calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

A Voyage Through Air, Peter F. Hamilton, Queen of Dreams, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: July 2017 by Macmillan Children’s Books
Format reviewed: Paperback, 336 pages
Series: Queen of Dreams #3
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Source: Publisher
Available:Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This review contains spoilers for previous books.

War is coming–and every leader of every realm has sided with the War Emperor and pledged to fight the Karrak invaders–apart from Taggie, the teenage Queen of Dreams-to-be. Aided by an unusual band of allies, including a Karrak Lord, an elf and a feisty skyfolk captain, Taggie knows that the only way to stop the war is to find the long-lost gateway between our universe and the dark universe: the home of the Karrak people. But how much is Taggie willing to lose in her desperate quest for peace?

A Voyage Through Air is the final book in the Queen of Dreams series and is a suitably epic conclusion.

It’s not a book that stands on its own, particularly since it carries on more or less immediately after the previous book. There’s a bit of recap, but it’s hard to say how effective it is. By the time A Voyage Through Air starts, there’s a reasonably large cast, containing both ongoing characters and some new faces, and it could be a lot to process for younger readers. I’d definitely recommend starting from the beginning of the series and enjoying all the fun.

Taggie and Jemima, two sisters from the ordinary world, are in fact royalty in another realm. Upon taking up her rightful throne, Taggie faces an assassination attempt by a previously-unknown cousin. This was part of a large-scale plot to assassinate the princes and princesses of all the magical realms. The Kings and Queens blame the Karrak Lords, denizens of a dark universe who were trapped in our light universe a thousand years ago. They decide to go to war, but Taggie is determined to find a peaceful solution. A Voyage Through Air centres on her quest to accomplish this by locating the hidden gateway between the universes.

The worldbuilding is more whimsical than realistic. The First Realm, where Taggie rules as the Queen of Dreams, is an inverted sphere with land around the outside and the sun in the middle. While it’s nice to see an imaginative new take, sometimes I felt that differences existed just for the sake of being different. This was particularly the case with the elves and the dragons of the world. For example, the dragons found in the Realm of Air look significantly different to the popular conception of dragons (being described as more like giant manta rays with two tails) and refer to themselves by a completely different name. It therefore seems strange to tie them to dragons at all–which the narrative does by presenting them to the sisters as dragons and repeatedly affirming how much the creatures hate being called that.

The changes to the elves make a little more sense, pushing back at the traditional uptight, milk-white portrayals. However, this is undermined somewhat by a lack of diversity in the remainder of the cast. Captain Rebecca is introduced in A Voyage Through Air as a dark-skinned skymaiden–the first the reader has seen. In fact, she’s the first dark-skinned character at all, apart from the elves, making it feel tokenistic. It really is too little, too late.

The story itself is an epic adventure, as the sisters and their friends attempt to retrace the course their ancestors took a millennium ago. There are air ships, monsters and battles on the land and in the sky. The narrative occasionally gets bogged down in description, but the style is nicely visual and is aided by a few illustrations scattered throughout the book. The language may be a bit of a challenge to younger or more inexperienced readers, but I’m not a good judge of that.

It is a good book for readers who aren’t fond of romance. There’s some in the background for Taggie, but it’s generally downplayed. Instead, the focus is on friendship and adventure.

All in all, I found A Voyage Through Air a light and reasonably entertaining read.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Bitten, Amanda Pillar, Graced, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: Self-published in January 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Graced #2
Genres: Urban fantasy, paranormal romance
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available:Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The city of Pinton has never been safe–and now a serial killer is on the loose.

Doctor Alice Reive is the city’s coroner, and she’s determined to help find the murderer. Enlisting the assistance of the Honorable Dante Kipling and city guard Elle Brown, they race to track down the killer, before another victim dies.

Hannah Romanov–Dante’s missing twin sister–has spent hundreds of years living on an isolated mountain. But her quiet life is thrown into chaos after she discovers a baby left in the wilds to die. Hannah will do anything to ensure the infant’s survival, even if it means travelling to the worst place in the world for her: Pinton.

Bitten is a new novel in Amanda Pillar’s Graced universe. It features some returning characters, but the focus is mostly on new characters or incidental characters from the previous novel. As such, it stands alone reasonably well and should be accessible to new readers.

There were so many potential ships in this novel. The blurb had me half expecting a f/f romance. However, it soon became clear this was unlikely. Like Graced, this was a novel that kept me on my toes; readers going into it expecting a pure paranormal romance are likely to be disappointed. The pairings happen quite a way into the story, with one getting started almost at the end. Instead, romance is balanced out with a hefty dose of crime and fantasy road trip.

The development of non-romantic relationships make it equally satisfying. I enjoyed seeing the strong friendship between two of the main male characters and to learn a bit more of how that came to be. There were also some great family dynamics, especially within Hannah’s family. And I appreciated that we got to spend some time with characters from Graced and to see how their adopted family dynamic is developing.

The story does make use of the fated mate trope, which is one I really don’t get along with. However, I was really impressed with how the trope was handled. It makes it clear the attraction the characters feel is instinctual lust and that it’s just one step along the path, with the next being getting to know each other better.

Diversity was a key part of Graced and remains strong in Bitten. The characters have a wide variety of skin tones. Hannah has something akin to a touch phobia and Alice has some mild OCD tendencies. I wasn’t wholly sold on the latter, but I have no experience with it, so your mileage may vary.

I found the ending of the crime plot a little weak but it’s difficult to say more on this without spoilers.

However, I can say that the characters and world-building make it well worth the read. The novel also finishes with a revelation that will have some very interesting implications for the world and I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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Vigil, Angela Slatter, Verity Fassbinder, Brisbane, books and tea

Published:July 2016 byJo Fletcher Books
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series:Verity Fassbinder #1
Genres:Urban fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, Once Upon A Time X
Available:Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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

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

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

Angela Slatter has made quite a name for herself with her short stories. She’s had a number of collections published and her novellaOf Sorrows and Such was released by Tor.com last year.Vigil is her first full-length novel.

It sits firmly in the realm of urban fantasy. Verity Fassbinder is your typical strong female protagonist–literally. She has super strength, super snark, an absent family and problems with authority. Being half human and half Weyrd, she never quite belongs in either world. This heritage makes her useful to the Weyrd’s ruling council, who employ her as their troubleshooter. After all, not all of the Weyrd are content to live quiet lives and avoid the attention of the (more numerous, more panicky) humans. Verity often finds herself in the position of having to advocate for the Normals (as the humans are referred to), despite never really having lived a normal life.

The Weyrd is a collective term for the supernatural creatures of the world–the vampires, the shapechangers, the sirens and more. There’s a wonderful mishmash of dark fairytale and mythology that’s likely to appeal to fans ofSupernatural. A few of the usual suspects make appearances alongside others less common and a few that defy classification. None of them are particularly fluffy. A particular highlight for me was the taxonomy of sirens, which struck me as being well thought out.

I was also delighted to find this urban fantasy set in Brisbane. Keri Arthur aside, it is so rare to see novel-length fantasy set in Australia and I would love to see more of it. I was a little concerned at first that Slatter’s familiarity with the locale might assume the same level of familiarity on the reader’s part. However, things settled down after the prologue and I enjoyed the wry observations about Brisbane’s seasons and propensity for flooding.

One small thing I found irritating was Slatter’s inability to refer to the city by its name. Instead, it was always ‘Brisneyland’, which–while it may have been a nod to the short story that was Vigil‘s precursor–grew tiresome after a while. Even changing it to ‘Brisvegas’ (as it gets called in some of the southern states) would have been a welcome variety.

Another quibble I had was with David, Verity’s love interest. In steering away from the strong romance elements often associated with urban fantasy, I feel Slatter went too much in the opposite direction. Glossing over the development of Verity and David’s relationship left David as less of a character than a cipher standing in for a particular way of life. It deprived the relationship of the emotional weight it needed.

However, it does give a chance for Verity’s found family to take more of the spotlight. The centre of this family is Mel and her young daughter Lizzie, two Normals who live next door to Verity. Lizzie frequently ducks through gaps in the fence to visit Verity and it’s clear that, although Verity misses her birthday party in the opening chapter, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for each other. In fact, Vigil is delightfully full of female characters and female friendships.

One last problem I had with the story was the magical curing of several significant injuries and chronic illnesses. While I can understand the narrative reasoning for these, it seems to be a bit of an abelist attitude and I feel that in most cases keeping them would have led to a more interesting story.

Despite this, I foundVigil a darkly fun read that hooked me quickly and reeled me in. I can’t wait for the sequel.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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Bout of Books, Alexis Wright, Carpentaria, Ursula Le Guin, The Earthsea Quartet, tea, tea and books, Earl Grey Editing

April put a considerable dent in Mt TBR, but there’s plenty of work still to be done. And the best way to keep up my motivation is a reading challenge, of course!

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 9th and runs through Sunday, May 15th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional.For all Bout of Books 16 information and updates, be sure to visit theBout of Booksblog.– From the Bout of Books team

Being a low-pressure challenge, Bout of Books lets me set my own goals. As I have mentioned before, I overcommitted on review books for May. So I’d like to get through a minimum of three books.Carpentaria(pictured above) by Alexis Wright is definitely on the list along with The Crying Child by Becca Lusher and Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold. If I manage all of those, I’d like to get back to my reread of Ursula Le Guin’sThe Earthsea Quartet.

If you’d like to join in, there’s still time to sign up!

What’s on your TBR pile this week?

 

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The Lyre Thief, Jennifer Fallon, Hythrun Chronicles, War of the Gods, HarperVoyager

Published: March 2016 byHarper Voyager
Format reviewed: Trade paperback, 445 pages
Series: Hythrun Chronicles #7, War of the Gods #1
Genres: Epic fantasy
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Her Serene Highness, Rakaia, Princess of Fardohnya, is off to Hythria, where her eldest sister is now the High Princess, to find herself a husband, and escape the inevitable bloodbath in the harem when her brother takes the throne.

Rakaia is not interested in marrying anyone, least of all some brute of a Hythrun Warlord she’s never met, but she has a plan to save herself from that, too. If she can just convince her baseborn sister, Charisee, to play along, she might actually get away with it.

But there is trouble brewing across the continent. High Prince of Hythria, Damin Wolfblade, must head north to save the peace negotiated a decade ago between the Harshini, Hythria, Fardohnya, Medalon and Karien. He must leave behind an even more dangerous conflict brewing between his wife and his powerful mother, Princess Marla.

…And in far off Medalon, someone has stolen the music.

Their quest for the tiny stolen lyre containing the essence of the God of Music will eventually touch all their lives, threaten everything they hold dear and prove to be far more personal than any of them can imagine.

I have a confession to make: I’ve never read any of Jennifer Fallon’s novels. She’s one of those seminal Australian fantasy writers I’ve always heard amazing things about but never quite managed to get to. I even have one of her books gathering dust on Mt TBR… which I’ll be dusting off soon.

The Lyre Thief is perhaps not the best place to start with Fallon’s work. While it is the beginning of a new series, I didn’t realise it was part of a pre-existing world with an overarching story. It is possible to jump in here, but as a new reader I found it required me to work hard. Being epic fantasy, there’s a complex web of relationships in place–one that spans multiple kingdoms. The events inThe Lyre Thief deal with the consequences of previous books and is set about ten years after the last series ends. Fallon does an excellent job of conveying these previous events without seeming to info-dump and it gives an excellent sense of a lived-in world. Nevertheless, it is a lot for a new reader to take in.

I thought it was worth the effort. Being an epic fantasy, the story is told from multiple points of view. Each POV character has their own thread that interweaves with the others to create a bigger picture that spans the nations involved in this world. In some books this can feel choppy, but Fallon manages it with skill. She kept me interested in each of the characters’ stories while simultaneously creating a nice flow to the overall story. In fact, she uses alternating POVs to subtly convey an issue with time that crops up in one of the threads.

Of course, it’s the characters that really make the story. This is not one of those gloomy epic fantasies where the characters are all horrible people being horrible to each other for the sake of being “gritty” or “realistic”. For the most part, I rather liked the characters (with a couple of exceptions) which made it easy to be interested in what was happening to them. This meant that I wasn’t waiting impatiently for it to get back to a certain character, even though I still had a couple of favourites. However, this does not mean the characters were without their flaws. Almost without exception, they are looking out for their own interests and act selfishly. In most cases, it is balanced out by genuine love and affection for at least one other person.

While I wouldn’t classify the story as grimdark, readers should be aware that there is a rape scene and approach with caution where necessary.

As I mentioned, The Lyre Thief is the first in a new series, so there’s plenty yet to be resolved. Each of the threads is left at a point of transition, giving just enough resolution to be satisfying while still leaving the reader eager for more.

Overall, I really enjoyedThe Lyre Thief, even though it made me work hard. I’ll be making use of the wait for the next book (which, I’m pleased to see, is tentatively scheduled for later in the year) to go back and read the other books set in this world.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

25892668

Published: July 2015 by M/M Romance Group @ Goodreads
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Sci-fi, romance, fantasy
Source: M/M Romance Group @ Goodreads
Reading Challenges: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks,The 2016 Sci-fi Experience
Available: Publisher (electronic)

When the crew of the Medical Explorer Juniper arrive at the space city of Caelestia, they are horrified to find it floating airless in space with thousands of its people dead. The only survivor is a cyborg gardener, Vairya, who has been left amnesiac and terrified, barely able to choke out a few words: “It could happen again.”

As ex-military doctor Reuben Cooper explores the illusory rose garden of Vairya’s memory, where Vairya himself flirts and hides among the flowers, he discovers a terrible threat, not just to the crew of the Juniper but to all humanity.

Can four doctors and a cyborg fight a merciless enemy that can kill with a touch?

I adore Amy Rae Durreson’s work and In Heaven and Earth has done nothing to deter me. This novella has all of Durreson’s trademarks–solid world building and a sturdy plot alongside a sweet romance.

The story gets off to a dynamic start with the crew of the Juniper investigating the aftermath of a planetary apocalypse but slows after the first scene under the weight of world building and back story. Fortunately, Durreson manages to deliver her exposition in a way that makes sense in terms of the situation and still keeps the action moving forward. By Chapter Two, the pace has picked up.

Although In Heaven and Earth is science fiction, Durreson is primarily a fantasy writer and it shows. The science is fairly light and verges on magic in a few places. There is also a couple of charming interludes in Vairya’s mind which he has shaped to resemblea fantasy world. While I had no problems with the fantasy elements(and actually enjoyed them quite a bit), it may not be your cup of tea if you prefer your sci-fi hard.

The plot itself kept me guessing and maintainedthe tension very nicely. Durreson does a great job of illustrating the desperation of the situation in which Reuben and Vairya find themselves, adding a wonderful bittersweetness to their developing relationship.

I was also charmed by the characters. Reuben has been damaged by past experiences that shook his faith in humanity. His relationship with the rest of the crew of the Juniper is uneasy and this is cleverly brought forth during Reuben’s adventures in Vairya’s mind. Vairya, on the other hand, retains a sweetness and a joy for life, despite being essentially immortal. I particularly enjoyed this subversion of the trope.

I’m so glad I saved this for my holiday reading because it meant that I was able to dive in and not come up for air until the end. If you’re a fan of sci-fi romance, you should definitely check out In Heaven and Earth.

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22809098

Published:August 2014byTwelfth Planet Press
Format reviewed: Paperback, 450 pages
Genres:Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction, magical realism
Source:Bought directly from the publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015
Available:Twelfth Planet Press (print and electronic)~ Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

What do a disabled superhero, a time-traveling Chinese-American figure skater, and a transgendered animal shifter have in common? They’re all stars of Kaleidoscope stories! Kaleidoscope collects fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life. Featuring New York Times bestselling and award winning authors along with newer voices: Garth Nix, Sofia Samatar, William Alexander, Karen Healey, E.C. Myers, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Ken Liu, Vylar Kaftan, Sean Williams, Amal El-Mohtar, Jim C. Hines, Faith Mudge, John Chu, Alena McNamara, Tim Susman, Gabriela Lee, Dirk Flinthart, Holly Kench, Sean Eads, and Shveta Thakrar.

In April,Kaleidoscope won both the Ditmar Award and the Aurealis Award for Best Anthology and I can see why. Not only does it do some wonderful things with representation, all the stories are of excellent quality. As with any anthology, there were a few stories I was less keen on, but that was mostly a matter of personal preference.

Diversity is at the heart of this anthology in a number of ways. There are queer characters, characters who use wheelchairs, characters dealing with depression and chronic illnesses, characters from a range of ethnic backgrounds. In some cases the diversity is intersectional. For example, Faith Mudge’sSignature features Priya, a wheelchair-using protagonist who has brown skin. However, the characters’ diversity tends not to be the focus of the story. To continue with the example ofSignature, the story is about several characters who are caught in Faustian Bargains that have just come due. The diversity of the characters in this story is completely incidental to the plot–a part of who they are but not the whole of who they are. I loved this about the anthology.

Diversity also manifests in the tone of the stories, allowing for a nice range. Some of them were a little bit dark (Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell by E.C. Meyers), some were heartbreaking (The Day the God Died by Alena McNamara). Others were fun and full of hope (Cookie Cutter Superhero by Tansy Rayner Roberts,Signature). I was pleased to see some magic realism included along with more traditional fantasy and science fiction.Ordinary Things by Vylar Kaftan hardly reads as speculative at all, while inKrishna Blue Shveta Thakrar uses magical realism (and some gorgeous language) to excellent effect. Of them all,Careful Magic by Karen Healey was my favourite. In this magical society, magic users declare themselves for Order or Chaos. Helen is a rare Order magic user and one who lives with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. One day her careful routine is interrupted by a classmate who needs help lifting a love spell.

One concern I had about the anthology was the use of the descriptor “disabled” on the back cover. I had been under the impression that this was offensive (or, at the very least, distasteful) to certain parties and could serve to undermine the anthology’s intended purpose. If any readers have thoughts on this topic, I would love to hear them, especially because this is a trend I have noticed continuing in the promotional material forDefying Doomsday.

However, overall I foundKaleidoscope an excellent anthology and well-deserving of the awards it has received.

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calissa: (Calissa)

71mGTRoQXQL

Published: 2009 by Hachette
Format reviewed: Paperback, 398 pages
Series: The Witcher #1
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Bought on Amazon

When an invading empire conquers her country, Ciri is rescued by a monster hunter called Geralt of Rivia. The princess slowly learns magic and trains as the first female witcher (as the monster hunters are called). However, her guardian has his hands full trying to keep her safe from the various factions trying to kill her.

My first encounter with Geralt of Rivia was through a computer game called The Witcher. This fantasy RPG was released in 2007 and quickly became popular, leading to a sequel. The third game is now set to be released mid-2015. I found the games featured some excellent story-telling and I appreciated the way they asked the player to make some difficult choices as Geralt negotiates tensions between the ruling humans and the races they oppress.

These computer games were inspired by a series of novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The popularity of the games led to the novels being translated into English fourteen years after they were first published. Having enjoyed the games (with a few reservations), I was intrigued enough to try the books.

Surprisingly, I found the games kept pretty true to the feel of the book, despite not being an exact retelling. Since this is only the first book in the series, it is difficult for me to pinpoint where all the differences lie. The most obvious one is that the game has tweaked the circumstances towards monster-hunting while the book focuses more on the political machinations. The difference wasn’t as great as I expected, but it did make me aware of just how often the book involves people standing around talking. While there were some instances where this approach worked, others felt too much like infodumping and I wondered whether there was a better way of delivering the information.

The structure of the book was quite interesting. Each chapter reads like a vignette, with time skips in between. I liked the way this kept events moving forward and the conclusions were reasonably satisfying. The conclusion to the book as a whole was less satisfying, leaving it feeling more like setup than story.

There’s a strongly European influence on the worldbuilding. Part of it is the physical setting: ruined castles, dark forests, warmer nations to the south. Part of it is also political. This is a world with a long history, often involving bloodshed as each wave of invaders seeks to conquer the last. This has resulted in a cluster of small kingdoms who squabble almost as much with each other as the empire that threatens them all. These kingdoms are also very keen to make sure the races they previously conquered remain subdued and there are references to pograms in the recent past. Such echoes of European history make this much more than a straightforward, hack-and-slash fantasy narrative. For me, this examination of racism and violence lifted it a little above the standard fantasy setting.

Despite the presence of elves and dwarves, this is fantasy much more in the vein of George R.R. Martin than R.A. Salvatore. If you like your fantasy dark with plenty of intrigue and moral ambiguity, Blood of Elves may be for you. However, before you dive into it, I’d recommend reading The Last Wish. Although Blood of Elves is billed as the first in the series, it was preceded by a book of short stories and these stories provide some necessary context.

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