Singing My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan

singing my sister downTitle: Singing My Sister Down and Other Short Stories

Author: Margo Lanagan

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th January. 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: An outstanding collection of thirteen short stories from the internationally acclaimed, multi-award winning author of Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels.

‘We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.’ So begins ‘Singing My Sister Down’, Margo Lanagan’s internationally acclaimed, award-winning short story.

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories brings together ten celebrated short stories, along with three new ones, from the extraordinarily talented author of Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts.

A bride accepts her devastating punishment. A piece of the moon is buried. A ferryman falls into the Styx. Wee Willie Winkie brings a waking nightmare. A new father dresses a fallen warrior princess. A sniper picks off clowns one by one. Margo Lanagan’s stories will stay with you, haunting you with their quiet beauty and fine balance.

 

~*~

 

aww2017-badgeSinging My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan brings together a collection of surreal, fantastical and timeless short stories. They are not interconnected, but each reflect on the human condition, and aspects of the fantastical. In the title story, Singing My Sister Down, a bride is forced to accept a devastating punishment while her family watches and assists – it is heartbreaking and yet, has a feeling of fairy tale or the distant past, where punishments were harsh. One story, Ferryman, draws on Greek Mythology and the underworld, with the ferryman of the River Styx falling into the river he crosses every day, ferrying the recently departed to the Underworld to live with Hades and Persephone. Not All Ogre is an unusual retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a not so happy ending for the sleeping princess. These are just three of the thirteen stories that are included in this anthology, and that evoke a sense of timelessness mixed with a fairy tale or mythical feel. Another story shows a more sinister side to the Wee Willie Winkie nursery rhyme.

 

Each story is written in first person, and set in undetermined times and places, and at times, drawing on myth and fairy tale to create the story. This gives each story an eerie feel, but at the same time, it works really well, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the stories that Lanagan has written. In some tales, the sinister side of tradition and fairy tales or nursery rhymes emerge –Wee Willie Winkie is shown as a living nightmare, a world where the worst dreams come true and haunt people for a long time. Yet others are more surreal, where I was unsure about the setting and plot and characters – yet at the same time, show a world that is not quite perfect at times, but idealised through the eyes of some of the narrators. The characters are all flawed, but driven by their own natures and desires towards the final outcomes of each story.

 

Within each story, Margo Lanagan has created a world we can recognise – the world of human nature and human flaws, not a physical world. It is lyrical and full of rich language and imagery that makes each read compelling, something that I didn’t want to set aside. It is another book that can be devoured or savoured, and I tried to do both, wanting to know how each story ended, yet not wanting to finish it too quickly.

 

In most anthologies, the stories can be linked by a theme, or even a series of characters or other plot devices. Yet in Singing My Sister Down, each story is its own entity, and yet, this works. I liked the different stories and characters within each tale, alternating between timeless worlds or worlds of magic and wonder, or unknown worlds hinting at a non-human existence. She does all of this in a wonderful way that captures the imagination and brings together ideas of what makes us human – and how an individual might deal with certain circumstances. If I had to pick a favourite, or at least one that sticks with me, it is probably Not All Ogre – I recognised the fairy tale motifs and this was exquisitely done, even though the conclusion and events that led to the conclusion were unexpected. I think this worked well for this tale in particular, leading the reader to believe one thing and then allowing another to happen – this made it intriguing and memorable.

 

A good read for young adult and adult readers. It can be read in a few days, and I hope to revisit it.

 

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Aurealis Awards

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Established in 1995 by Chimaera Publications, the publishers of Aurealis magazine, to recognise the achievements of Australian writers of fantasy, science fiction and horror. These awards are intended to complement the Ditmar Awards of the Annual Australian National Science Fiction Convention and the Australian Children’s Book Council Awards, as well as the various other state and national literary awards such as the Stella Prize, as none of these awards distinguishes the different categories of speculative fiction that fantasy, horror and science fiction fit into.

 

Out of these winners, I have read the Best Children’s Fiction recipient, When the Lyrebird Calls by Kim Kane, and the winner of the Convenor’s Award for Excellence, The Rebirth of Rapunzel by Kate Forsyth.

 

Congratulations to the winners.

 

 

The 2016 Winners are listed below:

 

Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Aurealis Awards!

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION

When the Lyrebird Calls, Kim Kane (Allen & Unwin)lyrebird

 

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL / ILLUSTRATED WORK

Negative Space, Ryan K Lindsay (Dark Horse Comics)

 

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

“Pretty Jennie Greenteeth”, Leife Shallcross (Strange Little Girls, Belladonna Publishing)

 

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

“Flame Trees”, TR Napper (Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2016)

 

BEST HORROR NOVELLA

“Burnt Sugar”, Kirstyn McDermott (Dreaming in the Dark, PS Australia)

 

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY

“Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest”, Thoraiya Dyer (In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing)

 

BEST FANTASY NOVELLA

“Forfeit”, Andrea K Höst (The Towers, the Moon, self-published)

 

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

“Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart”, Samantha Murray (Clarkesworld #122)

 

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA

“Salto Mortal”, Nick T Chan (Lightspeed #73)

 

BEST COLLECTION

A Feast of Sorrows, Angela Slatter (Prime Books)

 

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015, Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein (eds.) (Twelfth Planet Press)

 

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact, Alison Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers)

 

BEST HORROR NOVEL

The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren (IFWG Publishing Australia)

 

BEST FANTASY NOVEL

Nevernight, Jay Kristoff (Harper Voyager)

 

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Gemina: Illuminae Files 2, Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)

 

THE CONVENORS’ AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE

The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower, Kate Forsyth (FableCroft Publishing)

 

Congratulations to the 2016 winners, announced on .the 14th of April, 2017.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling (Newt Scamdander)

fantastic beasts text.jpegTitle: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Author: JK Rowling writing as Newt Scamander

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 14th March, 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 144

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: A brand new edition of this essential companion to the Harry Potter stories, with a new foreword from JK Rowling and an irresistible new jacket by Jonny Duddle and line illustrations by Tomislav Tomic and six new beasts.

An approved textbook at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since publication, Newt Scamander’s masterpiece has entertained wizarding families through the generations. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an indispensible introduction to the magical beasts of the Wizarding World. In this comprehensively updated edition, eagle-eyed readers will spot a number of new beasts and an intriguing new author’s note. Scamander’s years of travel and research have created a tome of unparalleled importance. Some of the beasts will be familiar to readers of the Harry Potter books – the Hippogriff, the Basilisk, the Hungarian Horntail…Others will surprise even the most ardent Magizoologist. Dip in to discover the curious habits of magical beasts across five continents.

‘No wizarding household is complete without a copy’ – Albus Dumbledore.

~*~

hp20_230The Hogwarts textbook that inspired the movie of the same name, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has been res-issued, with the addition of six beasts that Newt discovered during the course of the movie. Writing as Newt Scamander, JK Rowling brings the magical creatures of the wizarding world to life. From the treasure seeking Niffler to the water horses and kelpies, to the breeds of dragon that populate the world, and the American Creatures that Newt was forbidden from revealing after his 1926 visit to New York, including the Thunderbird, Horned Serpent and Wampus Cat, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them brings to life a new facet of the world of Harry Potter.

Each creature is included because they have been classified as beasts and not beings, even ones who can speak such as centaurs, who opted for this classification. And then each is given a Ministry of Magic classification form one X to XXXXX:

X- Boring

XX – Harmless/may be domesticated

XXX – Competent wizards should cope

XXXX – Dangerous/requires specialist knowledge/skilled wizard may handle

XXXXX – Known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate

In this new edition, we are sans the delightfully amusing annotations about Acromantulas from Ron and Harry, and the addition of “anything Hagrid likes” to the dangerous classification. It is nonetheless a delightful addition to the Harry Potter and Hogwarts libraries of fans of the series, and Tomislav Tomic’s illustrations add to the beauty of the book and for several creatures, gives the reader a chance to get an idea of what the larger and sometimes more dangerous creatures look like.

Each animal has a short description based on Newt’s observations, and the American creatures reference MACUSA – the Magical Congress of the United States of America and hint at the secrecy of these creatures and only publishing them now being related to the stringent fears of magic that the film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them shows.

As a fan of Harry Potter, I enjoyed reading this and seeing the new additions to the new publication were enjoyable. They gave more depth and interest to an already established world, and was nice to see that Newt is still going within the Harry Potter universe, and staying true to his character as presented in the 2016 film based on the text book.

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Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan

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Title: Carnivalesque

Author: Neil Jordan

Genre: Magical Realism, Fiction, Fantasy

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: It looked like any other carnival, but of course it wasn’t…

 

It had its own little backstreets, its alleyways of hanging bulbs and ghost trains and Punch and Judy stands …

And at the end of one he saw the Hall of Mirrors. There were looping strings of carnival lights leading towards it, and a large sign in mirrored glass reading ‘Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors’ and the sign reflected the lights in all sorts of magically distorted ways.

To Andy and his parents, it looks like any other carnival: creaking ghost train, rusty rollercoaster and circus performers. But of course it isn’t.

Drawn to the hall of mirrors, Andy enters and is hypnotised by the many selves staring back at him. Sometime later, one of those selves walks out rejoins his parents – leaving Andy trapped inside the glass, snatched from the tensions of his suburban home and transported to a world where the laws of gravity are meaningless and time performs acrobatic tricks.

And now an identical stranger inhabits Andy’s life, unsettling his mother with a curious blankness, as mysterious events start unfolding in their Irish coastal town…

~*~

Andy’s story begins quite innocuously, with a detour to a carnival that catches his eye on the way to a shopping centre with his parents. They enter, and soon, Andy’s world is turned upside down in the Hall or Mirrors, where he is left behind at the carnival, and someone who looks like him, but is not quite him, leaves with his parents. Andy, now Dany in the carnie world, must come to terms with the life of travelling around and setting up the carnival, discovering it’s secrets with Mona and the others, adjusting to a new life, whilst the Andy impersonator resides with his parents, calls them mother and father, and casts shadows into the family that worry his mother, Eileen, and do not bode well for their futures.

The story is told in alternating chapters, through the eyes of Eileen and Andy/Dany, and sometimes with a couple dedicated to one character. As Dany adjusts to his new life, the new Andy and his unusual ways of speaking, and acting worry Eileen. The dual storyline shows the complexity of the story, and allows the reader to follow the intriguing mystery of how the real Andy’s (Dany) disappearance affects his family, and hints that tragedy may soon befall them.

As Dany journeys with the carnival, he becomes a part of it, though he still remembers his home and longs to return, the carnival offers him a different life, one that he could never have imagined.

Written by Oscar-winning film director (The Crying Game, The Company of Wolves) and novelist, Carnivalesque is his latest creation, and I quite enjoyed it. It has a feel of intrigue and mystery about it, with questions that won’t necessarily be answered, nor some things resolved properly. It fits in nicely with Neil Gaiman’s works in the magical realism and fantasy worlds. A great read for fans of Jordan’s previous work, Gaiman fans or anyone who enjoys fantasy and magical realism.

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Draekora by Lynette Noni

draekora

 

Title: Draekora (Medoran Chronicles #3)

Author: Lynette Noni

Genre: Fantasy/YA

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: “I swear by the stars that you and the others slain tonight will be the first of many. Of that you have my word.”

With Aven Dalmarta now hiding in the shadows of Meya, Alex is desperate to save Jordan and keep the Rebel Prince from taking more lives.

Training day and night to master the enhanced immortal blood in her veins, Alex undertakes a dangerous Meyarin warrior trial that separates her from those she loves and leaves her stranded in a place where nothing is as it should be.

As friends become enemies and enemies become friends, Alex must decide who to trust as powerful new allies—and adversaries—push her towards a future of either light… or darkness.

One way or another, the world will change…

 

~*~

 

The third book in the Medoran Chronciles series picks up soon after the devastating events of Raelia, where Bear, D.C. and Alex find themselves spending their Kaldoras holidays without their friend, Jordan, who has been Claimed by Aven. Transported to Meya during this trip, Alex is sent on a varranguard test to see how she deals with the Meyarin abilities she acquired in battle with Aven. Soon, Alex encounters Xiraxus, a draekon trapped in her time, and is ripped two thousand years into the past, where she must wait for Xiraxus to be strong enough to transport her back to her own time, whilst using the time she has to learn about Meya and how Aven of the past becomes the Aven of the future, her future. Carefully trying to keep her secret of mortality from Aven, and the other Meya, Alex goes by Aeylia, and begins her education and interaction with tose she knows in the future, but not in the past. It is up to Alex to survive this time in the past, whilst her friends in the future are stuck in time. She must make hard decision that will see tragedy come down upon those she cares about, Meya and human. In the third book, Alex is tested in ways that she could never have imagined since stepping through the doors to Medora and Akarnae in book one, and where she must find a way to get back to her world to prevent the Aven of the future from destroying the world and everyone she cares about.

 

 

aww2017-badgeIn this third instalment, I didn’t know what to expect. Alex and her friends, D.C. and Bear, are still trying to find a way to free Jordan from the clutches of Aven and keep Medora and Akarnae safe from his destruction. It kept up a good pace, like the first two, where Alex, though out of her depth at first, finds a way to settle into her new surroundings whilst staying true to her character and adapting what she knows and can do to ensure she is not discovered, though it may only be a matter of time before her secret is revealed, and Aven wreaks havoc on his family and Meya.

 

I enjoyed the draekons in this book. Xiraxus was adorable and a great asset to the story. Being away from Akarnae was refreshing, as readers get to experience Meya, and Draekora, two other regions of Medora, and begin to put the pieces of Aven’s rebellion and other hints dropped in the first two novels together. I enjoyed reading this one, and it kept me awake late a couple of nights hoping to get to the end, but at the same time, wanting to savour it and enjoy it – whilst anticipating the lengthy wait for book four, hopefully next year. Another great instalment from Lynette Noni, and a tick in my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and in another reading challenge for the fantasy category.

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Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

traitor coverTitle: Traitor to the Throne

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Publisher: Faber/ Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th January 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 592

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The second installment of this highly-acclaimed trilogy, Traitor to the Throne throws the irrepressible Amani into a world of espionage, harems, and the Sultan himself.

This is not about blood or love. This is about treason. Nearly a year has passed since Amani and the rebels won their epic battle at Fahali. Amani has come into both her powers and her reputation as the Blue-Eyed Bandit, and the Rebel Prince’s message has spread across the desert – and some might say out of control. But when a surprise encounter turns into a brutal kidnapping, Amani finds herself betrayed in the cruellest manner possible. Stripped of her powers and her identity, and torn from the man she loves, Amani must return to her desert-girl’s instinct for survival. For the Sultan’s palace is a dangerous one, and the harem is a viper’s nest of suspicion, fear and intrigue. Just the right place for a spy to thrive… But spying is a dangerous game, and when ghosts from Amani’s past emerge to haunt her, she begins to wonder if she can trust her own treacherous heart.

~*~

Opening where the Sultan’s guards have captured Amani, the Rebellion and the Rebel Prince, Ahmed, soon find a way into the palace to rescue her. The rescue that takes place sets in motion a series of events that endanger Amani and the rebels, the Djinni and the Demdji like Amani – children of mortal women and Djinn, marked by a vibrant colour of hair, or, like in Amani’s case, blue eyes that stand out against her desert girl features. She is known as The Blue Eyed Bandit, and the Rebellion has come to the palace.

Later, kidnapped by someone she thought she could trust and hidden away and controlled in the Sultan’s harem, where she has been stripped of her powers, Amani uses her instincts from her time in the desert, in Dustwalk, to survive the dangers of the palace and the harem, where fear, intrigue and suspicion rule the women there and their daily lives. Using these characteristics to her advantage, Amani spies on the harem and the Sultan – bringing danger to Amani and those she cares about, and making Amani wonder if she can trust herself.

I received this to review initially not realising it was the second book in a trilogy – even though I hadn’t read the first one, I picked up the plot fairly quickly and have bought the first one to read and fill in any gaps I may have. Amani’s world – a world inspired by Sultans and Djinni, where magic and technology are at war and at the same time, being forced together to fight the same war, and where everyone fits into the world nicely, and comes together to create a diverse cast in many ways was one of my favourite things about this novel. It had strong characters, but they were still flawed, plans weren’t perfect and things still went wrong. And not everyone was who Amani thought they were.

As a reader, I enjoyed the mystery and intrigue connected to characters like Tamid, Leyla, Rahim and several of the harem girls, and the Sultima. Even the minor characters had an important role to play, and I certainly had several surprises along the way, when things that I did not expect were revealed. The cliffhanger ending had me reading it twice – I am eager to find out what happens and how things get resolved. As with any war, good and bad people die, and even those who are neither good nor evil, but benevolent or ambiguous face the prospect of death in a war that has been plaguing Miraji and its neighbours.

The first person perspective of Amani, peppered with a few chapters from an outside perspective, such as a Djinni, works well. When she is cut off from the Rebels, Amani has to rely on anything she can hear in whispers from around the palace and her own instincts to get by. She is a resourceful character. I enjoyed reading about a fantasy world in a desert. In Amani’s world, it is set during a time when technology is beginning to take over from magic and superstition – perhaps akin to times in our own world history like the Industrial Revolution, but in a Arabic-like setting. Religion and beliefs are hinted to, but not named – showing that Amani’s world and their traditions are different to our own.

I am looking forward to reading book one, and then book three when it comes out, and seeing how the war concludes – and how Amani and the Rebellion finish what they started.

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Ariadnis by Josh Martin

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Title: Ariadnis

Author: Josh Martin

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Publisher: Quercus Children’s Books/Hachette

Published: 14th February, 2017

Format: paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The first in a breathtaking and unique series, packed with magic, prophecy, and a thrilling competition. The stakes of Ariadnis have never been higher.

Back then I thought that if it weren’t for that cliff, our cities would be one and there would be no need for all this fierceness toward each other. But then I learned about pride and tradition and prophecy, and those things are harder than rock.

Joomia and Aula are Chosen. They will never be normal. They can never be free.

On the last island on Erthe, Chosen Ones are destined to enter Ariadnis on the day they turn eighteen. There, they must undertake a mysterious and deadly challenge. For Joomia and Aula, this means competing against each other, to end the war that has seethed between their cities for nine generations.

As the day draws nearer, all thoughts are on the trial ahead. There’s no space for friendship. No time for love. However much the girls might crave them.

But how you prepare for a task you know nothing certain about? Nothing, except that you must win, at whatever cost, or lose everything.

~*~

Ariadnis is set in a fantasy future, where our world is referred to as The Old World, and belief systems that draw from ancient Greek mythology and society, including clothing and names, and the city names: Metis and Athenas. For nine generations, Athenas and Metis have sent two Chosen Ones to enter Ariadnis for a mysterious, and deadly challenge, where only one can survive. In Ariadnis, it is Aula and Joomia who will enter Ariadnis for this task, and prepare from the day they turn seventeen for the impending event. Accompanied by their companions who have been helping them prepare, Aula and Joomia will eventually come together for their challenge, whilst tragic events unfold in their homes, and the ones they thought they could trust start to show their true colours, and leading to Aula and Joomia finding a way to work through it, and adhere to the challenge set before them.

The world of Ariadnis, the last island on a fantastical Erthe with its characters inspired by Ancient Greece and Ancient Greek mythology, where ancient beliefs have come full circle and returned to replace what Aula and Joomia know as the Old World beliefs is an intriguing novel and beginning to a series. Josh Martin uses a first person point of view for each character, marking each change with their name. For this series, it works, as the reader needs to be able to see the world through the eyes of Aula and Joomia, first on their own, and then when they come together in the final sections of the book.

Having studied Ancient Greece and its mythology, the little nods to this culture were done very well, and integrated nicely into the plot, along with magic and the hints that our world is known as The Old World in the history of Erthe. Josh Martin also created two female characters who had their own strengths, and were capable, but also had flaws that they could recognise and had to work through. Each character had a distinct personality and appearance, where diversity had a place – on the last island on Erthe, it is possible that integration of various races and cultures has taken place, and this is what makes this work smoothly.

Deciding on a favourite character was hard – as both Aula and Joomia had things that could be liked and disliked about them, though their connection towards the end was powerful and well written, and it is nice to see a friendship forming as the main relationship in a novel aimed at the Young Adult market.

I’m looking forward to the next novel in the series to find out what how the challenge concluded, hopefully through the eyes of Aula and Joomia again.

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