Category Archives: reading

Narrelle’s 2016 Holiday Reading Rec List

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Whatever the end of the year means to you, generally it means a few lazy days and grabbing some time for a bit of reading. Whether you’re preparing to soak up the sun in the southern hemisphere, or rug up warm in front of the fire (or frolic how you please somewhere in the middle) it’s always a good time for a new book!

Naturally, I have some recommendations for you!

Narrelle M Harris has a bumper year

If you’ve somehow missed the excellent year I’ve had, may I draw your attention not only to The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, a Holmes/Watson romance set in Australia in 1893, but also to Wilderness, the third of my sexy spy thrillers about Martine Dubois and Philip Marsden.

In addition, there are the many wonderful anthologies in which my work’s appeared this year: Intrepid Horizons, A Certain Persuasion (queer interpretations of Jane Austen), The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes stories Part V: Christmas Adventures (traditional Victorian era Holmes and Watson) and A Murmuring of Bees (queer Holmes/Watson romance and erotica). In the next few weeks, Clan Destine’s And Then… anthology will be joining them with my 1851 fantasy, “Virgin Soil”.

That’s enough variety to keep you going for a few weeks, but if you’ve already been a champion and supported my work throughtout the year, I can also recommend some other fantastic books.

Narrelle’s 2016 recommendations

GoodReads stats tell me that I read 84 books this year, so I was clearly reading as fast and hard as I was writing.  So many good books too! Here are some of my favourites:

Romance and Erotica

alberts wars 2Herotica Volume 1 by Kerry Greenwood. Full of delicious queer love stories throughout history.

Albert’s Wars by Stewart Jackel. A bittersweet wartime love story. I cried. 

Definitely Naughty by Jo Leigh. Short, fast, fun, sexy read!

Science Fiction

THRIVE coverThrive by Mary Borsellino. This is the review in which I sang songs of praise to this book.

Are you there, God? It is I, Robot by Tom Cho. Tom’s work, like Mary Borsellino’s, is always an absolutely brilliant, brain-opening treat.

Trucksong by Andrew Macrae. Sentient trucks. Post apocalyptic Australia. So Aussie. So gritty. So good.

 

Fantasy

12th nightMonstrous Little Voices: These five novellas set in and around Shakespeare’s plays and life were an early gem and utterly brilliant.

  • Coral Bones by Foz Meadows;
  • The Course of True Love by Kate Hearfield;
  • The Unkindest Cut by Emma Newman;
  • Even in the Cannon’s Mouth by Adrian Tchaikovsky; and
  • On the Twelfth Night by Jonathan Barnes

Lady Helen and The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. Regency-era demon hunters, deft and fast-paced with fabulous frocks, manners that are not always impeccable and sexual tension you could cut with a knife!

The Time of the Ghosts by Gillian Polack. I didn’t think anybody could make me find Canberra interesting, but I was mistaken. Gillian Pollack does it effortlessly with the intriguing and marvellous tale of three older women, their protege Kat and all the kid-darkghosts becoming corporeal and dangerous in the ACT.

Tansy Rayner Roberts’ delightful novellas Glass Slipper Scandal: A Castle Charming Story, Unmagical Boy Story: a Belladonna University novella and Kid Dark Against The Machine. This woman keeps writing winners.

Young Adult

Pin Drop by Roz Monette. Life on the street for a young woman in America. Realistic but hopeful, with a positive ending.

fast pitch coverFast Pitch by Tim Martin and J Creighton Brown. I don’t normally go for sports books. I really loved this one.

Thyla by Kate Gordon. Tasmanian YA. An amnesiac girl is found in the wilderness. As her memory slowly returns, we learn why Tessa is a bit unclear on modern technology and what’s really going on with some missing girls from the school she now attends. Loved this one. Looking to get my hands on the next, Vulpi.

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Crime

DrownedVanillaGhost Girls by Cath Ferla. Set in Sydney’s Chinatown, it’s crime in a transient Australian community and it’s fantastic.

Livia Day’s Cafe La Femme series:  A Trifle Dead, Drowned Vanilla and The Blackmail Blend novella. Set in Hobart. Tasty, tasty crime! (Livia Day is another name for Tansy Rayner Roberts, just going to prove that everything she writes is perfect)

The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim. Another crime novel exploring more diverse sections of Australia’s community. The splash of paranormal with the astrological charts just adds piquancy to the fantastic whole.

Non Fiction

Richard III: The Maligned Kingthe-maligned-king by Annette Carson. I’m convinced. I’m now a committed Ricardian. What’s more, I think Henry Tudor is the one who did for the kids. Boo. Hiss.

Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanksi. Powerful and deeply moving.

Blockbuster! Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex. Lucy breathes vitality and wry humour into this biography of a book.

Lives Beyond Baker Street: A Biographical Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes’s Contemporaries by Christopher Redmond is an incredibly useful book of the prominent, the famous, the influential and the infamous of the Victorian era. Handy if you’re writing Sherlockian fiction.


That’s probably enough to be getting on with!

Enjoy your reading, one and all, and I hope you have a relaxing break as we head into 2017, filled with excellent reading!

And please share your recommendations in the comments for holiday reading.

Review: Reign of Beasts by Tansy Rayner Roberts

0117HARP_ReignBeasts1I’ve been on a Tansy Rayner Roberts jag lately, reading the entire Cafe La Femme series she writes under the name Livia Day and finally getting to the third book in her fabulous fantasy Creature Court trilogy. I have no idea why I waited so long to get to Reign of Beasts, but it was worth the wait!

I have previously waxed exceedingly lyrical about Tansy Rayner Roberts’ skills as a storyteller, particularly with her plotting. You can never tell where the story’s going to go (in an entirely good way) and each revelation unfurls a dozen possibilities with it. Like the seers seeing a multiverse of futures, it takes a while for the possibilities to be narrowed down – and even then, there’s really no predicting the outcome.

Except that it’ll be satisfying. Oh yes, it will.

Reign of Beasts continues in this magnificent trend, as we run fleet-footed in the wake of everyone’s terrible decisions and rapid beating of their fragile, mistrustful hearts, towards an ending that is epic and utterly satisfying.

This novel brings to a conclusion the beautifully and densely crafted world where humans with incredible powers, gifted to them by a nebulous energy called animor, can turn into animals – hence their name of the Creature Court. Every night they fight a little known enemy from the sky, and by day conduct themselves and their courtesi like it’s the last days of Rome. Which it sort of is, as the Creature Court of Aufleur (and the courts of other cities) are slowly losing their war. The city of Tierce has already been swallowed by the sky, and the people of the daylight don’t even remember it existed.

And now we have the tyrannical Garnet – perhaps worse than Nero ever was – who has returned with dressmaker and surprise Power and Majesty (head of the Court), Velody. They’d both been swallowed by the sky and their return throws the Creature Court into disarray. Well. More disarray than usual.

But the final battle with the sky is coming, and everyone has to work out where their loyalties lie, and it may not be in the same place as where their love resides. Distrust, betrayal, prophesies, love triangles (and pyramids – some of this is much too complex for 3D geometry) and desperation are the obstacles. Not to mention the greatest mystery of them all: why is there a sky war at all?

Reign of Beasts begins in the past, with the Creature Court oddity, Poet, telling the story of his beginnings as an orphan in a theatre show and how he came to join the Creature Court. His story is interwoven with the current troubles and machinations of the Court, until it’s very clear exactly how much he’s had to do with the mess they’re all in, and the schemes surrounding what’s to come.Power and Majesty cover

Once we’re all caught up, the story barrels on ahead at breakneck speed once more. Even the quiet parts are somehow vibrant with the waiting for what happens next?! We’re also never entirely ‘all caught up’ because Roberts continues to cleverly weave in the history of characters and cities that are utterly in tune with everything we’ve known to date, but shed fresh light on current events and coming conclusion.

And even when we finally understand the war and its cause and how it ends, nothing ends obviously. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but perhaps everyone gets a satisfying one. One that makes sense within who they are and what they need.

I could blather on for a bit, but that would be taking up time you should be spending on reading this trilogy. Go. Go now. Off you go. Read this award-winning magnificence! Shoo!

Buy Power and Majesty:

shattered cityBuy The Shattered City:

Buy Reign of Beasts

Other reading while you’re waiting for your books to download

 

Review: Blood and Dust & The Big Smoke by Jason Nahrung

blood-dust-webWhen vampires and an Australian setting combine in the imagination of a great writer, you betcha I’m going to be there, reading the hell out of that thing.

I’m a little late to the party, mind you, since Jason Nahrung’s Blood and Dust somehow escaped my attention when it was originally published as a digital-only book with Xoum. Thank fang that Clan Destine Press pounced and published both Blood and Dust and its sequel, The Big Smoke, in 2015.

Nahrung, who wrote the excellent Salvage, sets the first of his ‘Vampires in the Sunburnt Country’ series in outback Queensland, the last place you’d ever expect to find rival gangs of vampires who are traditionally fatally sensitive to sunlight.

Kevin Matheson, a mechanic who works at his parents service station in the tiny and slowly wilting country town of Barlow’s Siding. But then a car pulls in, containing a policeman who isn’t, his dying partner and a body in the boot that, despite the steel sticking out of his chest, isn’t quite dead.

Things go from bad to personal apocalypse pretty quickly after that, with rival gangs having bloody shootout, and Kevin’s family caught in the middle. Kevin’s not the only one to die that day, but he’s the only one who crawls out of the earth, transformed.

Blood and Dust provides plenty of both as Kevin struggles to adjust to his new state, and to understand the deadly rivalry between the nomadic vampire bikers he’s fallen in with, and their rather more organised-crime-type vampire enemies from Brisbane. Kevin’s desperate to save the family he has left, and to survive in a world he doesn’t understand. He’s also determined to balance the books with Mira, the vampire who is trying to use him to trap the Night Riders and is a threat to his own family.

Nahrung brings his own touches to the ever-changing milieu of the vampire story. Here, blood is more than nourishment for vampires. It carries memories, and ways of linking the vampire to those from whom they drink; and especially those they drink dry. It’s a fabulous new take on both the addiction and the dangers of blood-sucking. The way that blood sharing can communicate not only memories but particular skills also leads to some very cool passages. Kevin might be the new vampire on the block, but he’s picking up some mad skills along the way.

The characters are complex and often surprising, both the vampires and their human ‘red-eyes’ who have extended life from blood sharing, but aren’t yet turned. Taipan, the first indigenous vampire character I’ve ever read, and Kevin’s maker, is fascinatingly complex and contradictory, as is Reece, the not-policeman and Mira’s favourite red-eye, who brought all this disaster down on Kevin’s head with his appearance at the servo.

Elements of Blood and Dust reminded me of Australian films of the 70s, depicting oppressive heat and simmering violence in the outback, though with a much broader (and very welcome) diversity. There’s a dash of Mad Max, a soucon of Wake in Fright, and maybe even a tiny taste of Thirst, though all transformed and written with Nahrung’s deft hand with dialogue and character.

The whole story barrels down its hot Queensland highway, full throttle, guns blazing, until its grim and bittersweet ending.

the-big-smoke-webFortunately, if, like me, you can’t wait to find out what happens next, The Big Smoke is already printed and awaiting your immediate perusal.

Picking up amost immediately after the last page of Blood and Dust, we find Kevin heading towards Brisbane and the reckoning he intends to have with those who have torn apart his life. Naturally, the course of true revenge never runs smooth. He and Reece are both dancing dangerously around enemies new and old, trying to find a way to win.

Just as Blood and Dust evokes the raw and violent Aussie films of the 70s, The Big Smoke, set in Brisbane and on the coast, has a feel of the more recent run of Australian films exploring urban violence, though with that air of organised crime rather than mere bogan thuggery. There are still gunfights aplenty, and the grittier battle for power between the rival city gangs. The politics are complicated and nobody can be trusted. Kevin’s put the wind up them all, with his recent successes despite his recent arrival, combined with his blood determination to make someone pay for all that he’s lost.

The story takes a couple of unexpected turns, and the ending is both unexpected and satisfying.

Obviously these books are a great read if you’re after the novelty of an Australian take on the vampire novel. They’re also gritty, action-packed dramas, filled with great, complex characters – not least of which are the rural Queensland landscape and the city of Brisbane.

Read more:

Buy Blood and Dust

Buy The Big Smoke

2015: A Reading Restrospective

Screenshot 2016-01-06 09.50.56I really like Goodreads. I love keeping track of the books I’ve read (and reread) just for my own interest.

My stats this year say this is the most books I’ve read in  a year since starting to keep track – 63! Looks impressive, and I’m pleased to see it’s a good mix of classic and contemporary work, reading in crime, romance, horror, fantasy, humour and graphic novels.

Twenty-nine of the books were written or edited by women. Of the books by blokes, most were either by PG Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle or the comic book team of Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum, the guys behind Unshelved, a comic set in a public library. (I read 10 of their collected editions, having backed the digital publication of same in a Kickstarter.) And not to be too wedded to binary genders, I’ve added a lot of new writers to my lists this year, particularly in the anthologies I’ve read.

Highlights of the reading year

blackbirdsI seem to either have good luck in the books I choose to read, or I’m very easy to please, as I thoroughly enjoyed most of my reading this year.

I have my favourites of course, the cream on top of the creme de la creme: Treasure Island, which I read for the first time ever, and PG Wodehouse’s hilarious and extremely unreliable memoir, Bring on the Girls, co-written with Guy Bolton. A Pride of Poppies, an anthology of queer love stories set in WWI, was beautiful and touching and sometimes funny and sometimes so sad and all of it was amazing.

In non-fiction, I loved Ruth Goodman’s How To Be a Victorian for its insights, as I’ve been writing a book set in the era. I also finally got around to Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments, a book about the Milgram obedience experiments by Gina Perry, which I picked up years ago at Clunes Book Week. It uncovers the circumstances behind the experiments, how they led to stricter ethical guidelines for psychology studies and how they don’t really teach us anything that we’re told they teach us.

In crime, Livia Day’s The Blackmail Blend is a terrific short story and I must read the novels in the series, and Emma Viskic promises to be a great new Australian crimewriting talent with Resurrection Bay and her deaf protagonist, Caleb. I also loved Alison Goodman’s A New Kind of Death, an SF/crime hybrid, and I aim to read more of her work too.

I also finally read a Chuck Wendig novel, Blackbirds, and found it as profane and funny as I find his excellent blog, Terrible Minds. I’m looking forward to more of his work (I have three on the Kindle for 2016!)

The Day/Night They Met

nightAnd two of my very favourite books of the year? Companion pieces by the same author, Wendy C Fries. In Sherlock Holmes and John Watson – The Day They Met, Fries gives 50 new ways for the famous friends to have met for the first time, across eras from the Victorian to the modern day.

Writing as Atlin Merrick, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: The Night They Met the same author gives us 19 ways those two men met and fell in love. It’s the first Holmes/Watson romance to  come out of Improbable Press, and it’s a marvellous start for a publisher that aims to celebrate queer readings of the Holmes-and-Watson legend.

How else was my reading year broken up?

Twelfth Planet Press

cherryAmong the books by Australian women, I read the final three collections in the Twelve Planets series, Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love, The Female Factory by Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett and Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin – all three showcasing remarkable talent in specfic and horror. Twelfth Planet Press always produces amazing books, and if you’ve missed this twelve-book series I recommend you hunt it down or get the books in digital format (including my own Showtime, number 5 in the series.)

The Classics

Adventures_of_sherlock_holmesAs part of my research for writing The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, a Holmes/Watson romance due out this year with Improbable Press, I reread the entire Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle, which is an education in going back to the source material.

The same could be said of my first-time reading of Treasure Island, which I’d only seen in screen versions before, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which I haven’t read since I was a kid. I also read a lot of PG Wodehouse, who is always a great comfort in times of stress, and finally a Jane Austen that wasn’t Pride and PrejudicePersuasion. (I began this year with Mansfield Park, which I didn’t particularly enjoy – I want to slap everyone in it. Do other people have this reaction?)

Forensics and True Crime

nutshellIn further pursuit of research for my Holmes/Watson novel, I also spent a lot of the year reading up about the history of forensics and other related non-fiction books, primarily The Nutshell Studies, The Science of Sherlock Holmes, the three volumes of The Century of the Detective by Jurgen Thorwald (The Marks of Cain about fingerprinting, Dead Men Tell Tales about forensic science and Proof of Poison about toxicology), now out of print – I was lucky enough to pick up two of them at Clunes and found the third on eBay.

I ended with A Very British Murder, by Lucy Worsley and based on her TV show about how murder became such a national obsession for the Brits.

Romance

poppiesI thought I’d read more romance this year, but perhaps it’s just that I have read a lot of books where romance is part of a crime plot or some other fusion. Besides Persuasion and the aforementioned The Night They Met, I also enjoyed the unconventional princess-in-the-tower story, Her Silent Oath by Julia Leijon, and some excellent queermance.

A Pride of Poppies, as also mentioned, was very moving, while Jane Elliot‘s Smoothie, an action-romance for a lesbian couple, was a lively read. Tyler Knoll’s Just for Fun by AB Gayle was just sheer silly-crazy fun.

How about you?

I hope your reading year was also filled with old favourites, new discoveries, unexpected knowledge and ideas to spark other reading or your own writing. Feel free to share your favourites in the comments!