All posts by Narrelle

Review: Lion: A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

My Happy June reading has included one non-fiction book – Saroo Brierley’s extraordinary story of how he finally rediscovered his home and family in India, 25 years after he became lost as a five year old and was adopted by the Brierleys in Tasmania.

The movie Lion became one of the biggest feel-good films of 2016, and as a bonus gave us so many delightful, joyful pictures of Dev Patel and Sunny Pawar being outrageously adorable together.

The book contains more detail, more subtlety and more depth than the film, naturally. The film also ends more or less at the point where Saroo is reunited with his mother (I’m assuming that this is a spoiler for no-one). Saroo Brierley’s memoir goes on to talk about the aftermath of that meeting, including meeting his nieces and nephews and going back to Kolkotta for the first time since he was a tiny boy, almost eaten alive by that teeming city.

I actually heard of Brierley’s story years before, in a national newspaper (probably The Age) covered it. Having been lost so young and unable to find his way back home to his village, Saroo never forgot his family or the places he knew growing up. As an adult in Tasmania, living when Google Maps opened up the chances of retracing his steps, Saroo did just that.

It’s a marvellous story of serendipity and grace meets technology, perseverence and unconditional love.  Brierley’s clear, unfancy prose combines with his vivid memories to paint the story of his life, which turned out to be so extraordinary.

If you’ve already watched and loved Lion, the book adds depth and detail, and is a charming, quick read. Pretty perfect for a Happy June read!

Buy Lion: A Long Way Home

 

Review: Defying Doomsday edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench

My June of Happy Reading continues! And it’s worth noting that Happy Books are not only found in the zhuzh of magic-infused Regency romances by Emily Larkin, the deeply satisfying verve of Fake Geek Girl or the delight in the release of books I loved.

Happy June reading also resides in collections of amazing SF like Defying Doomsday, a Twelfth Planet Press anthology that funded through a Kickstarter campaign. TPP has composed other great anthologies that are diverse, inclusive and have superbly high standards, like Kaleidoscope.

They’re in the process of another Kickstarter to fund Mother of Invention, an anthology of stories about gender and robotics that I’m very excited about. As of writing this, there are 70 hours to go and they’re in stretch goal territory. I recommend it!

The blurb

Defying Doomsday is an anthology of apocalypse fiction featuring disabled and chronically ill protagonists, proving it’s not always the “fittest” who survive – it’s the most tenacious, stubborn, enduring and innovative characters who have the best chance of adapting when everything is lost. In stories of fear, hope and survival, this anthology gives new perspectives on the end of the world.

The book

You’d think an anthology with 15 stories about the end of the world would be a bit of a bummer for Happy June reading, but you’d be wrong. For a start, the very idea of Defying Doomsday is happy-making, full of perspectives and experiences that don’t often get a look in.

And while some of the stories find the world ending no matter what you do, the end is met with courage, wit and humanity by people whom other books have already written off when the apocalypse comes.

Protagonists in these stories bring their realities of cystic fibrosis, autism, blindness and deafness to survival. Some are neurally atypical. Some were born without limbs. Each and every one of these people, and their friends and family, is a complete person with skills, insights and imagination to meet, survive and/or thrive in the end of the world.

I suppose you want me to pick some favourites. Shame on you. They are all my favourites, though all in different ways. A few tastes of the deliciousness, however:

Roberts’ Ditmar-wining “Did We Break the End of the World?” is an obvious golden child, given I’m a huge fan of her work. Smart, funny, lively, sassy, with a bit of a twist and a whole lotta gumption. She packs so much personality into the characters that I would happily read whole books with them.

“Tea Party” by Lauren E Mitchell is also a corker, set in the remains of a former hospital and the residents who were getting treatment at the time of the apocalypse. Now they take turns in doing the ‘shopping’, to find the medications that everyone needs to function – antidepressants, antipsychotics, insulin, even denture glue. Filled with humour and sympathy, it’s a little quirky and immensely likable.

Samantha Rich’s “Spider-Silk, Strong as Steel” introduced my pet phobia, though this time the spiders are aliens. Still creepy as, though, and Emm, who goes foraging on a skateboard, is braver than I’ll ever be.

Jane and Sam in KL Evangelista’s “No Shit” are a delight, and it’s so nice to see a post apocalyptic world where people don’t band into gangs of destructive arseholes all killing each other. Instead, their story is inventive, fun, warm and even joyful, Crohn’s notwithstanding.

“I Will Remember You” by Janet Edwards rounds off the collection with a poignant story of a human cull, perpetrated by aliens.

But don’t tell the other stories I picked these ones to showcase, because I honestly do love them all.

Awards!

Another bit of June Happy for this book is how well it did in the Ditmar awards at the  2017 National SF Convention, Continuum 13. Defying Doomsday tied with Dreaming in the Dark for Best Collected Work and Tansy Rayner Roberts’ contribution, “Did We Break the End of the World?” won the Ditmar for Best Novelette or Novella.

TPP has also now instituted the D Franklin Defying Doomsday Award to further recognise and celebrate work in disability advocacy in SFF literature.

Buy Defying Doomsday

Kickstarter

Support the Kickstarter campaign to fund Mother of Invention. (Ends 1 July 2017)

Review: Resisting Miss Merryweather; Trusting Miss Trenthem; Claiming Mister Kemp by Emily Larkin

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.

Buy:

Resisting Miss Merryweather

Trusting Miss Trentham

Claiming Mister Kemp

Ruining Miss Wrotham

Review: The Wizardry of Jewish Women by Gillian Polack

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 review

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.

Get The Wizardry of Jewish Women in Mobi or Epub formats at Bookview Cafe.