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20170907_094456

Welp, cross-posting from the Earl Grey Editing site is borked and I've been unable to fix it with my meagre tech skills. Apologies to anyone who was following along here. You should still be able to subscribe for email notifications or follow it via RSS.
calissa: (Default)
Hi everyone! Something has gone wrong with crossposting from my EGE blog and I don't have time to fix it before Conflux starts (in less than an hour). So, if you want to read my list of five favourite fairytales you're going to have to follow the link.

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

The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: July 2016 by IFWG Publishing
Format reviewed: Trade paperback, 336 pages
Genres: Supernatural, psychological horror
Source: Library
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia~ Kobo

There are many grief holes. There’s the grief hole you fall into when a loved one dies. There’s another grief hole in all of us; small or large, it determines how much we want to live. And there are the places, the physical grief holes, which attract suicides to their centre. Sol Evictus, a powerful, charismatic singer, sends a young artist into The Grief Hole to capture the faces of the teenagers dying there. When she inevitably dies herself, her cousin Theresa resolves to stop this man so many love. Theresa sees ghosts; she knows how you’ll die by the spirits haunting you. If you’ll drown, she’ll see drowned people. Most often she sees battered women, because she works to find emergency housing for abused women. She sees no ghosts around Sol Evictus but she doesn’t let that stop her. Her passion to help, to be a saint, drives her to find a way to destroy him.

Kaaron Warren is a multi-award-winning author and The Grief Hole shows why. I’ve held off reading her work for a while, since horror is really not my jam. However, when The Grief Hole was nominated for a Ditmar Award, I knew it was time for me to dive in.

At first glance, the book looks like supernatural horror. Theresa can, after all, see ghosts. These ghosts reflect the way a person is most likely to die.

However, the ghosts are not the scary part.

Although they’re keen to gather more of their number, they are ultimately powerless background noise. As the story progresses and Theresa comes to understand things better, they become somewhat more sympathetic.

Instead, what is clear from the start of the novel is that it’s about human monsters. The story is divided up into Interventions. These are times when the ghosts around someone are so numerous or otherwise strange that Theresa is prompted to act: to commit some deed that results in death or incarceration for the perpetrator. She’s very clear she acts out of a sense of justice, rather than revenge.

However, this doesn’t make Theresa a good person by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, we’re shown all the ways that Theresa herself is monstrous. She thrives on the suffering of others, often poking at emotional tender points and claiming it’s to help. She frames newspaper smeared with blood from her cousin’s suicide, looking on it as somehow inspirational. She keeps files of atrocities reported in the media. And she jumps to conclusions about what her ghosts are trying to tell her, acting on information that is sometimes incomplete or incorrect. She shows how good intentions are sometimes self-delusion.

While the ghosts aren’t exactly central to the story, I still refused to read this story after dark. The author does a fantastic job of creating an oppressive atmosphere that lingers over the reader as much as the characters. Towards the end, the story took on a dark fairytale resonance, somewhat reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm or the story of Bluebeard. This is enhanced by the characters, some of whom feel otherworldly. Theresa’s aunt Prudence is a prime example. Her association with the colour red and the way she always carries balloons with her gives her the feeling of a hallucination, only kept partially at bay by the fact she’s visible to people other than Theresa.

I can’t say I enjoyed The Grief Hole; it is not a book intended for comfort or enjoyment. However, it is a well-written and thoughtful examination of grief and altruism. It won three major Australian awards this year and most certainly deserves the accolades it has received.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Conflux, Canberra’s annual convention for speculative fiction writers and fans, begins next week! This year it is taking place from Friday 29 September until Monday 2 October and the theme is Grimm Tales. Hugo-winning editor Ellen Datlow is the international Guest of Honour, and dark fantasy/horror author Angela Slatter is the Australian Guest of Honour. Kaaron Warren will be the MC. As usual, I will be attending and am very much looking forward to making some new friends as well as catching up with some old ones.

Where to find me

I will be sitting on four panels. Exact details are subject to change.

Con 101

When: Friday, 29 September 10:00 AM

Where: Program Room 3
Hotel Vibe
1 Rogan Street, Canberra

Panellists: Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Leife Shallcross

New to Conflux? Not been to a con before? Come and get your starter packs here. (Mostly just friendly chat–no actual starter packs will be issued, but there may be Tim Tams.)

 

Creating Story for Games

When: Friday, 29 September, 2:00 PM

Where: Program room 2

Panellists: Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Adam Hale (m), Rik Legarto, Alistair Ott, Maddy Piggott

Whether it’s roleplaying IRL or in a computer game.

 

Beyond the Hunger Games

When: Saturday, 30 September, 11: 00 AM

Where: Program room 1

Panellists: Felicity Banks, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Adam Hale, Aiki Johnston (m)

The best YA books in the last 12 months

 

The Hugos are a Joke

When: Monday, 2 October, 11:30 AM

Where: Program room 1

Panellists: Alan Baxter, Ellen Datlow, Elizabeth Fitzgerald (m), Tim Napper

Or have they redeemed themselves? And what about the Nebulas? And how could we get better Aussie representation on the shortlists?

 

If you have an interest in speculative fiction and can make it along, please stop by and say hi! I love getting to know new people. However, if Canberra is a little too far away for you or attending conventions is not your sort of thing, there’s no need for you to miss out entirely. I shall be posting a convention report once the excitement is over (and I’ve had the chance for a few restorative cups of tea).

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Fake Geek Girl, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Belladonna University, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: March 2016 by Sheep Might Fly
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Belladonna University #1
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Author
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Author’s website (electronic, free) ~ Sheep Might Fly (audio, free) ~ Review of Australian Fiction

Meet Fake Geek Girl, the band that plays nerdy songs at the university bar every Friday night, to a mixture of magical and non-magical students: lead singer Holly writes songs based on her twin sister Hebe’s love of geek culture though she doesn’t really understand it; drummer Sage is an explosive sorcerous genius obsessing over whether Holly’s about to quit the band to go mainstream; shy Juniper only just worked up the nerve to sing her own song in public and keeps a Jane Austen themed diary chronicling the lives and loves of her friends. When the mysterious, privileged Ferd joins their share house, everything starts to unravel…

Fake Geek Girl is a fun short story that brings magic to an Australian university.

The world-building was one of my favourite parts of the story. It’s set in an alternate version of the present where magic (also referred to as the Real) and technology (the Unreal) exist uneasily alongside each other. Magic is very much the norm, with almost everyone having some degree of magic proficiency. Students have laptops and mobile phones they need to keep protected from magic radiation, and heaven help the student who tries to use magic Post-Its on his ordinary textbook. The university likewise reflects this dichotomy, with the more prestigious College of the Real teaching thaumaturgy and similar magic classes, while the College of the Unreal includes Gender Studies and Unreal Literature.

The characters were also wonderful. Each character is distinct, with their own personalities and quirks. Hebe is a sweet girl who cares about her friends and isn’t afraid to snark when she’s constantly mistaken for her rock-star twin sister. Sage is the glue that holds the band together… well, usually. And shy Juniper’s love affair with Jane Austen was gorgeous. I was actually a little disappointed we didn’t get to see more of her, but I’m hoping that may be rectified in a later story.

As you might gather, friendship is very much at the heart of the story. Changing circumstances threaten to steal away one friend, but has simultaneously delivered a new one. The characters don’t always face these changes with grace, making them very relatable. They also come with a side order of banter.

The story is written in first person with the author’s distinctive voice–sarcastic but fun and upbeat. The chapters alternate perspectives, with the heading title incorporating the perspective character’s name. Despite this, I didn’t immediately twig to the shift in perspective and it threw me off in the second chapter. However, the story was too much fun not to persist.

Overall, I really enjoyed Fake Geek Girl and the series has become my new favourite of the author’s work.

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)

Photo by Lyss Wickramasinghe. Used with permission.

Despite rumours to the contrary, I am not a tea snob. While I drink plenty of loose-leaf tea, I also drink a ton of tea bags. So, I was delighted when Lyss took time out from the Never Never Book Box launch to pitch this to me.

Everyone loves a cup of tea! But more and more people are coming to care about where their tea comes from. Ethically sourced tea is a massively growing industry, with many ethical brands now being available at the local supermarket in Australia.

But are they any good?

This is the real question for tea connoisseurs. Is there any quality difference between the ethical brands and our old favourites? And just which ethical ratings can you trust?

Well don’t panic, we here at NeverNever HQ are going to figure all this out for you!

Read more... )

Lyss Wickramasinghe, reporting from the bottom of a teapot at Never Never HQ. She had to battle off a few hundred pirates and a couple of pesky Lost Boys, but can now enjoy her cuppa in peace.

To share her love for ethical and delicious tea, The Never Never Book Box has included a specially blended organic tea in their Upcoming Questing box.

Sign up to their mailing list for a chance to WIN a Free Box at http://the-never-never-book-box.launchrock.com/

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Acadie, Dave Hutchinson, Tor.com, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: September 2017 by Tor.com
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Science fiction
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 Colony left Earth to find their utopia–a home on a new planet where their leader could fully explore the colonists’ genetic potential, unfettered by their homeworld’s restrictions. They settled a new paradise, and have been evolving and adapting for centuries.

Earth has other plans.

The original humans have been tracking their descendants across the stars, bent on their annihilation. They won’t stop until the new humans have been destroyed, their experimentation wiped out of the human gene pool.

Can’t anyone let go of a grudge anymore?

Acadie is an entertaining sci-fi novella, but one that ultimately didn’t work for me.

The first line is a good hook, but the story gets off to a bit of a slow start as daily life is established. Although the low gravity makes it plain things are a bit unusual, there were some small details I really enjoyed. For example, low gravity still doesn’t stop cats from chasing each other around the house.

Its sense of humour is a strength of the story. John Wayne “Duke” Faraday might be the President of the Colony, but he’s a pretty ordinary guy just looking to enjoy a holiday. In fact, the only reason he’s president was because he was away during the elections. Unfortunately, it looks like the Bureau might have discovered the hidden Colony on his watch.

As you might have gathered, the story is full of pop culture references. Duke interacts with people who have genetically engineered themselves to look like the elves from Lord of the Rings or Klingons from Star Trek. The founder of the Colony is Isabel Potter. And Connie’s full name made me chuckle.

The author builds a fascinating world in a very short space. There were some great character interactions and enough detail to paint a vivid picture.

Unfortunately, the surprise twist at the end undermined the story for me. Although clever, it left me wondering what the point was supposed to be.

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, Peter F. Hamilton, Queen of Dreams, A Voyage Through Air, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Wayward Children, Seanan McGuire, Dirty, Kylie Scott, Dive Bar, Vlad: the Last Confession, C.C. Humphreys, Queen Victoria's Book of Spells, Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, books and tea, tea and books

Although August got off to a good start, I had a bit of a reading slump that started about a week in. I’m only just pulling out of it now. Nevertheless, Mt TBR is still looking in good shape after I culled a few books. It brings me back below my starting figure for the year, which I’m very pleased by. Now it’s just a matter of seeing if I can maintain that until the end of the year–keeping in mind that Conflux, my birthday and Christmas all lie ahead.

Mt TBR Status

Mt TBR @ 1 January 2016: 327
Mt TBR @ 31 July 2017: 330
Mt TBR @ 31 August 2017: 320

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)

Bout of Books, The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren, A Voyage Through Air, Peter F. Hamilton, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Round 20 of Bout of Books wrapped up yesterday, so it’s time for me to check in with my progress!

In my sign-up post, I mentioned my goal was to get through a minimum of three books. Sadly, I didn’t even make that many. I struggled with focus, partly distracted by my radio discussion of Kaaron Warren’s The Grief Hole. I spent some of the week skimming through that to refresh my memory, instead of picking up Glenda Larke’s Heart of the Mirage (which I am still determined to get to before the end of the year). I also read Tansy Rayner Roberts’ short story Fake Geek Girl which I will be reviewing here soon. I followed that up with the sequel Unmagical Boy Story, which I listened to on audio via Tansy’s podcast. And I made it most of the way through A Voyage Through Air, a middle-grade fantasy novel by Peter F. Hamilton.

So, all up, it wasn’t my finest week for reading. Perhaps I’ll have better luck (or focus) next time.

What about you? Did you join in Bout of Books last week? If so, how did you do? If not, what did you read over the week?

For those interested in the next Bout of Books, it will take place on 8-14 January 2018. For further details, keep an eye out here or head over to the Bout of Books blog.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

One Last Drop, Nicole Field, Less Than Three Press, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: August 2017 by Less Than Three Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Romance, LGBTQIA
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (electronic only)

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

Rory is a university student — and she’s just a little too fond of drinking and partying. But when she woke up with no memory of the evening, or the person beside her and what they did, that was the last straw.

Getting help seems the obvious first step, but it’s still hard to walk into the AA meeting, and harder still to stick to her goals.

But if she wants a chance to make things work with the beautiful Michelle, and further explore the submissive side she’s ignored, she’s going to have to commit to recovery and pull her life together, no matter how difficult that seems.

One Last Drop is a f/f romance that tackles some big issues but ultimately left me unsatisfied.

The primary focus of the story is Rory’s alcoholism and her ongoing recovery. It starts at Rory’s first AA meeting which gives a pretext for the skillful delivery of a traumatic backstory without making the reader experience it directly. As a teetotaler, I appreciated the way the story highlighted the alcoholic culture not only of university life but of society more generally. There were also some poignant moments examining shame and the way this manifests–particularly in Rory’s desire to keep her problem a secret and how this undermines her by depriving her of a support network.

However, the latter point was weakened somewhat by shallow characterisation. The close third-person perspective allows us to see what’s going on for Rory, but the characters around her felt flat. Michelle in particular came across as less of a character to connect to and more as a role: that of love interest and mature role-model for Rory to potentially grow into. When the trauma in Michelle’s background came up, it caught me by surprise, as there hadn’t been any foreshadowing. Perhaps this was by design–people don’t foreshadow their traumas in real life–but it left me feeling ambivalent.

The story takes a positive stance towards support groups and therapy, which I appreciated. I also liked the interplay between addiction and BDSM; Michelle is quite firm in not allowing Rory to avoid taking responsibility for her addiction by hiding in her new role as a submissive. Readers should not expect much in the way of onscreen sex. Instead, as is common for Field’s stories, the scene fades to black.

All in all, One Last Drop had some elements I liked, but I feel it ultimately failed to live up to its potential.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

July and August have my Mt TBR looking in pretty good shape, but it could always use a little more help. One of the best ways to do that is through a reading challenge!

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 21st and runs through Sunday, August 27th 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 20 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.– From the Bout of Books team

Being a low-pressure challenge, Bout of Books lets me set my own goals. As with the last few times, I’m aiming to get through a minimum of three books. My goal is to power through Glenda Larke’s Mirage Makers trilogy, which has been languishing on Mt TBR for entirely too long. It might be a bit ambitious to get through in a week, but I’ll be giving it my best shot!

Glenda Larke, Mirage Makers, Heart of the Mirage, the Shadow of Tyr, Song of the Shiver Barrens, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books, Bout of Books, Mt TBR

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

What’s on your TBR pile this week?

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie, Peggy Bright Books, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: June 2017 by Peggy Bright Books
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Guerline Scarfe #1
Genres: Sci-fi, crime
Source: Publisher
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia

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.

Tanja Morgenstein, daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a geochemist, is dead from exposure to Titan’s lethal, chilled atmosphere, and Guerline Scarfe must determine why.

This novella blends hard-SF extrapolation with elements of contemporary crime fiction, to envisage a future human society in a hostile environment, in which a young woman’s worst enemies may be those around her.

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body is a hard sci-fi crime novella. It starts off with the suicide of a wealthy heiress, but the book is as much about the author’s vision of Titan’s settlement as it is about the mystery.

Usually, I’m not particularly fond of hard sci-fi and there were elements of the genre present in Matters Arising that didn’t appeal to me. In particular, I found the language more academic than emotive, which created a distance from the characters. However, the story went some way towards mitigating that by giving the main character a family life of sorts. Seeing her struggle with her personal relationships helped humanise Guerline. Her focus and dedication to her work is shown as both a virtue and a character flaw.

The details of daily life also helped make Guerline relatable. We get to see her make long commutes, grouch at missed flights and travel delays, and engage in online research and recreation. These details also do a clever double duty, showing what it’s like to live on Titan in a way that feels natural. It also fits in with the detail-oriented nature of procedural crime.

The drawback to this approach is that it can feel a bit slow-paced. There’s no real sense of urgency until Guerline’s final trip home. However, the short chapters help to counterbalance this.

Another thing I was pleased to see was how diverse the cast was. It’s something I’m not used to seeing in hard sci-fi… though it should be said my experience with the genre is very limited, especially when it comes to modern examples.

All in all, Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body was a solid read and while not exactly my cup of tea, I’d definitely recommend it to lovers of hard sci-fi.

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)

Earl Grey Editing, tea and cake, lamington cake

Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of Earl Grey Editing’s blog. I’m celebrating with Lamington cake: vanilla sponge cake dipped in chocolate and covered in dessicated coconut, layered with jam and cream. It is delicious!

So, three years. That sounds like such a short time and yet it feels like I’ve been doing this forever. I find the work very satisfying and it continues to bring me a great deal of joy. Having found my niche, I hope to continue for many more years.

2017 has brought a few milestones. It was a great honour to be nominated for the Aurealis Convenors’ Award for Excellence, so thank you to the person or people who put my name forward. I’d also like to say a big thank you to those of you who nominated and voted for the blog as part of the Ditmar Awards. Getting my first nominations for both major Australian SFF awards in the same year was a delightful surprise. Thanks also goes to Paul Weimer for his support and to Mike Glyer and File 770 for the occasional signal boosts. It is astonishing to be acknowledged by one of the giants in the field.

To celebrate, I’m trying something new: a giveaway. The prize is a gift card for either Booktopia ($30 AUD) or Amazon US ($25 USD) or Amazon UK (GBP) Because I hate it when giveaways are restricted to just a few countries on the other side of the world, I’m also open to prize suggestions if none of the above suit your country of origin. Entries close 19 August (AEST) with a winner announced on 25 August. Head over to the EGE blog to enter.

Good luck!

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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 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 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: 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 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.

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October 2017

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