Review: Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans

Published by: Echo Publishing
ISBN: 1760685852
ISBN 13: 9781760685850
Published: February 2020
Pages: 247
Format reviewed: PDF from publisher
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

Euphoria Kids tells the story of three kids. The first we meet is Iris, who has two mums, can see and speak with faeries and other magical folk, and uses ‘they’ pronouns. The second is Babs, who they meet after attending the same school for a while but having never run into each other before – partly because Babs has a tendency to turn invisible sometimes thanks to an earlier run-in with a witch. Babs is also made of fire, and identifies as female. When the two finally meet it’s like they’ve come home; finally meeting someone who gets them in a way no one else has before.

Then there’s a new boy in school, a boy who hasn’t really worked out what name he wants to go by, but who is comforted by the fact he has Babs and Iris who understand it’s no big deal to not have a name as of yet, and that it’ll come when it’s ready. Instantly, the three are friends.

The novel goes through school, times in the forest, and touches on chronic illnesses (Babs’ mum), and what it means to be an outsider to some but entirely normal to others. The novel has a wistful and serene tone, and it’s sure to touch the hearts of many; anyone who is open to it.

One thing that did slightly confuse me is that in the beginning it sets up that Iris had friends during the first couple years of high school but then drifted from them, which makes me think this is happening when Iris is in Year 11 or Year 12, however, the book itself felt more middle-grade… which, in itself isn’t a bad thing. Certainly when I was in school there were kids who seemed to be ready for a mortgage and had enough dramas to fit into The Young and the Restless and then there were other kids who were doing exactly what many adults (I’m sure) wish they could still be doing now. Chilling out, with only a vague worry about the next exam.

What’s important is that this story is nice. When I was in school (and then also later judging for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards), all the books written for the upper years of schooling were so depressing; they were about drugs, abortions, heartache, losing your parents (or having abusive parents), various types of assault, losing your innocence, blah blah blah. And hell, those books are important, sure… but when it’s literally all that’s out there on the shelves it certainly does paint a certain picture that these years are a time when you’re meant to be depressed. And surely that’s not right.

Euphoria Kids gives us the representation from an OwnVoices author that we needed then, need now, and need more of in general. Iris, Babs and Boy gives us the delight and warmth of new friendships and acceptance, the knowing who you are and that’s okay, or still searching and that’s okay, too. And they also have lovely supportive parents, who have a real connection to their kids and support and guide them. Even the woman in the cafe – we see her get it wrong, listen, correct, and try to do better. This is exactly what we need.

Alison Evans included a letter to the reader when we received our review copies. The letter reads:

Dear reader,

I write these stories because I can’t get the fifteen-year-old me out of my head, the one who was so scared because they thought that they were alone. I don’t want anyone else to feel that.

A lot of stories about trans characters are focused on conflict and trauma. Stories written about us focus on our transitions, gender dysphoria, how we have learnt to hate our bodies, how we want to change our bodies. 

Trans people are so often defined by what we’re not; we are defined by a lack. That is often where the conflict lies in the stories written about us. I realised that it is very easy for me to write these stories, to continue that narrative, because I’ve been taught to. That narrative is so dominant in the media, in the books we read, the films we watch. This is not always a bad thing, and these stories are necessary, but when these are written from a cis perspective, they can be incredibly damaging. So much of the trans presence in fiction is dictated by cis people.

I realised I wanted to write queer stories without queer trauma, and I don’t really know how to do that exactly. There is a lot of unlearning to do. And a lot of learning, learning to give the same weight to joy that I do to sadness. 

I want people to know about gender euphoria. I want them to learn about it before gender dysphoria. I want the young trans kids that will read this book to be proud of who they are, and imagine wonderful, magic lives for themselves.

Alison Evans

Review: The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

Published by: Random House
ISBN: 1786331918
ISBN 13: 9781786331915
Published: February 2020
Pages: 432
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author’s twitter
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Set in the scarily-near future, the earth has stopped turning. Half of the planet is in darkness (including Australia, so I guess I’m dead) whilst half burns to a crisp. There is a slim habitable region left on the planet which happens to include England (and some of Europe). This is all thanks to a white dwarf star (one that is the size of the earth but two hundred thousand times as dense) that suffered a supernova explosion and travelled at two thousand kilometres a second, skimmed past our planet and dragged it backwards, and continued on its merry way; already gone before scientists realised what had happened.

During the slow, the Earth is ravaged by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, gale-force winds, and floods, as the planet tries to resettle itself in this new physical state. The Earth finally stops moving in 2029.

Thirty years later from this event there’s no internet, no satellites, no mobile phones, no television. Diseases have resurfaced from the permafrost (now not so frosty), and crops are heavily maintained and altered in order to survive in this new land, as well as manage to feed the amount of people who have crowded into the last remaining habitable areas on the planet. The Brits sunk as many things as they could get their hands on into the ocean around their border to lock themselves off, knowing they can’t provide for everyone who tries to escape into their borders.

In this, we have Hopper, a scientist who lost her mother (a doctor, trying to help people on the wrong side of the border when England closed their doors) and a father (who worked in getting supplies across England… a dangerous job, lost to renegades with guns who overpowered his group in order to take their water/rations), but still has a brother who works in security and thus can’t speak much of his job. This new England is pretty much what one would expect if you’ve read 1984, only with more violence as the general population try to survive on the scraps they manage to get (rations don’t cover much at all.) There are many, many prisoners who work the land under government control, which is apparently a better life than any of their other few choices.

Hopper has escaped the life in England to work on an oil rig in the North Atlantic, off the south coast of England. She studies the water currents and assists the crew in tugging icebergs out of harms way, and looting dead ships that float by, carrying people who tried to escape the world but have hopefully left some tinned food behind; the living need all the help they can get after all.

I say ‘escaped’ as Hopper was married, once. He wanted kids however, and she couldn’t fathom bringing more life into a population that’s already struggling. She figures it’s easier to live out in the cold where she barely has to interact with anyone, though she is almost friends with another member of the crew, Harv.

One day upon their return from a boat they’ve now sunk (but collected some tins of food for their efforts, yay) there are two government officials who have come out to the rig by helicopter, simply to grant a dying wish to an old man who had once been highly ranked in this new Orwellian government (but then had a fall from grace). He also happened to be Hopper’s teacher at university, the main one who’d listened to her, the only reason she had stayed and then got her job as a scientist at all… but who also then deeply failed her. She’s ignored him since, including a letter that had reached her a few weeks before this point, begging her to contact him (discreetly) and that the risks are great but that he desperately needs her help.

She had burned the letter.

Now, however, a helicopter has been sent to collect her and when vague threats are made about what could happen to her job if she doesn’t attend, she agrees to return to London… and from there we have a thriller full of political intrigue, hard loyalties involving her brother and ex-husband, the connections her dying mentor once had, and a twisted Government who will stop at no end (no matter how many bodies continue to pile up) if it means they can cover up… what, exactly?

You’ll have to read to find out.

Murray has co-authored numerous books so far but this is his first step into fiction. His day job is researching interesting facts for the British panel show QI and as a Private Eye journalist, though I mainly know of his work from one quarter of my favourite podcast, No Such Thing as a Fish, which has brought out three books so far, rounding up the weirdest news of the year (for 2017, 2018, and 2019). He’s also part of a comedy improv group called Austentatious where they take suggestions from the crowd so then immediately act an entirely improvised lost ‘Jane Austen’ book, to much hilarity (they have audio skits on BBC radio occasionally but also do live shows; I’ve seen them at Edinburgh Fringe).

Murray also goes by the name ‘Lightning’ and eats crisps off a plate rather than from a packet. I hope he comes out with another piece of fiction in the near future.

Review: Not So Stories, edited by David Thomas Moore

Published by: Rebellion
ISBN 13: 9781781087800
Published: Jan 2020 (first published April 2018)
Pages: 320
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

One of my favourite books growing up was Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. I especially liked How the Elephant got His Trunk, How the Camel Got His Hump, and How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin. Mum tried to raise me on a range of stories set all around the world (Little Black Sambo, etc) all of which I can pretty well guess would be problematic now without a re-read.

Thus, I’m glad this anthology exists; a chance to share the lyrical style of writing along with explanations of how things came to be. I live in remote Australia, so have also been surrounded by dreamtime stories, How the Birds Got their Colours, How the Kangaroos got Their Tails, and so on (told by Mary Albert, of the Bardi people but put together by a children’s author; I can only hope they did them justice…)

Stories like these from around the world certainly give a better answer to kids and all their questions, and as a child I found they could be read again and again (or listened to dozens of times) because there was always some other understanding to be found in them; something else to giggle at, a new way at keeping your mind open for cultures other than your own.

The foreword by Nikesh Shukla starts with an important quote, attributed to Junot Diaz;

“You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”

This is why we need to support authors and their books from all parts of the world, and why we shouldn’t settle for only one main ‘default’ setting… which, aside from allowing everyone to be able to see themselves in media (which is absolutely crucial to steps towards a better world), it also makes for a far more interesting one. People are so quick to jump on books where a plot is similar to another one they’ve read; why aren’t we as quick to demand more than the usual main character we so constantly see?

The contents are as follows:

Foreword by Nikesh Shukla
How the Spider Got Her Legs, Cassandra Khaw
Queen, Joseph E. Cole
Best Beloved, Wayne Santos
The Man Who Played With the Crab, Adiwijaya Iskandar
Saṃsāra, Georgina Kamsika
Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger, Zedeck Siew
How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic, Jeannette Ng
How the Ants Got Their Queen, Stewart Hotston
How the Snake Lost its Spine, Tauriq Moosa
The Cat Who Walked by Herself, Achala Upendran
Strays Like Us, Zina Hutton
How the Simurgh Won Her Tail, Ali Nouraei
There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang, Raymond Gates
How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off, Paul Krueger

The anthology starts strong; How the Spider Got her Legs is one of my favourites in the collection. The spider’s voice (and Khaw’s for that matter) are so elegant for both Spider and Tiger, and with grim satisfaction for Man.

Also a standout is Saṃsāra, by Georgina Kamsika, not so much a story reminiscent of ‘best beloveds’ but equally enthralling; an Indian family who now live in England; the daughter being pulled away from her culture but coming back to it at the passing of her grandmother, which sparks an interest in her culture she wishes she knew more of.

Raymond Gates has a story in this anthology; hoorah for Aboriginal inclusion; with quite an Australianesque tale There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang, and the anthology rounds off nicely with How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off, by Paul Krueger, a tale that really speaks to me as someone who works in HR and knows only too well of how bizarre we can be.

All in all this is a decent anthology, though there were some stories within that didn’t manage to hold my attention. The artwork, also, didn’t appeal to me personally… which is a shame. I do love when artwork is included in an anthology however the style here seemed to detract; the visuals I had in my head spoke louder. It’s entirely possible the artwork in my review version were placeholders for work that’s more detailed, perhaps?

Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Published by: Pan Macmillan Australia
ISBN: 1529005108
ISBN 13: 9781760789909
Published: Jan 2020
Pages: 352
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

In the 1600s in Norway, back when magic was believed and feared yet relied upon in their hours of darkest need, there was a little fishing town who lost everything when forty men perish in the sea when a sudden storm overtakes them. The community are shattered, losing their husbands, fathers, brothers, in one night and are left with nothing but their grief and a lack of a way forward.

Maren is our main character. In the storm she lost her father, older brother, and the man she was set to marry (however she may have felt about that at the time), and is left with her mother and sister in law. The sister in law isn’t from around their parts, and is treated with suspicion at times when it comes to matters of the unnatural (her own father was a respected shaman), but women in the community have still gone to her for help falling pregnant, and the like.

Absalom is a man who comes to their small town years later, and is determined to bring religion and the fear of God into them. His main goal is to rid the land of those who follow the old ways, such as Maren’s sister-in-law’s shaman beliefs and rituals. With him he brings his new wife, Ursa. She fears yet respects her husband, but is also drawn to Maren who is likewise drawn to her.

This novel explores the place a woman has in the world – where sometimes they may have to step up to save their community from starvation but also be looked down upon for not keeping in their ‘proper’ place as a woman should. Also, their worth to their family; having to wed another to save their family financially. Mostly, fear. The setting of the harsh ice land brings this into sharp resolve as it perfectly sets the reader into the understanding of just how trapped they are there in all senses of the word.

Very bleak and absolutely gorgeous, and I loved Maren and Ursa’s story. Hoorah for more queer historical fiction on our shelves.

Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Series: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street #1
Published by: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 1620408333
ISBN 13: 9781620408339
Published: July 2015
Pages: 318
Format reviewed: eBook
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (The Watchmaker of Filigree Street #2) (review to come)

Steampunk in Victorian England; what more could anyone ask for?

This is a strange book that took me a while to fall into. Anything recommended by Mary Robinette is something to be trusted, (and Robin Hobb for that matter). I started it, and let my attention slip into another book when it needed it, so I could easily return to this without it feeling like a chore.

By 30% or so, it didn’t, and the rest was a race home. A peculiar book that’s all the better for being so; if you read a lot, sometimes books become easy to expect what will happen next and sometimes that’s fine – our minds like being right about things after all.

This novel manages to do different things without it feeling wrong or jarring, and I’m now looking forward to reading the next book, luckily without having such a long wait in between, then if I’d read this book at its debut.