Sunday, 26 February 2017

Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold

Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the first books in the Vorkosigan saga, an epic military science fiction saga spanning many books, worlds and generations. I say one of the first because there is some lively debate as to reading order, but it is chronologically first (except for Falling Free which is set 200 years earlier) and was published first (by two months) but I seem to recall reading that it was written second, after The Warrior's Apprentice, but I can't find a link for that right now. In any case, it is an excellent place to start reading the Vorkosigan saga.

When Cordelia Naismith and her survey crew are attacked by a renegade group from Barrayar, she is taken prisoner by Aral Vorkosigan, commander of the Barrayan ship that has been taken over by an ambitious and ruthless crew member. Aral and Cordelia survive countless mishaps while their mutual admiration and even stronger feelings emerge.

This was a re-read for me, motivated largely by the Vokosigan Saga Project I'm undertaking with Katharine, and one I want to review because — as with most of the Vokosigan books — I read it before I started blogging. I'm also mindful of the possibility of repeating myself. I'll obviously try not to, but as of this writing Katharine and I haven't done our discussion post so it's hard to predict which direction that might go.

Preamble aside, I definitely enjoyed this book more on a second read than on the first. The main reason for that is the first time I read it was after a lot of Miles books and was largely sad that I had run out of Miles books. I was also used to seeing Cordelia and Aral primarily as Miles's parents and not through their own eyes. When I picked it up this time, it was after a sizeable gap since any other Bujold/Vorkosigan books (I read Gentleman Jole just over a year ago) and I felt like I was coming to the series fresh. I really enjoyed reading Cordelia and Aral's story of their first few meetings. I also really enjoyed the setting of Sergyar and noticed a lot of things I didn't remember from the first read-through, like the fauna, which I noticed more in Gentleman Jole than in my first read of Shards of Honour.

I also found myself paying more attention to certain other aspects of the narrative, like the plot Aral was involved with in the second half of the book (spoilers omitted) and the ordeal Cordelia went through when she went home to Beta Colony after the war. Of course I remembered the part about Cordelia not fitting in, but it was more chilling this time around, having spent the past five years reading about feminism and gas-lighting. It makes for a thought-provoking read that made me feel very uncomfortable on Cordelia's behalf. As did what Aral was up to at the time.

Shards of Honour was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to fans of science fiction, feminism and military SF. As far as the Vorkosigan Saga is concerned, Shards of Honour is an excellent place to start reading. I very much wished I could start reading the next book (Barrayar, also featuring Cordelia and Aral) straight away but alas the blogging project means I have to wait a little bit.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 1986, Baen
Series: Vokosigan Saga. A good starting point but actual numbering is complicated.
Format read: ePub as part of the Cordelia's Honour omnibus
Source: Purchased from Baen

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Vigil by Angela Slatter

Vigil by Angela Slatter is the author's debut novel but regular followers of this blog may recall that Slatter is also a much-lauded author of shorter stories and collections and a few mosaic novels. I have reviewed several of her works before, which you can peruse here. Most notable of those, to me, are The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings and Sourdough and Other Stories, two mosaic novels (collections of linked short stories) that I adored. Vigil is, in many ways, rather dissimilar.

Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds. The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength - and the ability to walk between us and the other - as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.

But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale - and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways - and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.

And Verity must investigate - or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.

Vigil is an urban fantasy novel starring Verity and set in the city of Brisbane. Verity is half-human, half-Weyrd and an investigator whose main job it is to solve crimes, especially those where Weyrd shenanigans impact on normal humans. The story mainly follows Verity as she gets embroiled in a few cases.

This was an interesting read because I am more familiar with Slatter's more historically-set fantasy stories, albeit not exclusively. Vigil is still quite dark in its fantasy elements, as I've come to expect from Slatter, but these elements are mixed in with the real-world normality of Brisbane. The story happens when the Weyrd leaks into the normal and contaminates it.

Verity and the other characters all have layers to them, which makes the book particularly compelling. As well as enjoying Verity's character, I rather liked a couple of the side characters in particular. The human police officer whose job it is to deal with the official side of the investigations was well done, as was Verity's human love interest. What I liked most about David, the love interest, is the way the relationship was important to Verity but not her main concern for most of the book. For most of the book solving murders is the main thing going on in Verity's life, closely followed by not dying and keeping the people important to her safe. I appreciated that the romantic storyline was in the background because, let's face it, a string of siren murders is kind of more interesting than a healthy romantic relationship.

I highly recommend Vigil to fans of urban fantasy and Angela Slatter's other work. It brings a fresh and elegant darkness to to the genre, tying multiple cases together into a single coherent story. I really enjoyed it and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel, although it was a self-contained story.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Hachette
Series: Yes. Verity Fassbinder book 1 of ? (at least 2)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Monday, 20 February 2017

Aurealis Award Shortlists announced!

It's that time of year again when the Aurealis Awards shortlists are announced. And what shortlists they are this year! (I might be biased — Defying Doomsday and one of the contained stories, "Did We Break the End of the World" by Tansy Rayner Roberts, were shortlisted *does a happy dance*)

You can go read the official announcement over on the Aurealis Awards website, but for your reading pleasure I have also reproduced it below, with added links to those books that I've reviewed. Hopefully, by the time the actual award announcements come around I will have added more reviews since a lot of these books are in my TBR.

And of course, a big congratulations to all the finalists!


BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION 
Blueberry Pancakes Forever, Angelica Banks (Allen & Unwin)
Magrit, Lee Battersby (Walker Books Australia)
Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket, Caleb Crisp (Bloomsbury)
The Turners, Mick Elliott (Hachette Australia)
When the Lyrebird Calls, Kim Kane (Allen & Unwin)
The Hungry Isle, Emily Rodda (Omnibus Books)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL / ILLUSTRATED WORK
Mechanica, Lance Balchin (Five Mile)
BROBOT, James Foley (Fremantle Press)
Negative Space, Ryan K Lindsay (Dark Horse Comics)
The Spider King, Josh Vann (self-published)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY 
“A Right Pretty Mate”, Lisa L Hannett (Dreaming in the Dark)
“Dune Time”, Jack Nicholls (Tor.com)
“No One Here is Going to Save You”, Shauna O’Meara (In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing)
“Did We Break the End of the World?”, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Defying Doomsday, Twelfth Planet Press)
“Pretty Jennie Greenteeth”, Leife Shallcross (Strange Little Girls, Belladonna Publishing)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY
“Non Zero Sum”, RPL Johnson (SNAFU: Hunters, Cohesion Press)
“Flame Trees”, TR Napper (Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2016)
“Penny for a Match, Mister?”, Garth Nix (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
“The Red Forest”, Angela Slatter (Winter Children and Other Chilling Tales, PS Publishing)
“68 Days”, Kaaron Warren (Tomorrow’s Cthulhu, Broken Eye Books)
“Life, or Whatever Passes For It”, Durand Welsh (Peel Back the Skin, Grey Matter Press)

BEST HORROR NOVELLA
“Box of Bones”, Jeremy Bates (Ghillinnein Books)
“Served Cold”, Alan Baxter (Dreaming in the Dark, PS Publishing)
“Waking in Winter”, Deborah Biancotti (PS Publishing)
“Burnt Sugar”, Kirstyn McDermott (Dreaming in the Dark, PS Publishing)
“Pan”, Christopher Ruz (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #62)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY
“Watercress Soup”, Tamlyn Dreaver (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #65)
“Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest”, Thoraiya Dyer (In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing)
“Dune Time”, Jack Nicholls (Tor.com)
“Penny for a Match, Mister?”, Garth Nix (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
“The Lighthouse at Cape Defeat”, David Versace (Aurealis #89)
“The Cartographer’s Price”, Suzanne Willis (Mythic Delirium Issue 3.1)

BEST FANTASY NOVELLA
“Raven’s First Flight”, Alan Baxter (SNAFU: Black Ops, Cohesion Press)
“By the Laws of Crab and Woman”, Jason Fischer (Review of Australian Fiction)
“Forfeit”, Andrea K. Höst (The Towers, the Moon, self-published)
The Bonobo’s Dream, Rose Mulready (Seizure Press)
“Burnt Sugar”, Kirstyn McDermott (Dreaming in the Dark, PS Publishing)
Finnegan’s Field”, Angela Slatter (Tor.com)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY
“Trainspotting in Winesburg”, Jack Dann (Concentration, PS Publishing)
“The Baby Eaters”, Ian McHugh (Asimov’s Science Fiction 40/1)
“The Autumn Dog Cannot Live to Spring”, Claire McKenna (In Your Face, Fablecroft)
“Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart”, Samantha Murray (Clarkesworld #122)
“68 Days”, Kaaron Warren (Tomorrow’s Cthulu, Broken Eye Books)
“The Least of Things”, Jen White (Aurealis #94)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA
Waking in Winter, Deborah Biancotti (PS Publishing)
“Salto Mortal”, Nick T Chan (Lightspeed #73)
“Going Viral”, Thoraiya Dyer (Dimension6 #8, coeur de lion)
The Bonobo’s Dream, Rose Mulready (Seizure Press)
“All the Colours of the Tomato”, Simon Petrie (Dimension6 #9, coeur de lion)
“Did We Break the End of the World?”, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Defying Doomsday, Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST COLLECTION
Crow Shine, Alan Baxter (Ticonderoga Publications)
Concentration, Jack Dann (PS Publishing)
A Feast of Sorrows, Angela Slatter (Prime)
Winter Children, Angela Slatter (PS Publishing)

BEST ANTHOLOGY
Dreaming in the Dark, Jack Dann (ed.) (PS Publishing Australia)
Defying Doomsday, Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench (eds.) (Twelfth Planet Press)
Year’s Best YA Speculative fiction 2015, Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein (eds.) (Twelfth Planet Press)
Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 10, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Solaris)
In Your Face, Tehani Wessely (ed.) (Fablecroft Publishing)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
Elegy, Jane Abbott (Penguin Random House Australia)
The Bone Queen, Alison Croggon (Penguin Books Australia)
The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale (Penguin Random House Australia)
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers)
Gemima: Illuminae Files 2, Amy Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
Goldenhand, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

BEST HORROR NOVEL
Fear is the Rider, Kenneth Cook (Text Publishing)
My Sister Rosa, Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)
The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren (IFWG Publishing Australia)

BEST FANTASY NOVEL
Nevernight, Jay Kristoff (Harper Voyager)
Fall of the Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette Australia)
Den of Wolves, Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Vigil, Angela Slatter (Jo Fletcher Books)
Road to Winter, Mark Smith (Text Publishing)
Sisters of the Fire, Kim Wilkins (Harlequin Australia)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
Watershed, Jane Abbott (Penguin Random House)
Confluence, SK Dunstall (Ace Books)
Gemima: Illuminae Files 2, Amy Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
Squid’s Grief, DK Mok (self-published)
Stiletto, Daniel O’Malley (Harper Collins Publishers)
Threader, Rebekah Turner (Harlequin Australia)


Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Chatting with my friend Katharine, who also runs a book blog, Ventureadlaxre, it came out that she'd been meaning to read Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga and I had been meaning to re-read it, since I read most of them before I started blogging. And so, an idea for a blogging project was born.

Katharine and I will both read a Vorkosigan book a month, going through them in internal chronological order, more or less, and then, as well as any ordinary reviews, we will write a discussion-type blog post about each book. She will bring the "reading for the first time" perspective and I will bring the "re-reading and what it adds" perspective. These posts will be cross-posted to both our blogs.

I haven't re-read anything since I started blogging except Harry Potter (because of the illustrated editions) and books I was actively working on (Defying Doomsday, science checking stuff), so this will be interesting.

Now get ready for a monthly parade of horrible covers as I re-read some of the best science fiction books around.

Baen has the worst covers, mainly because of their font choices.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis is a children's novel (the main character is 12ish) about a young dragon that gets turned into a human girl and has to make it on her own in a strange new city. And also chocolate.

Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. 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 finds tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw.

But she's still the fiercest creature in the mountains -- and now she's found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is get 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?

This was a delightful read. Sometimes I, as an adult, find books for younger readers a bit too condescending or talking-down to the reader too much, in a way that probably wouldn't have bothered me when I was closer to the intended age bracket. This is absolutely not the case with Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. It's a lovely book that will be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

The story follows Aventurine, a young dragon who's sick of being stuck in her family cave, waiting to  grow up so she can safely hunt and fly around outside. One day she decides to experiment with going outside and the first human she meets transforms her from a dragon into a human girl. As well as being traumatic, the transformation, which hinged on an enchanted hot chocolate, awakens Aventurine's love of chocolate. As well as working out how to live as a human, Aventurine becomes fixated on tasting chocolate again.

This book has a lot of delicious chocolate descriptions in it, which made me a bit sad not to be having any chocolate when I read the book. Recommendation for reading: consume with hot chocolate. The setting is a vague Germanic medieval fantasy world, which we don't see much of beyond the city and the mountains. We hear a bit about a few other cities too. The main focus is definitely on the characters: Aventurine and her friends, family and other people she encounters.

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart was the kind of story in which the bad guys are merely annoying rather than actually evil, which was refreshing, especially coming out of having read a few more dire books. It's not that everything always goes well for Aventurine, but nothing especially dire happens and overall this was a very feel-good book. Highly recommended for people looking for a heartwarming read.

I highly recommend this book to all fans of fantasy, dragons and books for younger readers. It is, like I said, written for a younger age group than YA usually is, and I'm not sure that all teens will necessarily enjoy reading about a twelve-year-old. But I think it can be enjoyed equally as much (if not more) but adults (and maybe teens who are less self-conscious).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2016, Bloomsbury (UK/ANZ)
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor is a sequel novella to Binti, which I reviewed here and which went on to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novella. The sequel follows on from the original story, showing us the next chapter of Binti's life, and focussing on a very different set of experiences. This review will contain some spoilers for the first novella.

The thrilling sequel to the Nebula-nominated Binti.

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she left her family to pursue her dream.

And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.

But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.

After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

The first Binti novella followed Binti on her eventful and ultimately traumatic journey from her home on Earth to the prestigious Oomza University. Binti: Home opens on Oomza University and follows Binti as she makes the decision to go home for a visit. Rather than focussing on the journey this time, the story focusses on what happens after Binti gets home.

The novella deals a lot with change and belonging. Binti was changed by her time at Oomza, from learning new things and living in a different environment with a diverse assortment of people. She was also changed, both emotionally and physically, by the events en route to Oomza. How does she then go about fitting in back home? In a culture where no one leaves (usually) the very act of going away and coming back is subversive in itself, but the added changes of the journey are revolutionary. The scenes with Binti's family were the most upsetting, I thought, and although some of their reactions are understandable I, as the reader sympathising with Binti, couldn't help but be outraged at how unfair they were.

If you enjoyed Binti, I definitely recommend reading Binti: Home. It's the next part of Binti's story and, as the ending strongly implied, it's not the last part either. I hope there will be a third story because Binti: Home ended on more of a cliffhanger than I was expecting. I turned the page expecting more story and was met with "About the Author"! I need to know what happens next! Argh! If you haven't read Binti, I recommend picking that up first, since Home builds a lot on what came before. If you're a fan of thoughtful science fiction, I highly recommend this series of novellas.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2017, Tor.com
Series: Yes, Binti book 2 or 2 so far
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred by Greg Egan

The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred by Greg Egan is a science fiction novella set on two large asteroids out in the asteroid belt: Vesta and Ceres. It is a quick and compelling read more about morality than technology, although of course there is technology in it.

Camille is desperate to escape her home on colonized asteroid Vesta, journeying through space in a small cocoon pod covertly and precariously attached to a cargo ship. Anna is a newly appointed port director on asteroid Ceres, intrigued by the causes that have led so-called riders like Camille to show up at her post in search of asylum.

Conditions on Vesta are quickly deteriorating—for one group of people in particular. The original founders agreed to split profits equally, but the Sivadier syndicate contributed intellectual property rather than more valued tangible goods. Now the rest of the populace wants payback. As Camille travels closer to Ceres, it seems ever more likely that Vesta will demand the other asteroid stop harboring its fugitives.

I enjoyed this book and found it interesting, but I wouldn’t call it a happy read. The story follows a few characters on Vesta where something akin to racial tensions are coming to a head. Of the founding families, one has been singled out as having not pulled their weight (because they contributed intellectual property rather than physical technology to the settlement) and their descendants are being are now targeted. The main characters on Vesta are some of these descendants and their friends/sympathisers mounting a resistance against the bigotry targeting them.

The Ceres sections of the novella are set a few years later than the Vestan parts and mainly follow the Director of the Ceres colony as she interacts with Vestan refugees. In both settings there is discussion of morality, from different perspectives, and a few different moral questions are faced by the characters. The story doesn’t really resolve these questions — mostly because there are no right answers, I suspect — and leaves us only with a chapter in the characters’ lives closing. We do not know all the details of what happens next.

I enjoyed The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred and found it a compelling read, especially after I got past the first chapter and got a better idea of what the story was about. I recommend it to fans of science fiction and political stories. As I mentioned, aside from being set on asteroids and taking the relevant environmental factors into account in the background, there isn’t very much science (or, well, technobabble) in this story. If that’s something that often puts you off SF, then I still recommend giving The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred a shot.

4 / 5 stars

First published: November 2016, Subterranean Press
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is the second book in the Illuminae Files trilogy. I previously reviewed the first book, Illuminae, here. The sequel maintains the found footage/documents format of the first book and is a relatively quick read because of it, despite clocking in at 659 pages in my edition. I should also mention that I checked the science for this book so this wasn't my first read through, although it was my first experience of the final copy in all its artistic glory.

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The saga that began with Illuminae continues on board the space station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of BeiTech’s assault. Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter, Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum may be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival. The fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

I enjoyed Gemina more than Illuminae. I think partly because now, with the second book, the authors and the production team have really gotten into their stride with the found documents format. Also, I just liked parts of the storyline more (no space zombies, for example). Also, a lot more of the overarching plot becomes apparent in this book. While there is still some mystery about exactly what's going on and why, we are much less in the dark by the end of this book than we were by the end of the first. (Which is how it should be, obviously.)

I was also quite fond of both protagonists in Gemina: Hanna, the daughter of the station chief and a girl who can kick anyone's arse; and Nik, the drug-dealing scion of a big organised crime family from space-Russia. And they already knew each other before the book started, which adds some layers to their story. Also, I can't write a review without mentioning Nik's cousin Ella, one of the most prominent secondary characters. She's an awesome hacker who contributes significantly to the story and is also pretty decent disability representation. Yes, she has/had a fictional disease but the mobility and respiratory consequences of it have real-world counterparts. The best thing is she's allowed to do her thing without much of a big deal being made of her physical limitations.

I recommend Gemina to fans of science fiction and YA SF. If you enjoyed Illuminae then I definitely recommend continuing on to Gemina, which I enjoyed more. Gemina almost stands alone but I don't suggest reading it on its own because the bits that tie in with the overarching plot and the events of the earlier book won't make much sense. And will kind of spoil the effect. I am definitely keen to read the last book and find out how everything is resolved.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2016, Knopf (US) and Allen & Unwin (Aus)
Series: Illuminae Files book 2 of 3
Format read: US hardcover
Source: Authors
Disclaimer: I did some science-checking for the authors (and hence also read an earlier version of the MS)
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Aussie SF Reading Challenge

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire is a novella with a difficult-to-remember title until you realise the list is chronological. I didn't actually realise it was a novella at first, only checking to make sure it wasn't a sequel to something I hadn't read when I requested it. I also hadn't really paid attention to the blurb, which made the opening prologue especially powerful for me.

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.

From the title and cover, I kind of thought this book would be more creepy horror than it was. I wouldn't actually call it horror at all. It's about ghosts, but from the point of view of the main character being a ghost herself and integrating into society without most being being any the wiser. It also contains the investigation of weird shenanigans and some heroics, as most fantasy books do. It also deals quite a bit with suicide, which is how the protagonist's sister died, suicide prevention, and what it means to die when it's "your time" or not (the latter through a fantastical lens).

The opening hit me hard and the rest of the novella kept me eagerly turning pages through my jetlag. Jenna is a compelling first person narrator, taking us through her day-to-night life, her perceptions of New York — including the New York only people like her can see — and some of the realities of being a ghost. I greatly enjoyed the alternate vision of New York McGuire painted in this book, as well as her vision of ghost life.

I really enjoyed Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day and highly recommend it to fans of ghosts, othered or liminal cities, novellas and Seanan McGuire.  I would recommend this to readers who enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway (although I will note I didn't like Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day quite as much as the other novella). This novella also sold me on the soft goal of trying to make my way through McGuire's back catalogue, so expect to see more of her books on this blog in the future.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2016, Tor.com novella series
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Bitten by Amanda Pillar

Bitten by Amanda Pillar is the second novel set in the Graced universe. I have previously reviewed the other novel, Graced, and one of the novellas, Captive. Although Bitten is set after Graced, they can be read in any order and the novellas aren't necessary to follow the stories in the novels.

The city of Pinton has never been safe…and now a serial killer is on the loose.

Doctor Alice Reive is the city’s coroner, and she’s determined to help find the murderer. Enlisting the assistance of the Honorable Dante Kipling and city guard Elle Brown, they race to track down the killer, before another victim dies.

Hannah Romanov – Dante’s missing twin sister – has spent hundreds of years living on an isolated mountain. But her quiet life is thrown into chaos after she discovers a baby left in the wilds to die. Hannah will do anything to ensure the infant’s survival, even if it means travelling to the worst place in the world for her – Pinton.

Bitten is a little bit of a lot of things. It has some romance in it (basically all of the key characters get paired off) but isn't a capital-R romance novel. There are murders to solve and a serial killer to catch, but it's not exactly a mystery novel or a police procedural either, despite one of the characters being a coroner. Really it's the story of a group people and how their lives intertwine during a certain period of time, which happens to also involve some murders. Because of all that, it doesn't follow any well-worn genre beats but the story threads all come together towards the end, which was the part I enjoyed most.

Being set in the same universe, the main characters from Graced do make an appearance but reading the earlier book isn't necessary for understanding Bitten. The only issue I can see with reading them out of order is being "spoiled" for who pairs off with whom in Graced, but from memory it was pretty obvious and not supposed to be a surprise. Also, there is definitely a heavier focus on the new characters introduced in Bitten, and I generally enjoyed reading their stories the most — particularly Alice the coroner, Hannah the Graced vampire and Byrne and werebear — even when I wasn't sure how they were going to intersect. They all had interesting pasts which tied the story together nicely.

I would recommend this books to fans of vampires, werepeople (not just werewolves) and magic/psychic powers. Also to fans of urban fantasy, particularly the kind set in a low-tech future.

4 / 5 stars

First published: January 2016, self-published
Series: Graced Series book 2 of 2 so far
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy from author
Disclaimer: Amanda is a friend but I have tried to not let this influence the content of this review.
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge