Category Archives: Reviews
Catching you all up with some of my Happy June reading, because part of it was catching up with all the Baleful Godmother stories by Emily Larkin I hadn’t yet read before launching into Ruining Miss Wrotham!
I’ve already said how much I loved the first in the series, Unmasking Miss Appleby, and I’ve also read The Fey Quartet, which follows the stories of Maythorn Miller and her three daughters, the progenitors of the faerie gift that keeps on giving.
When Ruining Miss Wrotham came out just when I needed a happy book, I gobbled it up pretty quickly, and then went back to the intervening tales – Resisting Miss Merryweather, the second in the series, is a novella, as is #4, Claiming Mister Kemp – and it was seeing that the series included an M/M romance that made me keen to see what Larkin was going to do with it all.
Resisting Miss Merryweather
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Faerie godmothers do not exist.
Thus proclaims the facing page of each of the Baleful Godmother series, just before launching into a story where a woman descended from Maythorn Miller’s three daughters either has received, or is about to, her faerie gift from a resentful Faerie queen. These women must choose well, or risk madness and death. Even when they have a gift, life isn’t necessarily made easy.
In this novella, following up on Unmasking Miss Appleby, we meet Anne Merryweather – known as Merry to her family and friends – and her encounter with Barnaby Ware.
Ware is on his way to meet his estranged friend Marcus Cosgrove and his new wife – none other than the Charlotte Appleby of the previous book! Barnaby is grappling with the way he cuckolded Marcus with Marcus’s devious first wife, and is unable to forgive himself although his friend is certainly ready to forgive him. But that betrayal means that Barnaby doesn’t think he’s fit for love. He thinks he’s irredeemable. Merry thinks he’s wrong, and sets out to prove it.
Readers of the first book in the series will know what Marcus’s betrayal was, and how he was not entirely to blame. He’s a very hangdog character for a while, though it’s easy to see his more admirable qualities. Fortunately, Merry – Charlotte’s cousin, whose father was a dancing master and her mother a noblewoman – has got plenty of joie de vivre for them both.
An accident while exploring a cave brings all these unhappy events and unresolved guilt to a head. Between Marcus and Charlotte Cosgrove, the sparkling Merry (and her imminent Faerie gift), self-respect, trust and hope are restored, love is declared and happiness ever after is achieved. It’s a charming, snappy, happy read. Just the ticket for #happyjune.
Trusting Miss Trentham
With Trusting Miss Trentham, Larkin goes back to a full length novel to tell the story of Letitia Trentham, a wealthy heiress, still unmarried because she’s turned down every offer of marriage ever made to her. She already has her faerie gift, you see. She can tell truth from lies, and no man has ever wanted to marry her for love. Only for her wealth.
She’s resigned herself to never knowing love when Icarus Reid comes into her life. Reid is a former soldier, traumatised by dreadful events at the Battle of Vimeiro. All he wants from Letty is for her to use her unusual ability to find out who betrayed him and his scouts before the battle – who is responsible for the deaths of his comrades and something worse that happened to him.
Letty finds herself challenged out of her ladylike comfort zone, pretending to be someone she’s not, doing things she never thought a lady would do, to find out who betrayed this troubled man, and perhaps bring an end to his nightmares.
Letty is lovely – a woman who is profoundly tied to the necessities of truth, who finds herself committing little falsehoods in pursuit of helping this emotionally scarred war veteran. She learns about herself and the sometimes too honest Reid, including his darkest secrets. For all that she’s so aware of how much lying people do, she’s kind, spirited and will always stand up for those who need protection. Especially if they’ve been unjustly accused of wrongdoing. She, after all, can tell if they’re innocent.
I loved the way Larkin explored Reid’s experience of PTSD, long before the term was ever applied to traumatised survivors. I also loved the attention she paid to creating Letitia Trentham, who has endured a lifetime of disappointments in men who don’t see her, only the way her wealth can give them ease and repay their debts. Instead of being bitter, Letty is strong and kind. Her determination to find the truth of what happened in France, motivated by compassion, is a nice counterpoint to Reid’s more despairing need to find the truth. His slow recovery is well handled – not too pat. Letty’s connection with and love for him can’t save him, but she can help show the way to safety at last.
I enjoyed the crossovers hinting at events in the next book in the series – Claiming Mister Kemp – so that the series is loosely tied together by more than the theme. We even get to meet Barnaby and Merry Ware again!
There’s grit and pain in Icarus Reid’s story as he confronts people on the trail of the traitor, but there’s also hope and redemption, led by Letty’s kind but not naive heart and mind.
Claiming Mister Kemp
There was so much to love about this novella, but I confess I found it occasionally uncomfortable. Being set in the regency period, attitudes to homosexuality were naturally going to affect the storyline and the way in which Lucas and Tom interacted.
Lucas Kemp’s twin sister has recently died, and he’s still overcome with grief. When his childhood friend Thomas Matlock returns from the war in France in which he came too close to death, Tom’s decides to act on his love for Lucas, which he is certain is reciprocated.
It is, and we know it is from early on, but Lucas is also struggling with shame about his desire for Tom, as well as all the grief he bears from the loss of his beloved sister Julia.
In so many ways this is Larkin’s usual charming, witty love story, with just a touch of the magic that is such a feature of the other stories in the series. The nature of Lucas’s discomfort with his desire, however, means some of the intimate scenes with Tom are what might be tagged ‘dubious consent’. Tom sometimes pushes past Lucas’s “no” and it later becomes a “yes” but I confess a preference for clear consent. Tom promises never to push Lucas beyond what he wants, but he skates very close to and occasionally over that line for my preferences.
But Lucas’s heart is definitely saying yes, even if his brain is throwing up walls, so ultimately, they work themselves out and even find they have the support of family who just want them to be happy.
That unreconciled discomfort I feel is at least counterbalanced with some loving scenes, some wonderful crossover moments with the preceding book, Trusting Miss Trentham, and after trials and anguish the happy ending.
I hope Emily Larkin continues to write love stories for all kinds of people, and I’m very much looking forward to #6 in the series, Discovering Miss Dalrymple.
Reading Miss Larkin
Visit Emily Larkin’s website – where you can join her mailing list and get The Fey Quartet and Unmasking Miss Appleby for free.
Resisting Miss Merryweather
- Resisting Miss Merryweather (Amazon)
- Resisting Miss Merryweather (iBooks)
- Resisting Miss Merryweather (Kobo)
- Resisting Miss Merryweather (Nook)
Trusting Miss Trentham
- Trusting Miss Trentham (Amazon)
- Trusting Miss Trentham (iBooks)
- Trusting Miss Trentham (Kobo)
- Trusting Miss Trentham (Nook)
Claiming Mister Kemp
- Claiming Mister Kemp (Amazon)
- Claiming Mister Kemp (iBooks)
- Claiming Mister Kemp (Kobo)
- Claiming Mister Kemp (Nook)
Ruining Miss Wrotham
I’m still reading only happy books for June, but a thing that made me happy recently was discovering that Gillian Polack’s The Wizardry of Jewish Women was getting a reissue with a new publisher!
The book was originally published by Satalyte Publishing, but not long after it was launched, the press had to close down. As the book was no longer available, I decided not to review it and frustrate anybody who wanted to get hold of it.
But now it’s available again as an e-book through Bookview Cafe, a cooperative publisher run by authors from across a range of genres. Bookview Cafe’s authors include Katharine Kerr, Vonda N. McIntyre and Ursula Le Guin, so you know they’re onto something.
I’m so pleased Wizardry is available again because I loved it. I’ve enjoyed Gillian Polack’s intriguing blend of the everyday and the magical before, in The Time of the Ghosts, Ms Cellophane, and The Art of Effective Dreaming.
The Wizardry of Jewish Women – the blurb
Pink tutus, sarcasm, amulets and bushfires: that is suburban fantasy in Australian cities. It is magic.
Life is never quite what it seems, even without the lost family heritage delivered to Judith and Belinda in boxes.
Judith (who owns the haunted lemon tree and half the boxes) wants an ordinary life. Mostly.
Belinda wants to not be so very worthy. If Belinda weren’t Judith’s sister, and if it wasn’t for bushfires and bigots, Belinda’s life would be perfectly ordinary. Judith will tell you so. You don’t even have to ask.
Belinda’s friend Rhonda has a superpower. Each time she sees the future or reveals deep secrets, seekers for the ‘New Nostradamus’ come closer to destroying her life. Her hold on normalcy is very fragile. So is her hold on safety.
Judith and Rhonda are haunted, Judith by her past and Rhonda by her gift of prophecy. Will they ever come into the sunshine and find happiness?
The Wizardry of Jewish Women is primarily set, like The Time of the Ghosts and Ms Cellophane, in Canberra. It seems an unlikely city, full as it is of bureaucracy, windswept suburbia and a reputation for Olympic Level Mundanity – but it’s one of Polack’s special skills to taken what seems to be a grey surface and fill it with subtle colour and disturbing undercurrents. It certainly makes me see my old hometown in new lights when I visit.
The story begins when Judith and her sister Belinda inheret a box from an apparently disreputable grandmother and discover a scrap book of hidden Jewish magic, recorded in a kind of hidden message. Their histories and their actions with the book’s contents are obscurely bound up with those of Rhonda, whose prophetic insights have turned her into a recluse.
Each woman faces domestic difficulties as well as wider threats, from the very real-world danger of Australian bushfires and oppressive exes, to the more creeping, opaque threats of lurking but tangible evil and the consequences of magic.
Polack weaves an inexorable web of subtle detail and slow reveals. What begins in humble Australian suburbia, populated with middle aged women who are agitated with where they are in life and the family and friends that surround them, has the oddness creeping in before long. Small strangenesses, fleeting discomforts, hints of threat and threads of something sinister build and build until protagonist and reader both are confronted with the need for action.
The Wizardry of Jewish Women is a fine example of Polack’s skill with this kind of world-building, taking us from intimate domestic life and troubles to the still-intimate peculiarities of her finely drawn characters’ intersections with magic and devilry.
Along with all the virtues of the writing and tone as a well-crafted piece of fiction, the book springs from an Australian experience that departs from the mainstream, inspired as it is by Polack’s own Jewish heritage and experiences. It’s woven from more diverse cultural threads than the usual Aussie milieu and offers a richer, deeper view of Australian culture and experience as a result.
Wryly humorous, very human and steeped in both suburbian realities and fantastical strangeness, The Wizardry of Jewish Women moves from quietly engaging to absolutely gripping before reaching its satisfying conclusion.
It’s a fabulous little book. You should read it.
As mentioned in my review of Ruining Miss Wrotham, I’m on a kick of reading only happy books for the month of June, as an antidote to the bleakness of the world and some deeply disturbing and unhappy books I’ve read in the first half of the year.
Along with more of Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series, which I’ll review a bit later, I pounced last weekend on some short fiction by one of my favourite writers, Tansy Rayner Roberts.
Roberts has some fantastically fun short story series going on at present, including the Castle Charming series (Glass Slipper Scandal is the first one of those) and the Belladonna University stories, the first of which is Fake Geek Girl.
The Fake Geek Girl of the story is a rock band, headed by the charismatic Holly, who writes songs inspired by the geeky life of her twin sister Hebe despite the fact Holly doesn’t really get the geek life. The songs are ironic. Possibly. The band’s drummer, Sage, is Hebe’s ex.
They’re all good friends – though cracks are starting to appear as Sage frets that Holly’s about to break up the band to go solo. Fellow bandmember, Juniper, has her own set of issues, Sage and his uni flatmates are looking for a new roomie, Hebe might like a guy she’s met if he’ll stop mistaking her for her sister, and Holly might be hooking up with an awful ex.
The action is set at Belladonna University, which splits its curriclum between the Real (that is, magic studies) and the Unreal (which is mundane stuff like engineering).
The tale unfolds with characteristic energy, sharp wit and cracklingly good characterisation. If it wasn’t enough that I adore the writing, in this book everyone has agency, the narrative boldly tramples over stereotypes and cliche, and it flings a bucketful of glittering fresh narrative confetti everywhere. To put the fruit-and-feather Carmen Miranda bonnet on top of the glory cake, Fake Geek Girl ends with a song lyric that makes want to sing. It speaks to my heart, no lie.
Actually, a while back, as a result of supporting Roberts’ Patreon, I read the second of the Belladonna University stories, Unmagical Boy Story, before I got to this one. It didn’t harm the reading of this book, which contains a reference to the characters who appear in Unmagical Boy Story. I am very thrilled to see, however, that the third Belladonna University story, The Bromancers, is currently being podcast on the Patreon. Soon it shall be released in ebook form and it shall be mine, I tell you, miiiiiiiiiiiiiine.
In conclusion: if you’d like a happy read, for the month of June or at any other time, the Belladonna University series, starting with Fake Geek Girl, is right up there in glitter and song. It’s a positively joyful thing.
- Buy Fake Geek Girl at Review of Australian Fiction
- Get Fake Geek Girl (and Glass Slipper Scandal!) from Instafreebie.
- Support Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Patreon (and get access to podcasts of her stories and new short works as they become available!)
By the way, I’m all ears for Happy Reads. If you have any recommendations for books that fit the bill, leave a comment!
Ruining Miss Wrotham is the fifth in Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother historical romances. Like the splendid Unmasking Miss Appleby before it, it’s set in the Regency period and follows the story of a descendent of a woman who used a faerie wish to grant her female descendents a wish of their own on a significant birthday. Wishes are always granted but are not always wisely chosen – this faerie godmother is baleful indeed. Some wishes for faerie gifts end in madness and death.
I went ahead to read Ruining Miss Wrotham without first reading the intervening books of the series, but it interfered with my enjoyment not a single jot. This story is as well crafted and energetically paced as the first, with crisp characterisation, wonderful wit and rich period detail, yet all with a modern sensibility. No swooning heroines here, and the heroes are strong and kind.
Eleanor Wrotham has sworn off overbearing men, but she needs a man’s help—and the man who steps forward is as domineering as he is dangerous: the notorious Mordecai Black.
The illegitimate son of an earl, Mordecai is infamous for his skill with women. His affairs are legendary—but few people realize that Mordecai has rules, and one of them is: Never ruin a woman.
But if Mordecai helps Miss Wrotham, she will be ruined.
Ruining Miss Wrotham follows Eleanor – otherwise known as Nell – as she tries desperately to find her sister, who really is a ruined woman, having run off with a soldier when she was fifteen. Sophia’s ruin has tainted Nell as well, ending her engagement to Roger, Earl of Dereham. Abandoned by their father, Sophia has been left fending for herself, and her letters to her sister have been intercepted and destroyed.
But Nell has finally received a long-delayed letter from her sister, and she’ll do anything she must to save her. But it’s still a week until her 23rd birthday, when she’ll wish for the faerie gift of being able to find people. Until then, she’s relying on Roger’s cousin, Morcedai Black, the illegitimate son of the previous Lord Dereham, because a week might be too long.
Nell learns that, despite his reputation as rake, Mordecai Black is a decent man, and though he’s had lovers he has never ruined a woman. He’s also in love with Nell’s vivacity and repressed penchant to be unconventional, but his proposal is rejected because she finds him dictatorial. She’s had quite enough of men telling her what to do.
But she’s falling for him too, and decides that if she’s ruined by association anyway, what would it matter to take the next step?
Ruining Miss Wrotham takes our characters across England and too unsalubrious parts of the world in the desperate search for Sophia and her baby. It also takes Nell and Mordecai through their own histories and growing connection, through danger and the arrival of the faerie gift, which doesn’t go as planned.
It’s an emotional ride, but with the comfort of knowing it will arrive at a happy ending. It was a much-needed balm after I’d finished reading the dark and depressing The Handmaid’s Tale and The Little Stranger in the weeks before.
Ruining Miss Wrotham has launched my Month of Reading Happy Books as an antidote to the preceding two and the state of the world generally, and I couldn’t have made a better choice!
Get Ruining Miss Wrotham
- Ruining Miss Wrotham (Amazon)
- Ruining Miss Wrotham (iBooks)
- Ruining Miss Wrotham (Kobo)
- Ruining Miss Wrotham (Nook)
One of the things I enjoy about Tumblr is that you never know what surprising new thing will cross your path. One day on my dash, amid all the posts about incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, people being thrilled by Yuri on Ice (it’s charming; I loved it) and The Science Side of Tumblr, a post about Jason Porath’s Rejected Princesses artwork came past putting some vapour-brain who claimed no woman of colour ever invented a thing or amounted to much.
Following the links I discovered that Jason Porath had once worked as an animator for Dreamworks. The idea for his series of the women of history and legend who deserve to be better known came from Jason and his fellow animators discussing the questions: Who is the least likely candidate for an animated princess movie? (Hence the ‘Rejected’ in front of ‘Princesses’ in the title.)
Porath kept suggesting women he’d learned about that the rest of the crew had never heard of. “I thought that should change,” he says in the forward.
The result is a book of nearly 100 women of history and legend (some smudging that line) who were powerful, cunning, determined, inventive, deadly, ambitious, righteous, and altogether superbly badass.
Each entry is illustrated with a portrait in an animated-princess style, though the subject matter isn’t necessarily Disneyesque. Each is coded with markers to note how graphic the content will be, from a nice good defeats evil green to warning for violence, abuse, rape and self harm, so that readers can better choose what to share with their kids.
Sounds grim at times, but Porath has a flair for storytelling and a sassy wit, in the footnotes as well as the text. His breeziness doesn’t ignore the more troubling parts of these women’s fates (or sometimes very stabby behaviour). They’re not all good women, but they are women of note who should be better known.
Of course, some of them are well known to me, like Ada Lovelace and (thanks to Netflix’s Marco Polo series) Khutulan, but most were new to me.
One reviewer questioned the historical accuracy of some entries, but Porath provides a bibliography and I look forward to investigating more about these women, now I know who they are.
I read my copy on my Kindle app on the iPad so I could better enjoy the colourful art.
Buy Rejected Princesses
- Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics (Amazon)
- Rejected Princesses (Barnes and Noble)
- Rejected Princesses (Indie Bound)
- Rejected Princesses (Harper Collins)
More Rejected Princesses
When I first began to read romance fiction, Anne Gracie’s Regency romances were the first to show me how great the genre could be – huge fun, cracking pace, a sense of the period setting while keeping the protagonists real and vivacious to modern me.
Now I have another favourite modern Regency romancer – Emily Larkin. If Unmasking Miss Appleby is anything to go by, I’ll be gulping down her ‘A Baleful Godmother’ series like there’s no tomorrow.
Unmasking Miss Appleby begins with a familiar enough notion – the intelligent, sweet heroine, sadly orphaned, who must now be raised by unsympathetic extended family, denied her rights and modest inheritence, treated as a burden and repressed by rigid conservatism.
The little twist here is provided by a baleful godmother who, on Charlotte Appleby’s 25th birthday, suddenly appears to grudgingly grant a gift of faerie. It’s all the result of some favour done a few generations back, and the faerie would be thrilled if she can make Charlotte regret her choice of gift, but Charlotte’s no idiot. She asks all the right questions and, mindful of her yearning for independence and for useful occupation, she negotiates for the gift of metamorphosis. She promptly transforms herself into a male body and goes off to apply for the job of secretary to the abolitionist, Lord Marcus Cosgrove. It’s a job more dangerous than usual, considering Cosgrove’s enemies, but Charlotte – as Christopher Albin – is keen for employment, believes in the cause and has a secret faerie weapon.
There proceeds a brilliant gender-smeared adventure and love story. Charlotte’s sheltered life as a woman becomes exposed to the more earthy knowledge that a man is expected to know. She has to learn what her new body is like (and has to change back into a woman the first time she needs to pee, because she can’t quite work out how it works with her ‘pego’). Marcus thinks Albin is an oddly sheltered young man, having to explain so much, like the activities in the brothel where they go to fetch Marcus’s wastrel of a cousin.
Charlotte learns about a whole new world as Marcus holds these man-to-man talks. She discovers her own body, in both its gender expressions, and in her plan to rid herself of of inconvenient desire for her boss go well until they don’t, and she falls in love with Marcus Cosgrove.
Marcus’s life isn’t simple. He was betrayed by his wife, who subsequently died tragically. As an abolitionist, he has enemies. Someone plots against his life – but is it the threat from his political enemies, from those who might suffer financially from an end to slavery, from his former best friend, his late wife’s distraught brother, or that wastrel cousin, who will inherit title and estates if Marcus dies without producing an heir.
The story twists and turns; there’s danger and violence. Every time Charlotte shifts her shape into a new form, she has to learn how each new body works (I love the sense of these scenes – Charlotte suddenly as a sparrow having to practice flying because she initially gets vertigo). But she grows as a person while learning how best to protect herself and the man she loves, and the causes they both hold dear.
Bright, vivacious, funny and clever – I had the best time reading this book and can’t wait to read more in the series.
Get Unmasking Miss Appleby
One of the great joys of this lovely book is that you can actually get the e-book for free if you sign up to Emily Larkin’s reader newsletter.
This will also let you get the four-novella prequels, The Fey Quartet, which tells the love stories behind the favour Maythorn Miller did to be granted these grudging wishes from Faerie, and what happens to her and her three daughters, Ivy, Hazel and Larkspur. I’m thoroughly enjoying these stories too!
I do love an adventure story. I love them even more when they feature two people adventuring together. They don’t have to be two human people – just two beings having mutual adventures is very much my jam. It’s the main appeal of the Sherlock Holmes stories for me, and it’s the reason I was so delighted to have a story accepted into Clan Destine Press’s And Then… anthology last year.
Volume One of the anthology was published in December 2016. It contains my story, ‘Virgin Soil‘, a tale of gold rush shenanigans, dark magic, monsters and a shapeshifting man/rat.
My delight has grown exponentially by seeing my name in the Table of Contents alongside so many writers I admire. There I am, nestled between Peter M Ball and Dan Rabarts, whose story here, ‘Tipuna Tapu’, has just won the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction in the 2016 AHWA Australian Shadows Awards! I couldn’t be happier.
Although linked as adventure stories featuring dynamic duos, all written by Australasian authors, the settings and themes of the fiction in And Then… are otherwise a gorgeous sprawl across time and genre. Historical, contemporary, fantastical and futuristic in turns, in all kinds of locales, And Then… is a sparkling hoard of treasure.
A few of my favourite gems:
I loved the gritty noir feel of both Jason Nahrung’s ‘The Mermaid Club’ and Peter M Ball’s ‘Deadbeat’. Jason Franks ‘Exli and the Dragon’, with one protagonist essentially a sentient pillow, is witty and surprising, and displays Franks’s characteristic energy and originality. Lucy Sussex takes us to the jungle in ‘Batgirl in Borneo’, and is as always wry, clever and thoughtful. The collection is rounded out with Tansy Rayner Roberts’ ‘Death at the Dragon Circus’, a story of teeth and ways of flying, but also fondness and the search for a place to be yourself.
Each story in this anthology could easily be the launching pad for a series, and I’d happily spend more time with all these adventurers and the worlds they inhabit. Perhaps we can encourage the writers to do just that!
In the meantime, there’s And Then… Volume 1, with volume 2 to come, and all these worlds of adventure to explore.
Buy And Then… Volume 1
- And Then…: The Great Big Book of Adventure Tales Volume 1 (Clan Destine Press)
- And Then…: The Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales, Vol I (Amazon.com)
- And Then…: The Great Big Book of Adventure Tales Volume 1 (Amazon UK)
Cedar Grove Publishing continues to produce intriguing books that focus on diversity, in both writers and subjects. After books like The Soul of Harmony, Fast Pitch and Pin Drop, Cedar Grove’s latest offering is Sycorax’s Daughters, a horror anthology written by African-American women.
Sycorax is the mother of Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but she’s never seen in the play. Despite this erasure, Sycorax’s presence permeates the story: the powerful witch who was banished while pregnant; through whom Caliban claims the island belongs to him; whose memory is used by Prospero to keep Ariel in line. These male characters speak for her in The Tempest, but in this anthology, Sycorax is given a voice.
But this anthology is more than interpretations of the legacy of a silenced African woman – it’s deeply informed by a history of real life horrors. From the forward by Walidah Imarisha:
“for Black people and other people of color, the history of slavery, genocide, white supremacy, and colonialism is the only true horror story, and it is one we continue to live every day…”
Regina N Bradley’s story ‘Letty’ is the best written and most chilling of the stories that visibly stem from this influence, but Sycorax’s Daughters contains other poems and stories to give you the creeps. Cherene Sherrard’s ‘Scales’ is a more satisfying examination of a little mermaid myth than Disney could provide, and Nicole D. Sconiers’ ‘Kim’ has a robust energy that makes it a favourite. ‘Summer Skin’ by Zin E. Rocklyn is suitably flesh-crawling, and the unusal cadances of Kiini Ibura Salaam’s ‘The Malady of Need’ linger. Tenea D. Johnson’s ‘Foundling’ takes a science fiction approach and shows a less supernatural kind of horror.
As always, some stories work better than others for me, and every reader will have their own favourites. But every story is an insight, and it’s given me a new list of writers to look out for.
Buy Sycorax’s Daughters:
- Sycorax’s Daughters Amazon Kindle
- Sycorax’s Daughters Amazon paperback
- Sycorax’s Daughters Bookdepository
- Sycorax’s Daughters Barnes and Noble
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
Herotica 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!
Thrive 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.
Monstrous 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 ghosts 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.
Pin Drop by Roz Monette. Life on the street for a young woman in America. Realistic but hopeful, with a positive ending.
Fast 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.
Ghost 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.
Richard III: The 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.
I have this neat little writing room in the Nicholas Building in Melbourne, which I share with a few other writers. The room right next door to ours is home to Verve Studios, an acting school. Every now and then my writing time and their rehearsal time coincides, which isn’t necessarily the right atmosphere for getting much writing done, but when you’re as endlessly nosy curious as me, it’s just another insight into my fellow human beings.
When I learned that Verve’s graduating actors were appearing in a La Mama co-production out in Kensington, naturally I wanted to see it. The play, Falling Apples, by Norwegian playright Lene Therese Teigen, talks about “how we see our personal futures and how we so easily relinquish self-determination and sew our destiny into the lives of others”.
This link between Verve and me is an intriguing parallel with the themes of Falling Apples, in which a cast of thirteen fill up a long stage facing the single line of chairs for the audience. The characters wander to and fro – sometimes running, sometimes performing subtle pantomimes that reflect scenes to come – and in groups of two or three, they coalesce into a short exchange of dialogue, before the characters spin back out to bounce through the vast stage.
Slowly a story emerges – a husband and wife in a terrible car accident and falling into persistent unconscious states. This affects their adult children; the people that these adult children know – a neighbour, a lover, an employee, his brother and his girlfriend, the employee’s ex-girlfriend, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, the driver of the other car, and a woman from Russia seeking more than just a job. The links get more and more tenuous, yet the filament of connection remains.
Most intriguing of all is the thirteenth character – a young woman who has been a painting for 500 years. Her ambitions to become an artist herself were frozen by her father, but she steps out of the prison of this painting where she’s been an observed object and now observes, and tries to help, all the others.
A strong sense of both attraction and repulsion exists in the way characters are drawn together and fly apart. Almost like a tray of balls sliding about, these people meet, collide, spin off, until there’s a sudden moment of coalescence. Dressed in black for a funeral, these thirteen characters all pull together in the gravity of the situation. Seated directly opposite audience members, stories are finally revealed, connections made clearer, disconnections resolved…
Until, in the final moments, a storm seems to break out and refracture the group once more.
The aforementioned gravity seems to be part of a scientific undercurrent to the story of how this group interacts. Even the title is a reference to Newtonian physics. There’s a sense of watching bodies in orbit, of falling and flying, of entropy and creation. Their fates and how they intertwine seem to be subject to even bigger forces than their own desire to find somewhere solid to stand.
The acoustics of the Kensington Town Hall can be a bit challenging, but the cast do a fine job of delineating their characters and using the vast space in a complicated but engaging way. It takes a little while to get into the rhythm of this unusual production, but it’s fascinating and unusual and worth seeing.
Falling Apples, directed by Peta Hanrahan for Verve Studios in conjunction with La Mama Theatre, is on at:
- Kensington Town Hall, 40 Bellair Street, Kensington
- until 8 October 2016.
- Tickets: $29 | $19
- Book online
Find out more about Falling Apples at La Mama Theatre