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

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, F.C. Yee, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books, superhero YA

Published: August 2017 by Amulet Books
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Young adult, fantasy
Source: NetGalley
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.

The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo’s every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is a fun, fast-paced YA novel which plays with elements of the Chinese legend Journey to the West. It was a delightful read, but suffers from a few flaws.

Genie is a great character. She takes her study seriously and uses her unusual height to round out her curriculum as a member of the volleyball team. Her greatest dream is to leave behind the Bay Area town in which she lives. She’s disciplined, but underneath she’s quite an angry person, which I liked about her. She’s also a little bit juvenile at times.This suits her age, but contributes to an overall feeling that the book verges on Middle Grade rather than being Young Adult.

This is exacerbated by the relationship between Genie and Quentin. The romance between them is interesting in theory, but in execution it never feels that deep. Instead, it feels tacked on to a reasonably solid friendship. Part of this is due to Quentin’s lack of respect for boundaries. This was entirely in keeping with his character, but it undermines the relationship. Genie pushes back, but we never really see Quentin’s learning curve, making elements of the ending surprising.

Genie’s relationship with Quentin also undermines her friendship with Yunnie. This is something Genie explicitly struggles with and it was disappointing that this was never properly followed through. Instead of Genie’s decisions having a lasting impact on that relationship, it gets used as a plot device.

The action sequences were well-handled. The few shown on screen were dynamic and fast-paced, and I was happy the ones that took place but weren’t really important to the story got hand-waved.

As I mentioned, the story plays with elements of Journey to the West. I liked how it had been updated for the modern age and its framing as a superhero tale. The way the original legend relates to Genie was clever and opened up some interesting discussions on the nature of personhood. It was also nice to see a story that not only centred an Asian-American protagonist, but an entire community.

Overall, I enjoyed The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, despite its flaws. The door has been left open for a sequel, which I would quite happily read.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Earl Grey Editing, Mt TBR, Corpselight, Angela Slatter, Verity Fassbinder, The Starlit Wood, Navah Woolf, Peter F. Hamilton, The Secret Throne, The Hunting of Princes, A Voyage Through Air, Jodi McAlister, Valentine, Avery Alder, Monsterhearts, Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist, John Harper, Blades in the Dark

The winter weather must be helping my reading stats because I got through a fair few books this month. Combined with a modest number of acquisitions, I’m on track to break even on Mt TBR this year. Not that I expect that will last, but one can hope.

I continue to meet my goals of borrowing at least one library book and reading at least one piece of fanfic every month. I also got to try my first audiobook this month, after downloading the Libby app. My other milestone this month was replacing my Kindle. It served me well for five years but was struggling to hold a charge and would periodically reset itself. It was an original model, using buttons, so the transition to a touch screen took some getting used to.

Mt TBR Status

Mt TBR @ 1 January 2016: 327
Mt TBR @ 30 June 2017: 334
Mt TBR @ 31 July 2017: 330

Books Read ) Books Acquired ) Online Reading )

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A black and white photo of a large, dark teapot and a small Chinese teacup with a fish painted on the side (Tea)

Gillian Polack, The Time of Ghosts, The Wizardry of Jewish Women, Satalyte Publishing, Book View Cafe, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Yesterday marked the re-launch of The Wizardry of Jewish Women. The book was nominated for a Ditmar Award earlier this year and I enjoyed it when I reviewed its initial publication last September. In honour of its re-release, I invited Gillian to write about a topic close to my heart.

Elizabeth has asked me if I could talk about the role of hot beverages in my books. Given that one of the things I like about her is her love of tea, how could I refuse? I won’t talk about all my books, however, just three: The Wizardry of Jewish Women, The Time of the Ghosts and Langue[dot]doc 1305. (In terms of getting hold of them, the only one you can find right now is Wizardry the other two will be available again and I promise to announce when this happens!)

Food and drink are both important to me when I build the worlds for my stories. I use drink as a code for each of my characters. By knowing what kind of hot drink they prefer and how they prefer to drink it, I can remember so much about each one of them and I can twine the beverage into the story and use it to help build emotions in the novel.

Talking about it here lets my code out of the bag for careful readers of The Time of the Ghosts. My three superheroes, Lil, Mabel and Ann had a teenage apprentice, Cat. At one stage she helps prepare a dinner and she notes that the three women drink their after dinner coffee quite differently. If you look at how they prefer their coffee, you can see the whole of their food habits echoed, and that those food habits reflect their lives. Lil’s cup is filled with the most exotic beverage and the one that uses unusual ingredients. Mabel’s drink is practical and even ordinary. Ann’s drink is trendy and was the drink-of-choice for professional women the year I set it. I made each drink for myself throughout the novel, to help me focus on each character’s plotline

This helps me write the story, and it also helps the reader who likes to decode the way I like to encode. Lil’s main problem was dealing with the emotional burdens bequeathed to her by her exotic past and reaching a stage where she could move on. Mabel fought to remain ordinary and typical, even when she patently wasn’t. And Ann? Ann was about to retire and lose all the public service professional air she’d carried for so long. What would she drink when her life changed? Not even she knew.

I created those drinks (and the food that went with them) before I knew what the story would be. For this book more than any other, I needed to know.

Why was it coffee? A friend took me to Weston Park for research, and we had the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in Canberra. The equal best now, for I had a just-as-nice one a few months ago. At that time I didn’t even know there was good coffee in a city I’d been living in for so very many years. I put Weston Park in the novel to celebrate my friend and her magnificent taste in children, small railways, and coffee. It’s not her fault Weston Park turned creepy, but it was to celebrate her that I made the drink of focus coffee rather than, say, after-dinner liqueurs.

This focus on the fineness of the palate and the joy hot drinks can bring is quite different to what I did with Langue[dot]doc 1305. I gave all the time travellers instant coffee. It was not only an obvious choice of beverage for time travellers, it was a very painful one for the team member who was Italian Australian and knew real coffee better than she knew the clothes she wore. To show how damaging the instant coffee was to her I gave her my favourite French cold drink in midsummer in France before she travelled into the past. She went from a gourmet (but troubled) present to a past that seemed drained of all the values (and coffee) she cared for. It was a very easy point to make.

I don’t know if anyone sees these things except me. I write them because they help me knit my story. When I faced the problem that Jewish characters in Australian fiction are generally seen as being very Eastern European, for example, in The Wizardry of Jewish Women, I dealt with it by using a teapot.

The family drink, the one that calmed life down when it needed it and which made everyone feel as if they were together and united, was tea. Tea made with loose leaves in a very particular pot. When Nick, the teenager, does something so special that his mother, Judith, thinks towards him “He is an adult–and a good one” she doesn’t say this. She lets him pour the tea from that pot. Judith will drink coffee and will make the children hot chocolate when they need to be calmed as children (for instance, should the Angel of Death be imminent, hot chocolate is the drink of choice) but that pot of tea is special.

For me, culture and personality can be expressed through hot drinks. I hope they help the reader. I’m going to make some tea for myself while I contemplate whether they do or not.

I won’t tell you what sort I’m making, for it’ll tell you too much about this moment. It’s much easier to let you see who my characters are through their choice of hot drink than to let you see who I am tonight, by telling you all about my own tea. I can promise you, however, that it’s very good tea indeed. And it’s impossible to judge me by dropping in tomorrow and asking for some, for this is the last of that variety. Tomorrow I’ll be a different person and my mind will be on different subjects.

Gillian Polack writes fiction that others have trouble defining. Her novels range from kinda-sorta urban fantasy in The Wizardry of Jewish Women(a Ditmar finalist) to kinda-sorta time travel but probably alternate history in Langue[dot]doc 1305. She is a historian (mainly a Medievalist) and narrative specialist, which means she has written much non-fiction, the larger part of which has appeared as articles. Alas for the world, she is addicted to chocolate, sarcasm and bad jokes. Fortunately, she lives in Canberra, Australia (where she teaches, edits, writes, and cooks), which is too far from most of the world for these things to matter.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Valentine, Jodi McAlister, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: January 2017 by Penguin Teen Australia
Format reviewed: Paperback, 395 pages
Series: Valentine #1
Genres: YA, fantasy
Source: Slow Glass Books
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Strange and terrible things begin to happen to four teenagers — all born on the same Valentine’s Day. One of these teenagers is the Valentine: a Seelie fairy changeling swapped for a human child at its birth. The Unseelie have come to kill the Valentine — except they don’t know who it is.

Pearl shares a birthday with Finn Blacklin. She’s known him all her life and disliked every second of it. Now Pearl and Finn must work together to protect themselves from the sinister forces that are seeking them out.

But there’s one more problem: the explosive chemistry between them…

This was definitely a case of “right book, right time” for me. I’d meant to review something else, but it was clear from the first page that we weren’t going to get along. Since I had a Monsterhearts game coming up, I thought I’d give Valentine a go instead. It turned out to be the perfect mood-setter.

But I think I was always going to love this book. As I’ve mentioned before, I was a huge fan of Holly Black’s Tithe, and Valentine hits many of the same buttons. The book starts off with a strange event–a black horse mysteriously showing up at a party–and things get stranger around Pearl. If you like your faeries with teeth, this is definitely a book to check out. It makes use of some of the less commonly known or used pieces of faerie lore, such as elf-locks, though it doesn’t always play them straight.

Pearl isn’t stupid and recognises something weird is going on, though she sometimes wavers in that belief. She’s a relatable character in many ways, taking her responsibilities seriously and angsting over what other people think of her. She’s brave and loyal, while also being afraid and, at times, hypocritical. She neglects her best friend but doesn’t hesitate to put herself in danger for the people she cares about.

The book is told in first person and is lightly sprinkled with pop-culture references and text speak. This is not going to suit everyone. I thought it contributed to making Pearl’s voice a strong one. The reference to the eternal conundrum of Sherlock vs Elementary made me smile. Facebook also plays a role in the plot as a way the characters keep in contact. Valentine embraces the modern era, rather than trying to work around it.

I also love a good enemies-to-lovers story. It’s clear from the outset that Finn isn’t as disdainful of Pearl as she is of him, though that doesn’t prevent him from expressing anger and irritation towards her where it’s warranted. Watching Pearl’s opinion of him grow and improve was a delight.

Not everyone is going to like the ending, particularly since it deviates from certain genre expectations, but I found it a mature change. The story is also set in Australia, which results in some subtle cultural shifts.The common US stereotypes of jocks, nerds and goths are absent. Instead, there are some distinctly Australian elements, like school captains and Pearl’s job as a lifeguard at the local pool.

Overall, I found Valentine a fresh and intelligent take on faerie YA urban fantasy. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A blue and purple d20 sits on some lined paper. (Gaming)
It has been a busy time for gaming in this household. Within the last eight days, I've started two new campaigns and run a one-shot.

Blades in the Dark )
calissa: A black and white photo of a large, dark teapot and a small Chinese teacup with a fish painted on the side (Tea)

Iron Goddess, Guan Yin, Guanyin, Quan Yin, Kwan Yin, loose-leaf tea, Adore Tea, Loose-leaf Links, Earl Grey Editing

Loose-leaf Links is a feature where I gather together the interesting bits and pieces on sci-fi, fantasy and romance I’ve come across and share them with you over tea. Today’s tea is Iron Goddess Tie Guan Yin from Adore Tea. Being an oolong, it’s a little heavier than green tea, though this one retains a bit of the grassy flavour of sencha.

Awards News ) Community and Conventions ) On Equity ) For Writers ) For Readers )

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Default)
My wonderful sister took me out to the Botanic Gardens last week and handed me her spare DSLR camera. This caused me no end of delight. I think my smartphone camera is wonderful, but there are some things it just can't do. Chief among these (in my opinion) is bird photography.

Superb Blue Fairy Wren )

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

Ashes, Amanda Pillar, Graced, Graced series, Venom and Vampires, paranormal romance collection, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: July 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Venom and Vampires collection, Graced #2.2
Genres: Paranormal romance
Source: Author
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.

Aria Ash shouldn’t exist

Born to a were mother and vampire father, Aria Ash is the perfect blend of two races, and in their world, that’s a death sentence. Hunted for as long as she can remember, she now hides in plain sight in the city of Skarva, and will do anything to keep her secret safe.

Sebastian Talien is an alpha were with a troubled past. Ever since his pack went rogue and tried to kill three innocent pups, he’s been dedicated to rescuing children in need. Now an invitation has him heading to Skarva, to help a child he thought he’d failed

Ashes is a novella set in the Graced universe, around the same time as Bitten. While I enjoyed reading it, I ultimately had the same issue with it as I did with Captive: I felt its ambition exceeded its scope.

Since Ashes is part of a collection, I assume it’s meant to appeal to new readers. I feel it’s only partially successful on that front. The beginning works quite well, introducing us to the characters and getting us invested in their relationship. However, the Graced universe is a complex one. Worldbuilding elements necessary for understanding the story were given in a kind of infodump in the guise of one character educating and warning another. The character doing the educating also functioned like a deus ex machina, there to make sure certain things happened. While there is context and an implied reason, it sat rather awkwardly and I’m not sure how it would sit for someone new to the series. It is also old information to returning readers, making it a little bit dull to sit through, even if I enjoyed the cameo from that particular character.

That said, I felt Ashes was a much stronger story than Captive. Aria is a wonderfully fiery character. She’s powerful and quick to protect what’s hers. I really enjoyed the way her strength is something that Sebastian finds attractive, rather than seeing it as a threat. Their relationship is likely to be a bit too insta-love for some readers, but it worked for me. The circumstances and the passion between these two dominant characters sold it. The pair are also able to spend more time together than Laney & Wolf did in Captive. This gives their relationship a more solid foundation before the rest of the action really kicks into gear.

I also really enjoyed the development of the city of Skarva. We got to see the Duke of Ravens in Bitten. In Ashes, we get to meet the Duke of Ashes and learn a little more about the other ruling dukes. I liked that each duke has their own motif, providing a distinctive counterpoint to the vampire nobility of Pinton featured in previous books.

There were also plenty of loose ends left and I’m looking forward to discovering which directions will be explored next.

All in all, Ashes was bumpy in places, but an enjoyable read.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Podcasts, Earl Grey Editing

I’m a podcast fiend. I find they’re a great way to keep me entertained while I’m doing housework. Over the last few years, I’ve ended up with quite a few shows to listen to. They fall into three broad categories:

Books, Media and Culture

This is far and away the biggest category. It includes podcasts featuring interviews, discussions about fandom, and reviews of books, movies and TV shows.

Fangirl Happy Hour: This Hugo-nominated podcast is hosted by Renay of Lady Business and Ana of The Book Smugglers. They review books, movies and graphic novels, as well as discuss what they’ve been reading or watching more generally. They also talk about the state of SFF fandom and often segue into political commentary and discussions of mental health.

Galactic Suburbia: This Hugo-Award-winning podcast is hosted by Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Alexandra Pierce. Much like Fangirl Happy Hour, they discuss the state of SFF fandom, albeit from an Australian perspective. The two podcasts occasionally end up in dialogue over vital issues, such as what can be classified as cake. The ladies of GS also discuss the culture they’ve been reading, watching or otherwise consuming.

Not Now, I’m Reading: A new podcast just started by Chelsea of the Reading Outlaw and Kay Taylor Rae which focuses on reviewing genre books and media. As a keen reader of romance, I appreciate that their focus is a little wider than just SFF and the way they’re unapologetic about their passions.

Overinvested: Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Morgan Leigh Davies review movies, TV shows and comics. Most are genre, though not all. These ladies are savvy critics who really know their stuff and are also not afraid to love material they know is rubbish.

The Skiffy and Fanty Show: This Hugo-nominated podcast is headed up by Shaun Duke and Jen Zink with a large cast of co-hosts. They do multiple segments of varying kinds, including signal boosts, interviews and Torture Cinema (wherein a panel reviews a movie deemed to be awful by pop culture).

Radio Free Fandom: Another new podcast, in which Claire Rousseau interviews guests about their fandoms. I’ve only listened to the first episode so far and am still getting a feel for it.

Reading the End: I usually prefer my podcasts to be solidly genre, but I make an exception for the Demographically-Similar Jennys. Gin Jenny and Whisky Jenny do often discuss and review genre books, but are just as likely to be reviewing contemporary literature. They also discuss their favourite instances of particular tropes and occasionally delve into research on space, the sea and Arctic explorers. At all times, they remain utterly charming.

SFF Yeah: Book Riot’s new SFF podcast. Sharifah and Jenn discuss SFF news and favourite literary tropes. I’m still deciding if this one is for me.

Sheep Might Fly: A podcast of serialised fiction by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Tansy alternates between previously published work and completely new stories. It’s a delight to hear them in Tansy’s own voice.

Tea and Jeopardy: This Hugo-nominated podcast is hosted by Emma Newman. Each of the guests she interviews has a connection to SFF and each interview takes place in a different (fictional) lair arranged by her morally-dubious butler (voiced by Peter Newman). Guests often find themselves in a bit of difficulty as they leave. The fictional framework doesn’t work for everyone, but I find it fun.

The Math of You: This is a relatively recent discovery from me. Lucas Brown interviews a range of guests about the pop culture that influenced them while growing up. Not strictly SFF; this is geekdom in many flavours. Lucas is a warm and enthusiastic interviewer.

The Writer and the Critic: Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond review a range of speculative fiction. I initially picked this up due to its Ditmar nomination this year and have liked it enough to keep it on. The contrasting perspectives make it engaging. However, I’m also adverse to spoilers, so haven’t yet delved into many of the episodes.

Gaming

This is the newest category in my podcast list and focuses exclusively on tabletop RPGs (which, I’m sure, surprises no one).

The Gauntlet Podcast: Primarily hosted by Jason Cordova, the podcast interviews game designers and signal boosts RPGs being crowdfunded. The hosts also discuss the games they’ve been playing and what has been inspiring them.

The Gauntlet crew also run several other related podcasts. I’ve not yet listened to +1 Forward, but it has recently been nominated for an ENnie Award. However, I have listened to Pocket-Sized Play. I don’t usually go in for Actual Play podcasts, but I’ve been loving their Monsterhearts campaign, Mercy Falls.

Writing Advice

The last category in my list is short. While I appreciate some measure of discussion about craft and industry, I find too much counterproductive for me (it’s hard enough to mute my inner editor).

Ditch Diggers: Hosted by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace. I picked up this one because it was nominated for a Hugo this year and I wanted to judge it fairly. Mur and Matt discuss craft, answer questions and interview other creators. It’s a solid show, though I occasionally find it abrasive in ways that weren’t intended.

Writing Excuses: These short episodes are hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler. Each season has a distinct theme and guest co-hosts. I appreciate the diversity of voices (though it remains sadly US-centric). Each episode ends with a practical exercise.

 

Altogether, these make up my current playlist. Does anything catch your attention? What would you recommend I check out?

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Trust, Kylie Scott, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: Self-published in July 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Young adult, contemporary romance
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available:Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~Kobo

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

Being young is all about the experiences: the first time you skip school, the first time you fall in love… the first time someone holds a gun to your head.

After being held hostage during a robbery at the local convenience store, seventeen-year-old Edie finds her attitude about life shattered. Unwilling to put up with the snobbery and bullying at her private school, she enrolls at the local public high school, crossing paths with John. The boy who risked his life to save hers.

While Edie’s beginning to run wild, however, John’s just starting to settle down. After years of partying and dealing drugs with his older brother, he’s going straight–getting to class on time, and thinking about the future.

An unlikely bond grows between the two as John keeps Edie out of trouble and helps her broaden her horizons. But when he helps her out with another first–losing her virginity–their friendship gets complicated.

Meanwhile, Edie and John are pulled back into the dangerous world they narrowly escaped. They were lucky to survive the first time, but this time they have more to lose–each other.

Trust is Kylie Scott’s first foray into Young Adult and I certainly hope it won’t be her last because I was pretty impressed.

There was so much that was great about this book. I appreciated its diversity. This includes race and sexuality–two of Edie’s new friends are lesbians and the other Vietnamese–but it also goes beyond that. Edie herself is an unconventional protagonist. She may be white and blonde, but she’s also considered overweight and has no desire to change that. She has seen her mum go through the constant torture of diets and would rather be happy than subject herself to the same. Of course, she is bullied for being a socially-unacceptable body shape but never by the narrative. Instead, she is also shown as being desireble–and desirable by someone who has a socially-acceptable body shape.

Another thing I loved about the story is the way it advocates for healthy relationships and boundary setting. Edie is not shy about cutting people off if they violate her privacy. She has zero time for other people’s bullshit. While her relationship with John didn’t start under the best circumstances, it is a healthy one–with each one supporting the other through the changes they’re making in their lives. There is also one scene that takes a bit of a dig at Twilight when John unexpectedly shows up at Edie’s bedroom window one night.

This is not a book that pulls its punches. It kicks off with the robbery Edie and John get caught in at the convenience store, and takes us all the way through that traumatic experience. It has all the bodily fluids (and I really do mean all). There’s onscreen sex–and, being a romance writer, Scott isn’t shy about it. There’s awkward sex and sexy sex, and good consent practices at all times.

All in all, I loved Trust to pieces and I’m hoping we’ll see more YA from Kylie Scott.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A black and white photo of a large, dark teapot and a small Chinese teacup with a fish painted on the side (Tea)

Amaretto, Tea Centre, Loose-leaf Links, loose-leaf tea, Earl Grey Editing

Loose-leaf Links is a feature where I gather together the interesting bits and pieces on sci-fi, fantasy and romance I’ve come across and share them with you over tea. Today’s tea is Amaretto from the Tea Centre. This flavoured black tastes strongly of marzipan, making it a favourite of mine.

Follow Up ) Awards News ) Community and Conventions ) On Equity ) For Writers ) For Readers )

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Corpselight, Angela Slatter, Verity Fassbinder, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea, Australian fantasy

Published: July 2017 by Jo Fletcher Books
Format reviewed: Trade paperback, 386 pages
Series: Verity Fassbinder #2
Genres: Urban fantasy
Source: Hachette Australia
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print) ~ 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.
This review contains spoilers for previous volumes/books.

Life in Brisbane is never simple for those who walk between the worlds.

Verity’s all about protecting her city, but right now that’s mostly running surveillance and handling the less exciting cases for the Weyrd Council after all, it’s hard to chase the bad guys through the streets of Brisbane when you’re really,reallypregnant.

An insurance investigation sounds pretty harmless, even if it is for ‘Unusual Happenstance’. That’s not usually a clause Normals use — it covers all-purpose hauntings, angry genii loci, ectoplasmic home invasion, demonic possession, that sort of thing — but Susan Beckett’s claimed three times in three months. Her house keeps getting inundated with mud, but she’s still insisting she doesn’t need or want help . . . until the dry-land drownings begin.

V’s first lead takes her to Chinatown, where she is confronted by kitsune assassins. But when she suddenly goes into labour, it’s clear the fox spirits are not going to be helpful . . .

As I’ve mentioned before, I love a good urban fantasy and Angela Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder series is turning out to be one of my favourites. Corpselight does some unusual things with the genre.

For a start, it’s refreshing to see a pregnant protagonist. And I don’t mean just pregnant, I mean almost-ready-to-drop pregnant. This raises the stakes in some interesting ways. Verity has scaled back her activities as an investigator for the Council, but events conspire to draw her in. She’s forced to weigh her duty to the Weyrd community against her daughter’s safety.

The theme of motherhood plays out in several strands of the book. In particular, it is concerned with neglectful mothers and examines where this can be fairly benign all the way through to where it facilitates abuse. Readers should be warned the story is quite dark in places, involving off-screen family abuse and on-screen suicide.

The book is not without humour, however. Fassbinder’s Law of Handbags made me chuckle, and I cackled out loud at numerous points of the story. I also appreciate a book that takes its cake seriously… though marshmallow and caramel sounds a bit sweet for me.

One of my criticisms of Vigil was its depiction of Verity’s love interest, David. I was pleased to see him get a little more screen time in Corpselight. He’s still a relatively shallow character–but this is by design. It reverses the gender dynamics often present in male-led urban fantasy and noir. David is the supportive spouse, there to love and enable Verity. While this was also true of Vigil, his added screen time gives weight to the affection he and Verity share.

The story kept me on my toes. Every time I thought I’d figured out the direction it was going, it proved me wrong. The ending, in particular, shook things up and I’ll be interested to see how events play out in the sequel.

Overall, I found Corpselight to be a thoughtful example of urban fantasy and an excellent continuation of the series.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Retribution, War of the Gods, Jennifer Fallon, Corpselight, Verity Fassbinder, Angela Slatter, Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire, Wayward Children, Valentine, Jodi McAllister

2017 is now half over and I have met my initial annual reading goal of 100 books. I’ve decided to go ahead and set a new target. Without the Aurealis Awards to spur me on, my reading pace has slowed, so I think 200 books isn’t realistic. However, 150 books should be achievable.

June was my slowest month for reading yet, with just 11 books finished. I put this down to attending Continuum. I should also note that I was very restrained with my acquisitions at the convention; most of this month’s acquisitions are for review.

Mt TBR Status

Mt TBR @ 1 January 2016: 327
Mt TBR @ 31 May 2017: 334
Mt TBR @ 30 June 2017: 334

Books Read ) Books Acquired ) Online Reading )

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Retribution, Jennifer Fallon, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: May 2017 by Harper Voyager
Format reviewed: Trade paperback, 420 pages
Series: Hythrun Chronicles #8, The War of the Gods #2
Genres: Epic fantasy
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
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.
This review contains spoilers for previous book.

Since fleeing Winternest to avoid King Hablet’s wrath when he discovers the truth about her parentage, leaving her slave, Charisee, to take her place, Rakaia has been on quite an adventure. She has met the demon child, traveled the continent with the charming minstrel, Mica the Magnificent, enjoying more freedom then she ever imagined trapped in the harem in Talabar. But her freedom has come at a cost. Mica has committed an unthinkable crime, worse even, than stealing the golden lyre, and she is now his unwilling accomplice, sailing the high seas on a Tri-lander pirate ship, doing everything she can to avoid upsetting the man she once thought she loved, but has now realized is quite insane.

Meanwhile, Charisee, still pretending to be Rakaia, is trying to make the best of her new life as the Lady of Highcastle. But Rakaia’s past will catch up with her, even as her own lies are in danger of being exposed.

As Adrina struggles to hold Hythria together, and Marla tries to deal with the fallout from the shocking events that take place in the Citadel during the treaty negotiations, Wrayan Lightfinger and the apprentice sorcerer, Julika Hawksword, must travel to Sanctuary to find out why the fortress is back. What they will discover is shocking and will affect the entire world, even though they don’t realize it.

The Lyre Thief was one of my favourite books of 2016, so I was delighted to get the opportunity to review the sequel. It didn’t disappoint.

Being an epic fantasy, the book has a large cast of characters. I didn’t stop to reread the first book, instead choosing to dive in. It was a bit of an effort to remember who everyone was, but I soon got my feet under me. The book also has a cast of characters in the back to help, should you need it.

One thing I loved most about this series is that there are women everywhere. Most of the POV characters are female and they drive the action forward at every turn. Although the setting is a generically medieval-influenced fantasy comprised largely of patriarchal societies, the author uses her female characters to examine this set-up and to undermine it to some extent. Sophany and Rakaia are caught in relationships with dangerous and abusive men. Both try to protect people they care about and influence the situation by playing to very traditionally feminine roles. This provides an interesting contrast to Charisee and Adrina, both of whom are more secure in their power, even if it is borrowed from their husbands. These two women use this power to defy the patriarchy more directly, to varying degrees of success.

These women are without their flaws. Some of the minor female characters are downright horrible. And, as with the first book, the POV characters often act selfishly–but this is often a short step from survival and it’s never the sum of who they are. There’s always someone they care about and this helps them to remain likable.

There are a few places where the book wears its influences plainly. This was most notable when a childish king declared it was his mission to drive out the elves and make his nation great again. The story is dark at times, so this may not be the best choice for readers looking for a light escape.

However, if you’re looking for a more hopeful, more feminist alternative to A Song of Ice and Fire, Retribution may be the book for you.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A black and white photo of a large, dark teapot and a small Chinese teacup with a fish painted on the side (Tea)

Vic Market Mornings tea, McIver's, Loose-leaf Links, loose-leaf tea, Earl Grey Editing

Loose-leaf Links is a feature where I gather together the interesting bits and pieces on sci-fi, fantasy and romance I’ve come across and share them with you over tea. Today’s tea is one I picked up while at Continuum: Vic Market Mornings by McIver’s Tea and Coffee Merchants. I like my teas strong, but this verges on a little too bitter for me to drink straight.

Follow Up ) Awards News ) Community and Conventions ) On Equity ) For Writers ) For Readers )

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

The Furthest Station, Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London, Peter Grant, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: June 2017 by Subterranean Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Rivers of London/Peter Grant #7.5
Genres: Contemporary fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~Kobo

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

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there’s a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.

Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London’s rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

Joined by Peter’s wannabe wizard cousin, a preschool river god and Toby the ghost hunting dog their investigation takes a darker tone as they realise that a real person’s life might just be on the line.

And time is running out to save them.

The Furthest Station is a quick novella that retains the spirit of the series but which remains unsatisfying.

Peter’s distinctive voice is present; even though the novella is short, there’s still space for his digressions and pop culture references. There’s even a few footnotes addressed to his American counterpart, though I found these a bit disruptive. They call into question the nature of the story, particularly as there is no framework set up to indicate Peter is addressing someone particular.

The story does a reasonable job of introducing who Peter is and what he does for a living. However, I’m not sure I’d recommend it as an entry point to the series. For example, the oddness of Molly is never explained for a new reader and the references to Beverley and her family are cursory. There’s a lot of background present which is likely to make it confusing.

I enjoyed seeing Peter spend more time with Abigail, though there’s never any real change in their relationship. Preserving the status quo for the novels in such a way leaves it ultimately feeling like filler.

The main plot held up fairly well until the ending. While it was nice to see an acknowledgement that not all police work ends tidily or in a dramatic fashion, the number of loose ends made it unsatisfying to me.

All in all, The Furthest Station was a pleasant read, but not one of Aaronovitch’s better works.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A blue and purple d20 sits on some lined paper. (Gaming)

Monsterhearts, Night Witches, Tabletop RPGs

At Continuum 13, I had the pleasure of sitting on the Tabletop Gaming panel with Aidan Doyle, Darryl “Owlbear” Brown, Laura Wilkinson and Bryce Campbell. The discussion was a mix of designer and player perspectives, and remained an upbeat conversation throughout. We could have continued for hours.

One of the things I touched on in the panel was feminism and gaming. I wanted to elaborate a little on that here.

The rise of Kickstarter has brought a new golden age for indie RPGs. As the panel mentioned, you can now find something for everyone. This includes games that have strong feminist influences and encourage diversity. A few of the games that have come across my radar include:

Bluebeard’s Bride by Whitney Strix Beltrn, Marissa Kelly, and Sarah Richardson. This gothic horror RPG is still in production, but you can still preorder and check out their Kickstarter pitch video. Players collectively form Bluebeard’s Bride, playing different aspects of her psyche as she explores her husband’s mansion. Although the game uses the structure of the original fairytale, it encourages players to tell their own versions, allowing space for the empowering as well as the tragic.

Eclipse Phase by Posthuman Studios is a cyberpunk game which has just Kickstarted its second edition. This game is perhaps a little less explicitly feminist than the others. However, being concerned with posthumanism, it allows space for exploration of gender and disability through mechanisms for swapping and augmenting bodies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has more of a complicated rule system than the other games (which are all Powered by the Apocalypse).

Monsterhearts by Avery Alder is one of my favourite RPGs. It’s an urban fantasy about teenage monsters. As you might expect, teenage sexuality is an important element of the game. This may be why it is the first (and, so far, only) game I’ve ever seen discuss asexuality and allows space for that within the rules. It is also built around the premise that everyone is fundamentally bisexual and can be turned on by characters of any gender–though players always retain the choice of whether they wish to act on these feelings.

Night Witches by Jason Morningstar. Set in WW2, players are members of the all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment in the Russian Army. The game touches on the discrepancy between the Soviet philosophy of equality and how the women were actually treated. It also explicitly mentions queer relationships and one of the playbooks allows for a genderqueer character.

The Watch by Anna Kreider and Andrew Medeiros. A low magic fantasy wherein a mystical enemy known as the Shadow invades. Able to enter and subvert the minds of its enemies, the Shadow is particularly effective against men. It’s up to women and non-binary femmes to form the Watch and defend their lands. This is another game still in production, but you can still check out their Kickstarter. I appreciate the explicit inclusion of non-binary femmes in their pitch. The game also looks like it will have some mechanisms which deal with mental health.

These games have diversity and inclusivity baked into their premise and mechanisms. While I will always value these sorts of games the most, they’re not the only way of promoting diversity in RPGs. As I mentioned in the panel, simply including diverse people in the accompanying artwork can go some way towards fostering an inclusive environment. The fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons has made some improvements in this fashion (even if the setting retains some problematic elements).

The games I’ve mentioned here are surely just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re a keen tabletop RPGer, I’d love to hear from you: Which feminist RPGs have you discovered?

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Rift Riders, Becca Lusher, Wingborn, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea.

Published: Self-published in March 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Wingborn #2
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Author
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~Kobo ~ Smashwords

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The author is a friend. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.
This review contains spoilers for previous books.

On a world cursed to be covered in clouds, protected by the elite Rift Riders who fly on the backs of giant eagle miryhls, Lady Mhysra Kilpapan and her friends are making history. Women are now firmly back within the Rider fold and the future looks bright.

But even though Mhysra and her Wingborn Cumulo have survived their first year as students, there’s more to becoming a Rift Rider than lessons and training. Especially when trouble is brewing in the Wrathlen and the kaz-naghkt are looking for revenge.

Return to the Overworld for the next exciting Wingborn adventure, where strength, loyalty, honour and friendship are about to tested to their limits and beyond.

I am a huge fan of the Wingborn series. What’s not to love about a magical Regency-influenced society where the military ride giant eagles? Wingborn did an excellent job of setting up that society: showing the bond between rider and eagle, as well as the expectations the upper class have of their children.

Rift Riders takes that and shakes it up. Now that the world has been established, a serious threat steps forward. Yullik, a man with mysterious powers, manages to unite the pirate captains of Wrathlen for the first time in history. Allied with savage draconoids, the kaz-naghkt, they may prove unstoppable–even for the Rift Riders. This new threat builds great tension and raises the stakes. It also makes Rift Riders quite a different book to its predecessor. The more domestic aspects of the story, such as society life and the Kilpapan family dynamics, are left behind in favour of a more traditional epic fantasy narrative.

While this was slightly disappointing, the transition works well, with Rift Riders becoming more of an ensemble piece. Mhysra remains an important part of the narrative, but her friends get a greater share of the spotlight, with a few stepping forward to become point-of-view characters. This enables us to see more of what’s going on, particularly when battles break out on several fronts.

The relationships between these characters remain a strength of the story. The groundwork for a few romances was laid in the previous book, but this are dialled back or absent entirely. Instead, the focus is on friendship and duty. Mhysra and her friends do their best to support each other as they struggle to survive and defend the realm. The banter between them is never entirely absent, lightening what could otherwise be quite a grim story. Nor is this friendly teasing limited to the students–Lieutenants Lyrai and Stirla are equally as bad.

Managing such a cast of characters can be a handful, but the story does an excellent job of reintroducing everyone in the beginning. It does so through a tight action sequence which handles both aerial and ground-based combat in a way that sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

All in all, Rift Riders was a delight to read. With at least one more novel to come, and with the shift of tone between books, I’m curious to see what is in store for the remainder of the series.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Trigger Warning: This post contains a realistic depiction of brains. You can thank Seanan McGuire.

Last weekend, I attended Continuum 13 in Melbourne. It was also the 56th Australian National Science Fiction Convention. The Guests of Honour were Seanan McGuire and Likhain.

I took a bit of a different approach to the convention this year. Instead of writing notes, I live-tweeted most of the panels and events I attended. You can find those tweets on Storify. They cover:

To Be Continued… a panel on serialised fiction with Nathan Farrugia, Seanan McGuire, Gillian Polack and Tansy Rayner Roberts.

Creativity and Mental Health with Likhain, Creatrix Tiara, Lauren E. Mitchell, Mary Borsellino and Dorian Ellis.

1001 Ways to Die in Space with Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

The Art and Science of Publishing with Devin Madson, Sam Hawke, Donna Maree Hanson and Robert Law.

It’s Okay to Quit, a panel on breaking up with books, franchises and fandoms. Panelists were Seanan McGuire, Tori, Figgy O’Connell, and Lauren Mitchell.

Anime and Manga with Likhain, John Samuel, Bryce Campbell, Laura Wilkinson and Candice Schilder.

Once Upon A Time with Seanan McGuire, Amanda Pillar, Kirstyn McDermott, Jodi McAlister and Sebastian Edwards.

Whitewashing in SF with Devin Jeyathurai, Stephanie Lai, Likhain, Creatrix Tiara and Tori.

Seanan McGuire’s Guest of Honour AMA.

The Ditmar Awards.

Forgotten Mothers of SFF, a panel on women writers erased from SFF. Panelists were Cat Sparks, Seanan McGuire, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Sam Hawke and Jodi McAlister.

Fan Fiction and Fan Art with Likhain, Liz Barr, Elaine Cuyegkeng and Erica.

There are also links to tweets about other panels, such as Asian SFF, Secondary Worlds in Weird Fiction, the Bioware Panel and Likhain’s Guest of Honour speech. And I included a few tweets about the Tabletop Renaissance panel I sat on, but plan to post on that in more detail next week.

Despite this fairly thorough coverage of the con, there were a few things I didn’t mention, or touched on only briefly. I will expand on those here.

Snow on the mountains during the flight to Melbourne.

I arrived early in Melbourne, which afforded me a chance to catch up with a few people before the start of the convention. On Friday morning, Kat Clay took me to the Hopetoun Tea Rooms. The shop windows are a work of art, filled with gorgeous cakes and tarts that are guaranteed to get you drooling. They also do a lovely range of loose-leaf tea. We shared a pot of Earl Grey which had been given a unique twist by the addition of Gumbi Gumbi–a kind of Pittosporum known as Native Apricot. The chocolate pecan tart was also excellent.

In the afternoon, I got the chance to catch up with Ju from The Conversationalist. Being a Melbourne native, she was able to give me a great tour, including the locations of good places to eat and the Kit Kat store–both vital bits of knowledge. She also took me past McIver’s and Lupicia, both wonderful loose-leaf tea stores.

Tea haul

The convention started in earnest at 5PM on Friday. But that doesn’t mean there was an end to the cake. Galactic Suburbia held a fundraising drive for the Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship.

And there was cake for the launch of Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones.

In keeping with the natures of the protagonists, Seanan had two different kinds of cake from Cake and Madness. One was a traditional cupcake with glittery frosting. And the other… well, the other was a bit disturbing.

Yes, it’s a cake.

Watching it be eaten was a little like finding myself in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Moving away from the food theme, I also managed to get in a bit of roleplaying at the convention. Alex Hardison was gracious enough to run a one-shot of Feng Shui for me and a few friends. The game is modelled after Hong Kong action movies, rewarding flamboyant, physics-defying manoeuvres. The system was easy to grasp, making it perfect for a one-shot. Alex had also put together a cleverly modular session based around a train heist. Everyone had a wonderful time.

I made a few new friends this year. I got to meet DUFF delegate Paul Weimer, whose voice remained very familiar after the last few months of listening to the Skiffy and Fanty podcast. It was wonderful to finally meet face-to-face. I also got to meet Kate Laidley, who I’d previously met virtually on Instagram. It was her first convention, so hopefully we didn’t scare her away!

And, of course, no convention is complete without a book haul. My own was fairly modest this year. The first thing I picked up from the dealers’ room wasn’t a book at all.

As soon as I saw those teapot earrings, I knew I needed them.

I came back on Monday to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was lucky I did, because by the time the launch of Down Among the Sticks and Bones came around, there were very few copies left.

The Princess Diarist is also a bit of a cheat because I didn’t actually buy it. It’s on loan from Mayakitten. We’re both making our way through the Hugo shortlists and catch up on a regular basis to discuss them over hot chocolate.

So, that was Continuum 13! It was my first Continuum and I had a fantastic time. Kudos to the programmers, who did a brilliant job with piecing together the panels. And a big thank-you to the committee and volunteers, who were all very friendly and kept everything running smoothly. I’ll definitely be going back when I can.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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