Category Archives: Book Review

My Addiction for ‘How-to-write’ Books

Recently, I’ve bought quite a few books about writing. I’ve always been a collector of writing-related books. One of my very first purchases with some Christmas money was a thesaurus I bought at age twelve. Yep. The word bug had bitten, and bitten deep.

I’ve still got a problem.

A selection of the reference books I’ve purchased in the past two months.

It’s not that I don’t have confidence in my ability to write. I just sincerely believe that there is always something new to learn. In particular, what gold can I glean from writers I admire and wish to emulate, hence the books by Alan Baxter, Sean Williams, Peter Ball, and Isaac Asimov. I do believe I’ve mentioned and recommended the Brain Jar Press book by Angela Slatter: You Are Not Your Writing. Of these books, the two that resonate the most with me is Ball’s and Slatter’s books. However, How Not To Write A Novel gets an honourable mention for being both funny and seriously informative.

I would recommend all these books to serious writers.

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Filed under Alan Baxter, Angela Slatter, Australian Author, Book Review, Books & reading, Brain Jar Press, Genre, Peter M Ball, Sean Williams, Writing Career, Writing Style

‘All the Murmuring Bones’ review

I had been a very happy reader over the past two weeks. I received both All The Murmuring Bones and The Tallow Wife And Other Tales, books by Angela Slatter, in the mail. I read them, and then reread the two volumes that share the setting of the stories: The Bitterwood Bible And Other Recountings and Sourdough And Other Stories. It’s been a delightful romp through Slatter’s complex and mythopoeic universe.

As you can see, All The Murmuring Bones has a different publisher to the other three books, who have all been published by Tartarus Press. Titan Press still managed to give the book a stunning cover image; it’s just a pity that all four books don’t share the same presentation. And that is probably my only nitpick. (I’m annoyed I haven’t the Sourdough in hardcover.)

Unlike the other three books, this is a novel and not a collection of stories. One of the features that delighted me was hints and flickers of the previous stories from her collections, used to create depth to the history of the family of the O’Malleys. The protagonist is Miren O’Malley, the last pureblood scion of the seagoing family. It is her bloodline that is a pivot to the entire plot, spinning and steering the action like a ship’s wheel. Miren is more than just a ‘plucky’ girl character running away from an unhappy betrothal, as her complex feelings about her family give her a motivation not often seen in fairy tale literature – she needs to save not just herself, but many other people who have had interactions with her family.

The book’s antagonists are members of Miren’s family, her grandmother, Aoife, her distant cousin, Aiden; and the mysterious sea-queen. The sea-queen is both the source of the family’s curse and the source of the family’s prosperity. It’s Slatter’s genius that creates a creature that can be both sympathetic and monstrous, like Medusa.

Angela Slatter’s prose is as lush and vibrant as a jungle, and it is often referred to as Gothic, as it is dark and dangerous and can haunt you for weeks after you’ve finished reading any of her books. It’s easy to get so distracted by her poetic details that you have to go back and reread a page to keep track of the action (well, that is the case for me). It’s not a book to dip into, because then you miss all the machinations that went before. Plan on having a day free when you start reading All The Murmuring Bones.

All the Murmuring Bones can be read as a stand alone book, but I recommend having a book binge by reading all four books in one fell swoop. Then you can appreciate the interplay between all the stories. Get trapped in Angela’s net.

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Filed under Angela Slatter, Australian Author, Book Review

What Books Should You be Buying? part 1

Image result for Blackbirds sing

Where to find ‘Blackbirds Sing’.

What books should you be purchasing with your hard-earned cash? Well, come closer, beloved reader, and I will give you some excellent recommendations. This is the first of three posts about recommended readings. You can give them as gifts, buy them for your summer holiday reading, or just as a treat.

Blackbirds Sing, by Aiki Flinthart, is going to be considered a classic in future years. It is a series of interlocked tales, embroidering a story arch into a rich tapestry. It is set in an alternative past. Flinthart has quite a few successful novels under her belt, but this is a new venture for her. There is still plenty of action, but the intricate interweaving – of the characters and settings – is rich, deep, and wonderful. The illustrations by Caitlyn McPherson are glorious.

Pamela Jeff’s Five Dragons is an anthology of dragon stories, including a Steampunk dragon tale. Yes… she had me at Steampunk dragon. If I say anything else, you will just think I’m gushing.


Five Dragons: A Dragons of Eridan Collection by [Jeffs, Pamela]

Where to find ‘Five Dragons’

Gillian Polack is one of the best writers in Australia (and the world), using her academic background to strengthen her narratives, making them compelling reading. I can recommend all her books, but I have a particular fondness for The Wizardry of Jewish Women, with its haunted lemon tree. The Year of the Fruitcake is her latest book. I think. I haven’t read her books in order of publication, because you don’t need too. They stand on their own merit.

The Year Of The Fruit Cake Front Cover With Text

Where to find ‘The Year of the Fruit Cake’


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Filed under Aiki Flinthart, Australian Author, Australian Steampunk Author, Book Review, Books & reading, Caitlyn McPherson, Gillian Polack, Pamela Jeffs, Recommended Reading, Steampunk

The Book Club by Alan Baxter – a book review

The Book Club by Alan Baxter

As soon as I read the first paragraph, I knew that Mr Baxter wasn’t going to pull any punches in his novella The Book Club. Without giving too much away, this is the story of man whose wife disappears on the way home from her weekly book club meeting, written from his perspective. It could be classed as a horror, or a paranormal thriller, but the main character isn’t hard-bitten or cynical or a terrified teenager as you might expect, instead he is a husband and father caught up in the nightmare of not knowing what has happened – or might be happening – to be wife.

I liked Jason, the protagonist, immediately. He wasn’t too perfect, but his love of his family shone through everything he said or did. He did a few dumb things, but why he did them was believable. Unlike other books I’ve read in this genre, at no point did I feel like yelling at Jason for doing something obviously insane or against his motivations. Nothing annoys me more than a character who is doing things because the author wants the plot to move along.

The secondary characters also had more depth than the average thriller. Alan Baxter made sure than all his ‘cast’ were ambiguous in some way. The police helping him hunt for his wife weren’t angels in blue and weren’t heartless drones. The crew of antagonists weren’t even mildly evil, though they did do some morally and ethically bad acts to protect their reputations. The one person who was poison mean and deliberately cruel was also given believable motivations, even if they were twisted and strange.

The only unexplained phenomena are the supernatural elements. In the context of the story, this makes sense and is even utilised as a major plot point. The supernatural elements don’t dominate the plot; the story is about Jason’s journey and we only see those elements that relate directly to him and his missing wife. My one real problem with The Book Club is that this supernatural element isn’t explored more. I came away with a feeling that the events pertaining to the supernatural elements hadn’t been ‘tidied away’. This might have been a deliberate move by Alan Baxter to heighten the horror, but I still would have liked to have seen more repercussions from Jason’s encounters with the weird and dangerous.

Alan Baxter tends to write dark urban fantasy. In his books I have read, his protagonists have been tough and confident men and women who know how to handle themselves in a rough situation. The Book Club surprised me with both his flawed human protagonist and with the unusual plot twists that the novella took. I would recommend it to the same people who read and enjoy Charles De Lint and Angela Slatter.

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Lisa Mantchev Book Review

I will start out by saying that this isn’t usually the type of novel that I would pick to read. For starters, the very first chapter really bored me and made it to where I kept putting it off. Secondly, I can’t get a good feel on what genre this novel would/could be classified as. […]

via Ticker By Lisa Mantchev — Blackhearted Book Reviews

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Filed under Book Review, Review, Steampunk Genre, Uncategorized

Dead Magic – a book review by Chris Pavesic

Dead Magic is the fourth novel in Jorgensen’s Ingenious Mechanical Devices series and is the second novel to feature the characters of Emmeline and Immanuel. Although Dead Magic is a sequel, it is not necessary to read The Winter Garden first. (Although you absolutely should read all of the novels in this series! They are excellent.) Jorgensen provides enough details in the narrative to catch a reader up to the plot line of the new novel.

via Dead Magic by Kara Jorgensen — chrispavesic

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A Book Review by the Jane & Bex Book Blog

brian-stablefordI have one slight confusion over this book – the title. And it isn’t for the usual reasons since the book itself explains the origins of the phrase ‘scientific romance’ very clearly. No, I’m just confused that when I searched for it on various websites it didn’t appear under that title but had been expanded […]

via Scientific Romance – Brian Stableford (ed) — Jane & Bex book blog

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‘Vigil’ by Angela Slatter: A Book Review


Now, I am going to come right out and say that I am a fan of Angela Slatter’s work and so I may be a tad biased in this review. However, I will also try to capture some of the magic and wonder that she traps withing her prose, so that you will appreciate why I am such a fan. To make things easier to express myself, I will dedicate my opinions to the successes or failures of her setting, her characters, her plot, her themes, and her style. I will also try very hard not give away any spoilers.


Setting: Brisvegas, better known as Brisbane, is one of the stars of this narrative. Angela Slatter lives and works in Brisbane, and it shows in the authenticity of her descriptions of various locations used in her book. She has turned our city – as I have lived and worked in inner Brisbane myself and still live in a satellite city – into a place where the phantasmagorical creatures of myths and legends mix with the Normals (the non-magical humans, the muggles) of the city. She evokes the atmosphere of each of her locations with a fine eye for detail, inserting just enough fantasy to transform the real-life locations into something new and strange. Her love poem to the Shingle Inn was worth the ticket money alone.


Her use of an ordinary city reminded me of the work of Charles de Lint, and in particular his Newford book cycle. He sets many of his books in the urban setting of his generic North American/Canadian city of Newford, and – like Slatter – peoples the city with the Fey and the Fantastic. By setting her narrative within the restrictions of a real and familiar city, Angela Slatter is able to increase the verisimilitude of her characters and action; she also manages to make Brisbane seem exotic to a local like myself.

Characters: I fell in love with the main protagonist right from the start, as she is supernaturally strong, while remaining very human in her basic nature. Verity is also impulsive and has a well-tuned shit-detector, which gets Verity into and out of trouble. My only nit-pick is that her romantic interest is just a little too perfect. He needs a flaw or two, because I tend to suspect such a lovely person of having a hidden agenda.


All the human and supernatural characters are well delineated, even though some the supernatural folk had dreadful-to-pronounce traditional names. I admired the way the personalities of the mythological folk actually suited their legendary roles … I believe I can mention that the sirens are flighty without giving anything away. Angela Slatter uses their traditional roles as major plot points withing the narrative, so you have to stay alert. You can’t compare her characterisations to anyone else, because she uses such an original voice. The closest I could suggest would be Diana Wynne Jones; Verity reminds me of a grown-up version of Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle; they both have a can-do attitude while working with such secretive friends and enemies.

Plot: This is a whodunnit, with the protagonist and her team trying to juggle several cases at once.  It reminded  of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, with all the multiple story-lines kept apart and creating tension with the various mysteries running parallel to each other.  There is plenty of action and excitement, while at the same time we explore Verity’s unique position as a Halfling who works within the fractures between the supernatural and the ‘Normal’ worlds. ( I read the book in a day, by simply not doing anything else.)

gaiman with angel

Themes: Surprisingly, the main theme I took away from this book is how your family and friends are what makes you who you are. I wasn’t expecting a whodunnit to have such a profound underlying discourse, but then, Angela Slatter never works on just one level.

Style: Angela’s prose is always quite lyrical, but in this, her first novel, she has toned down the poet without losing her ability to toss away clever, clever sentences. I tend to grunt with approval whenever I read something clever, and my family must have thought I had a major gut ache with the amount of grunting I did while reading this book. One or two sentences made me punch the air and then quietly howl because I want to be that clever. I am not using the word ‘clever’ in the trite sense either, but in the sense that Angela Slatter is a mistress of the written word and it shows.

I can recommend this book to anyone who loves a gripping story with or without supernatural creatures to leaven the story.


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Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, Issue One – a book review

Suffrajitsu review

The cover of the first issue, and an actual illustration from the era. Someone has really done their homework!

As anyone who has read this blog will know, I am a huge fan of the suffragette movement of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I have been looking forward with anticipation to the graphic novel, Suffrajitsu, written by Tony Wolf (originally from New Zealand, go the Antipodes) and illustrated by João Viera. It is with great delight I can write a review about Issue One of the trilogy, as published by Jet City Comics.

Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room … yes, a man has written a graphic novel about the suffragettes. I write about male historical characters. It is what writers do, and I personally think Tony Wolf has one an amazing job in recreating the pressures and problems the suffragettes faced historically, while still writing an alternative history adventure. This just isn’t a historical retelling of the suffragette movement … it is an alternative history, a might have been.

This is a Steampunk narrative because it had several the major genre markers. The Steampunk literary genre embraces the use of alternative histories, and often uses historical people as characters … but the characters in the fiction are only inspired by these real people. The Steampunk genre includes anachronistic technology, such as the train the Amazons use to travel to Glasgow; this train is a “suspension railway” monorail.  The technology for that type of transportation did exist in 1914, but there were no actual cross-country suspension railway lines at that time.

The suffragettes are using innovative techniques to defend themselves, breaking the stereotype of the frail, helpless and hysterical Victorian female, and replacing her with intelligent and determined women who know how to handle the physical assault of an assailant. This type of woman did show up from time to time, but she was an exception rather than the rule in most Victorian and Edwardian media.

Image from the Illustrated Police News.

The illustrator, Viera, has made each character quite distinct. He uses a rich pallet of colours, which is an excellent choice. Popular culture tends to believe that the Victorian era was dull thanks to the B&W photos of the era. The bright colours are much more realistic, as the Victorian actually were quite lavish in their use of colour. Viera adds historically authentic details to his artwork, such as the violet, green and white ribbons and sashes used by the suffragettes. The action scenes are realistic. I’ve read a lot of graphic novels, and getting the artwork to match the writing seamlessly is a hard slog. The text and the illustrations are working together and not pulling in different directions, with the writer and illustrator well matched.

Main character is Persephone Wright: her uncle is Edward W. Barton-Wright, and she is a master of Bartitsu, the martial art that he developed and taught. She is a staunch supporter of Mrs Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel. Her characterisation is complex, as she is also a bit of a ‘wild child’, enjoying tobacco and cocaine – in an era when both were freely available. She reminds me slightly of Doctor Grace from Murdoch Mysteries, intelligent, determined, and not afraid to try new things.

The secondary characters haven’t been left as two dimensional personalities and have their own distinct styles. I like that Flossie is from New Zealand, as New Zealand and Australia certainly had their own contingent of suffragettes. These real life touches give the whole story its verisimilitude. The forced feeding of suffragettes is mentioned. The suffragette movement is forced to use ‘amazons’ to protect the speakers at rallies. The ‘amazons’ are highly trained, but they don’t rely on brute force alone.

In this first issue, we get few hints as to the identities of the true villains of this narrative. But – rest assured – there is plenty of conflict and action provided by the clashes between the suffragettes and constabulary, and between the suffragettes and the establishment. I recommend this graphic novel to fellow Steampunk enthusiasts, feminists, and anyone who enjoys a finely made story.


Filed under Book Review, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes

Book review for Kaleidoscope, an anthology by Twelfth Planet Press

When you’re a young adult, feeling safe and accepted is often a rare sensation. Australia claims to valorise and celebrate diversity, but the reality is very different during puberty and for the decade afterwards. Being different makes you are target, often creating friction when you long to be accepted.

What is worse, you have few role models. Our books and televisions and movies seem to be awash with pretty, straight, non-ethnic people. Kaleidoscope fights this trend, and mostly succeeds. Speculative fiction is the perfect genre for exploring the concept of the tension between difference and conformity. None of the stories in the collection introduced completely new concepts, but most gave an old idea a new twist.

I was touched by tragedy of ‘End of Service’ by Gabriela Lee. Garth Nix’s ‘Happy Go Lucky’ was a little gem of science fiction horror. To be honest, I was excited to be introduced to the word ‘maritorious’ in Ken Liu story, ‘The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon’; writers should introduce new words, new ideas and new concepts when exploring diversity.

I would recommend this book to any young person walking the lonely road of ‘being unique’. If you know a young person who feels isolated, this is the book for them. There is a story in this anthology to cover every type of diversity. Kudos to Twelfth Planet Press, and the anthology’s editors Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, for supplying a much needed fun factor to the arsenal of the outcast.

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