textures of human frailty as well as strength.
Biancotti has other qualities as a writer, too. I love how distinctive each of her characters is. Everyone has their own voice, the way they speak in their dialogue as well as how they think and act.
The eponymous story, Bad Power, features the very distinctive voice of an unnamed woman. It’s not easy to write a dialectical patois without sounding awkward or somehow pantomime, but Biancotti is seamless. It’s full of surprises too, but as the revelations come they always feel natural, as though now the truth is out, you always suspected it was there.
The story comes midway through the collection, and we’re led there through the gently interconnected stories. In Shades of Grey, the futilely suicidal Esser Grey meets Detective Palmer, who has troubles of her own. These are explored in more detail in Palming the Lady, and the consequences of her investigation of a stalker continue in Web of Lies, one of the creepiest and least expected stories of the collection.
The young doctor, Matthew Webb, who hears things, surfaces in Bad Power, while characters from that tale meet up with others we’ve met before along with Ponti, a detective with a knack for finding lost children, in Cross that Bridge.
You can see how the characters are echoed in the story titles as well as weaving around each other in the stories. Even in a world without powers, bad or otherwise, we all have an effect on each other. The ripples and whorls of individual choices are visible throughout this satisfying little book.
Bad Power is satisfying – yet also leaves you craving more. I want to read more about this world that has super powers but no super heroes. Hell, I just want more Biancotti....more
While I don't read erotic fiction on a regular basis, I do enjoy the occasional dip into those torrid waters. I have some strong opinions, however, onWhile I don't read erotic fiction on a regular basis, I do enjoy the occasional dip into those torrid waters. I have some strong opinions, however, on what I call the plot-to-porn ratio. I like a lot more plot than porn.
Vampire Vacation, luckily, has a good, fast-paced plot in between its detailed and sensual erotic interludes. Dria, more commonly known as Vivian to her clientele, runs a vacation spot for vampires in Alaska, where it's dark half the year. She has a staff of trusted humans who volunteer as room service for the visiting vampires, and a human husband, Rafe.
On this particular occasion, however, a mangled human body is found in one of the guest rooms before the guests arrive. It soon becomes clear that an old enemy has shown up to get his revenge. Vivian has to protect her guests, her staff, her husband and her own old secrets while trying to get to the enemy first.
One of the things that's special about the VV Inn is the illusions that Vivian can weave around everyone. She has a reputation for running an establishment that helps people (and vampires) ditch their inhibitions and have really, really good sex. Story-wise, this means a lot of voyeurism and Vivian's fairly frequent need to burn off that sexual tension with her hunky husband. In that sense, the story is almost a little coy, with the most explicit scenes happening between a loving couple.
Elements of the story I found a little difficult. Some of the ethics over the illusions that Vivian casts are problematic, though perhaps, since she's a vampire with a dark and rather ruthless past,this shouldn't be surprising. One scene at the end, venting sexual jealousy between Rafe and the werewolf Jon, who has the hots for Vivian, I found fairly unpleasant. Yet, on the whole, it's a good read. Dramatic tension, adventure, conflict and, as you'd expect, hot sex scenes abound. It's a rollicking read and leaves the stage set for a plot-driven sequel....more
A great, fun read with a smart and engaging protagonist and a mystery to solve. Pandora English comes from a small town, where she went to live with aA great, fun read with a smart and engaging protagonist and a mystery to solve. Pandora English comes from a small town, where she went to live with a strict aunt after her parents died in Egypt. It's been drilled into her that she has strange fancies that her just her imagination, but the reader can see long before Pandora accepts it that she can see ghosts and has premonitions.
Pandora arrives in New York at the start of the book to stay with her elderly Great Aunt Celia, hoping to break into journalism at a fashion magazine. But there are many mysteries, starting with her great aunt's strange youthfulness and the peculiar suburb of Spektor, which doesn't seem to be on any maps, and proceeding to the disappearance of her predecessor at Pandora Magazine, the creepiness of a new skin creme called BloodofYouth and the secrets of a nasty supermodel.
I'm not really that interested in fashion, so I was pleased that Moss hit just the right note for me in the fashion-related sections of the text. Pandora wants to be a journalist, so her interests go beyond clothes and shoes, but she has a healthy respect for style and elegance. :)
Her encounters with the Civil War ghost Luke are sweet, and it turns out that she can fend for herself fairly well with both the New York fashion magazine scene and the paranormal creatures she increasingly encounters throughout the story.
The basics of the story wrap up but there are loose ends, and I'm looking forward to reading the next instalment to find out what's going to happen with the human, handsome Jay, the spectral Luke and the attitudes of Pandora's editors at the magazine....more
I supported the production of this book as a Kickstarter project, so I was interested to find out whether I'd actually like the final product. The horI supported the production of this book as a Kickstarter project, so I was interested to find out whether I'd actually like the final product. The horror I mostly read is vampire fiction, though I've been expanding my reading in the genre lately.
Attic Clowns is a surprise, in some ways. It starts as very surreal and almost more comic than horrific. As the short stories come along, they remain surreal, but more comes through in the way of themes and ideas. Of course, weird and sometimes evil clowns that live in attics feature strongly, but their role as metaphors for the horrors humans have in their own heads is pretty clear.
I loved that the stories were much more varied and textured than I'd initially expected. Some were funny, some were strangely compassionate, though they were all fairly creepy.
Shipp explores love, loss, grief, resentment, revenge, hope and acceptance throughout the stories.
Particular favourites were The Ascension of Globcow the Footeater, where a demonic imp goes to heaven to find redemption, under the tutelage of a rather pompous angel. Blister is also terrific, dealing as it does with grief.
Attic Clowns is a great little collection, with texture and thoughtfulness as well as a lot of creepy clowns with spiders for eyes....more
The basic plot is that Prudence and her four sisters, through the premature death of their parents, have been living with their vicious and abusive grThe basic plot is that Prudence and her four sisters, through the premature death of their parents, have been living with their vicious and abusive grandfather. When he breaks his ankle chasing Prudence in order to give her a thrashing, she sets an enterprising plan in motion. She'll soon be 21 and allowed to have guardianship over her sisters, but one of them needs to be married in order to also have the inheritance that will support them all.
They run away to London to stay with their kindlier Uncle Oswald, but since he considers Prudence so plain, he won't allow the others to debut until she is safely married off (otherwise she'll never snag a husband, what with the competition of her much more stunning sisters.) The trouble is, Prudence has a secret fiance, and she can't tell her uncle without giving the whole game away that they've run away from the hideous grandfather, who no-one will believe is such a brute.
So Prudence pretends she's secretly engaged to the Duke of Dinsborough, safely living as a hermit in Scotland. Only he isn't. He's in London, looking for a wife.
Shenanigans ensue, complete with wild fabrications, fake engagements, mistaken identities, secrets withheld and revealed, dastardly deeds and dashing rescues.
Prudence is strong, intelligent and full of heart, but bound by her honour, which is the only thing left she has to call her own. Despite a traumatic past, she has spirit and an excellent sense of the ridiculous. Lord Gideon Carradice is a gadabout with a reputation as a rake. He has a wicked sense of humour and he teases Prudence almost constantly, but underneath it all he is kind and gentle. Together, they are infuriating and hilarious.
The story is set in the Regency period, but the trappings of the time are just that. The characters feel fairly modern, but the setting provides a charming backdrop and reasons for some very old-fashioned (and occasionally arcane) attitudes. What romance is not improved by the insertion of a ball, after all? The Austen-esque ambience mixed with some daring love scenes is a fun combination.
While not as complex and detailed as Austen, nor indeed as historically authentic, The Perfect Rake evokes the era sufficiently for its purposes. Naturally, as a romance there are certain elements of the pacing and timing of events that are a bit predictable, but in the context of this being a light, fun read, I found I could easily forgive a little obviousness. Gracie may be manipulating my emotional reactions, but hell, she does it so well and with such lightness and good humour, I'm happy to let her.
The Perfect Rake is a fine, fun, frequently hilarious adventure in love. If you want to dip into the romance genre, this is an excellent place to begin....more
For my third book of the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge, I decided to go non fiction, and picked up Kirsten Otto's Capital. The book traceFor my third book of the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge, I decided to go non fiction, and picked up Kirsten Otto's Capital. The book traces the political and social life of Melbourne from 1901 to 1927, the years that Melbourne was Australia's capital city while Canberra was being built.
As you can tell from the dates, this was a tumultuous period of Australia's history. The joy of becoming a single, federated nation with our own parliament led to a robust and thriving society. Patriotic feeling was still surging when hostilities in Europe broke out and Australia went to war in support of Great Britain, still considered the Motherland at the time. The war years were brutal, but in many ways they helped to form Australia's image of itself, and of course its image to others. Post-war reconstruction of a shell-shocked country occurred against events like the influenza epidemic that killed more people than the war had, and the police strike of 1923, which led to three days of rioting in the streets.
Before I picked up the book, I was hesitant, thinking it might focus on the political arena in those nearly-three decades. However, Otto has done a marvellous job of bringing the whole era to life. It's not just the story of the men who built this city and nation. Significant men and women in politics, business, architecture, the arts and sciences are all followed. The story of Melbourne is the story of people like E W Coles (of the Coles Book Arcade), HV McKay, Janet, Lady Clarke, Dame Nellie Melba, Helena Rubenstein, Violet Teague, Percy Grainer and his father John, who built the Princes Bridge, Walter Burley and Marion Mahoney Griffin (she being, it's believed, the first female architect) and Keith Murdoch.
Melbourne's story is told through these 'characters', most of whom I know something about—but in these pages I learned more! Of course, these great entrepreneurs and philanthropists all knew each other, and names weave in and out of different aspects of the history. When some of them, and their sons, go to fight at Gallipoli or at the Somme, you feel very invested in their fates. Sometimes it's a little hard to keep track of everyone and how they know each other, and a fold out diagram of the names would have been helpful, at least for me.
Each chapter covers a chunk of years, and starts with a chatty precis about he significant events in those years. The tone is brisk and informative. In the first chapter, several pages are devoted to analysis and art appreciation of the two major portraits painted of the opening of Parliament in May 1901. In some chapters, she touches on how events are affecting sections of the Indigenous community, particularly the community that lived at the Corranderk reserve.
Otto's history is lively, and while it's not delving into the everyday life, it gives an excellent account of the men and women who built this city in the first three decades of Australia's nationhood. Those names and their achievements still resonate today. If you are keen on Australian history, and on Melbourne in particular, this is a lovely addition to your reading.
From here, I need to find John Monash's biography: he was an engineer as well as a general, and sounds like a thoroughly interesting man....more
Skin-crawlingly good horror. Paul Haines's monsters are those within the human psyche. His ability to gently tease out the ugliest, most evil thoughtsSkin-crawlingly good horror. Paul Haines's monsters are those within the human psyche. His ability to gently tease out the ugliest, most evil thoughts and deeds of mundane humanity is genius, tinged as it is with vulnerability and the sheer believability of our worst selves. "Wives" is rightly viewed as a work of art, with the revelations unfolding towards the end only partially guessed at.
This collection, complete with an author's word after each story, won't be for everyone. It's uncomfortable, unsettling reading and much of the horror is too close to the everyday human experience to ignore. But it's that discomfort and too-close-to-home understanding of human weakness, pettiness, cruelt and selfishness that make the stories so very, very effective. ...more