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10 of the Best Books I read in 2019

It’s 2020! I’m not sure how we suddenly arrived at 2020, but here it is. A new month, a new year, a new decade.

And many, many new books to read. Yay!

2019 was a stand out year for me in both reading and writing  (see next week’s post for more about that). I met many great books, and authors, for the first time. In this post, I’m listing my Top 10 of 2019. I’m dividing them My Way, in alphabetical order by genre, because numbers are too hard, don’t you think? I’ve already made a resolution to do a top 20 at the end of this year … 10 is too few!

All of these books found me with a permanent smile of pure enjoyment on my face, cover to cover. Except when things got scary, of course. I recommend them all, especially if your taste in reading matter matches mine.

Dystopian

I thoroughly enjoyed A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson, which is set in a future Melbourne with recognisable characters, a neat twist of time-and-space travel through a folding map, and a great deal of wit. It’s tender and thoughtful and clever. I loved it. This was one of my Aurealis reviews.

Fantasy

Too many to choose from, of course, when we start talking about my favourite genre. However, for sheer ingenuity and enjoyment, I’m nominating Desdemona and the Deep by CSE Cooney. I loved every baroque word of this glorious adventure. I reviewed this for Aurealis and named it one of my two favourite ‘books of the year’. Yes, we were allowed to choose TWO.

Only two! LOL

Middle Grade

This was quite a crowded field for me this year. The story which has lingered longest  is Voyage of the Dogs by Greg Van Eekhout. I just loved the Barkonauts on the crippled spaceship Laika trying their best to find a home. Dogs and space travel. How could I resist? Read my review here.

Historical Fiction

This is of course another favourite genre for me, which always makes it difficult to choose. Yes, I know: all these are difficult to choose. Right up there is The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. I am a dedicated reader of Barker’s wonderful writing, and this did not disappoint. A clever and touching re-telling of the Trojan War story. Read my review here.

Re-Read of the Year

Even with so many new books to devour, I regularly go back to old favourites (as described in my little visit to Sandra Danby’s Porridge & Cream blog!). There’s something ultimately comforting about meeting old friends again and seeing them reach their satisfying conclusion. My favourite re-read of 2019 was Cotillion by Georgette Heyer. I hadn’t touched this for quite a while and I’d forgotten how much I love Freddie and Kitty. Talk about a feel good story! When I feel low, I read Heyer.

Romance

This year it was Probably the Best Kiss in the World by Pernille Hughes. I loved the slightly prickly heroine Jen and the irresistible setting of Copenhagen – not to mention the divine Dane, Yakob. Sassy, engaging, and very satisfying. Read my review here.

Sci Fi

My second nominated ‘book of the year’ for Aurealis was Icefall by Stephanie Gunn. Maggie and her wife Aisha travel to the planet of Icefall so that Maggie can climb the mountain that nobody has ever survived … I was enthralled! Space, diversity, adventure, romance, and AI. Perfect.

Science-History-Speculation

Yes, how to categorise this book? I absolutely loved Bone Lines by Stephanie Bretherton. Science, pre-history, suspense, survival, adventure, mystery … all intelligently written and wrapped in an engaging novel. Read my review here.

Series Conclusion

I was lucky enough to read the whole series for Aurealis this year, and Queens of the Sea by Kim Wilkins was a fabulous conclusion to a sword-and-sorcery adventure about five royal sisters. My favourite is of course Bluebell who is the warrior sister, with her own special magic.

Witchcraft

Can you believe I’ve started reading some witchy books? My 2019 favourite was The Lights Go Out in Lychford by Paul Cornell.  This short novella, which I reviewed in Aurealis, is very well crafted and great fun, and definitely makes me want to read more about the Witches of Lychford. You’ll devour it in one gulp and come up slightly scared, mostly reassured, and looking for more.

That’s the list for 2019. I’ve already started a list for 2020, but more about that next week. In the meantime, happy reading, happy writing.

Gillian Polack: fruitcake that sparkles

Gillian Polack is passionate about people, about books, about history. An Australian writer and editor, Gillian works mainly in the field of speculative fiction. She has published four novels, numerous short stories and nonfiction articles, and is the creator of the New Ceres universe. I first encountered Gillian’s work when I reviewed her novel The Year of the Fruitcake for Aurealis magazine. I started my review by saying that the book ‘fizzes with smart, sparkling prose and razor wit’, and finished it with this: ‘one of the most innovative, droll and appealing voices you’re likely to encounter in modern speculative fiction. To read a page of Polack is to enter a world both astute and delightful.’

As you can imagine, I’m enchanted to host Gillian today.

Welcome, Gillian, and thank you for joining me. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Gillian: My novels are not about me. So many readers read one of my contemporary novels and say “Autobiography!”

This became so common that I started playing a guessing game with readers.

“Which bits of the novel are from my life?” I asked, and now I often intentionally put something in my fiction, to keep the guessing game going. In July I said, “I should stop doing this,” but I haven’t quite decided if I should stop, or if I should still add small and unpredictable bits of my life to my fiction and see if readers will ever work out what is borrowed from reality and what is invented.

Very, very few readers guess right. The most common (and entertaining) incorrect guess is about the character who swims naked in the Murrumbidgee River. I do not know how to swim and I’m exactly the wrong person to take off clothes in a public place.

Now I’ll be looking for clues! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

I am stumped every time someone asks me my favourite book, because I’m not good at choosing just one. I’m like that with most things. Favourite food. Favourite season. All difficult. My favourite scenes, plural (for each and every novel) they’re the scenes that take me into the book, every time. In my perfect world, every single word of fiction I wrote would do this to me. I’m working on that.

It’s very hard to pick favourites, I agree. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Polack-JewishWomen-200x300I wanted to give you the response of my very political character in The Wizardry of Jewish Women for she would argue gloriously and precisely and with much passion to prove her existence. Then I thought of giving you the answer Melusine would give from The Time of the Ghosts. “You’re not from this universe, are you, dear? Let me make you some coffee. If you’ve the time, I’d like to ask you if you’ve seen someone who might have travelled your way.”

These are not the most interesting answers, however. My mindwiped alien (in a perimenopausal human body) in The Year of the Fruit Cake would on some days be very distressed that she’s considered fictional, on others she’d discuss it rationally and at least once a week she’d hurt so much that she didn’t understand what you were trying to say. On her best days, she’d look at the evidence, work out the mathematics behind it, and agree with you. Most of this doesn’t show in the novel, but she’s an exceptionally courageous alien and every day she doubts her reality, she handles that doubt with style.

Fruitcake

As you handled that question with style! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

 So very many books…

I’ve known I was going to be a writer since I was eight. Since before then, actually, because I was eight when I made my big decision. I wasn’t taught to read until I was five, so every book I encountered before I was eight was critical. I read Enid Blyton and I read Edith Nesbit. I read Mary Grant Bruce and Elyne Mitchell. I read the complete series of lives of famous scientists my family owned, and I read history books about the Holocaust. No book I was able to read was banned, and I went from John and Betty (the first book I ever read – I remember learning to read with it, and then I remember helping my younger sister when she learned to read) to reading everything within reach in no time at all.

My biggest shock in between eight and thirteen was The Constant Nymph  by Margaret Kennedy (which was shelved in the children’s section until I asked a librarian to explain some critical plot points), and it was one of the books that taught me I didn’t want to write like another writer.

By the time I was thirteen I was reading Tolkien and Tolstoy and Dickens and every single science fiction and historical fiction and fantasy writer I could get my hands on. I had run out of books in the children’s section of the library, you see, and was given permission to borrow books from the adult section.

I can’t imagine life without books. What I knew when I was eight was that this was my playground and my life. That it was all the writers (except a certain few) who inspired me, not any single one. They still do. I have six piles of books to read and when I finish answering these questions, I’m going to start one of them. Today I want to read a book by Meg Keneally and one by Nick Larter. Yesterday, my reading was Kyla Ward and Jeanette Winterson. Tomorrow’s reading is Jo Zebedee and I want to re-visit Ruth Frances Long and maybe, if there’s time, read another Meg Keneally, for a friend just pointed out I hadn’t read her favourite Keneally novel yet.

There are a lot of books by Irish writers on my reading piles this week because of my research – I use my research as an excuse to find new writers. I never want to lose that spark that made me need to write, nor my love of the books of others. Each and every one of them inspires my own writing. 

What a fantastic list and a great approach to reading. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

I’ve had a scary-bad ten years. So much near-death. So much being physically incapable of doing things. I’ve found a way of surviving, and so I’d like to please tell me back then:

Life is going to throw shit at you. It will be foul and smelly and will never stop. Turn it into fertiliser and grow flowers. The earlier you start doing this the less you will hurt. The shit won’t stop, so you will have plenty of fertiliser. You’re going to grow an amazing garden.

My garden is flourishing. Like all gardens, this takes hard and constant work. This week I’m growing roses. 

Polack-Time of Ghosts1400x2100_preview

Resilience and determination combined with creativity – perfect for gardens and life. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Three things. I always have a novel happening, and I’ll talk about that in a moment (my summer novel).

The real writing world contains problems for writers like me: I’m a niche writer (many readers love my work, but have trouble finding it, because big publishers do not often take on voices like mine) and I am physically not capable of pushing my barrow much in public (disability sucks, and living in Australia also has its limitations). Next for me, therefore, is trying to find ways of getting my books to the people who want them. I want people to enjoy my books and that means being visible. That’s the hard work bit of what comes next for me. Trying to be visible. Several publishers are helping me with this and I have novels coming out in at least two countries.

The novel I’ll be working on this summer is not going to be angry. It’s going to give some of my characters some happiness. Also, I’m going to try to not kill anyone off.

How am I going to achieve these things? I’ve noticed a lovely theme that goes through some types of teen fiction and through some Korean drama, where people find happiness with each other, as a group. I would like to give this happiness to adults who travel, each of them alone, to another world. I want them to come back changed, but with each other.

This is quite different from my third activity for the next little while. Poison and Light will be released very soon, and I need to help it on its way. It’s about the last artist from Lost Earth, it’s about the way we hide in the past when we can’t face the present, and it’s about life on a distant planet. Life with highwaymen and swordfights and amazing publishers. My favourite part of it right now is the cover art: Lewis Morley didn’t just design a street scene: he built it and photographed it. My world lives.

9781743340455_Ms Cellophane_coverThat sounds awesome, Gillian. Finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would be someone else’s fictional character. I don’t know whose, but I know precisely what. I’d have all the things I’ve missed out in this life: beauty, health, perfect eyesight, fabulous romance, awesome clothes and strange magic that changes the world. I suspect I’d be the somewhat sarcastic heroine of a steampunk Regency novel.

 

I can see it! And I want to read it! Thank you so much for sharing with me today, Gillian, and more power to you.

Gillian’s links:

Website: http://www.gillianpolack.com

Blog: http://www.gillianpolack.com/blog/

Twitter: @GillianPolack

History speaks through S.C. Karakaltsas

Sylvia Karakaltsas writes cracking historical novels – you can see my review of her fabulous and moving book A Perfect Stone here. I’m thrilled to have the chance to meet up with her, especially as we have discovered that we both live in Melbourne and can now be coffee mates!

Welcome, Sylvia. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

I guess the main thing is that I write historical fiction and short stories. My short stories are not, however, historical. If anything they tend to be contemporary fiction based on current day observations. 

The two historical fiction novels I have written are both set in 1948 so I guess you could say, I like 1948. It’s not so much the year that’s fascinating but the time just after the war when there was still so much turmoil in the world and I find it rich for stories.

I think you have a great grasp of the period. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

I don’t necessarily have a favourite scene as such but there are scenes which have moved me.. In Climbing the Coconut Tree, two Australians were murdered on a Pacific island and the funeral scene for me was quite emotional to write. 

In A Perfect Stone, there are scenes where young children are killed and writing them moved me to tears. Putting myself right in the scene affects me so much that the scenes are, I think, very powerful. 

If the author is moved, then the scene has power indeed. Now, if I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

I think Jim from A Perfect Stone would growl and tell me in no uncertain terms how ludicrous I am.  After all he can be cantankerous. He’d probably then add that he liked my new haircut.

He definitely would! He’s such a character! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I’ve always loved reading. When I was a young girl, I devoured anything by Enid Blyton – who hasn’t? My goal had never been to be a writer, I had other things I wanted to do and the only constant was my love of reading. 

 I came to writing just over five years ago and dug into the books and the authors I had loved to study the art of writing. Inspiration came from Anthony Doer, Sonya Hartnett, Emily Bitto, Hannah Kent, Sophie Laguna and Nicole Hayes. Nicole in particular guided me with all three of my books I have the utmost admiration for her incredible skills. 

That’s a great road for an author. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Getting older is so much better than everyone said and that you never stop learning and growing.

How lovely to hear. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I am well into my next novel. The character, Lucille, seems to be writing her own story despite me trying to send her in lots of directions. She pulls me right back where she wants to go and guess what, we’ve landed again in 1948. I just shake my head and wonder where she’ll take me next. 

And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I’d probably be Helen from my novel A Perfect Stone. Although she’s probably more tolerant and nicer to her father Jim than me. 

There’s a lot of Helen in you, I think. Or maybe vice versa! Thank you so much for sharing with us on Last Word of the Week. Coffee next week?

S.C. Karakaltsas Links

Sylvia’s website: https://sckarakaltsas.wordpress.com/

A Perfect Stone: https://sckarakaltsas.com/my-books/a-perfect-stone/

Climbing the Coconut Tree: https://sckarakaltsas.com/my-books/climbing-the-coconut-tree/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/skarakaltsas/

Twitter: @SKarakaltsas

The Stars blog tour continues

This week it’s all about the fabulous blog tour … The Stars in the Night is visiting the real world of readers and bloggers.

Many great links will be added here so you can see what happens when you go on tour. This time, what goes on tour comes home very happily!

Jo at Jaffa Reads Too: https://jaffareadstoo.blogspot.com/2019/04/blog-tour-and-giveaway-stars-in-night.html

Dragon Rose Books Galore Reviews: https://dbgreviews.blogspot.com/2019/04/blog-tour-stars-in-night-by-clare.html

Literary Flits: http://litflits.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-stars-in-night-by-clare-rhoden.html

Julie at Northern Reader: https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2019/04/21/the-stars-in-the-night-by-clare-rhoden-the-reality-of-loss-and-survival-in-war-and-peace/

Stacy is Reading: https://stacyisreading.blogspot.com/2019/04/book-review-stars-in-night-by-clare.html

Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog: https://cherylmmbookblog.blogspot.com/2019/04/blogtour-stars-in-night-by-clare-rhoden.html

My thanks to Harry’s travel agent, the lovely Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources.

My 10 best reads of 2018, just in time for the holidays

You will have noticed that this is not your regular ‘Last Word of the Week’ fix. As December draws to a close and everyone gets busy with end-of-year tasks and (for the lucky ones) holiday preparations, we’re putting LWOTW away for this year. In its place, I thought I’d give you a quick overview of my ten top reads of 2018. My aim was to read 60 books this year, but I am currently at 75 and hope to get a couple more in before 2019. Books are addictive, yes?

Not all of these books were published this year, but with TBR lists growing faster than I can read, it’s not always easy to keep up.

1. Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel

mandelMy best read of the year. First published in 2014, this book was recommended to me by word of mouth from a trusted friend. I found it to be: Wonderful. Uplifting. Thoughtful. Perceptive. Clever. Kind. Worrying. Sad.

It’s a perfectly comprehensible tale of the advent of the apocalyptic virus and the world inherited by the survivors. There is a large cast of characters, and at times it seems they have no connection, but their lives do intersect – as all of ours do, in truth. The hope and desolation of this novel will stay with me for a long time.

I’m so glad I read it.

 

2. Record of a Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers

chambersThis is an amazing book, and I loved every minute of it. It’s my first Becky Chambers and now I have to read more. It’s rare and wonderful when fantastic books — and I mean fantastic in the sense of books that aspire to a different realism — speak to the reader in her own life. This book does.
Here are my three top quotes:
“Yet it was a quiet grief, an everyday grief, a heaviness and a lightness all at once.”
“That’s how we’ll survive, even if not all of us do.”
“Our species doesn’t operate by reality. It operates by stories.”
Yes!
I loved the cast of diverse characters and the plot threads that connected them all. I loved the worlds and the perspectives, and the clarity of this story. I was a little impatient with teenager Kip, but hey, that’s what teenagers are for! The alien viewpoints were also fascinating.
One of the best reads of 2018, for sure.

3. La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman

pullman

 

I am glad that I waited a bit to read this wonderful book, because now (I hope) I will manage the wait for the next of the trilogy. I confess guiltily that it’s my first Philip Pullman (he’s been on my TBR list for a long time) and I’m hooked. I could tell by the first page that this was exquisite, assured writing backed by a huge, compassionate, intelligent imagination.

The characterisation is masterly and Pullman doesn’t offer any short cuts or quick fixes to the dire circumstances of living in the time of a totalitarian government. I am in love with the daemons too. More please! Oxford forever.

 

4. From the Wreck, Jane Rawson

rawsonI really loved this extraordinary book. The dovetailing of historical family story plus alien lifeform may not be for everyone, but it really is worth trying. Some of the sentences will stay with you for a long time, even if you’re not entranced by the combination of alien and history. Personally, I LOVED it.

I don’t do spoilers if I can help it, so I won’t go into detail. I just want to say that this book makes the reader ask all the important questions. As in, what is life all about? What is our place in the universe? Are we the cosmic specks we sometimes feel? What about love and care for others? How do we take care of ourselves and our loved ones in the face of the vast majesty of life?

 

5. Winter, Ali Smith

smithali

I fell in love with this book, after being a little puzzled at the start. Don’t get too caught up in the whys and wherefores in the beginning. A floating head? Why not? All will become clear.  I soon got into the swing of things and enjoyed every nuance. Essential reading for the Christmas holidays – thoughtful and compassionate, interesting and tender.

 

6. Den of Wolves, Juliet Marillier

marillier

I very much enjoyed this third book in the Blackthorn and Grim trilogy – all of which I have now read. However it is so neatly written that it would stand alone. Very good consistency of characterisation, and the ending wasn’t squibbed. Loved it!

I pick up every Marillier book I see and have had some glorious times reading her wonderful, rich, insightful prose. This is the type of fantasy that resonates across the ages.

 

 

 

7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

gaiman

I absolutely loved this book from the very first line. Neil Gaiman’s writing is exquisite. Everything he writes about magical events seems so right that it sinks in. Of course the world is as he says it is.
You will love the Hempstocks and you will also be able to use ‘Ursula Monckton’ as an epithet for any annoying person you know!

8. The Orchard Underground, Mat Larkin

First up: I knew this guy in a former life, so I had some trepidation reading Mat Larkin’s debut middle grade novel. What if I didn’t like it? What could I say? I planned some soothing platitudes in advance, crossed my fingers and eyes, and started to read…
Well, all my planning was a waste of time. The Underground Orchard is seriously good. It’s smart, funny, accessible, well-structured and a wonderful read. I’m SO sorry that I didn’t get to read books like this when I was in middle school. Sure, I made a heroine out of Mary Grant Bruce’s Norah of Billabong (who could ride horses, muster cattle, AND cook!), but where was Attica Stone, with her confidence, succinct way with wirds, love of strong black coffee, and refusal to give up?larkin
You’ll love Pri Kohli and his quirky way of talking, and his world-view completely immersed in the town of Dunn’s Orchard. You will meet the amazing Attica Stone, and the wonderful Slotcar character (who reminds me a bit of Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series). Pri’s parents – it’s nice to have a middle-grade protagonist with parents, just for a change 🙂 – are doing their best to stay cool while he navigates the craziness of the Razz Wood and does his best to save his town – or the wood – or the orchard – or his friends – or … but no spoilers here.
Read it. Read it to yourself, read it aloud to others. Nobody needs a backup plan with this excellent offering. I have my fingers crossed that Mat has more adventures planned for Pri, Attica and co.

 

9. The Cruel Prince, Holly Black

26032825CPThis novel has given me much to think about. I am so enthusiastic at the brilliant writing and the neat characterisation, but the plot is pretty dark. It’s my first Holly Black, and perhaps I need to read one or two more to delve a bit deeper. I wrote a blog about it, which you can read here — warning, *spoilers*.

That said, I’ve rated this book 5 stars on Goodreads, because I couldn’t put it down. It’s like George RR Martin, Juliet Marillier, and Paula Hawkins got together to write a completely captivating dark thriller set in Faerie.

By the way, I adore the cover.

I think if you love GOT, you will love this. So that’s most people!

10. Dyschronia, Jennifer Mills

I devoured this fascinating book, and I’m still thinking about it. That’s a sign that it has some important things to say, I think. There are also many phrases that I noted as worth re-reading, and adding to my list of cool things written by excellent authors.
The story in this novel is like a cracked mirror – there are shards of time and we don’t always exactly know where or rather when we are – but every piece shines with reflections of reality that we almost recognise, but of course everything looks different now that reality has been broken apart and reassembled.

mills
This novel charts the dystopian future of a careless Australia, where the environmental damage is so gross that there is no future to be had. The wondrous, worrying dreams of local girl Samandra (Sam) are dismissed as, Cassandra-like, she debates how much to tell the people around her, people who prefer not to believe. Her mother Ivy in particular is determined to be head-in-the-sand, spending years trying to have Sam’s migraines diagnosed correctly. The resulting pronouncement of ‘dyschronia’ never quite settles the question, for Ivy, of whether Sam is truly foreseeing the future or just dreaming vividly and strangely. The entrepreneur Ed (who is meant to be charming, but I have pre-raised hackles about this kind of guy) is a credible saviour-cum-villain, or is it villain-cum-saviour, of the town. Sam’s best friend Jill is probably the most likeable of all the characters. I loved the device of the ‘chorus’ of locals whose comments intersperse Sam’s dreams and Sam’s story.
Equally prescient of a dire future and nostalgic of the simple ignorance of the past, this elegant story of loss and the inevitability of bad choices deserves an enduring place among the best Australian books of recent years.

 

So that’s it for another year! I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings in terms of new, re-discovered, and old books. Then of course there’s my TBR pile waiting patiently.

Safe and happy times to you all!

Two points about Truth in Fiction

I’ve just been reading on of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City novels – the first I’ve read, and the last of the series. And there was a TV series too. I know, I’m well behind. But here a a couple of writerly things to note:

POINT ONE: The book I read was Book Eight (Mary Ann in Autumn). While I was aware – vaguely – of this series, I’d never read any of the novels. (I will now.) However, I had absolutely NO trouble following the story, keeping on top of the characters’ relationships with each other, or accepting their back stories, no matter how light the mention. This book stood alone. How did this happen?

I think it’s because the links are there. Maupin’s technique was to introduce a new (to me) character at the end of each chapter, and then pick up that character’s story in the next chapter. The continuity of scene and time/space (ie the realism of the San Francisco of the 2000s) connected every character’s story line to the others. As a writer of fantastical and historical stories, I appreciated Maupin’s mastery here. Complete consistency of time and space is necessary for the story to feel ‘true’. World building is essential, even when writing modern realist novels.

220px-MaryAnnInAutumn

POINT TWO: Life wisdom can jump out of any story line. If a particular life truth happens to gel with the reader’s current or recent life experience, then that reader is hooked into the truth value of the story.

In my case, it was a line about dementia:

“Ray had Alzheimer’s these days … which rendered him foggy but jolly, a nicer person than his former ornery self.”

Now, I’ve read SO much about dementia since my mother was diagnosed with an invasive brain tumour, and nowhere else have I found an echo of the situation that now faces us. Our prickly, argumentative, one-up-woman-who-knows-everything has become sweet and gentle and positive and welcoming. Mum is a whole other story, but that sentence in Maupin’s book was the first time I had felt affirmed in my family experience of dementia.

Truth in fiction. It’s one of the reasons we read, one of the reasons we write.

Deep Blue cover reveal: I can’t wait

Here’s a great cover reveal for a new instalment in Jane O’Reilly’s Second Species trilogy – Deep Blue, the sequel to Blue Shift.

Add this blurb, and it’s yet another book I can’t wait to get my hands on!

Jinnifer Blue opens her eyes to find herself in a ship that is the source of her darkest nightmares. Her plan to expose the horrific truth behind the government’s secret Second Species programme has failed, and now she’s being turned into a weapon by her worst enemy . . . her mother.

At the other end of the galaxy Caspian Dax, ferocious space pirate and Jinn’s sometime lover, is facing an even more terrifying fate. He’s being forced to fight in the arena on Sittan, a pitiless, ruthless alien landscape where blood is the only prize that matters. They will use him, destroy him, change him.

Jinn has only one chance – to go to Sittan and find Dax before his mind is completely destroyed. She must rely on her friends and one old enemy, leave her beloved ship the Mutant behind, and travel to a hostile planet. But hardest of all, she must keep faith that when she finds Dax, there will be something left of the man she knew.

One thing’s for sure: the fight has only just begun

The buried genre

After a week or more’s musing, I think I have worked out what was so difficult for me in the reading of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, which I recently reviewed on Goodreads.

The sticking point, for me, is the description of the novel as ‘fantasy’. Turns out that I have quite set expectations of ‘fantasy’ novels – that there will be a resolution to a specific problem being one of them. I can cope with an unusual fantasy protagonist – our hero/heroine/main interest character doesn’t need to fit the traditional handsome (and maybe hidden) prince model for me to read on happily. I can cope without romance, and in fact found the constant ‘princess’ tribute by Axl pretty annoying, though it was clear that he truly loved Beatrice. I don’t need dragons or witches or spooks, black cats or shape-shifting baddies.

What I do want in a fantasy novel is plot, character-driven plot for preference.

I now think that what made me so uncomfortable was the lack of resolution in The Buried Giant. I loved the writing, and I think that, had the novel been described differently, I may have been more relaxed with it.

Genre, genre. Ever since The Game of Thrones (ie George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire) killed off Ned Stark in Book 1, I’ve been floundering!

The Cruel Prince: dangerous fiction

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Maybe that should be ‘dangerous reality’. I’ve just finished reading Holly Black’s excellent fantasy novel The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1). I’ve rated it 5 stars on Goodreads, because I couldn’t put it down. It’s like George RR Martin, Juliet Marillier, and Paula Hawkins got together to write a completely captivating dark thriller set in Faerie.

By the way, I LOVE the cover.

*warning spoilers*

I became totally absorbed by this story, but also increasingly troubled. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m wondering if it’s the reflections of domestic violence that are worrying me? Let’s look at the story line:

Our protagonist Jude is kidnapped and taken to Faerie by a violent redcap general called Madoc. Madoc was married to Jude’s mother – she left him, taking their child. So Madoc murders both Jude’s mother and her new partner (Jude’s father), reclaims his own daughter, and takes Jude and her twin for good measure. The three girls are brought up in the dangerous, deceitful Faerie court.

So that’s problematic – being brought up by the man who killed your parents because your mother was once married to him, and failed to make a complete escape.

Then Jude, as a teenager, is bullied and despised by the Faerie court, in particular the friends of the beatutiful and very cruel Prince Cardan (who rips off a fairy’s wing the first time we meet him, for not a good enough reason). The bullying is vicious and relentless, and Jude is effectively isolated from any help – even her twin Taryn betrays her.

I was hoping against hope that this wouldn’t turn out to be a story where the girl falls for the violent, abusive love interest, who, you know, really loves her underneath it all. However as we discover that Cardan himself has been abused, I’m suspecting that he is being transformed from perpetrator to victim and that they may end up as a pair.

Scary. Too real.

What do you think?