Book Review: BURN

I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I picked up Keri Arthur’s BURN. Arthur is the author of many books, but this is the first that I’ve had the pleasure to read, and it is Book Three of her Kingdom of Earth and Air series.

At the beginning we find that the protagonist has lost her memory. Because she doesn’t know anything the world that she’s in and learns about it as she goes, it doesn’t matter if the reader is unfamiliar with the world either. We soon learn that Nara, the protagonist, fought on the back of a drakkon against the Mareritt, the ancient enemy of the Arleeon. But when her memories start coming back, Nara is astonished to find that the Mareritt have won dominion over the Arleeon people.

Nara begins the story a prisoner of the Mareritt. She soon learns that the man she is chained with, Kai, is a member of the Arleeon resistance. Together they work together to escape their captors. From the beginning their is distrust, doubt and uncertainty between Kai and Nara, and over the course of the book – as they work together to escape the clutches of the Mareritt – they become friends, they learn to trust each other and depend on each other.

The world-building throughout the book is exceptional, featuring a great combination of technology and magic, and you learn a lot about the history of the world and the war between Arleeon and Mareritt. I especially enjouyed the drakkons and the kin. Drakkons are, well, fire-breathing dragons, and ancient allies of the Arleeon people. The kin are folk of a particular bloodline who can bond with drakkons, communicate with them telepathically, and fly them into battle. Not only that, but they have the power of flame, and can wield it as a weapon themselves.

While I really enjoyed the story and got caught up in the events, in the characters lives, when I think about the book in hindsight, I’m not exactly sure who it’s for. The protagonist appears to be too old for YA, and has had her fair share of lovers on the past, so perhaps it’s New Adult? Yet some of the dialogue feels more at home in a YA story. I guess it doesn’t matter much, as readers probably sixteen or seventeen and above would enjoy it. It’s certainly a world that I’m looking forward to returning to!

To learn more about the Kingdom of Earth and Air series, visit Keri Arthur’s website, where you can no doubt purchase your copy of BURN and many of her other books!

  • Originally published August 2019

Mid-year Update

July is the halfway point of the year, so I thought I’d share what’s been happening, and what I’m looking forward to in the second half of the year.

As you may know, I’ve been posting reviews of all the Spec Fic books I read by Aussie authors, so what’s coming up on by TBR pile? This week I have just started BURN by Keri Arthur, and after that I’d love to get started on Novik’s TEMERAIRE series, and N. K. Jesmin’s THE BROKEN EARTH. I’m also very keen on reading Orwell’s 1984 – but one of the main reasons behind doing that is so I can read Burgess’ reply, 1985. Yet to keep reading diversely, I’ve given myself a rule not to read more than one book by the one author per year, and I’ve only just finished reading Burgess’ THE END OF THE WORLD NEWS. This is also why I haven’t jumped right into reading Flinthart’s FIRE (the sequel to IRON, my favourite book so far this year). As for Aussie authors, I’m hoping to read WE CALL IT MONSTER by Walter, QUADRANTS by McInnes, and SOCIAL MEDIA CENTRAL by Klehr.

One reason my reading progress has been somewhat slow is that I’ve been focusing on being more productive on the writing front. I came into this year expecting to edit both my novels, and hoping to self-publish one of them by the end of the year. But I have been swept up in other projects, and they’ve hardly got a look-in.

A project that I’ve been working on is SUBMERGED CITY, for Aussie Speculative Fiction’s (ASF) DROWNED EARTH series of standalone novellas set after a climate disaster. My piece is set six months after the disaster, and will be released October 2019, so keep a look-out! Between now and then I have quite a few edits to do, but I am excited about this piece!

Another novella that I keep returning to is ‘THE LIFEBOAT’ a sci-fi space adventure set in the far future. This was originally created as a 6,000 word short story for an anthology by Zombie Pirate Publishing. Now it’s over 20,000 words, and will hopefully be ready to share in the next twelve months. I have really enjoyed the sci-fi world I’ve created here, and have already written other stand-alone short stories set both before and after the events of THE LIFEBOAT.

– Originally published July 2019

Book Review: THE HILLS OF THE MOON

Carleton Chinner’s debut novel ‘THE HILLS OF MARE IMBRIUM’ has very recently been re-released with a new cover and title, ‘THE HILLS OF THE MOON.’

Jonah is on a mission to spread his brother’s ashes on the moon’s surface and if he can, he’d like to get a job working the Helium mines from Chang’e base. When he arrives at the Lunar Peoples Republic of Jiangnan he befriends Lucian Jones. Lucian is one of the Moon Folk, the son of a family who has been on the moon for so many generations that their bodies have adapted to the low gravity.

After spending all day almost begging for work at the mining companies employment offices, Jonah meets Lucian and a friend for dinner. An explosion rocks the dining room, and Jonah and Lucian find themselves running through the complex underground web of sub-lunar tunnels, escaping from the security forces of Wei Meng, the moon’s head of security, who is insistent on crushing the Free Moon movement and has plans of becoming the next administrator himself.

In THE HILLS OF MARE IMBRIUM, Chinner has weaved together an interesting and imaginative tale of rebellion, of humanity (moonanity?), of redemption and hope. There’s a lot of engaging sci-fi elements and fight scenes that were done really well, I especially enjoyed the details of transport between Earth and the Moon. The culture and history of the Moon Folk was also presented well.

It’s a really good debut novel and paints a new picture of what a colony on the moon might look like. There are some elements that I think were taken a little too far, challenging the believably of the piece. The names Jonah and Jones are also similar, and occasionally I had to re-read passages for clarity. And someone really needs to look at tightening security around the Chang’e prison. I look forward to reading the sequel, PLATO CRATER, and seeing what happens next.

To find out more, go to Carleton Chinner’s website.

  • Originally published June 2019

A Family Thing

In this blog, I would like to introduce you to my great grandfather’s brother, the writer, political activist and priest, Patrick Augustine Sheehan (1852 – 1913) – also known as Canon Sheehan.

He was born in Mallow, County Cork, and became Parish Priest of Doneraile in 1895.

So why am I talking about this distant relative who has been underground for over 105 years? It’s not because I ever chose to set out in his footsteps, as being a writer is something I stumbled on almost by accident. I’ve always loved reading, but everything I read (Asimov, Le Guin, Burgess, Donaldson, Herbert, Carmody etc) over-awed me. By that I mean their work was so good that I was almost scared of writing anything myself, because I knew it would never be on their level.

What happened was my nephew – a country boy through and through, obsessed with fishing, bikes and football – was so inspired by my own stories that he has started writing his own. He has always had a great imagination, but never before had he been able to put his ideas down on paper. Here is a line from his story ‘A Snowy Day’.
“After school, people’s skin was peeling off and the blood was dark red like blackcurrant. And if that was not enough, you could break off ligaments and limbs like it was not funny.”
You can see he has a vivid imagination, and some descriptive flair. I guess it’s struck me that my stories have had this effect on my nephew, that it’s encouraged him to do something he’d never done before.

Then I got to wondering whether just knowing that there was a writer in the family subconsciously pushed me down this path. It’s funny how the world works sometimes. A friend at work always tells this joke: Three conspiracy theorists walk into a bar. You can’t tell me that’s a coincidence. And speaking of coincidences, Canon Sheehan and I share a quirk which – one would not be considered shitted – I only discovered as I wrote this. We have the same d. I’m no handwriting expert, but in my 35-odd years I’ve never seen anyone else write the lowercase ‘d’ the way I do. Note the words ‘should’ and ‘reduction’.

At some point during High School, somewhere between Bright and Wangaratta, I decided I could not be arsed bringing the line down and doing the tail after reaching the top. And tonight, I clicked on a link to one of my great uncle’s letters, and he did the exact same thing. I almost choked on my curry when I saw it.

But anyway, Since taking up writing myself, I have become more and more interested in my ancestor, out of curiosity, reverence, and, well, fear of letting the name down. Michael Barry wrote “Canon Sheehan was a household name throughout Ireland and very widely known abroad. There were few homes where some if not all of his many books such as My New curate, The Blindness of Dr. Gray, Genanaar etc. were not to be found. Today he is almost forgotten, except perhaps in his native Mallow and in Doneraile.” (By Pen and Pulpit: The Life and Times of the Author Canon Sheehan, 1990). Almost forgotten. I guess it’s the fate of us all. Anyway, I have brought several of his books (some first editions) including ‘My New Curate’ ‘The Queen’s Fillet’ ‘The Triumph of Failure’ ‘Luke Delmege’ ‘The Graves at Kilmora’ and ‘Glenanaar’ – though I’ve been too busy to read any yet.

Speaking of books to read – my TBR pile for the coming months includes ‘The End of the World News’ (Burgess, 1982), ‘The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’ (Chambers, 2014). ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ (Adeyemi, 2018), ‘We Call it Monster’ (Walter, 2019). I’ll try sneak one of P. A. Sheehan’s in too, maybe ‘The Triumph of Failure’ (Sheehan, 1901). So, what’s on your TBR list?

Before I go, I want to leave you with some words of Patrick Augustine Sheehan, This is from a reflection of his childhood: “Strange I never felt the proximity of father and mother. But of my sisters, one in particular, the only dark-haired in the family, has haunted me through life. I no more doubt of her presence and her light touch on the issues of my life, than I doubt of the breath of wind that flutters the tassel of the biretta on my head. Yet what is strange is not her nearness but her farness” (Under the Cedars and the Stars, 1903). This one particularly strikes me.

But one more relevant to 2019. “Myles went down from the mountain; yet he lingered long, here and there, with all his passionate love for Ireland kindled and inflamed by the magnificent scenes that lay before him. The vast plain that stretched downwards and onwards to where the cloud-like and faintly-pencilled Galtees rose into the skies, was bathed in sunshine, which glittered here and there on the surface of some stream or river. White flakes of cirrus clouds, infinitely diversified in form and colouring, filled the sky from horizon to horizon. And looking back he saw the summits of Glenmorna touched more faintly by the sun, and purple shadows filling all her valleys. ‘Yes! God made our land for heroes,’ he said. ‘But alas! Where are they?'” (The Graves at Kilmorna, 1915). Where are our heroes indeed?

  • Originally published June 2019

Book Review: EON

Welcome to my book review of Alison Goodman’s EON.

This book was really impressive – a young, crippled boy with a big secret is trying to defy the odds and be selected by the rat dragon as the next Dragoneye. His household, his master, and his own future all depend on his success. And against all odds, he succeeds. Eon becomes Lord Eon, Dragoneye. And that’s when things get tough. Lord Eon is thrust into the centre of a political struggle, the Ascendant Dragoneye, Lord Ido, is seeking to challenge for control of the council, and possibly the Empire itself. It’s all overwhelming for a young girl who can’t even summon her dragon. That’s right, that’s Eon’s secret, and if the truth got out, it would cost her her life.

This all takes place in a wonderfully constructed world, and the dragons are based on the Chinese Zodiac. They are beings of energy, and can only be glimpsed by those blessed with the power, and can be summoned and controlled by their chosen Dragoneyes.

What EON does well is give us a believable hero that you can relate to. Eona is flawed, not just through her disability or her lies, and makes questionable decisions. Unlike your all-too-perfect Harry Potter, for example. This makes Eona more believable and hell of a lot more interesting.

There is a lot that Goodman has done really well, creating a fantastic world, a wonderful hero, and also some fantastic supporting characters. One of those characters is Lady Dela, a “two-spirit” who has a biologically male body but is a woman. She is true to herself, and knows the value and strength of being a woman, in contrast with Eon, who sees her femininity as a weakness. There is also a really powerful scene that I just have to mention, when Eona’s secret (about being a woman) was revealed, she was in almost immediate danger of being sexually assaulted. That really sent chills up my spine.

– SPOILER – I try not include spoilers in my reviews but I just have to talk about the ending. How Ido turned “good” as a result of Eona and her dragon opening up the hua of Ido’s heart. I just didn’t buy it, it felt too easy. And also how Eona’s magical dragon powers healed her leg. I don’t get it, why that had to happen. Did she have to have her disability “fixed” in order for the book to have a happy ending? Just erasing a disability like that, literally a magic cure, it just didn’t sit right with me.

– Originally published June 2019

My Twenty Favourite Books from 2018 (Part Two)

Welcome to Part Two of My Favourite Reads of 2018 (You can catch up on part One here). This is the Top Ten – the books I loved the most out of everything I read in 2018!

10 WAKE IN FRIGHT – Kenneth Cook, 1961.
Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel WAKE IN FRIGHT is a wonderful and disturbing tale of life in the ‘cold dead heart’ of Australia. Grant, a schoolteacher from the coast, working in a remote town to pay off his tuition, is on his way home to Sydney for the Christmas break. Yet he loses all his money (which he was going to buy his tickets with) gambling and has to stay in the ‘Yabba, which – lucky for him – is “the friendliest town in the world” as the locals say. From there, the locals take care of him, and due to excess drinking and poor decision making, things spin further and further out of control. The part of this story which resonated with me most was the stark distinction between the two Australias. The Australia of the coast and the cities, where it’s all civilization and tennis skirts, and rural Australia, or “the Outback.” And, as someone who grew up in a Australian country town that just had a pub and a post office, these two seperate Australias still exist. As does the alcoholism and inability to say no when someone insists on buying you a beer.

09 THE SEVENTH DECIMATE – Stephen Donaldson, 2017.
Donaldson’s Epic Fantasy series THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT is a masterpiece, and his sci-fi THE GAP cycle is a breathtaking Space Opera. But THE SEVENTH DECIMATE, the first book in a new fantasy series, is underwhelming in comparison. As mentioned, this is the first book in a series. It introduces the characters, conflict, and the world they live in. And it’s really good, but just falls short of being great. Especially when another of Donaldson’s ‘set-up’ books THE REAL STORY is the best I’ve read. While I am excited for the rest of the series, this book didn’t meet my lofty expectations. Also, another negative was very few female characters. I’m kind of feeling the days of fantasy series dominated by men are over.

08 THE DRAGON KEEPER – Robin Hobb, 2009.
THE DRAGON KEEPER is the first book in Hobb’s Rain Wild chronicles. It’s a fantasy series featuring many interesting and unique point of view characters, including that of a dragon.  The dragons in this world have many points of difference, one being their life cycle.  The book starts with Sisarqua, a sea serpent, struggling up the river to their ancient cocooning grounds.  After, well frankly insufficient time in the cocoon, it hatches and the dragon Sintara emerges.  What is done really well is the dragons’ memories of its past lives, when it emerges it expects itself to be fully formed, ready to hunt, ready to fly. So she is horrified to find that she – and the other hatchlings – are stunted, weak, and incomplete.  This gives us a great, yet heartbreaking glimpse of the majesty of what she should be compared to the disappointing reality of what she is.  Normally proud and peerless in the air, on land and underwater, the hatchlings who remain misshapen and incapable of flight become a burden on the human community that supports them.  The humans re-assess their perception of dragons, and the dragons struggle to accept their dependence on humans.  And eventually it is decided that something must be done, and that something brings together all the human and dragon POV characters. I am eagerly awaiting the chance to read the rest of the series!

07 DRAGONFLIGHT – Anne McCaffrey, 1968.So, after knowing of McCaffrey’s PERN series for decades, I finally got around to reading her work. DRAGONFLIGHT is the first of the Pern books, and a great place to start. The Dragonriders and their Weyrs are undermanned and in disrepute from the Lords of Pern they protect. And the Threads – their mortal enemies – are about to fall. The Dragons of Pern have a remarkable ability – to travel instantaneously from one location to another – flying *between*. At the beginning of the novel I thought it was a bit too much, but during the novel they discover another use of this skill which tied the whole story together, it was very cleverly done. The two protagonists – Lessa and F’lar – are stubborn, smart and heroic. Are they the all-too-perfect cliche heroes who never put a foot wrong? No. They are close, but each has weaknesses and flaws.The main flaw that I had with this book is how the Dragonriders and Weyrleaders – who are in dire straits and need every resource to be able to defend Pern – never once ask the dragons if there’s anything they know of which can help. These are intelligent dragons, who communicate to each other telepathically – there has to be a heap of knowledge they would have, passed down between them over centuries. Overall though, a great book, and I am looking forward to reading more of the Pern books.

06 SERAPHINA – Rachael Hartman, 2013.Hartman’s debut novel SERAPHINA is a wonderful story of politics, dragons and romance. I would almost say perfect. Seraphina is the Goreddi court’s music mistress, and has many secrets. Secrets that would mean the death of her and her father if anyone found out. The kingdom of Goredd is about to celebrate the anniversary of the peace treaty between them and the dragons, but there are many, like the Sons of St Ogdo, who would see and end to the peace, and to make matters worse, Prince Rufus has been killed – and some suspect a wild dragon roaming the country, in violation of the treaty. Normally I dislike shapeshifting dragons, but it didn’t bother me in this story, possibly because the protagonist herself wasn’t a shapeshifter. On the whole, the way dragons are portrayed in SERAPHINA is wonderful, and this book should stand alongside Le Guin’s EARTHSEA and Hobb’s DRAGON KEEPER as a reference for how to write about dragons. One thing that I loved about this book was the dialects and accents Hartman gave to her human characters. The way the languages / dialects were done really elevated the book, as well as the constant musical themes and references. But there are flaws. It’s never explained where Gorredd and the other kingdoms are in relation to each other, or in relation to where the dragons come from. Do they share one continent? Do they have their own islands? Are they from different planets? On the whole though, it’s a wonderful book, and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in Dragons.

05 BEGINNINGS – Australian Speculative Fiction Anthology by Various authors, 2018.
This is an anthology that features one of my own stories, but it was the only collection of short stories that I read last year, and I really enjoyed it. Firstly, what I love about this collection is the diversity. Each story is unique and takes you on a very different journey. This exposes the reader to different genres than they might normally read, for example I’ve never been a fan of the supernatural genre, but two of my favourite stories are about witches – THE MORRIGAN by Maddie Jensen and DEALT IN SIN by Sasha Hanton. Between stories set amongst the stars are tales set in our own backyard. Stephen Herczeg’s BUS TRIP is about a student taking the bus home from Canberra to Adelaide for the Christmas holidays. Belinda Brady’s BREAK gives me the familiar imagery of Melbourne’s Royal Arcade, and Rebecca Dale’s BUGLES BRED & BUGLES BORN centres around the unbelievable events at one of Sydney’s Westfield shopping centres. BUGLES BRED & BUGLES BORN is one of the most unique stories in the anthology, and honestly I don’t know how to define or describe it, but the ending sends shivers up my spine it’s that good. Amongst a collection so diverse, it should be hard to pick a favourite. But THE INHERITANCE EXPERIMENT by Kel E. Fox is an absolute standout. It’s the story of an Austrian girl, stolen from her family home and subjected to horrible experiments, before being flung into the carnage of World War One. It’s a compelling story, and – like every good short story should – it leaves the reader wanting more. In conclusion, this is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of diverse short stories. There’s something in there for everyone, and many of the stories are so good they’re worth re-reading.

04 EVE OF ERIDU – Alanah Andrews, 2018.
EVE OF ERIDU is about a girl called Eve, who lives in Eridu. Eve has lived her whole life committed to suppressing her emotions, just like everyone else in Eridu. She’s been the perfect student, constantly at the top of the leaderboard, everything is as going as well as it can in her post-apocalyptic world. Until her brother – like her an exceptional student at the top of his leaderboard – fails the harvest. Instead of being assigned a role in the new world, he is culled. And Eve has to be content with that. To be content is to be free, says the Book of Eridu, which all citizens do their utmost to follow. After all it has been proven that emotions – love, greed, jealousy, anger and hate – had caused the wars of history and resulted in the destruction of the world. Andrews has crafted this dystopian post-apocalyptic society superbly, and it is sure to send chills down your spine. One of the remarkable components of this story is the Grid, which is in effect a digital afterlife, where the essences of Eridu’s citizens are transferred to when they are culled or die. Eve is a compelling character, confronted with a staggering challenge and a mystery that might shake her to the core. The one criticism that I have is that it was too short, I would have enjoyed more exploration of the changing relationships Eve had with fellow students, her guardians and the overseers of Eridu. But I say that about almost every book I read – I always want more! Ultimately it’s an excellent story about a teen struggling to fit in, struggling to be the person everyone expects her to be.

03 WHAT THE WOODS KEEP – Katya De Becerra, 2018.
This story focuses on Hayden, an eighteen year old girl whose life had only just started approaching normal after the loss of her mother ten years ago. On her eighteenth birthday the lawyer managing the estate of her mother calls her, there’s something that her mother wanted her to have – the family home in Promise, right new the woods where her mother disappeared. Not only that, but a handwritten card with a creepy message. It turns out there a secrets her parents kept from her, questions that can only be answered about her family, and about herself, by returning to Promise. But WHAT THE WOODS KEEP is about more than revealing a family’s secrets, but about accepting yourself, accepting change, about reconciling the known and the unknowable, the mysteries of the universe. The mysterious, eerie build-up is superb, and the last ten chapters are an intoxicating, unpredictable thrill-ride, and up ’til the end you won’t know how it ends. There’s a lot that I love about this book. I love how dark and creepy it is, I love that it’s about the friendship between Hayden and Delphine. I love the scientific angle the MC takes to rationalise unexplainable phenomena, to explain the complexities of life, it’s all really cleverly done and engaging. I also really loved the German / European mythology, with the Nibelungenlied a recurring theme. I’ve long thought that one of the marks of a good book is how long it stays with you after you’ve read it. And this book does that, I’m still thinking about the book and the questions it has left me with; about time travel, about Hayden’s mother, about what has been left in the woods, but – most pressingly – if there might be a sequel!

02 AND THE ASS SAW THE ANGEL – Nick Cave, 2003.
This is an astounding work. AND THE ASS SAW THE ANGEL tells a unique, grisly, grimy tale of a mute scum-of-the-earth hill-folk boy, Euchrid Eucrow and his persecution at the hands of the townsfolk and his family, set against the backdrop of a secluded religious township’s struggle to survive. The language is strong, dark, compelling, and the descriptions of the characters and the violence is phenomenally good. With perhaps one exception. There is one act of violence which is climactic to the story, yet the descriptions provided are minimal compared the the gruesome descriptions prior. This is a book that will not appeal to all. It is complex, mysterious, unique, and disturbingly grotesque. I loved it.

01 TOOTH AND CLAW – Jo Walton, 2004.
I picked this up not knowing what to expect. I’d never heard of the author before. A Pride and Prejudice style story with dragons? I didn’t think I’d like it, I didn’t think it would work. But holy hell, I freaking loved it. Best book I’ve read this year (against some standout competition) and a new author on my list of favourites. The book begins with the death of Bon Agornin, a Dignified dragon. Being on the lower ranks of wealth and respectability, there was a standing agreement for his wealth, his gold and body, to be divided so that the youngest of his family has the larger share. But Illustrious Daverak – richer in wealth and power than any of the Respected Agornins – takes much more than what was agreed, starting a chain of events which tears apart the family. There is romance, there is politics, there are proposals, deaths, and matters of law, matters of faith, and of what it means to be a respectable dragon. It’s really well written, really engaging, rather touching, but also witty, charming, and just the right combination of silliness and taking itself too seriously.

There you have it, my favourite books that I read in 2018. Special mention to Alanah Andrew’s EVE OF ERIDU for being the best independent book, and Katya de Becerra’s WHAT THE WOODS KEEP for being my favourite book of 2018 that was published in 2018! My list of books from 2017 was dominated by books more than 20 years old, mostly written my men. 2018 was different, with only seven books more than 20 years old, and about a fifty-fifty split between books written by men and women. So I feel like I’m making progress. Let me know what you think of my list, and what your favourite reads from 2018 are!

– Originally published May 2019

Book Review: FOUR DEAD QUEENS

Welcome to my review of FOUR DEAD QUEENS by Astrid Scholte.

FOUR DEAD QUEENS. It’s the story of a young thief. It’s the story of Quadaria. The dipper, Keralie, steals a case containing valuable memory chips, a Eonist technology where people can give their memories to another. At gunpoint, caught in a trap between her victim and her boss, Keralie ingests the memory chips in a desperate attempt to escape, resulting in her seeing vivid images of the murders of Quadara’s queens; Torian Queen Marguerite, Ludian Queen Stessa, Eonist Queen Corra and Archian Queen Iris.

It’s a stunning opening. And from there we’re treated to chapters from the points-of-view of the queens, learn each of their stories, each of their hopes and fears, each of their secrets. But what’s happening? Aren’t they dead? Have we gone back in time? And that’s one thing that makes FOUR DEAD QUEENS so good – Scholte keeps you guessing until the end.

The world building was also great. Quadaria is divided into unique quadrants; Archia which produces Quadaria’s food, and where technology is illegal. Eonia is in the frozen north, focusing on technology and human advancement, at the cost of emotions. Toria is the trading hub, and Ludia values art and entertainment above all. Each quadrant is separated from the others, Archia is an island, and Toria, Ludia and Eonia are separated by walls. Through the course of the book we visit Toria and Eonia, and probably my biggest complaint about the book is that we didn’t get to visit Ludia and Archia.

The characters are all unique, different and interesting. The main character Keralie has strained relationships with her parents. So strained that she left home and is now working for Mackiel, a major player in Toria’s underworld. You can see where the values and characteristics of each person’s home quadrant influences their perspective, their personality. And you can see where some act in particular ways because they feel that is how an Eonist (for example) ought to act. I’ve already mentioned it, but I really enjoyed and appreciated the perspectives we got of each of the queens.

In conclusion, FOUR DEAD QUEENS has it all; excellent characters, murder, mystery, action, betrayal and just the right amount of romance. It’s a celebration of bold, complex, powerful and determined female characters, and I heartily recommend it! In fact, it’s probably one of the must-read books of 2019.

  • Originally published April 2019

My Twenty Favourite Books from 2018 (Part One)

In 2017 I read 52 books as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge, and shared my top twenty here (part one) and here (part two). If you read through, you might notice the majority of those books are over twenty years old and were written by white men. Since then, I’ve been challenging myself to diversify what I read, and to read more recently published books.

I didn’t quite read as many books in 2018, but have compiled a list of my top twenty. Here we go, books from 20 to 11.

#20 NOTHING LIKE THE SUN – Anthony Burgess, 1964.
Not a good start to diversifying my reading habits, hey? Burgess is someone who I consider to be an excellent writer, one of the best. What I love about his varied works is his quintessential English wit, his creativity, and his mastery of language. NOTHING LIKE THE SUN is a story of William Shakespeare’s love life, written in an approximation of Elizabethan English. As much as I’m a fan of Shakespeare’s and Burgess’ works and enjoyed the creative style in which it was written, this book didn’t grab me.


#19 THE QUIET GIRL – Peter Høeg, 2007.
After reading MISS SMILLA’S FEELING FOR SNOW, I was expecting a lot from THE QUIET GIRL. Right from the beginning, the dialogue and interaction between characters is really hard to follow. What kept me reading was Høeg’s occasional magical turn of phrase, the additional musical details and the mystery about KlaraMaria – the missing girl. Høeg honestly does some really clever things with the protagonist’s superior hearing abilities, though there is a lack of consistency. Some parts of it are great. Yet on the whole I was disappointed. Again and again the protagonist overcomes obstacles and fights through henchmen to reach an antagonist, and then he basically just talks to them. And just walks away. One other thing that frustrated me was how perfectly everything fitted together. Life, nor art, is never so neat. And if you’re solving a crime there will always be red herrings, mistakes, fruitless leads and dead ends.

#18 THE GREAT ZOO OF CHINA, Matthew Reilly, 2015.
It’s a fun read based on a brilliant concept, but it’s either poorly executed or poorly edited. CJ, a reptile expert, her photographer brother and two respected American journalists were being given an exclusive tour of a new zoo, unlike anything else in the world. A Dragon Zoo. They found Dinosaur eggs and hatched them, and the dinosaurs look a whole lot like dragons. I guess it’s not a huge spoiler that the dragons get loose and everything goes to shit. The action scenes are great, the characters are exactly what you would expect (and does CJ’s only accessory – a crocodile tooth necklace – come into play? You bet it does!) but there are huge errors. Like CJ, who had spent all day with her brother and two American journalists and English-speaking guides was suddenly surprised to hear someone mention her name in English. And after hours of being shot at by the Chinese military, shooting back, seeing people torn apart and dozens of horribly mutilated bodies, CJ only realises she’s in a war zone after seeing a random gun on the ground. There’s a few issues like that which really detract from the story. The action and characters are good, the idea is good, but it just falls apart if you think about it.

#17 SIDDHARTHA – Herman Hesse, 1922.
Okay. Where’s that diversity I mentioned earlier? Another book that’s almost 100 years old, written by a white guy? SIDDHARTHA is an interesting read, telling the story of a Brahmin’s son’s unusual path of enlightenment. The story of the book also intrigued me. It was written and published in the 1920’s, in the German-speaking world (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) and forty years later was finally translated into English and went in to have strong popularity for a decade or two. Ultimately I would only recommend it to people who are interested in German literature or spiritual exploration.


#16 WHITE NIGHT – Ellie Marney, 2018.
Coming from a tiny country town in Victoria, I was excited to read WHITE NIGHT, hoping that it would feel familiar, authentic and mesh with my own experiences. I was a little disappointed in the first chapter, where the dialogue, descriptions, even the character’s nicknames all felt wrong to me. WHITE NIGHT tells the story of Bo, a high school student, and how his world changed after meeting Aurora, a girl from a nearby Ecological commune. It was a good read, an interesting coming-of-age story, revealing family secrets and Bo’s challenge of self-acceptance. While I liked it, I felt like I never met a lot of the supporting characters. We met Bo and his immediate family, plus Aurora and Sprog (Bo’s best friend. It’s been a year since I read it and that nickname still makes me shudder). But Cam and Loz and all the other kids at school, they just all blurred into one.

#15 R.U.R. – Karel Čapek. 1921.
R.U.R is a fascinating sci-fi story, and this piece (also titled Rossum’s Universal Robots) is where the term ‘robot’ comes from. In fact, Čapek asked questions about our humanity and that of robots that are still being asked some 98 years later.

#14 TALON – Julie Kagawa, 2014.
Ember and Dante Hill are dragons – hatchlings, really – who are spending their summer at a Californian beach town, under Talon’s instructions to blend in, assimilate and observe. Garrett is a soldier in the order of St George, a secret army (made up of teenagers) who are sworn to destroy the Dragons. I loved Ember. Bit of a stereotypical feisty, stubborn redhead, sure, but she was written so well. Garrett, the other main POV character, left me cold. It wasn’t the whole ‘brainwashed child soldier’ thing either. I was much more interested in his squadmate Tristain from the beginning, and wished it was Tristain we were focusing on instead of Garrett. Having said that, Kagawa really wrote the development of their relationship very well. I personally am not a fan of shapeshifting, and I totally get that not every book is written for me, but I just can’t get my head around it. Especially given the massive size difference between a diminutive girl and an immense dragon. But you know what? I really enjoyed TALON. It was a captivating story, and I am keen to read the rest of the series.

#13 THE SECRET SCIENCE OF MAGIC – Melissa Keil, 2017.
THE SECRET SCIENCE OF MAGIC is really good book about two High School kids from Melbourne, both with unconventional passions, maths and magic. Both who don’t quite fit in at school. Sophia is great at reading mathematical formulae, but useless at reading people. She’s prone to anxiety attacks, can’t handle crowds or contact with others. Her best friend Elsie is basically her only friend, and they spend every Friday night at one of their houses. Joshua spends his spare time learning and practising his magic tricks, at the expense of his homework. He does have a few friends outside school, but is definitely an outcast during school hours. It’s a really engaging and sweet story, and I guess the reason it’s not in the top 10 is that there were a few issues with continuity and pop-culture references. Despite these criticisms, the book is engaging, the characters are interesting, believable and well-written.

#12 BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S – Truman Capote, 1958.
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S is one of those iconic works which puts an image in your head – in this case Audrey Hepburn – as soon as you see the title whether you’ve read/seen it before or not. The book contains the story of Holly Golightly that they based the movie on, as well as a few other short stories. What makes BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S such a classic is the larger than life characters, especially Holly, who steals the show as a mysterious, eccentric, and entirely captivating young high society socialite in New York during the early ’40s. Capote brings all the characters to life with his vivid writing style, and I really enjoyed the story. The ending was somewhat unexpected, and leaves you wanting more.

#11 THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA – Yukio Mishima 1963.
THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA is a really interesting book. It’s set in Japan in the ’50s and tells the story of a thirteen year old boy, his widowed mother, and a sailor who enters their life. All three are vivid and interesting characters with different hopes and dreams. It is a surprisingly dark novel. The son, Noboru, is part of a gang of youths who have a nihilistic outlook, and have rejected the authority of the adults; their teachers and their families. There is a grotesque scene involving the murder of a kitten carried out by these kids, so it’s probably not for everyone. All in all, the writing is wonderful, and I love the descriptions of the Japanese city and harbour, and the way of life of the community.

So that’s the first part of the countdown done, books 20 to 11, make sure you check back soon for my 2018 Top 10!

  • Originally published April 2019

Book Review: DEVOURING DARK

Alan Baxter’s DEVOURING DARK is a riveting tale of crime, guilt, death and punishment, set in London’s urban sprawl. 

Matt McLeod is a Scot who works in a factory, and his small guilt-wracked body contains a darkness, the power of death itself. He can choose to kill with a touch, and is on a path of his choosing – a fine line between seeking redemption and self-destruction.

Vince Stratton is a pub owner and entrepreneur. He is engaged in a lot of dodgy dealings and has a lot of secrets.

Amy Cavendish is a palliative care nurse from Sydney. Like Matt, she is also far too familiar with death and is on her own mission to deliver it to deserving people.

Charlie Collins is a cop, a little bent – but then, aren’t all the best ones? Collins has long wanted to put Stratton away, and when a strangely blackened corpse shows up, he just knows Stratton has something to do with it.

Their world collide in this dark tale. If any are lucky enough to make it out alive, they’ll be forever changed. And forever scarred.

I really enjoyed this engaging story. The characters were excellent, complex and believable. I love books where the characters aren’t clear-cut good or bad, but have both positive and negative traits. And Baxter created a real sense of danger and increasing urgency as the tale approached the end. 

I don’t like to put spoilers in my reviews, so if you want to find out what happens, I urge you to read it yourself! I recommend DEVOURING DARK to anyone who likes gritty and dark tales. It goes well with a lovely whisky too.

If you want to find out more about DEVOURING DARK, have a look at Alan Baxter’s website.

  • Originally published April 2019

Supanova Melbourne 2019

I was lucky enough to represent the Aussie Speculative Fiction group at Melbourne’s 2019 Supanova, a fan convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy film and TV, comic books, anime, gaming and collectables.

Alongside my esteemed ASF colleagues Matthew P. Copping, V. E. Patton, Alanah Andrews and Rohsaan McInnes, I signed books, talked to a whole bunch of readers and writers, saw some amazing cosplay and managed to meet a couple of my favourite Aussie authors Astrid Scholte and Katya de Becerra (pictured).

That was two days ago, and I’m still both exhausted and elated by the experience. The Aussie Speculative Fiction group isn’t even a year old yet, and our reception in the Indie Press Zone was great. We had our stall set up featuring seventeen titles by ASF authors, including our BEGINNINGS anthology. It was a wonderful experience signing books and talking to people about not just my own stories, but that of our other talented authors.

There are a lot of things that we learned from the experience, like ensuring our website is correct on our flyers, for example.

Ultimately I feel it was a success for the Aussie Speculative Fiction group. It was great to get our books out there, to represent such a talented group of writers, to build relationships with other writers and artists, and to meet some really wonderful authors.

There were many highlights on a personal level as well, seeing old friends, some wonderful cosplay (Ikea Bag, Duckman, Coraline, the Steampunk Star Trek, and many heroes of the Star Wars universe). I’m not that bothered about meeting Movie or TV stars, but it was excellent to meet Alan Baxter, Astrid Scholte, Corey J. White, and it was probably the highlight of the whole thing when Katya de Becerra brought a copy of BEGINNINGS! De Becerra wrote WHAT THE WOODS KEEP which came out last year, and would have to be one of my favourite books of 2018 – click on the link to read my review!

Thankyou to everyone who attended Supanova and made it such an excellent event, especially those who came by our stall! And thank you for reading this.

  • Originally published April 2019