Review: Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin

ccckalinSeries: Twelve Planets #12
Published by:
Twelfth Planet Press
ISBN 13:
9781922101099 (paperback)
ASIN:
B018A3GJFI (kindle)
Published: 
April 2015
Pages: 
234
Format reviewed:
Paperback
Site:
Author Site
Site: 
Publisher Site
Goodreads: 
Book Page
Stars: 
Five out of Five
Related Reviews:
A Journey Through Twelve Planets / Site for the challenge

Cherry Crow Children is the twelfth book in the Twelve Planets series, released by Twelfth Planet Press, which showcase the talent of female Australian authors. There is now to be a thirteenth in the series, but that’s a review for another time. The brief given to authors was to write several short stories of up to 40,000 words in total. The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.

This collection contains four short stories that aren’t dramatically connected, but feel of the one place even if the characters or setting isn’t reoccurring. As you can see at the bottom of this post, I think this is the best performing collection as far as our Australian awards go, collecting the most so far.

Wages of Honey

A man is on the search for his cousin, who has been missing for some time. He makes his way to Tulliæn where the locals seem to have an unhealthy fixation on death, and a high level of love for their locally produced honey. The directions the man has to follow to make his way around town are lyrical, but that doesn’t make them wrong, the inn-keeper points out. He consults people of the township one by one on their recommendations – try the gatekeeper, the innkeeper, the prefect… and then even random villagers in the market, which is fortuitously on that day. He gets little closer to finding his cousin, other than a deepening suspicion they all know much more than they’re actually telling him straight.

This is a beautiful novella to start us off with. It’s beautiful and horrific in equal measure, with characters you empathise for even if they’re not particularly good, or even less likely, trustworthy. The description of the quaint little town is effective at springing alive in your mind, making ti somewhere you almost think you’d like to visit someday before you realise how utterly stupid that would be – the place is a (beautiful) nightmare!

The Briskwater Mare

In Briskwater there’s a girl who died, and the residents all know to avoid her – which is tricky, as she inhabits anything that involves water which surrounds the town. Eli has been told all of her life that one day the girl will claim her – it sends her father to drink, and her younger brother to try desperate and brave things to save her… and even those in charge of the town to avoid looking at her directly. Ashamed, and yet also not wanting to change what they expect and even need to happen.

Then a hunter arrives and through a mix of pride and greed, will be the changing force this town needs. Maybe.

Written in first person we feel an instant connection with Eli, and affection for her brother who is the only one who is desperate (or even the slightest bit interested) to save her life. This novella doesn’t leave the reader in mystery as much as the first novella does (being first person makes that much harder), but it still grabs you with the ending. Simply beautiful.

The Miseducation of Mara Lys

Mara wishes to gain acceptance into an elite school, if only to prove her mother’s failings aren’t hers, and to be able to provide for her family. She’s barely given a chance and instead serves rather than studies at the school, and faces cruelty after cruelty – her only comfort in that others experience her own injustices and council her on how to survive. Mara, however, weighed down with her intelligence and determination to seek justice brings out the secrets of the elite to the reader, and you can’t help but want her to succeed with as much determination as she attacks everything.

Part is gruesome in the best of ways. I read parts with my face twisted in horror – one eye closed and one squinted as if to protect them, all the while thinking ‘to hell with that!’ I think my stomach twisted, also. Kalin sure knows how to pack a punch with her words, and this novella, well, it’s no surprise that it cleared the awards with flying colours last year. I think it’s my favourite of the four.

Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood

A child comes to a woman who has ruined herself with it, and returns home to her village despite the gossip. The child, Claudia, she raises is special, and while the village may gossip that she needed a better upbringing, it doesn’t stop the fact that these two women talk truths when the village would rather live in silence. Claudia, one day desperately scavenging to make ends meet through a harsh winter, meets the children of Haverny Wood, who trade parts of themselves in other to be wild. A boy she meets, has traded his heart for one made of wickerwood.

This one is probably the most lyrical and beautiful of them all. The injustice one feels at the small village mentality, or the child that everyone wants to blame or belittle is one often seen, yet not often done with as much justice as we see in this final and powerful novella. Absolutely amazing, and very much a treasure in the novella universe.

This collection has the following mentions:

The Wages of Honey – Shortlisted Best Horror Novella – Aurealis 2015

The Wages of Honey – Best Novella – Ditmar 2015

The Briskwater Mare – Best Horror Novella – Aurealis 2015

The Briskwater Mare – Best Novella – Ditmar 2015

The Briskwater Mare – Shortlisted Novellette – Shirley Jackson 2015

The Miseducation of Mara Lys – Best Horror Novella – Aurealis 2015

The Miseducation of Mara Lys – Best YA Short Story – Aurealis 2015

The Miseducation of Mara Lys – Best Novella – Ditmar 2016

Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood – Shortlisted Horror Novella – Aurealis 2015

Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood – Best Novella – Ditmar 2016

Review: The Female Factory by Lisa L. Hannett & Angela Slatter

tffllhasSeries: Twelve Planets #11
Published by:
Twelfth Planet Press
ISBN 13:
9781922101150 (paperback)
ASIN:
B00SUS9ZDC  (kindle)
Published: 
November 2014
Pages: 
150
Format reviewed:
Paperback
Site: 
Publisher Site
Goodreads: 
Book Page
Stars: 
Five out of Five
Related Reviews:
A Journey Through Twelve Planets / Site for the challenge

The Female Factory is the eleventh book in the Twelve Planets series, released by Twelfth Planet Press, which showcase the talent of female Australian authors. There is now to be a thirteenth in the series, but that’s a review for another time. The brief given to authors was to write several short stories of up to 40,000 words in total. The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.

This collection contains four short stories that, as one can expect from our best writing duo in Australia, absolutely blow the reader away. I don’t think I’ve come across a bit of their writing yet that hasn’t been perfect – haunting, leaving an impact, horror-filled and yet still somehow beautiful… this has it all. Hannett and Slatter have it all, and I can’t wait to see and love everything they do in the future.

Vox

A couple, Kate and Nick, go to a fertility clinic – though it has a few differences in their slightly more futuristic world, than our current one today. Though most of their money and months of trying every possible thing they finally conceive, and though there’s dawning happiness, Kate feels niggles of worry that she then feels guilty for.

The advances and plot points of this story make it hard to discuss as the spoilers are what’s most interesting and gripping about this new world, and the issues it brings with it. Pregnancy can be a scary, heartbreaking thing.

Baggage

Robyn thinks of herself as old Robyn and new Robyn – old didn’t wear subtle makeup, she mispronounced things, had bleached hair… New keeps quiet and polite more often than not, charms the clients as she’s been trained, and doesn’t tell her handler to fuck off. New is also a walking talking incubator for the rich and famous – at the time of her next appointment, she currently has six chances of life inside her, and uses carefully controlled pills to keep the opportunities in stasis until the full payment has been rendered for each.

This is utterly creepy with the power and control that’s involved, and how it all seems so possible. Set mostly in rural Victoria we still see that outside Melbourne it’s still dusty and remote, which certainly makes it seem like it’s not overly far into the future. And, like the first piece in the collection, we see human nature is both ruthless and greedy for the same things, still.

All the Other Revivals

Baron is considered weird by everyone around him, except for his ‘mother’ who has now passed on. Baron is from one of the women with an ungodly womb (like how we’ve seen in the previous short stories) but was raised by a lovely woman and an incredibly wealthy man who practically runs the small-ish country town, which doesn’t buy much affection for Baron. Too weird even for boarding school, when home, Baron avoids the other kids who don’t invite him to join in anyway, and wouldn’t be able to even if they did ask.

There’s a billabong. And with it, comes ‘a swimming’. Not very often, and it’s talked of in whispers and gossip the whole town shares within 24 hours. Baron witnesses one occur, and with a little knowledge of them himself he is good at keeping secrets – until he’s not, at least. And then things take a turn for the worse…

What gets me, about Hannett and Slatter’s work, is that things don’t tend to have a happy ending or a explosive ending… they’re just all realistic, fading into black, leaving the real ending up to the imagination of the reader.

The Female Factory

Bridewell Female Factory is a place for criminals and their children, organised by rank which determines what work they’ll do while incarcerated. There’s also a band of children that secretly do the matrons work, which involves digging up the dead and bringing them back in secret to the surgeon, who dissects them – both he and matron have their own goals in mind through this grisly work.

We see multiple points of view and goals in this piece, from the children to the matron herself, and see what drives them all – knowledge, a better life, something they’re all missing…

Being Hannett and Slatter though, this one is more grisly than the rest, being the novella-length piece in the collection beside the previous three short stories. We have a fuller landscape and more attention for all characters, drawing you in for a longer burn as we get to a conclusion I’m not sure I’m ready for. Their writing is powerful and some of the best we have in Australia, so get this collection – you won’t be disappointed.

This collection has the following mentions:

Aurealis Award for Best Collection (2014)

Honourable mention in the Norma K. Hemming Awards

Review: Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love

secretlivesloveSeries: Twelve Planets #10
Published by:
Twelfth Planet Press
ISBN 13:
9781922101075 (paperback)
ASIN:
B018A9G4AC (kindle)
Published: 
June 2014
Pages: 
81
Format reviewed:
Paperback
Site: 
Publisher Site
Goodreads: 
Book Page
Stars: 
Three out of Five
Related Reviews:
A Journey Through Twelve Planets / Site for the challenge

Secret Lives of Books, is the tenth book in the Twelve Planets series, released by Twelfth Planet Press, which showcase the talent of female Australian authors. There is now to be a thirteenth in the series, but that’s a review for another time. The brief given to authors was to write several short stories of up to 40,000 words in total. The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.

This collection contains five short stories that don’t appear to be connected in the first light, however when you’ve read them all there appears to be some faint thread of deeper meaning, but you’re not entirely sure if you’re being a little grabby for links.

Secret Lives of Books

A man lies dying, and we find that he cares far more for his books than that of any human connections, to the point his wife moved out with their children in order to allow him more space and time for his books. It is these that take up his final moments, though he notes how nice it is that his family have come to spend his final moments together.

This was a moving piece about the beauty books give us and how they can offer so much, and sometimes different things, depending on who’s reading them. The Magic Pudding is referenced and as shown, gave the main character something utterly different than my own personal view of the book.

Kiddofspeed

This was possibly my favourite of the collection. I find Chernobyl to be endlessly fascinating and this piece perfectly captured the intrigue around the whole event.

The writer takes the aftermath of Chernobyl and the fact vs fiction of it, the etymology, and the tale of a girl who posts on the internet of how she rode a motorbike around the disaster site – later taking down her claims online when commentators (don’t read the comments!) rip apart her story.

If you google the title of this one you get search results showing things like: Motorcycle Trip Through Chernobyl – The Museum of Hoaxes: “Did you ever see that woman, Elena, that rides around the zone on her motorcycle?” and there’s nothing better than a story based on fact.

Qasida

A twisting story of many things, on one level this piece is about Curiosity rover on Mars, the loss of things and people, and the meaning of the short story – which means much more when written like qaṣīdaᵗ, as it is the Arabic word and form of writing poetry, as we are told in the introduction to the story.

This is a story that needs attention and time, and is probably one of the more careful tales in the collection, and the one that needs the most time to absorb.

The Kairos Effect

Surprisingly, I immediately went from the one before to one I just couldn’t get through at all. Some short stories are a little hit and miss, and until now I haven’t ever had one that I’ve had to give up on in the Twelve Planets series, however, there’s always got to be one sometime.

The Slut and the Universe

A sort of fabled twist on feminism, as stated in the longer version of the title for this piece, as stated in the introduction, this introduces us to the main character almost as if she is snow white, and then quite quickly stabs through the softness with the choice of words (as in the short version of the title), and the distinctly un-fabled issues such as the clothes our main character chooses to wear.

This is probably my second favourite tale in the book, and a decent and strong ending for the collection.

This collection has the following mentions:

Aurealis Award Nominee for Best Collection (Shortlist) (2014)

Review: Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott

cautioncontainsSeries: Twelve Planets #9
Published by:
Twelfth Planet Press
ISBN 13: 
9781922101068 (ebook)
ISBN 13:
9781922101051 (paperback)
ASIN:
B00HBSNNOY (kindle)
Published: 
June 2013
Pages:
173
Format reviewed:
Paperback
Site: 
Publisher Site
Goodreads: 
Book Page
Stars: 
Five out of Five
Related Reviews:
A Journey Through Twelve Planets / Site for the challenge

Caution: Contains Small Parts, is the ninth book in the Twelve Planets series, released by Twelfth Planet Press, which showcase the talent of female Australian authors. There is now to be a thirteenth in the series, but that’s a review for another time. The brief given to authors was to write 4 short stories of up to 40,000 words in total. The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.

This collection contains four short stories that aren’t connected other than the same dark tone of their nature, and the mild horror elements – you can tell it’s Kirstyn’s writing throughout, but each is totally individual and unique, showing her versatility and why Australia is so lucky to have such a strong speculative fiction base.

What Amanda Wants

Helen is a councillor at a crisis centre, and it’s here she meets Amanda Fisher. The girl comes in to see her once, twice… and what she says or more importantly, what she doesn’t say, leads Helen compelled to discover the rest of this girl’s story. Helen’s heard and seen it all throughout her career and has a canny ability to draw correct conclusions from the barest of details… but from Amanda, she gets nothing. And eventually, she discovers that there’s a very good reason for that.

This short story was so easily read that the pages just flew by. This is a short story of forgotten and cold lunches as you ignore it – despite how hungry you may be – to read on. McDermott manages to introduce you to characters both simply and in-depth, and it’s glorious to read, even as it involves disgusting and horrid details of some truly awful lives. The plot is balanced perfectly, and you can’t help but feel entirely guiltily satisfied at the outcome.

Horn

A fantasy author struggles to cope because he feels his status as an author is the reason why his life has taken such a terrible turn. We see him struggle through life, struggle to keep his life somehow continuing what with various commitments, and the annoying fan letters he still receives from possibly well-meaning and yet still insensitive ‘fans’. With a similar name as Kirstyn (Dermott Mack being the name in the short story), one has to wonder what Kirstyn is hinting at, as well as using the title of Horn like the novella by Peter Ball (also published by Twelfth Planet Press) and the many references to the unicorns, being usually feminine creatures, being masculine through their use of their horns for bloody sports. There’s a lot to think deeper on for this one, but it’s also just too depressing for me to want to spend much longer on it.

Caution: Contains Small Parts

One of the creepier tales, a man received a wooden toy in the post with no clue who it came from, or why it’s been sent to him. With a slightly eerie bob to its head and a chewed section that looks like wherever it came from, it had serious teeth, he doesn’t give it much thought other than to get it out of his house as soon as possible… only for it to return that very night, in the dark, as he’s woken by a strange sound and overcome with thirst.

The plot is a slightly overdone tale – the creepy, possessed child’s toy – but McDermott wrestles it into something entirely her own, and wins completely. It’s the right amount of creepy – utterly believable and yet you can see why those around him think he’s over-reacting or going insane – from the outside it seems harmless yet to actually live it would be completely unnerving.

The ending of this one is possibly, somehow, even more satisfying than the first short story in the collection, which I really loved.

The Home for Broken Dolls

The last piece in this collection is novella length, and takes up almost half of the book. Jane has a home for broken dolls, like the title says. One morning she comes across another new arrival that’s been left against her agapanthus, crushing the not-yet-bloomed buds. As I read this one I realised I’d read it before, though I can’t remember if it was from the launch where McDermott read an excerpt, or through reading for Ditmas voting… either way, this story is still creepy and packs a punch as it unfolds. The research McDermott put into this story shows, and it works effectively to make you need a good shake and some daylight for a while.

McDermott is certainly one of our stronger authors in the Australian Speculative Fiction gang, and this collection is the perfect place to start if you’re new to her work.

This collection has the following mentions:

Honourable mention,  2014 Norma K Hemming Award

“The Home for Broken Dolls” – winner Ditmar for Best Novella/Novelette 2014

Locus Recommended Reading List for 2013 for Best Collection, Best Novella and Best Novelette

Review: Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer

asymmetrySeries: Twelve Planets #8
Published by:
Twelfth Planet Press
ISBN 13: 
9780987216281 (ebook)
ISBN 13:
9780987216274 (paperback)
ASIN:
B00BWWK94W (kindle)
Published: 
March 2013
Pages:
109
Format reviewed:
Paperback
Site: 
Publisher Site
Goodreads: 
Book Page
Stars: 
Five out of Five
Related Reviews:
A Journey Through Twelve Planets / Site for the challenge

Asymmetry is the eighth book in the Twelve Planets series, released by Twelfth Planet Press, which showcase the talent of female Australian authors. There is now to be a thirteenth in the series, but that’s a review for another time. The brief given to authors was to write 4 short stories of up to 40,000 words in total. The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.

This collection contains four short stories that deal with identity, the rules that we obey because that’s how we’ve been raised to be or aren’t conditioned to question, whether the ends justify the means and all over, the asymmetry in life that we both strive to achieve or that will happen regardless.

After Hours

Jess is a vet, a little new and very serious about someday being a specialist surgeon, and working with a man with 37 years of experience called Bradley, who is quick and excellent at surgery. They have a military contract that they bend over backwards for, looking after the bomb squad dogs with very dedicated care and concern.

It’s through this that a dog is brought in late one night – Jess lives above the vet clinic itself so she can be on call after hours, so she receives the dog who’s acting strangely. Very strangely, considering she saw the dog only yesterday and it was perfectly behaved thanks to his handler Nadia, a somewhat eerie woman who lost a brother to a bomb, once. Then the next night, there’s another dog, brought in by Nadia herself. And through this, Jess decides that maybe she’ll stay on in this vet clinic after all.

Zadie, Scythe of the West

In this world, women are the warriors and men bring great shame upon them if they aren’t perfect housekeepers. Women are the warriors for they also bring life into the world, and hence, equal everything out in perfect balance. They have seven children, so they can then take seven lives. Zadie is determined to take the life of a King as there is a prophecy that on his death, there shall be peace for many years.

She first tries to get there without having the children, and hence commits the sin of not being allowed to be a warrior just yet. However, once she’s had children she then realises how wealthy each life really is, once she has held children and fed them from her own body.

The goddess in this world is harsh yet suitable, and I’d love to see more set in this world some day.

Wish Me Luck

According to Alex, Thoraiya is currently working on turning this piece into a longer piece of work – yay! Here we have a world where luck is a currency. You can transfer it between different people with a simple blessing, freely given… or there are tiny slower ways to earn it using animals but this is barely worth it. This is a planet other than Earth, where our main character is from, a man who is utterly hopeless, selfish and full of empty promises.

Lady Adelaide is marvellous, and I can’t wait to see more of her. Set on a water planet, we see mostly the dregs of society where travel between other planets is possible but relies on having enough luck to pay for such a thing – or, at least, that’s what they’ve been led to believe.

Seven Days in Paris

It’s hard to decide which of the four is my favourite, but I think it’s this one – futuristic sci-fi thriller where a criminal is of no use to the police to figure out where a bomb is before it goes off, so they make a copy of her which is easier to control so they can try to unearth information from her that way instead. Mawra is the original, and the character we follow is known only as Mawra B, and is treated with little to no regard – certainly barely as a ‘real’ human – as she pieces together what exactly is going on and who she is.

What I loved about this one was the questions it raised, and how realistic it all was, as well as being utterly possible. The collection as a whole benefits from Dyer’s medical background as she’s able to tie little facts and word choices throughout, giving it a reliable depth of ‘yup, this could happen’.

This collection has the following mentions:

“Asymmetry” – Nominated, Collection category, Aurealis Awards & Ditmar Awards 2014

“Seven Days in Paris” – Nominated, Science Fiction SS category, Aurealis Awards & Ditmar Awards 2014