Anticipated Books of 2017

2016 was taken up by running the Aurealis Awards and not being a judge for anything for the first time since 2011 – I thought it would be the year of reading whatever I wanted, but was in fact far too busy and burnt out. I do really like judging, and how it brings books I wouldn’t have otherwise heard of (let alone pick up to read, or even give myself dedicated time to enjoy) and gives me an excuse to read them asap… but I’m looking forward to 2017.

I also took part in a reading challenge to read each of the Twelve Planets as it works out nicely as one book a year – I want to do the same with another collection of books for 2017, hrm…

thornemberlainLike last year, the books shall be listed in alpha order by the author’s last name:

  • The Thorn of Emberlain (Gentleman Bastard, #4) by Scott Lynch

Except I will do this book first, apart from the others. I don’t keep it a secret that Scott’s my favourite author – I adore the wit and characters he writes, and that besides he’s a lovely, lovely person – far too kind. And then the tiny fact that I have a cameo in this book, that I won in an auction mid 2011.

There’s also talk about one of his novella’s coming out within the next year, so fingers crossed for that. Even if they don’t come out, I’m well over-due for a re-read of the series so far anyway.

Bring on Helsinki’s Worldcon so I can flail at the author again, and hopefully buy him and Bear a drink.

A new chapter for Locke and Jean and finally the war that has been brewing in the Kingdom of the Marrows flares up and threatens to capture all in its flames.

And all the while Locke must try to deal with the disturbing rumours about his past revealed in The Republic of Thieves. Fighting a war when you don’t know the truth of right and wrong is one thing. Fighting a war when you don’t know the truth of yourself is quite another. Particularly when you’ve never been that good with a sword anyway…

  • Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1) by Renee Ahdieh

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

A young woman’s family is threatened by forces both real and fantastical in this debut novel inspired by Russian fairy tales.

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

  • Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Bellezaempressskiesbelleza

Rhee, also known as Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an, is the sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. She’ll stop at nothing to avenge her family and claim her throne.

Aly has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. But when he’s falsely accused of killing Rhee, he’s forced to prove his innocence to save his reputation – and his life.

With planets on the brink of war, Rhee and Aly are thrown together to confront a ruthless evil that threatens the fate of the entire galaxy.

A saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy.

  • Nexus (Zeroes #3) by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti

So there’s no title or synopsis, but I’m so there for this one.

This is such an excellent and fun series. We have a collection of characters who have interesting and diverse powers – some scarier than impressive, such as the very politician-style ability to command or coerce those around him to see his view and follow his lead. Heck with that! I can’t wait to see where this goes in the third book, and try to figure out which characters/parts each of these awesome authors have control over.

  • The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

dragonchocheartburgisAventurine is the fiercest, bravest kind of dragon, and she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human.

But when the human she captures tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she finds herself transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw. She’s still the fiercest creature in these mountains though – and now she’s found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is walk on two feet to the human city, find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time … won’t she?

Wild and reckless young Aventurine will bring havoc to the human city – but what she doesn’t expect is that she’ll find real friendship there too, along with betrayal, deception, scrumptious chocolate and a startling new understanding of what it means to be a human (and a dragon).

  • Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

I will follow Brosh anywhere, just as I will for Jenny Lawson. Anyone who can take anything delicate and hard such as mental health and make it something we can feel normal and not so alone about is a hero in my eyes. And then they even manage to make us laugh about it. I adore her work so much.

If you haven’t yet read Hyperbole and a Half then lucky you, you have something to tide you over until this one comes out.

  • Successor’s Promise (Millennium’s Rule #3) by Trudi Canavan

I loved the first book in this series and have high hopes for the second two.

Five years have passed since the Rebels confronted the Raen. Five years, in which the boy Rielle rescued, Qall, has safely grown up among the Travellers. Five years, in which Tyen has made a new home for himself, hidden from those who call him a traitor and the Spy.

Five years of chaos in the world, barely contained by Baluka and the Restorers. Worlds are at war, some overrun by insectoids changed into war machines, some drained of magic as sorcerers seek immortality.

As war threatens Rielle and Tyen’s hard-won peace, and Qall comes of age, loyalties will be decided and tested. The promises they have made could change everything. Qall’s very existence depends on them.

Because Dahli has the means to restore Valhan to power, and he will stop at nothing to succeed.

  • Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke 

I love everything this author has written.

A new space opera about a young woman who must face the truth about her father’s past from critically acclaimed author Cassandra Rose Clarke.

The Corominas family owns a small planet system, which consists of one gaseous planet and four terraformed moons, nicknamed the Four Sisters. Phillip Coromina, the patriarch of the family, earned his wealth through a manufacturing company he started as a young man and is preparing his eldest daughter, Esme, to take over the company when he dies.

When Esme comes of age and begins to take over the business, she gradually discovers the reach of her father’s company, the sinister aspects of its work with alien DNA, and the shocking betrayal that estranged her three half-sisters from their father. After a lifetime of following her father’s orders, Esme must decide if she should agree to his dying wish of assembling her sisters for a last goodbye or face her role in her family’s tragic undoing.

  • Black Feathers edited by Ellen Datlow

blackfeathersdatlowBirds are usually loved for their beauty and their song. They symbolize freedom, eternal life, the soul.

There’s definitely a dark side to the avian. Birds of prey sometimes kill other birds (the shrike), destroy other birds’ eggs (blue jays), and even have been known to kill small animals (the kea sometimes eats live lambs). And who isn’t disgusted by birds that eat the dead—vultures awaiting their next meal as the life blood flows from the dying. One of our greatest fears is of being eaten by vultures before we’re quite dead.

Is it any wonder that with so many interpretations of the avian, that the contributors herein are eager to be transformed or influenced by them? Included in Black Feathers are those obsessed by birds of one type or another. Do they want to become birds or just take on some of the “power” of birds? The presence or absence of birds portends the future. A grieving widow takes comfort in her majestic winged neighbors, who enable her to cope with a predatory relative. An isolated society of women relies on a bird to tell their fortunes. A silent young girl and her pet bird might be the only hope a detective has of tracking down a serial killer in a tourist town. A chatty parrot makes illegal deals with the dying. A troubled man lives in isolation with only one friend for company—a jackdaw.

In each of these fictions, you will encounter the dark resonance between the human and avian. You see in yourself the savagery of a predator, the shrewd stalking of a hunter, and you are lured by birds that speak human language, that make beautiful music, that cypher numbers, and seem to have a moral center. You wade into this feathered nightmare, and brave the horror of death, trading your safety and sanity for that which we all seek—the promise of flight.

With stories by: Joyce Carol Oates, Seanan McGuire, Pat Cadigan, Richard Bowes, Paul Tremblay, A. C. Wise, Usman T. Malik, Jeffrey Ford, Sandra Kasturi, Mike O’Driscoll, Priya Sharma, Alison Littlewood, M. John Harrison, Nicholas Royle, Livia Llewellyn, and Stephen Graham Jones.

  • Crossroads of Canopy (Titan’s Forest #1) by Thoraiya Dyer

crossroadscanopyAt the highest level of a giant forest, thirteen kingdoms fit seamlessly together to form the great city of Canopy. Thirteen goddesses and gods rule this realm and are continuously reincarnated into human bodies. Canopy’s position in the sun, however, is not without its dark side. The nation’s opulence comes from the labor of slaves, and below its fruitful boughs are two other realms: Understorey and Floor, whose deprived citizens yearn for Canopy’s splendor.

Unar, a determined but destitute young woman, escapes her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery by being selected to serve in the Garden under the goddess Audblayin, ruler of growth and fertility. As a Gardener, she yearns to become Audblayin’s next Bodyguard while also growing sympathetic towards Canopy’s slaves.

When Audblayin dies, Unar sees her opportunity for glory – at the risk of descending into the unknown dangers of Understorey to look for a newborn god. In its depths, she discovers new forms of magic, lost family connections, and murmurs of a revolution that could cost Unar her chance…or grant it by destroying the home she loves.

  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.caravalgarber

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

  • Assassin’s Fate (The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy #3) by Robin Hobb

assassinsfatehobbOkay so this book I really will need to take the day off to read when it comes out – and if I get my hands on an ARC again I will be highly likely to squeal again – first time I was in a hotel room at a judging conference and I dashed out to McDonalds before we started that morning in order to download it (and I think that failed, and I begged Tehani to be able to use her mobile data to do so?), and the second I was at work. My co-workers pretended to understand.

Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river.

Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.

Their mission for revenge will become a voyage of discovery, as well as of reunions, transformations and heartrending shocks. Startling answers to old mysteries are revealed. What became of the liveships Paragon and Vivacia and their crews? What is the origin of the Others and their eerie beach? How are liveships and dragons connected?

But Fitz and his followers are not the only ones with a deadly grudge against the Four. An ancient wrong will bring them unlikely and dangerous allies in their quest. And if the corrupt society of Clerres is to be brought down, Fitz and the Fool will have to make a series of profound and fateful sacrifices.

  • An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

Set within the unseen magical world of New York City, where standing within the magical world is governed by power, and social status can be gained or lost with magical duels.

Sydney is the rare duelist from the formidable House of Shadows. With power unmatched, she plans to take it all down.

  • Gilded Cage by Vic Jamesgildedcagevic

Our world belongs to the Equals—aristocrats with magical gifts—and all commoners must serve them for ten years.
 
But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
 
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
 
Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of their noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty—but will her heart pay the price?
 
A boy dreams of revolution.
 
Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
 
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
 
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

  • The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil

keilsciencemagicLife in Outer Space was one of Melissa’s earlier books, and really quite enjoyable… so I’m on board for this one! I also hope to have time to read The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl sometime soon.

Meet Sophia: former child prodigy and 17-year-old maths mastermind. She’s been having panic attacks ever since she realised that a) high school is almost over, and b) after high school, former child prodigies tend to either cure cancer – or go crazy.

It’s a lot of pressure. So Sophia doesn’t have the patience for games right now, and she especially doesn’t have the patience to figure out why all these mysterious playing cards keep turning up inside her textbooks.

Meet Joshua: highly intelligent, cheerfully unambitious, and an amateur magician. He’s Sophia’s classmate, and he’s admired her for as long as he can remember.

He thinks the time is perfect to tell Sophia how he feels. And he doesn’t know how wrong he is …

  • Resistance by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

The Announcer calls my name, but she does not speak to me. This macabre spectacle has nothing to do with me. And everything to do with them. This is all for the thousands below – the compliant citizens of Otpor, the witnesses to my Execution, the silent and transfixed. This is their moment. Their reconditioning.

In a future post-apocalyptic Paris, a rebellion threatens to upset the city’s perfectly-structured balance and plunge its citizens into anarchy.

Two generations after the Execution of Kane 148 and Otpor’s return to Orthodoxy, forbidden murals are appearing on crumbling concrete walls – calling citizens to action. Calling for Resistance.

The murals will change the utopian lives of all citizens. But, for Anaiya 234, they will change who she is.

A Peacekeeper of the uncompromising Fire Element, Anaiya free-runs through city’s precincts to enforce the Orthodoxy without hesitation or mercy. Her selection for a high-risk mission gives Otpor the chance it needs to eliminate the Heterodoxy and Anaiya the opportunity she craves to erase a shameful past.

But the mission demands an impossible sacrifice – her identity.

  • Masquerade (Micah Grey #3) by Laura Lam

MasqueradeAnother piece of awesome to get hyper about – the close to a series Laura started publishing with Angry Robot, and has since moved to Tor with. If you’ve read the first two and can’t wait for the third, be sure to check out the four novellas set in this world in a mini-series called the Vestigial Tales which should tide you over for a short while at least.

The gifted hide their talents, but dare they step into the light?

Micah’s Chimaera powers are growing, until his dark visions overwhelm him. Drystan is forced to take him to Dr Pozzi, to save his life. But can they really trust the doctor, especially when a close friend is revealed to be his spy?

Meanwhile, violent unrest is sweeping the country, as anti-royalist factions fight to be heard. Then three chimaera are attacked, after revealing their existence with the monarchy’s blessing – and the struggle becomes personal. A small sect decimated the chimaera in ancient times and nearly destroyed the world. Now they’ve re-emerged to spread terror once more. Micah will discover a royal secret, which draws him into the heart of the conflict. And he and his friends must risk everything to finally bring peace to their land.

  • Shattered Minds (False Hearts #2) by Laura Lam

This is also brilliant. Just you wait, y’all.

She’ll fight corruption, but can she save others from herself?

Former neuro-scientist Carina craves killing. But to protect others, she self-medicates with Zeal, an addictive drug which allows her to satisfy these urges in dreams. Sudice Inc. damaged her mind when she worked on their secretive brain-mapping project—and this violence is the price she pays.

Carina wants to be left alone to self-destruct, until an ex-colleague passes her dangerous information on Sudice. She finds herself unwillingly drawn into a plot involving illegal experiments on unwilling volunteers, blackmail and assassination.
As Carina races to stop Sudice, she needs the incriminating data Mark locked in her mind. She persuades a band of hackers to decrypt her broken memories. One is a former doctor, Dax, who helps Carina fight her addiction to Zeal. If she can hold on to her humanity, they might have a future together. But all shall be for nothing if they can’t bring their enemy down, never to rise again.

  • The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2) by Isaac Marion

Do you follow Marion on instagram? You should. Did you read the first book in the Warm Bodies series, or just see the movie? Read the book.

Being alive is hard. Being human is harder. But since his recent recovery from death, R is making progress. He’s learning how to read, how to speak, maybe even how to love, and the city’s undead population is showing signs of life. R can almost imagine a future with Julie, this girl who restarted his heart—building a new world from the ashes of the old one.

And then helicopters appear on the horizon. Someone is coming to restore order. To silence all this noise. To return things to the way they were, the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak. The plague is ancient and ambitious, and the Dead were never its only weapon.

How do you fight an enemy that’s in everyone? Can the world ever really change? With their home overrun by madmen, R, Julie, and their ragged group of refugees plunge into the otherworldly wastelands of America in search of answers. But there are some answers R doesn’t want to find. A past life, an old shadow, crawling up from the basement.

  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire

datsabmcguireTwin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

  • Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

  • Before She Ignites (Fallen Isles Trilogy #1) by Jodi Meadows

I absolutely adored the book she co-wrote with two others, My Lady Jane – so here’s in for this too!

New fantasy trilogy about a girl stripped from her political family and imprisoned, her fellow inmates who know more than they say, and a dangerous secret about illegal dragon trafficking that might be her only hope of escape.

  • Find Me (Cyclone #4) by Courtney Milan

Currently the blurb offers: ‘Find Me is going to be about Tina and Blake again. Also having a point of view in this book: Adam Reynolds, Blake’s father.’ – this is great, I adore Adam. This series is such a joy to read!

  • The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurindjinnloveantho

A fascinating collection of new and classic tales of the fearsome Djinn, from bestselling, award-winning and breakthrough international writers.

Imagine a world filled with fierce, fiery beings, hiding in our shadows, in our dreams, under our skins. Eavesdropping and exploring; savaging our bodies, saving our souls. They are monsters, saviours, victims, childhood friends.

Some have called them genies: these are the Djinn. And they are everywhere. On street corners, behind the wheel of a taxi, in the chorus, between the pages of books. Every language has a word for them. Every culture knows their traditions. Every religion, every history has them hiding in their dark places. There is no part of the world that does not know them.

They are the Djinn. They are among us.

With stories from: Nnedi Okorafor, Neil Gaiman, Amal El-Mohtar, Catherine King, Claire North,  E.J. Swift, Hermes (trans. Robin Moger), Jamal Mahjoub, James Smythe, J.Y. Yang, Kamila Shamsie, Kirsty Logan, K.J. Parker, Kuzhali Manickavel, Maria Dahvana Headley, Monica Byrne, Nada Adel Sobhi,   Saad Hossein, Sami Shah, Sophia Al-Maria and Usman Malik.

  • Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

frogkisserI adored ‘Newt’s Emerald’ so I know Nix can pull this off.

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss. And forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land-and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.

With Frogkisser!, acclaimed bestselling author Garth Nix has conjured a fantastical tale for all ages, full of laughs and danger, surprises and delights, and an immense population of frogs. It’s 50% fairy tale, 50% fantasy, and 100% pure enjoyment from start to finish.

  • Dreamfall (Dreamfall #1) by Amy Plumdream-fall-plum

Cata Cordova suffers from such debilitating insomnia that she agreed to take part in an experimental new procedure. She thought things couldn’t get any worse…but she was terribly wrong.

Soon after the experiment begins, there’s a malfunction with the lab equipment, and Cata and six other teen patients are plunged into a shared dreamworld with no memory of how they got there. Even worse, they come to the chilling realization that they are trapped in a place where their worst nightmares have come to life. Hunted by creatures from their darkest imaginations and tormented by secrets they’d rather keep buried, Cata and the others will be forced to band together to face their biggest fears. And if they can’t find a way to defeat their dreams, they will never wake up.

  • Queen of Chaos (The Fourth Element #3) by Kat Ross

Persepolae has fallen.

Karnopolis has burned.

As the dark forces of the Undead sweep across what remains of the empire, Nazafareen must obey the summons of a demon queen to save Darius’s father, Victor. Burdened with a power she doesn’t understand and can barely control, Nazafareen embarks on a perilous journey through the shadowlands to the House-Behind-the-Veil. But what awaits her there is worse than she ever imagined…

A thousand leagues away, Tijah leads a group of children on a desperate mission to rescue the prisoners at Gorgon-e Gaz, the stronghold where the oldest daēvas are kept. To get there, they must cross the Great Salt Plain, a parched ruin occupied by the armies of the night. A chance encounter adds a ghost from the past to their number. But will they arrive in time to avert a massacre?

And in the House-Behind-the-Veil, Balthazar and the Prophet Zarathustra discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. But is it enough to redeem the necromancer’s bloodstained soul and thwart his mistress’s plans?

As a final showdown looms with Queen Neblis, the truth of the daēvas’ origins is revealed and three worlds collide in this thrilling conclusion to the Fourth Element series.

  • Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive #3) by Brandon Sanderson

Return to a planet swept by apocalyptic storms, a world tipping into war as aristocratic families move to control the shard blades and shard plates, ancient artifacts from a past civilisation that can win wars.

As the world tips into a war for control of the mythical artifacts of power made from Shard, characters are swept up into new dangers which will threaten their integrity and their lives.

Huge, ideas-filled, world-spanning fantasy from a master of the genre.

  • To Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough

Erin Blake has one of those names. A name that, like Natalee Holloway or Elizabeth Smart, is inextricably linked to a grisly crime. As a toddler, Erin survived for three days alongside the corpse of her murdered mother, and the case—which remains unsolved—fascinated a nation. Her father’s identity unknown, Erin was taken in by her mother’s best friend and has become a relatively normal teen in spite of the looming questions about her past.

Fourteen years later, Erin is once again at the center of a brutal homicide when she finds the body of her biology teacher. When questioned by the police, Erin tells almost the whole truth, but never voices her suspicions that her mother’s killer has struck again in order to protect the casework she’s secretly doing on her own.

Inspired by her uncle, an FBI agent, Erin has ramped up her forensic hobby into a full-blown cold-case investigation. This new murder makes her certain she’s close to the truth, but when all the evidence starts to point the authorities straight to Erin, she turns to her longtime crush (and fellow suspect) Journey Michaels to help her crack the case before it’s too late.

I’ve reviewed the first 80 pages of this one right here.

  • A Conjuring of Light (A Darker Shade of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab

aconjuringoflightLondon’s fall and kingdoms rise while darkness sweeps the Maresh Empire—and the fraught balance of magic blossoms into dangerous territory while heroes and foes struggle alike. The direct sequel to A Gathering of Shadows, and the final book in the Shades of Magic epic fantasy series, A Conjuring of Light sees Schwab reach a thrilling culmination concerning the fate of beloved protagonists—and old enemies.

This series is so damn epic, I’ve already read the first third thanks to a NetGalley sample and my goodness I can’t wait to get the rest. I adore Delilah so much!

  • Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #1) by Victoria Schwab

I really don’t know just how many books Schwab can bring out in a year, and I adore her for it.

Kate Harker is a girl who isn’t afraid of the dark. She’s a girl who hunts monsters. And she’s good at it. August Flynn is a monster who can never be human, no matter how much he once yearned for it. He’s a monster with a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

Nearly six months after Kate and August were first thrown together, the war between the monsters and the humans is terrifying reality. In Verity, August has become the leader he never wished to be, and in Prosperity, Kate has become the ruthless hunter she knew she could be. When a new monster emerges from the shadows—one who feeds on chaos and brings out its victim’s inner demons—it lures Kate home, where she finds more than she bargained for. She’ll face a monster she thought she killed, a boy she thought she knew, and a demon all her own.

  • The Returned (The Archived #3) by Victoria Schwab

Not much is known about this one, but it’s been announced it’s happening. I could have listed it below in my list of books I don’t expect to be out this year, but Schwab writes damned fast and I think if it’s ready the publisher will hand it to us asap rather than a year and a half later, so fingers crossed!

  • Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children.

At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, resplendent in a sparkling gown, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.

Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness.

Rebellion is brewing in the west, and a brutal coup leaves Lyriana’s uncle, the Royal Archmagus, dead—with Lyriana next on the list. The group flees for their lives, relentlessly pursued by murderous mercenaries; their own parents have put a price on their heads to prevent the king and his powerful Royal Mages from discovering their treachery.

The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart—if they can warn the king in time. And if they can survive the journey…

  • Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta

Faris grew up fighting to survive in the slums of Brindaigel while caring for her sister, Cadence. But when Cadence is caught trying to flee the kingdom and is sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agrees to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.

Now Faris must smuggle stolen magic into neighboring Avinea to incite its prince to alliance—magic that addicts in the war-torn country can sense in her blood and can steal with a touch. She and Bryn turn to a handsome traveling magician, North, who offers protection from Avinea’s many dangers, but he cannot save Faris from Bryn’s cruelty as she leverages Cadence’s freedom to force Faris to do anything—or kill anyone—she asks. Yet Faris is as fierce as Bryn, and even as she finds herself falling for North, she develops schemes of her own.

With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch.

  • Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1) by Laini Taylor

strangethdreamerlainiTaylor is another author I’ll throw everything aside for and squee for more.

Strange the Dreamer is the story of:
the aftermath of a war between gods and men.
a mysterious city stripped of its name.
a mythic hero with blood on his hands.
a young librarian with a singular dream.
a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled.
alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

  • The Harbour of the Sun (The Books of the Raksura #5) by Martha Wells

I really need to get around to reading other books by Wells, but for now I’m enjoying this series muchly.

A former friend has betrayed the Raksura and their groundling companions, and now the survivors must race across the Three Worlds to rescue their kidnapped family members. When Moon and Stone are sent ahead to scout, they quickly encounter an unexpected and potentially deadly ally, and decide to disobey the queens and continue the search alone. Following in a wind-ship, Jade and Malachite make an unlikely alliance of their own, until word reaches them that the Fell are massing for an attack on the Reaches, and that forces of the powerful Empire of Kish are turning against the Raksura and their groundling comrades.

But there may be no time to stage a rescue, as the kidnapped Raksura discover that their captors are heading toward a mysterious destination with a stolen magical artifact that will cause more devastation for the Reaches than anything the lethal Fell can imagine. To stop them, the Raksura will have to take the ultimate risk and follow them into forbidden territory.

~

Other books I would of course jump for, but don’t expect to come out in 2017 are:

  • The Burning (Luther #2) by Neil Cross
  • Untitled (Cormoran Strike, #4) by Robert Galbraith
  • The Bastards and the Knives (Gentleman Bastard, #0.5) by Scott Lynch
  • Doors of Stone (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #3) by Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Lost Metal (Mistborn #7) by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Devil Book by Victoria Schwab
  • Vengeful (Vicious #2) by V. E. Schwab
  • Untitled (Blood and Gold, #3) by Kim Wilkins

~

What books are you eagerly awaiting? Do you have any suggestions for what I should keep an eye out for?

Review: Nightmares anthology, edited by Ellen Datlow

NightmaresDatlowBy Line: A New Decade of Modern Horror
Published by: Tachyon Publications
ISBN: 1616962321
ISBN 13: 9781616962326
Published: November 2016
Pages: 428
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

This collection was picked up initially because it included some favourite authors, such as Kaaron Warrn, Margo Lanagan and Garth Nix, along with the knowledge of Datlow’s brilliance, and that I trust Tachyon as a publisher in general. 24 short stories, female editor, 15 contributors assumed to be male, seven female and two unknown, is certainly strange to see from Australia when our horror scene is so female-strong. I would have liked to see more female contributors, but I trust Datlow and Tachyon both, so onwards with the reading and reviewing.

Shallaballah by Mark Samuels

We open with a Frankenstein’s Monster-like tale, of a man with a face that’s a patchwork of skin. It sets the tone for the whole anthology, showing us the darker side of speculative fiction in this collection of modern horror stories.

Sogol works in the entertainment industry, and after a horrific car accident needs the knife skills of a possibly-insane cosmetic surgeon who is the only one who has the talent to get him back in front of the cameras in time. He’s assured that in mere days his scars will start to fade and his hair will regrow, but as time ticks on and he suffers one insult after another in this dim and dirty place (and he’s a celebrity, he’s used to better, this is an outrage!) one starts to ponder what he’s exactly found himself in…

Sob in the Silence by Gene Wolfe

A horror writer shows a visiting family the haunted house he now owns, and walks them through how he’s going to do it up. They discuss all kinds of things – what the house was used for in the past, after a family were murdered in it – the usual shebang of what causes a haunted house – and the terrible things that’s happened in there since. The writer gives the daughter of the family alcohol and butters her up during their conversation, praising her intelligence and other things… so it’s no surprise to anyone what happens later in the night.

There is nothing creepier than someone who acts with cold hard efficiency, who seemingly feels nothing (or perhaps, too much) and Gets Things Done. Thankfully, the ending to this one is satisfying.

Our Turn Too Will One Day Come by Brian Hodge

A man gets a call late in the night (or early in the morning), and it’s the kind that’s never good – not when you’re an adult, anyway. Fun late night calls happen during uni days.

This was a depressing and hard story to read for all the right reasons – when things just aren’t fair and life is cruel or you can’t imagine such a thing happening to anyone – especially deliberately.

The thinking behind this one is profound and leaves you contemplating things, and was a good resting place of the anthology.

Dead Sea Fruit by Kaaron Warren

Disclaimer aside, I know Kaaron a little through being both part of the Australian Spec Fic community, and I love her writing.

A girl works in a ward for girls who are recovering anorexics. She listens to their chatter and fixes their teeth as their failing bodies lose hair and flesh and strength. She hears from them of a man of ash, and then isn’t all that surprised when he turns up at her dentist office some time later.

This one gave me a Hannibal vibe – the descriptions of the ash man were like watching Mads Mikkelsen. Very well carried out, and my favourite so far in the anthology.

Closet Dreams by Lisa Tuttle

A young girl has been through unspeakable horrors, and to make matters worse, her parents, the doctors and the police, don’t believe her. They believe she’s been through something awful, but the facts aren’t all lining up, and they put it down to how her brain is coping to fill in the gaps.

This is a slow playing and detailed short that makes you want to hunch up – you feel her despair and how she barely has any fight in her left now, and as the end unfolds you can barely believe the ending. Very, very well done, and I’m sorry Kaaron but I may have a new favourite in this collection.

Spectral Evidence by Gemma Files

I have to admit I didn’t quite understand this one. It’s interesting – a collection of photographs which are described to us, and then tells us the writing they have on the back of them – writing from two different people from two different times. One set of the writing however has strange ‘baby’ this and that descriptions, which I just didn’t get what it was trying to do. It has footnotes though, and that was also interesting.

Hushabye by Simon Bestwick

A man happens across something disturbing happening in the bushes one night, and though he is too late to save the victim entirely, he’s drawn into a hunt the police can’t solve on their own. Able to step where police can’t, and also able to have his own actions covered up by delicate police reports, we soon have a hero on our hands.

I like that this one had a positive resolution in all factors, and the writing was easy yet detailed, horrific yet readable. Excellent.

Very Low-Flying Aircraft by Nicholas Royle

A man mourning the loss of his wife signs up to get away from his awful family who call him heartless, and the memories of his wife, even if it means leaving their newborn behind. He tries to keep the men in order, but hazing always happens, and though he thinks he shouldn’t make excuses for them he finds himself using the common line ‘boys will be boys’,

In this I don’t quite get how all the ends come together – things seem fragmented, mentioned for no end result – the sad ending a little sadder because… well, what happens next?

The Goosle by Margo Lanagan

Another disclaimer for the previous reason stated, and I love Margo’s writing already.

This one is almost too unsettling for words. A Hansel and Gretel tale a little more twisted than the original, What happens if Hansel ever returned to the house, a little older? What kind of life did he have afterwards, how would his mental state be, and what of his parents?

This is the only reprint in the anthology that I’ve read before, and it hits all that much harder on a second read though. Lanagan is terrific with words. Terrific and terrible.

The Clay Party by Steve Duffy

A group of forty-eight set out from Missouri to make a new home for themselves, in wagons with oxen and all their hopes and dreams besides. This is however a short story in a horror collection, so one may guess that things don’t go too well for these travellers, especially as their leader, Clay, has zero experience in leading a party.

I found this one to be surprisingly beautiful, and really lost myself in the story. I think if it were a novel it would be too depressing overall, but it works very well as a short, especially as it is told in journal entries. Another favourite to add to the list.

Strappado by Laird Barron

This one I couldn’t really get into – I could visulise the characters, but not why they were there, or what plot was going on around them, which made it hard to follow. I did however enjoy the characters and the dialogue.

Lonegan’s Luck by Stephen Graham Jones

An old time crook travels through the wild west selling his snake oil remedies and whatever else, but what makes him different is he swears he’ll stay in the town until his remedies work, and then collect the money. He does, and as an added bonus his horse disappears and he winds up in a jail cell, so there’s no way to dispute his promise.

This one was excellent, dry and awful and a good ending that leaves you satisfied. I like that it wasn’t obvious what would happen next, and that a few things manage to take you by surprise and even leave you feeling a bit sad that such-and-such has just happened… even if it may be for the best.

Mr Pigsny by Reggie Oliver

A mob bloke dies, and it’s up to an uncle to take nephews to attend the funeral or else risk disrespecting a powerful family. Somehow he got along with the deceased okay for the few times they had to interact, in a way that he doesn’t really have any time at all for the rest of the family. Even though the man has literally killed a man through his work, our main character, who happens to be a professor at a significant British university, didn’t really hold that against him.

It’s at the funeral that he discovers that he’s been named in the will, and though taken by surprise, accepts his dues even though they then involve a strange little man… while the brother of the deceased – a man much harder to like – gets really quite angry and unsettled by the whole story.

As the story goes on, you’re hooked by both the normalcy and the unnaturalness of it all, and it turns into a cracker of a story. Really well done.

At Night, When the Demons Come By by Ray Cluley

The writing on this one just didn’t appeal, so I wasn’t able to get into it. Some kind of apocalypse has happened, there are demons, and the descriptions are kinda messy, such as ‘We had a couple of guys on our college football team, back when things like that mattered, who were as big as this man. A couple, as in put them together and you had the right size.’ Cute, but rubs me the wrong way for some reason, as well as the character thinking girls are useless and ‘nice tits’ blah blah. I know it’s setting up the character, but I just can’t be bothered to read it. My loss, as it probably does something clever with it later on.

Was She Wicked? Was she Good? by M. Rickert

Possibly one of parents’ worst nightmares – the slow discovery that there’s something not quite right or good about their child. As many parents they have quite different ideas of what can and should be done to try to correct this before it’s too late, until one night a decision has to be made without pause. It feels short even for a short story, as we jump from an event in the past, to the now, and then to the next season.

Thrilling and never quite explaining enough, this was good in all kinds of ways, and leaves me wishing there was more. Perfectly handled.

The Shallows by John Langan

A man talks to a crab stuck in the sink, and reminisces about his wife’s grandfather who passed away, and who was to bestow his name Augustus on his great-grandson. We’re not immediately told but one assumes that the son perhaps didn’t survive – or perhaps I’m being grim and misunderstanding, and they just chose another name for reasons soon to be clear. As one could assume, the man is from a different time and can say and do some quite vile things.

In all of this, all I really want is to see a crab walk at such a speed that it keeps up with an ambling human. I’ve seen them move quite fast before, I think I just like the domesticity of it all.

Little Pig by Anna Taborska

A woman flees her home with her children after the death of her husband, battling snow and wolves with an almost dead horse pulling the sleigh, desperate to reach her parents. All too quickly her odds of survival grow less and less, and she’s soon left with a terrible choice to make…

In this one, though I was captivated by the story, I didn’t quite get the point of it and how it matters that this grandmother has now come to London to meet her grandson-in-law. Like… what am I missing here?

Omphalos by Livia Llewellyn

This one I found triggering and couldn’t read.

How We Escaped out Certain Fate by Dan Chaon

Zombies have come and changed everything forever. People live behind massive barbed wire fences and young teens can fire and clean a gun better than anyone. We hear an accurate account for how a zombie invasion would probably happen – many more injuries and deaths caused by not reacting well enough when those close to you happen to turn…

This one worked well as it shows zombies in almost a natural state of living – not the cause for the story, but the padding around to give that added flare of the dramatic. Quite enjoyed this one.

The Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love by Robert Shearman

A young girl is consoled by gifts of dolls from her often-travelling father, who doesn’t take the time to gift things to his much older son. This son has his quirks with his sister, but is sent away to war where he dies overseas, and his sister mourns him.

Years pass, and a young man who avoided war by being too young, is bullied by his older brothers but ‘wins’ somewhat by being the one who gets to marry first – somehow charming an uncharmable woman at a dance, who usually dismisses everyone else. She says there’s nothing wrong with silence, and they court over silent dinners, and then suddenly, they’re happily married.

This one was so utterly creepy and worked well in how it seems to have two separate stories (like we see in Little Pig) that then come together in a many layered ending. This one works and works well, which is no surprise as Shearman’s work is always excellent.

Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8) by Caitlín R. Kiernan

This one I couldn’t get into either – it had a way of writing on and on like a stream of consciousness which just isn’t my thing, unfortunately.

Shay Corsham Worsted by Garth Nix

I saved this one for last in hopes I could then push through until the end of the anthology, and try to catch up on my review pile in general, and I wasn’t disappointed.

A young man breaks into an old man’s home for the thrill of it, and he likes the power he has over anyone. He runs into more than he bargains for, and we then jump to another scene, of a woman bringing her father things from the shop and idle chatter of things she’s seen.

We have Nix’s usual easy yet detailed way of writing, that easily captures your attention and holds it. We have interesting characters that we feel we know with little to no description as he fluidly adds little bits here and there that add infinite character. We have an efficient story that hits hard, and feels like a novel in such a short time. As always, with Nix’s writing, you can never have too much.

The Atlas of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud

Jack, a bookstore owner, gets a midnight visit from a muscley chap named Patrick, who’s shot a guy in the head but the guy kept standing there, until Patrick said ‘Lay down! You’re dead! I shot you!’ …and then the guy drops ‘like a fucking tree’. Jack doesn’t know what to make of this story and wrongly laughs, making Patrick only angrier.

It spills out from there, and we have an excellent ramble of a story that seems just dangerous enough to keep you turning the pages, interested, but not grossed out or too worried by what’s going on. Really enjoyed this one.

Ambitious Boys Like You by Richard Kadrey

It’s 2am, and a couple of cousins are up to no good. They pull up outside a derelict house – one Witt always used to avoid as a kid for thinking it was haunted. His cousin, Sonny, is from Houston and doesn’t believe in anything. They cover their faces and get out of the car and Witt starts thinking about what he hopes to find through this robbery – he wants cash, not gold, noting he’s not a pirate and wouldn’t know what to do with gold really anyway.

This is a good ending to the anthology, a slow burning and longer short than most, and a strange tale that’s a little like Home Alone with strange things happening that must be tricks or something… but even more sinister, and not as funny. The timing in this one is excellent, and well worth the placement.

2015 – December

December was when I decided I was going to do my best to hit my goodreads goal of 150 books, which meant more or less reading a book a day for a month. Thank goodness a lot of those days at the end were time off work due to enforced closedown. Most of those should hopefully be for Aurealis judging (I say, writing this at the start of December…) which I won’t list here.

Onto the novels read in December!

Let the Land Speak: A History of Australia - How the Land Created Our Nation

Let the Land Speak by Jackie French is a non-fiction book on Australian history and flora and fauna that I got for Christmas 2013 and finally decided to make a damned good effort to read it on the 1st January 2015, and finished it 1st December 2015. It was slow going because there’s so much to take in on every page, but it’s a worthwhile read. It’s going to be one of the books I wrap carefully in plastic and keep for a very, very long time.

As I Was Saying . . .

As I Was Saying by Jeremy Clarkson was a quick read. A lot of people think he’s a wanker, but he certainly has a way with words and is quite damn good at writing, seeing as that was his original and still primary job. A lot of people are happy to believe what the media spins about their favourite kickbag and look on the surface of the stupid things he’s reported as doing (and yes, he does say stupid things at times, who doesn’t), and yet reading this and getting a feel for the things he actually does think, and his own thoughts without being slanted by the media, are quite different to what many see most of the time. It’s worth a read. He’s certainly not a saint, but he’s a real person and sometimes it’s refreshing to see someone who voices their own thoughts, rather than someone who’s crafted by a team of politically correct quibblers.

Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, #3)

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo was the end of a series I kept having to re-read every time a new book came out – I just couldn’t keep the plot or characters in my head once I’ve put down the book. Maybe I read too fast because at the time it’s just that good, but then it means I’m speed-reading and not retaining anything… who knows. This really was a very engaging and lovely series, and I can’t wait to read the next one!

Newt's Emerald

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix is a re-read as it was originally released in 2013 via his agent’s publishing house, and has now been re-published by Allen & Unwin, and is a third longer. It’s an enjoyable quick read, and I love it all so much! I wish there were more in this style by Nix.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling was read late for Bethwyn’s re-read – I should have read this last month but it completely slipped my mind. I might not agree once my re-read is over, but I think this is my second-least favourite book in the series – I found the competition overall to be all a bit eh – spread out over so many months and you don’t really get a feel for what the other visiting schools do for those months in between – do they hold their own classes on the ship or in the carriage? Who knows? It’s also when we first notice the other characters really changing and being setup for what we see in later books, so it’s all a bit of a ‘middle’ book.

Soldier on the Hill

Solider on the Hill by Jackie French was an interesting book, showing a boy and his mother who move into a farming town a bit more inland during the war as fears the Japanese will attack the Australian coast line increase. Getting used to farming life and also dealing with the fear of war from this point of view is interesting, especially when the main character is sure he’s seen a Japanese soldier hiding in the bushland, but he’s not trusted as he’s: 1. New to Town, and 2. A city kid. The resolution to this is an interesting one, and shows that Jackie’s writing goes from strength to strength.

Birrung the Secret Friend

Birrung the Secret Friend by Jackie French was a book that carries on from Nanberry, showing the initial setup of Australia in NSW with the first and second fleet, once there’s a few ‘houses’ and gardens are starting to flourish. In this book we see a young boy, Barney, who’s lost his mum, but adopted another young child to care for before they’re both taken in by the kind clergyman, Richard Johnson, and his pregnant wife. We see Barney setting aside his prejudices to understand who Birrung really is, her intelligence and knowledge of the land in tough conditions, and what her cultures mean to her even as white man starts to dominate even further. This is an intelligent book for younger readers, and highly recommended.

Pennies for Hitler

Pennies for Hitler by Jackie French is a book that carries on from her highly popular book, Hitler’s Daughter. A young boy Georg in Germany has a lovely life of cream cakes, excellent parents, servants and all else he could hope for. This is until it’s discovered that his father’s grandfather was part Jewish, and Georg’s father is killed in front of him. His mother just barely manages to have him sent from Germany hidden in a suitcase through France and onto London where he then faces the terrors of war and the anxiety of being discovered for either the enemy as a German, or as something he’s been brought up to detest – a Jew. When London becomes too dangerous he’s sent on to Australia, and then it all ends rather abruptly, which was a shame. Otherwise, it was really very excellent.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter, #5)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling is longer than I remember – though when it came out I devoured it in one long day, this time it took me several days to savour it – though that’s also possibly because I couldn’t bring myself to read the ending, which still remains just as upsetting to me as the start of the final book. At least now I’m up to date with Bethwyn’s re-read! This re-read really shows a difference in how I remember it, or different parts are meaning more now that it’s been a few years since my last read. And with these books there’s always something else to notice each and every time you re-read.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson was a surprising read – I read a lot about it as it won each award, but somehow I never noted that it’s written in verse. It does this incredibly well, I’ve read a handful of other books written in the same way (especially when judging the Children’s Book Award, there was a book about parkour that did it really well to convey movement), but this one does it even better, framing the thoughts that run around a little disjointed yet manages to give so much more feeling and depth to the subjects. I can easily see how this has won so many awards.

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus (Newsflesh Trilogy, #3.4)

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus by Mira Grant was a good quick read, blazing in the usual Grant wit and fun with plot and characters and dialogue. The only thing that annoyed me in this was the American use of Legos, when it goes to a point of describing the two characters who use that term are Canadian and European. Everywhere but America say ‘Lego’ in all forms, as in ‘she’s playing with her lego (collection)’ and it doesn’t sound weird or wrong to us at all. THAT ASIDE (yes I harp on about it too much, being Australian), this was a nifty little piece and makes me so glad we have another Newsflesh novel coming out in 2016.

The Prince

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli was picked up because it was short, and then I was cursing myself because of course it’s a struggle to get through, as each and every paragraph requires thinking about. This is a classic, all about philosophy and politics and the human character. It was really quite a good read, and I only wish I’d had been able to study it in school with a good teacher – I don’t think I got as much out of it by myself – this is one of those books where you’d benefit from multiple points of view on it while you’re reading.

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson was excellent, somehow I enjoyed it even more than Brown Girl Dreaming. This is written as a general novel – still quite short, and about a boy called Melanin who has to get over his own homophobia (drenched on him by his peers and society in general) when his own mother comes out as a lesbian – with the added bonus that her girlfriend is a white woman – Kristen. Kristen is a lovely character and what this does really well, other than show Melanin who his real friends are, and how it’s okay to realise how very wrong you’ve been and move on from that, is how it shows Kristin as a real character and not just a plot point. She’s so very real, and combined with Melanin’s very real and caring mother, you get a very well told book in so few pages.

~

So I read so much in December I really wouldn’t have been surprised if my eyes started to bleed. I managed to catch up a heck of a lot with my Aurealis Judging, leaving only three series to read before mid February (though that’s when we have to have our decision, so it may then also require a re-read of one or a few series before then to come to our final decision and reporting).

After five years of judging (two years for anthologies/collections for Aurealis, then two years of fantasy novel, then this one year of the Sara Award… with a year of Children’s Book Council thrown in at the same time for 2014), I’ve decided that 2016 will be full of ZERO judging. Well, no tied-in judging anyway, like Aurealis. I was very much tempted to put in an application for the WA Premier’s Award but I’ve since decided not to. I’ll still put in my votes for the Ditmar and Hugo awards, etc, but no Aurealis. I really need a year of zero deadlines and to just be able to read whatever book I feel like, and catch up on all the books I should have read but never got around to these past few years. I’m really looking forward to it.

Best Books of 2015

Books due out in 2016 (but read in 2015)

False Hearts (False Hearts, #1) by Laura Lam

I’ve been lucky enough to beta read for Laura, and have even read through the second book in this series (not out until 2017 hence it’s not in this blog post), currently called Shattered Minds. The is the type of book that is hard to write anything about because it just has so MUCH (or the internet says, ‘all the feels’). This is very, very fantastic, I love it, I need more and I don’t want it to be over. The characters are addictive, the world is enticing (I love realism with touches of futuristic science fiction) and thrillers are always impossible to put down. Highly recommended, bring on June, and Laura, I still want more Oloyu at some stage!

Books read and published in 2015

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

This was a novel I rated highly because I liked what it did and it felt different, however somehow at the same time I was a little disappointed (so great start to this Best Books post, eh? Stick with me…) It felt like it was shorter than it needed to be (in a plot/character way, rather than ‘oh that was so good I wish I had more’ – though a bit of that too), though it remained fascinating and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s probably more the fact that I liked what it did, so I would have liked to see it expand on everything a lot more, rather than show a seemingly small snapshot.

Zeroes (Zeroes #1) by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti

I’m a fan of all three authors, having read their work extensively. I was so dang excited for this book to come out and then surprisingly, despite the hype I got myself into, I still wasn’t disappointed. I’m so glad this is a series!

This is a character driven book, which are my favourite. The tidbits we get of the world were interesting and made me want to know more, but ultimately I can’t wait to see these characters again, see where they get to, see what battle they need to fight next. This is exciting and written with such an elegant hand (well, hands) that it takes the overdone superhero novel and makes it zingy and fresh. They’re all portrayed in an incredibly powerful way – and the best thing is that we get to see several instances of their powers manifesting. I’m hooked! I need more!

The Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoir by Lady Trent #3) by Marie Brennan

In this book Lady Isabella Trent joins the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk with a range of duties, whether it’s to pursue her own dragon-hunting, capture examples of other bits and pieces of wildlife for another rich lady back home, or survey islands not yet charted completely. The ship she is on does other bits of cargo work when there’s time, and all in all they’re kept rather busy – even when there’s not a storm throwing them into life-threatening difficulties. Different from previous installments, in this piece her son Jake becomes a major character which certainly adds more depth to it all, and really centers this novel around a family affair.

This series just keeps going from strength to strength. This book leaves me desperate as always for the fourth book where we’ll get to go to the deserts of Akhia.

Ophelia: Queen of Denmark by Jackie French

I love Jackie French’s writing – this is a lovely book for younger readers that tells the story of Ophelia in a way that’s neither dull or simply full of information dumps. Hamlet’s family stab, poison or haunt one another and yet Ophelia somehow still strives to plan a sensible rule, one filled with justice and the making of delicious cheeses. Even if she has to pretend to be mad to make it happen, Ophelia will let nothing, not even howling ghosts, stand in her way.

Jackie makes history accessible to readers of all ages, even managing to mix in the spiritual and making it realistic, and I can’t recommend her historical fiction enough.

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith

One thing Galbraith does very well is layers – he manages co-running plots that interweave yet also stay abundantly clear, even when there’s an element of mystery and the reader, along with the detectives, isn’t quite sure who the villain is. Another thing that’s done well is the balance of personal and private – the professional lives of Robin and Strike and how they conflict at times. How they have opinions on the other’s personal lives they aren’t entirely welcome to have, and how this can turn out sometimes – in fact, especially when they go wrong. Everything about this series is really well done – I mean, no surprise as Rowling keeps getting better and better, but still, it’s worthwhile to comment on.

This is another series that’s going from strength to strength, and I can’t wait for the fourth book!

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

Sufficiently creepy and well-written – I could really go for more in this world. The characters were lovely and you didn’t want to leave them, even after only seeing them for such a short time. At only 100ish pages this is a fairly short piece, but Grant is one of the strongest writers of our current time so you could pick up anything she’s done and be amazed.

Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1) by Ryan Graudin

I love alternate history. This is set as though WWII had quite a different outcome in the most terrible way – the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world in harsh and cruel ways, and have since hosted a motorcycle race across half the world to show off their best followers – ten chosen from each sector.

This makes for a fantastic book. It’s awful and electric and the ending is so perfect that I somehow didn’t see coming – I can’t wait for the second book! The writing is deliberate and lovely, and I’m really quite interested to see what else Graudin comes out with.

Magonia (Magonia #1) by Maria Dahvana Headley

This is a book that reminds me in part of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Main character Aza lives in the same world we all do, however it’s like she’s drowning in our air. Sick all her life but surrounded by a fantastic family and a quirky lovely best friend (who is amazing, by the way), her life is suddenly turned around completely. The world building is exquisite and now I want to re-read this one all over again. It seems we may just get a second book in 2016, which would be amazing.

Fool’s Quest (The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy #2) by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb is right up there in my top handful of favourite all-time authors and her books are always full of so much that it’s dang hard to review them – you almost need to break each book down into a trilogy of discussion to do it justice. What can one possibly say to summarise without spoiling and yet still manage to somehow capture the all encompassing feeling of best book of the year without it just being a whole lot of keysmash?

We already know that Hobb isn’t exactly kind to her characters. Starting this book is a bit exciting because you’ve finally got more work of a favourite author to read , but you’re also slightly apprehensive because you just know the poor characters we love are going to be broken just a little bit more. And we weren’t wrong. This is such an epic, fantastic book that manages to break all expectations no matter how high they are, I just can’t explain how much I love this amazing author.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

This one was just like her first book – beyond amazing. Lawson explains and discusses mental illness like few others manage to. She’s a wonderful person, startlingly real in a realm of ‘no one else can be as fucked up as I am’. She gives this a voice and a connection, showing many/most people with mental illness feel the same way and can relate. When you read her work you realise you’re not as alone as you sometimes feel, and you get painful gasping laughs at the absurdity (who knew laughing that much could hurt!) and the magic Lawson has with words as a bonus. I can’t recommend her books enough, I really can’t.

Tower of Thorns (Blackthorn & Grim #2) by Juliet Marillier

As we know, Juliet Marillier hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. Her work is a joy to read, weaving fantasy and fable together to result in strong plot and characters, with such a strong sense of self. This is the kind of book you can’t stop reading, and it makes you desperate for the next. Blackthorn is such a strong, amazing character who is intelligent, wise and passionate (in her own way), determined to do what is right even when it seems impossible.

This was one of my favourite books for 2015.

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

This was a book that was a little awkward to read as for a few years I attended a church that is… really quite close to the church seen in this book, so reading this certainly made it all come back, and I can comprehend what the leaders are thinking when they put in place all these ‘guidelines’.

For that, this book is really excellent at capturing everything fairly. These people are honestly trying to do what they deeply feel is best – they’re not malicious, cruel people. However… well, this book neatly shows all angles of people trying to do what they think is right and how that can cause others to react… so yes, amazing book.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This book was such a thing of beauty though with lovely descriptions and dialogue, excellent female characters, a romance that manages to seem new and different even though it’s a bit of a trope, and a plot which takes unexpected tropes so I was still surprised by the ending somehow.

This book had everything. I adore the ideas used within and I’m honestly surprised this book hasn’t won all the awards this year. This is a must-read for fantasy lovers and even those who don’t often read fantasy – it’s just that good. And it’s a stand-alone novel! Not many of those around in the fantasy genre!

Letters to Tiptree by Alexandra Pierce (editor), Alisa Krasnostein

This one was a special book. I help Alisa out with her publishing house where I can, and visited in the last month of getting this book finalised and out there, so I certainly saw this book through every stage of its creation and only read it when we were at the point of a final proof – when we had initial copies in our hands ready for the launch.

This should be read in conjunction with the biography James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips for a full view of who Tiptree was, and what she achieved. Letters to Tiptree collects thoughtful letters from thirty-nine science fiction and fantasy writers, editors, critics, and fans in celebration of Alice Sheldon’s centenary, and explores the issues of knowing someone only through their fiction or letters, sexuality and gender.

Of Noble Family (Glamourist Histories #5) by Mary Robinette Kowal

This was the end of a five-book series, and blows the previous books out of the water – what an ending! I can’t believe that this is over – even though it had a very satisfying ending and was one of my favourite books in the whole series – even though the previous four were pretty darn amazing themselves. Parts of this had my heart in my throat (such a charming expression) because they’ve become some of my favourite fictional couples and I just couldn’t believe the lengths Kowal bravely took them to.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

This was a book highly recommended from a few friends, and on reading I could instantly see why. The characters in this are raw and real – Sebby is all a bit wow. You feel so much for these characters and what they’re going through, and at the same time you just think wow, they’re so young. The diversity in this book is excellent as is the issues they deal with. The ending however… hrmm.

A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

Now this one was a book I’d been eagerly anticipating for ages. I love Schwab’s work, and when this started to get pushed and pushed by media and the publisher I began to get a little worried. Sometimes I’ve noted that books pushed to a certain level by publishers aren’t always my cuppa tea.

Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised by this – I can breathe a sigh of relief in the confirmation now that Schwab never disappoints and I can’t wait for the second book, and I already want to re-read this again to see what I could have missed in my blitzy can’t-put-this-down read because I certainly read it far too quickly.

The Just City (Thessaly #1) by Jo Walton

This was a hard book to review. I could talk plot and characters and writing, sure, but what makes this novel incredible is something I know so little about, and I suspect there was a lot of clever stuff going on that went over my head as I know so little of the original material. In this book, Apollo and Athene attempt to build Plato’s Republic but also join the city themselves, reborn as children. They take over ten thousand children who are all roughly ten years old who were to be sold as slaves. They also take a few hundred adults from all over time who are all incredible and were either under-valued in the time, or were too excellent to be left to die in their proper time and put them together in the city, to see if Plato’s vision could be possible.

What we get is an amazing book that I still struggle to describe. It’s just – y’know, read it.

The Philosopher Kings (Thessaly #2) by Jo Walton

Carrying on from the previous entry, the second in the series is also utterly brilliant. Though Walton is another author who isn’t afraid to do impossible cruel things you’re not expecting for the sake of narrative. In this, the goddess Athena has gone off in a huff and their wonderful philosophical experiment are starting to break off into factions and war which results in a rollicking good read, and leaves the reader desperate for the third.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Now this book was a very beautiful, wonderful novel. A bit uncomfortable if you’ve been in (or are in) a similar situation but ultimately so perfect because it somehow manages to capture all of it – the awkward suffocating interactions with everyone else, and so forth. What I really loved was the communication between the two main characters, especially how they bickered – this was how you knew they were connecting as good friends and ‘getting’ each other. I can’t recommend this book enough – I just wish it had a better cover.

Between Worlds: The Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories by Martha Wells

This was a collection of short stories set in her Ile-Rien and Cineth worlds. This made me desperate to read the rest of her books, and the lack of ‘read them in this order’ help on her site meant I soon went on to other books instead. Do I read in publishing order? Series order? Grumble.

But back to this – you can easily enjoy it if you haven’t read any of her other work and it provides a nice introduction and sample of her writing – then you’re lucky enough to have many series ready and waiting for you if this is your style. Every single short in this collection is very readable, and none were skipped.

The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below (Stories of the Raksura #2) by Martha Wells

As with the one listed above, this was also excellent – if you’re not really one for short stories and you want to do novels instead and want a new fantasy author to love, start with ‘The Cloud Roads’ then come back here and flail with me.

This collection of short stories was enjoyable and made me hunger for her other work – this collection was even more than I was hoping it would be (which is saying a lot) – especially the part right at the end. You know what I mean.

Cranky Ladies of History by Tehani Wessely

This was an anthology of cranky ladies of history – right what it says on the cover! This is an anthology of short stories, mostly historical fiction with a handful that have a few speculative elements also, featuring excellent authors from Australia and elsewhere. This is going to be great for schools as well as adults, and certainly taught me a thing or two about history.

Insert Title Here by Tehani Wessely

Tehani Wessely reports that this is the darkest anthology she’s put together. Having read most if not all of her anthologies, this certainly caught my attention. On reflection having read this, I would have to agree – here we have an anthology where every single story is heart-breaking or grim or absurdly strange and wonderful, and all are incredibly read-able. Several of these short stories demand full novels set in the world using that idea or world-building, and all make me want to look for the author’s other work (if I haven’t already!)

Sometimes in anthologies you find a short story or three doesn’t manage to capture your interest or you just can’t bring yourself to continue reading it… in this anthology however, each and every single story is as strong as the next, and all were supremely readable. Tehani Wessely has done a stand-out job with this anthology!

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Now this was another book I’ve been waiting a long time for – having read her second while judging the Children’s Book of Australia Awards and then devouring her first because of the excellence that is the second… so as soon as I saw this was out for review I jumped on it… and I wasn’t disappointed. This book deals with high school and culture and not wanting to disappoint your parents, but what do you do if they don’t quite ‘get it’ in this new country?

Required reading also includes ‘Wildlife’ and ‘Six Impossible Things’, her previous books which aren’t a series but involve the same characters.

Books read in 2015 (yet published 2014 and earlier)

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Read for Hugo voting purposes, this was a very slow but very enjoyable read. I think it took me over a month for some reason, even though I loved it throughout – I could read for an hour and somehow only get through 4% at a time. Strange! But it’s an excellent book, and while I have no doubt that The Three-Body Problem was excellent, I really wish this book had won.

This is about a young goblin, motherless (and fatherless) and hated by the rest of his family, and yet through certain events he still becomes Emperor. We see him struggle his way through and get to be someone incredible.

Unfortunately this is a standalone – there will be no sequel, but possibly a companion novel with some overlapping characters, as per the author’s website.

Ruin and Rising (The Grisha #3) by Leigh Bardugo

This was the end of a series I kept having to re-read every time a new book came out – I just couldn’t keep the plot or characters in my head once I’ve put down the book. Maybe I read too fast because at the time it’s just that good, but then it means I’m speed-reading and not retaining anything… who knows. I loved all three; this really was a very engaging and lovely series, and this had such a satisfying ending in a very sweet way – with all the doom and gloom throughout the series you hardly think it’s possible.

Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

This was a quick read because you just couldn’t put it down – it was heart-breaking and endlessly fascinating. Suggested by friend Kat when I re-read Craig Ferguson’s bio, I devoured this in less than a day. Highly recommended – though I guess most memoirs are only interesting if you know of the person first.

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson

What an amazing life Craig has had – it’s so good that he managed to get on top of it all and survived to tell the tale. He’s fantastic at writing, keeping it interesting and funny yet also showing how hard it must have been, how sad and so wretched. I enjoy watching his show more now, knowing what he’s come through and from.

Let the Land Speak: A History of Australia – How the Land Created Our Nation by Jackie French

This book took me almost a year to read, but it’s probably the best account of Australian history I’ve come across, and has such a wealth of knowledge within. Mostly on how the flora and fauna that are special to Australia has had a part in shaping Australian history, I admit I was slow to get around to reading this, and then finally slogging through it. I got for Christmas 2013 and finally decided to make a damned good effort to read it on the 1st January 2015, and finished it 1st December 2015. It was slow going because there’s so much to take in on every page, but it’s a worthwhile read. It’s going to be one of the books I wrap carefully in plastic and keep for a very, very long time.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

This is probably the most inspiring book I’ve read in years. Col. Hadfield has an excellent way with words, clearly having spent ages trying to explain things most people have never and will never experience in a way where we can not only understand but comprehend what he’s trying to get across. I was lucky enough to see him live in August 2015 when I visited my friend, Alisa, and from here I can’t get enough of his work – look him up on youtube, the seemingly simple things he shows us about space are excellent.

Basically, he’s been up in space as part of the international space station which is a job he aimed for ever since he was a young child and became a jet pilot and a lot of other things along the way to get there in the end. It’s endlessly fascinating what it all involves.

New Avengers: Breakout by Alisa Kwitney

This novelisation is listed as a ‘dramatically different take on Brian Michael Bendis’ blockbuster Avengers comics debut’ – I found this through Tansy’s review on Galactic Suburbia (she’s always excellent if you need recommendations for all things geeky.)

This isn’t going to win any awards for great literature, but it could easily win on the ‘fun’ scale – Kwitney really captures the characters well, and inserts loads of little geeky references that shows Kwitney knows her stuff. I just wish the cover was better! I certainly wouldn’t have picked it up, and I would have actively avoided it if it weren’t for Tansy’s plug. Seriously, it does a disservice to what is a really quite excellent bit of fun. Especially recommended for fans of Hawkeye and/or Black Widow.

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips

When working on Letters to Tiptree for Twelfth Planet Press, this came up as basically the required reading. Any information about the excellence that is Alice Sheldon left you hungry for more, and this biography is the perfect place to start. For those who know her for her work in science fiction, look into her life more – that was the tiniest bit of her amazing life – among other things she was a World War II intelligence officer and a CIA agent. From her childhood to her death, she was an amazing woman.

Every Word (Every #2) by Ellie Marney

Out of the trilogy, this is my favourite book – usually the second book is the weakest! The events in this book leave our characters even more broken than the first book, and closer to each other for it. The adventure, action and dramatic situation that takes place manages to be realistic in how they get out of it, which is a bonus – it would have been easy for the plot to have rolled out of hand yet this remains in character and effective throughout. Being set in England gives it that extra slice towards the Sherlock Holmesian nature that really works.

The Hero and the Crown (Damar #1) by Robin McKinley

This was a book I really should have read a long time ago, but I was late getting into speculative fiction and have sadly skipped a lot of the initial required reading that’s out there. This, I was a little hesitant to get into, thinking it would be a bit obvious having already read all the books that would have been built and inspired on from books like these… but I was pleasantly surprised to really, really enjoy it still.

What works best in this novel is how we see Aerin achieve everything. It’s a hard slog, it’s believable and she’s incredible for what she manages to do. It shows her inner strength, the luck she has, those who assist her throughout and how she learns from it all.

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

This is a book that originally came out in 2013 through Garth Nix’s agent who has her own publishing house (I think that’s how it is anyway), but has since been re-published by Allen & Unwin, and is a third longer. Inspired by Georgette Heyer it’s a regency style novel set a little in London and mostly in Brighton, England, a town I know quite well. It’s an enjoyable quick read with a firey main character and a bit of cross dressing and high-jinx as things go terrible wrong – mix that together with Nix’s elegant hand at writing and you have a winner! I wish there were more in this style by Nix.

 

Skin Deep (Legion #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson is the second in the Legion series, about a man who has a ‘unique mental condition (that) allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialised skills.’ Basically, any information he takes in – even if it’s in audiobook form played at x5 speed, shall be allocated to one of his entities who will then be able to process and use that information, and rely it back to him. This is SUCH an excellent and fun series that it’s close to being my favourite work by Sanderson – which says a lot, seeing what he comes out with. I hope there’s more!

Review: Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts & Tehani Wessely

CrankyLadiesPublished by: FableCroft Publishing
ISBN 13: 9780992553456
Published: March 2015
Pages: 320
Format reviewed: Proof from Publisher
Publisher Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

This anthology is full of our brilliant cranky ladies of history – a book of short historical fiction pieces that snapshot excellent ladies of the past, so we learn a bit of history while reading an excellent piece of writing at the same time.

I have to admit, my knowledge of history in general it pretty woeful, so mostly I had little to know clue about many of these women – because after all, if you hear about anyone at all from history they’re usually men, so chances I’d come across anything more than a brief mention were woefully short. This anthology was an excellent gateway into who they were, and why I should know so much more of them. From here on I’ll certainly be looking into them further.

“Queenside” by Liz Barr

In this nifty little tale to start us off, showing verbal sparring between Anne Boleyn and Lady Mary, as they discuss their King (King Henry VIII) and Jane Seymour, who would become his third wife. Lady Mary has sharp wit, yet a kind heart despite the life she has had, and in this piece we see Anne ask for Lady Mary’s kindness to watch over her half sister, the Princess Elizabeth as she knows her time as consort is soon up.

This piece was sharply written – simple in parts, and successful at easing you into the anthology.

“The Company Of Women” by Garth Nix

Godiva! We all know how she conquers something whilst naked, and this gives narrative to this – what I love is how it’s pointed out that she and other women conquer without wearing armour and without violence (though, well, in this it is a tad ferocious and the death in it isn’t exactly kind, but spoilers aside…)

‘This host needed no armour, no weapons, no boasts and shorting. But if she were the enemy, she would be greatly afraid.’

Brilliant. But it’s Garth Nix, so of course it is! I would say that this is one of the stronger pieces, but in all honesty I’m sure that is to continue. As soon as you start reading it, you can tell that this is a strong anthology, one that only makes me wish I were still in school for the chance to study it with others.

“Mary, Mary” by Kirstyn McDermott

Here we have Mary Wollstonecroft an advocate of women’s rights among other things.

It’s always heartbreaking to see young children die hours or days old, even if in certain times it’s been perfectly normal to have fourteen or more kids and barely half of them make it past their 10th birthday. It’s also heartbreaking, but less seen, of the parents and family members this leaves behind.

The way this one ends in such hope is so excellent to see. It’s a strong ending that can’t help but leave you smiling.

“A Song For Sacagawea” by Jane Yolen

Which is about Sacagawea, one of the few in this anthology who I’ve heard of before, a woman who helped Lewis and Clark on their expedition through part of the United States, acting as guide and interpreter.

Told in verse, this is a short piece of two pages that ends simply yet profoundly – it was enough. I’m not one for poetry so I can’t speak with any experience of how effective it is compared to others, but all I can say is that it deserves to be read aloud, and is quite deliberate in its pace and proud language.

“Look How Cold My Hands Are” by Deborah Biancotti

As hoped, things are only getting better and better. In this piece we see the awful crimes of Countess Bathory, who was countess from the renowned Báthory family of nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary. She has been labelled the most prolific female serial killer in history, seemingly insane and probably suffering from a number of mental illnesses as she seems to honestly see nothing wrong with cruel torture and abuse of women of all ages. When she’s called to account for her crimes, she seriously believes such things are below a woman of her station, and that she was well within her rights to act as such.

So here we see that not all great women of history were good – great is used in the sense of women of great power or ability, and that’s showcased here perfectly. Biancotti’s writing is strong and perfect at catching such horrific events and making them seem plausible, rather than over embellished or ‘pure evil’ without reason.

“Bright Moon” by Foz Meadows

Everyone always loves a tale of a woman fighter in a time or setting where women were only expected to clean and have babies. Here we have Khutulun who from a young age would wrestle and dismiss thoughts from her older sister that she wasn’t acting proper. Their father Kaidu became the most powerful ruler of Central Asia, reigning in the realms from western Mongolia to Oxus, and from the Central Siberian Plateau to India, and it was through these regions that they went to war, and Khutulun managed to sway her father’s opinion that her great ability shouldn’t go to waste. Here she doesn’t simply use her strength, either, she uses her intelligence and quick thinking to make proper decisions in warfare, which is even more satisfying. Khutulun sees the chance to act in a way that would certainly bring her more bravo, yet she takes place in where she can instead have the most impact and through this, notices something else that benefits them all so much more.

Foz Meadows writing is, as always, engaging and easy to read, the pages flicking by so quickly you’re dismayed that there’s not a whole novella or even novel dedicated to her piece on Khutulun.

“Charmed Life” by Joyce Chng

Leizu grew up helping in her father’s workshop, working with metal to create swords or ornaments. It is here that she catches the eyes of the Emperor, and soon finds herself an Empress, moves into the palace and leaves that life behind her; trading a life of freedom for one of rules and regulations.

Here we have a beautifully crafted piece that suits Chinese literature, with descriptions that paint a picture so well its like you’re there with Leizu. It’s also interesting to see how she goes on the hunt for a nicer rich fabric to wear, and how she goes about it. Soon, she discovers silk and how to dye it, and then her anger as her husband takes all the credit. This is a soft yet strong tale, and one of my favourites in the anthology.

“A Beautiful Stream” by Nisi Shawl

This piece eases us back into the more historical-fiction sense the rest of the anthology has taken, bringing us to France, and Gabrielle and her lover Missy, and Gabrielle’s daughter Gazouette. The author of the well-known Gigi, we see her here trying to do the best for her family – whether it’s enticing money from her backers, or balancing her husband’s needs and that of her lovers. Beyond this she accomplishes so much more as her world becomes even more difficult, until we’re left with her life at 81 as she lays dying, awaiting a visit from her estranged daughter.

This piece was one of the more beautiful, taking two reads in order to appreciate it fully. Shawl has a deft hand, and the piece comes to life as it unfolds around the reader, with more and more to notice in it each time you read it again.

“Neter Nefer” by Amanda Pillar

Now we have Hatshepsut, an Egyptian ruler – generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. This tale is told by her daughter Neferure who wasn’t blinded by friendship and was able to properly see what her father’s consort was up to – trying to poison Hetshepsut and Neferure. What I find amazing in this time is how short their lives were, but how much they accomplished in this time regardless.

Neferure’s tomb was one of those discovered by Howard Carter, and Hatshepsut’s was that of some issue and academic feuds as they fought over what the succession truly was. This piece by Pillar is excellent at showing the different ties everyone had – how siblings were to marry and so forth, or, in Neferure’s case, to refuse utterly.

“Due Care And Attention” by Sylvia Kelso

We jump straight from a calm discussion into action, as we read a piece set in Brisbane, Australia when motor cars are just becoming popular. We have two ladies – Lilian Cooper, a British-born Australian doctor and her companion Josephine (and we see this piece through her eyes). These two are utterly frustrated by the speed limits which keep them from their patients. That is, until, they assist a policeman who used to dog their every step with fines, and help him catch a thief.

I know this whole anthology is about women so I should be used to it by now, but OH, isn’t it good to see women so useful and needed! It just makes you realise how little you see it generally in novels.

It’s also interesting to see a time when 16 miles an hour is noteworthy. Ah, history.

I must admit, this one took me a second attempt at getting into, though I think now that I was simply in the wrong mood for it at the start. The way their dialogue was written and the introduction to the story in general kept striking me odd, but as whole it works dang well and you get such a sense of the characters through it.

“The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea” by Stephanie Lai

Cheng Shih is a Chinese pirate who travels with women and children, and is just and fair, utterly fierce, and despairs at getting older. It’s interesting to see this happen, see how she gets slower and faces more injuries, and it’s also interesting to see how she deals with her closest members of her force of pirates – no matter who they are, if they do wrong, they’re swiftly dealt with.

This is beautifully written, always showing foremost, her love for the sea.

“Theodora” by Barbara Robson

Theodora, wife of the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian the first who starts her life as a child on the streets, and rises to be a stage performer. She dreams of high places and is firmly told that she has a place, and that’s not it. Though, she manages to almost succeed in one avenue – tied to a lofty Senator-turned-Governor – this soon falls away and she finds herself back on the streets. However, Theodora is made of sterner stuff and soon finds herself in even better shape – wife to Justinian, who then becomes emperor, and it’s only thanks to her that they manage to get through the riots and upheaval in general. With her level head and fierce nature, they see through the revolution.

Throughout this piece, you get such a feel for the times and what was expected of everyone who had their part to play in this world of politics – mostly how cruel it all is, especially in Rome. Theodora is just excellent!

“For So Great A Misdeed” by Lisa L. Hannett

Hallgerðr Höskuldsdóttir is an Icelandic woman who is told from a young age that it’s not bad to want. Throughout we get to see how people differ on this advice, saying that no it isn’t bad to want, or it is bad because of the things that come with that.

Hallgerðr seems to suffer from terrible luck, losing three husbands. We see her from when she’s young until the end, when she’s somewhat manic and utterly at her wits end from what she’s been through and how she’s treated for it. She’s a malicious, greedy character, firmly trapped in what she sees as unfair – what’s so wrong from constantly having feasts, even if you have to take from your neighbours in order to lay the table?

Again, we’re going from strength to strength here, seeing what Hallgerðr thinks and her actions, understanding why she does what she does even if we don’t agree. She’s a formidable woman – a Viking, after all.

“The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger” by Havva Murat

Ahh, another female becoming a warrior story, with bonus ‘dress as a boy’ plot. Here we have Nora of Kelmendi, an Albanian warrior known as Kreshnik when she’s a boy. Born to a man with too many daughters already, she’s almost cast out into the snow as what he really needs is a son. She’s first given to the church, but then rescued by her aunt who raises her as her own, but then dressed as a boy when her father turns up in a surprise visit.

He instantly takes her under his wing (as he thinks she’s his nephew) and trains her up, but then must fight as champion… she’s small, but the match won’t be all that easy for the Pasha’s champion, as we soon see…

This is another fun piece – I don’t think I can ever get tired of this type of plot. More, I say!

“Granuaile” by Dirk Flinthart

Another pirate, almost! Grace O’Malley – chieftain of the Ó Máille clan and sometimes known as “The Sea Queen of Connacht”, we see her matching wits with Philip Sidney, a knight of Queen Elizabeth as they have a run in with the fey, Poseidon/Neptune himself.

This one is interesting for a line from Philip, who doesn’t believe he’s witnessed a God. Rather, he states: ”Tis true this Mack Leer has much power, but what of it? have we not powers the ancients would have marvelled at? The compass? he telescope? Our clocks? Our cannons and guns?’ (…) ‘We have wise men and astrologers, alchemists and mathematical philosophers. What this Mack Leer knows, we can learn. In time we will deal with him and his people as quals.’

I’m not sure I agree with the ending of this one, but I worry about such things. Reading Juliet Marillier’s work makes me a tad worried about doing such a thing (no spoilers here!)

“Little Battles” by L.M. Myles

And now we’re back in the realm of older, excellent women. Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in western Europe during the High Middle Ages and a member of the Ramnulfid dynasty of rulers in southwestern France. She became Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right while she was still a child, then later Queen consort of France (1137–1152) and of England (1154–1189) and in this tale, we see her escorting one of her granddaughters, Blanche, when they come into trouble.

War must be a terrible time for a woman leader, mother and carer but on one side, kept back from the blood and cruelty, and on other other plunged into it. She gives this wisdom to her granddaughter, saying ‘Don’t be afraid to look at them, the bodies. The men will not want you to, but being a woman will not protect you from violence or death. You will be a queen. You will have castles and armies and you must not flinch from doing what you must to protect your husband, or your children. Look. See what death is.’

“Another Week In The Future, An Excerpt” by Kaaron Warren

Catherine Helen Spence was a Scottish-born Australian author who published a science fiction novel in 1888, about what it would be like to live in 1988. The very fantastic Kaaron Warren takes this a step forward by writing in her style, as to what it would be like in 2088. Through her eyes we see just how much the world has changed even from her time to ours (just imagine, women dressed as men!) and from there, we see what Australia (and the world) could someday become.

As ever, Warren’s writing is a light touch yet with a depth of thought behind it. This piece is certainly one to look out for at the next round of Ditmars for sure.

“The Lioness” by Laura Lam

Ahh, Lam, one of my favourite writers! If I weren’t a fan of FableCroft Publications, she would be one of the main reasons I’d pick this anthology up in the first place! She brings us pirates, showing us why this piece follows Shawl’s as it’s set in France also, introducing us to fierce female pirate Jeanne de Clisson, also known as the Lioness of Brittany. Daughter of a nobleman and soon married to a nobleman, they are soon barons until her husband dies young, leaving her with their two children.

If you haven’t before come into contact with Laura Lam’s writing, I highly recommend you change this immediately and seek her work out. Lam has a way with words and characters that are a joy to read and lodge firmly in your mind, so even when you do somehow manage to put the book down (for say, eating or sleeping) they stay in your mind regardless. It’s no different here; Jeanne is a heartfelt character and Elyas is no different, both demanding a novella or novel to themselves – as long as Lam is writing it!

Warren’s piece got us into the speculative rounds again, and this piece continues in that stream, and is all the more fun for it.

“Cora Crane And The Trouble With Me” by Sandra McDonald

Cora Crane – American businesswoman, nightclub and bordello owner, writer and journalist. Though this clever piece of work, we see bits and pieces of her life and what could have been, and get a well-worked idea of what her life was like – regrets, hopes and dreams and everything in between. This keeps Cora utterly human throughout – we see her bad decisions and what leads her there, and understand why it all happens.

I like that this one comes so close after Warren’s slightly more spec-fic take on Catherine Helen Spence. The way this one uses ‘what could have been’ is almost on the same speculative stream, and that speculative elements were included in this anthology at all. It makes a nice mix!

“Vintana” by Thoraiya Dyer

The Great Wife, soon to be known as Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar, watches in shame as her husband is cursed by breaking tradition time and time again. Once Queen, she states that fish shall never cross her table.

This tale is also of the Royal Cook, who has to go out to get fish for the King (when he should be eating meat) and along the way, falls ill from a mosquito and from there, refuses to enter the kitchen as to leave the slaves quarters would mean they expect her to die and don’t wish to have to burn down the huts as they’d otherwise have to. They’d never burn down the palace.

This is one of those pieces which is rich in culture and a joy to read because of it and the pieces of verse are a pleasant addition.

“Hallowed Ground” by Juliet Marillier

Hildegard was committed as a child to a monastery – later she would become a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath – but for now she was a child who would have fits, and in these, see God’s visions. These she leant to keep to herself as they weren’t always well received.

Through this piece we see her both as a child and in her eighties, where she is now known as Sister Hildegard and has a life of wisdom she’s running out of time to share – she wishes to write an extension of her Natural History however also thinks she may live only a year or two more.

This is a gentle and beautiful piece of writing, as Marillier always accomplishes in her work. If Laura Lam wasn’t in this anthology, I still would have bought it for Marillier’s piece in an instant!

“Glorious” by Faith Mudge

Ending on a strong note, we are left with Elizabeth I, the Queen of England. Jailed and desperate, this one explores her life as a child throughout. We see the injustice of what it must be like for a girl when a son is born afterwards and the rejoicing show just how much more worthy a male child was to a family in those times.

This one includes one of my favourite lines: ‘Never have I written with more care and made less sense.’ Is there anyone out there who can’t identify with such a truthful sentence, when upset or at wits end?

It’s also incredibly clever to start and end with Anne Boleyn, hats off to the editors for that one!

~

I can think of no better way to have spent my Australia Day reading this anthology and learning more about Australians from our past, as well as others from all over the world. This is a strong anthology, easily readable and not ‘boring’ as historical things can sometimes be, or at least are known to be.

This anthology is highly recommended, for children still in school as well as adults and everyone in between. I can’t wait to see how this is used in schools!