Category Archives: Speculative Fiction

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao -a review

iron widowIron Widow (Iron Widow #1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed. 

Published 28 September 2021|  Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia  |  RRP: AUD$18.99

Buy it at: Dymocks |  Booktopia |  A&R  |  Abbey’s  | QBD

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

But I have no faith in love. Love cannot save me.

I choose vengeance.

Kickass cover and a premise of a futuristic world inspired by Chinese historical personages and mythologies?! Bring it On! I was totally excited to start reading this book and before, I knew it, I have read for over an hour and 100+ pages have flown by. I was completely drawn into this world that has giant transforming robots and traditional Chinese fashion (I’m most fascinated by the hairdos!).

I hate the way I’ve contorted myself into what people think a girl should be, ready to please, ready to serve.

Yet I love the power it’s given me, a power that lies in being underestimated, in wearing assumptions as a disguise.

Each chapter was quite short but packed full of plot. The story just kept going and it was really hard to put down. The one thing that really surprised me in this first 100 pages was the protagonist’s anger. I knew she was after revenge (see book description) but she wasn’t just red hot with anger but she was blazing white with rage. Despite her tough exterior though, there were little peeps into her vulnerability and real person she is, if she just can be. These were developed a little further on in the book as she continued to fight for her right to live.

…there’s not a stratum of the world that doesn’t need girls. Maybe we’re devalued precisely because we’re so valuable. The world is too afraid of not being able to obtain and control us to respect our true worth.

And while our protagonist, Wu Zetian, fights to live, she also fights humanity’s enemies so she is surrounded my enemies without and within. Yet, there are some who truly cares about her and as she fights for herself, her ‘sisters’, and humanity, she drew those she loved closer to her. 

Love can be infinite, as much as your heart can open.

Iron Widow is a fast-paced immersive novel with twist upon twist (there is even a twist on the last page of the book!) that will keep you up past your bedtime. A truly gripping fantastical universe and I cannot wait for the sequel.

My thanks to Read3rz Re-Vu & Bloomsbury Australia for this copy of book in exchange of my honest thoughts

About the author

Find author on:  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter  |  instagram

Blog Tour: Indigo Owl by Charline Archbold

 

Indigo Owl by Charlie Archbold

Publisher: Wakefield Press
Publication Date: 1 September 2020
Australian RRP: $24.99

After Earth was destroyed by climate change and overpopulation, private corporations colonised new planets. On one such planet, Galbraith,the fertility of its citizens is tightly controlled. But at what cost?

When Scarlet Bergen leaves her childhood home to be trained at the Arcadia Institute, harnessing her psychic Solitaire talents, it feels like the beginning of her future. But on the Institute steps, her father whispers a life-changing secret about the past. Her mother, a geneticist who disappeared when Scarlet was ten, had enemies …

Scarlet vows to discover the truth about her mother – and is joined in her mission by fellow cadets with their own family secrets and special talents: tech-savvy Rumi, a tenacious truth-hunter, and Dylan, the aloof classmate who can literally read her mind.

Together, they’ll uncover a planet-wide conspiracy … and discover that there’s little the Galbraith Executives won’t do to get what they want.

Buy at:  booktopia  |  dymocks  | A&R  | Wakefield Press

My Blurb (4/5 stars)

Somehow, I have gotten into the habit of not reading the book blurb / description / synopsis before I started reading. I would have read it some time before I decided to get my hands on the book so at one point in time, I wanted to read it, so I’d just jumped in. Therefore, most times I’ve no idea what I got myself in for. And such is the case with Indigo Owl because I didn’t realise that it was set in a different planet and for a while, I was really confused! So that’s the first thing you should know… This book is set on a completely different and very very cold planet called Galbraith.

There are 3 perspectives but Scarlet’s the primary one while Rumi’s & Dylan’s felt like they revolve around her. I guess this is really Scarlet’s story but we do need Rumi’s & Dylan’s help to know what’s happening around Scarlet. This makes me feel that Scarlet is very focused on the one thing (her mother) and so quite blind in her peripheral vision. She could be likeable but I actually prefer Rumi with all her “unbalanced” angle. I must admit though that at the end, they both improved so much! Scarlet could be a good friend but again, I don’t feel that friendship any particularly well with anyone. And I also find the romance a little bit lacklustre.

Indigo Owl was a very easy read with a truly fascinating setting with a sort of low key creepy vibe in the way of The Handmaid’s Tale. With a fast pace and an engaging mystery, it is a captivating read.

Thanks to Wakefield Press for copy of book in exchange of honest review. And thanks, AusYABloggers for organising the tour.

Find all the other stops by following the Tour Schedule 

About the author

Charlie has worked as a primary years educator for many years. She has a Master of Education Degree in Studies of Asia and has spent time teaching in the UK, Australia, and Indonesia. In addition to teaching she has a passion for creative writing. Her new young adult novel is Indigo Owl.

Charlie’s debut young adult novel, Mallee Boys, was the recipient of the 2016 Adelaide Literary Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award and was a 2018 Children’s Book Council of Australia Honour book. Her middle grade manuscript, Red Bottomed Boat, was shortlisted for the 2020 Text Prize.

Find Charlie on: goodreads  |  website  |  twitter  | instagram

Review: Lightning Tracks by A. A. Kinsela

Lightning Tracks (Song Gate #1) by A.A. Kinsela

The rider angled the blade so Nick could see the oily residue on the metal.

‘All that’s needed to kill you, boy, is a single cut. A scratch. The poison will do the rest.’ His mask shifted, and Nick could’ve sworn he was smiling. ‘But that wouldn’t be any fun, would it?’

Nick gulped. ‘Why are you doing this?’

The rider leaned closer and hissed, ‘Because you exist.’

Nick isn’t a warrior. He knows some basic karate, but that’s it.

So when an assassin turns up to settle a blood debt, Nick narrowly escapes with his life. In his haste, he unwittingly flees to Korelios, a place he thought existed only in his eccentric aunt’s ancient legends.

All too soon, he finds himself caught in the middle of a war, and he must make an impossible choice: do his duty or follow his heart.

His choice will decide the fate of an entire civilisation.

Published 1 November 2018 |  Publisher: Plainspeak Publishing  |  RRP: AUD$4.99 (ebook) 

Buy Links: Amazon | B&N Nook | iBooks  |  kobo  

My Blurb (3.5 / 5 stars)

I was approached by the author with a review request and I was very intrigued by the (loose) premise: “What if the Roman Empire had made it all the way to Australia?” The book basically is set in the present times, as such, if the Roman Empire made it to Australia. Such a fascinating proposition! What do you think Australia would be like if the Roman Empire conquered Australia at the height of its power?

Lightning Tracks also contained one of my favourite tropes, world within a world; specifically a gateway from our present-times Australia to another world (albeit hidden) where Empires rule over the world. There isn’t a Roman Empire as such, in fact, all the empires and/or races in the story are made up though loosely based on Romans, Greek, etc. I thought there was also an Indigenous spin but it appears I was wrong (see tomorrow’s Q&A post with the author).

The novel opens with Nick getting into trouble at school on his sixteenth birthday. When he got home that day, he found himself fighting for his life and having to flee, found himself in a part of Australia he didn’t know existed but yet some things felt familiar. A very exciting start to the story, for sure! Nick has to quickly find out all he can about this world and his position in it as there is a war brewing; hostilities escalating on both sides and atrocities abound.

There is actually a second perspective to this story, Cal, a highlander boy kidnapped to be a soldier of the Empire. He has been very obedient so far (even in committing a most atrocious act) due to the threat to his family’s lives but event transpired which had him running for his life. For both Cal & Nick, the answer lies in the city Auremos, the rebellion centre of strength.

I liked both characters & perspectives. Nick, a troublesome teen, is not actually aggressive but is rather thoughtful & kind. He’s got a temper which he has to learn to control. Cal, on the other hand, has been trained to be calculated in his moves and he kicks ass!

Lightning Tracks takes the readers on an adventure in Australia’s hidden depth. However, it reads more like a fantasy novel with a couple jarring mentions of Australia. With betrayals, tragedies, secrets, and battles, Lightning Tracks is an exciting & fascinating read for all teens especially for those who feel they are different (like Nick).

Thanks to the author, A.A. Kinsella, for copy of book in exchange of honest review. 

About the author

A. A. Kinsela is a pseudonym for Alethea Kinsela

I’m a writer/teacher/archaeologist/jack-of-all-trades. My latest book Lightning Tracks is a dark YA alternative history/fantasy novel set in Australia. You can read an extract on my website. I’ve also got a little educational textbook about Australian archaeology, Ancient Australia Unearthed.

I’m halfway through a Creative Writing PhD, and I sometimes teach in the School of Education at La Trobe University and host writing and archaeology workshops for kids and teachers.

Find Thea on:  goodreads  |  twitter   |  instagram

Review: The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang

The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate #1) by J.Y. Yang

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

My Blurb (4 stars)

Sometimes, there is just a book that when you finished reading, you completely have no idea where you are… This world was so immersive that I came up disoriented and rather sad that I have to leave it behind.

To begin with though, some mind-bending was required. In this world, you are born without a gender; you will remain as ‘undeclared gender’ until such time that you yourself wish to be confirmed to be one or another and then the process to change your body accordingly will take place. In an ‘undeclared gender’, ‘they’ is the pronoun used to refer to this person. I’ve only found out, thanks Google, that ‘they’ can also be used as a gender neutral third person singular pronoun. My brain is so not used to this so I’m feeling a little ignorant and slow to catch up… When I did though, I wish for this so much for our world! In a way, it will ease many heartaches… Not that this spare any of the people in this world!

This novel is divided into 4 parts and years span between each part. It begins with Mokoya’s & Akeha’s births, parts of their childhood, their teens, and ended in their thirties. This first book in the series appears to deal more with Akeha’s search for his purpose as we follow his indecision (gender), as he ran away from his heartbreak, and a discovery of new things, hopeful things.

Love, and nothing else. It was enough. As long as there was love, there would be hope. It was enough.

The Black Tides of Heaven is a magical novel with an array of complex world building. That magic (loved how it’s called ‘Slackcraft’!) and modern technology being complementary was interestingly harmonious. The characters were alive and with all their flaws invited you to welcome them into your heart. The story took me on a flight of love, explosions of heartbreaks, and only to end with a broken but living hope.

About the author

JY Yang is the author of the Tensorate series of novellas from Tor.Com Publishing (The Red Threads of Fortune, The Black Tides of Heaven, and two more slated for 2018 and 2019). Their short fiction has been published in over a dozen venues, including Uncanny Magazine, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Strange Horizons.

In previous incarnations, they have been a molecular biologist; a writer for animation, comics and games; and a journalist for one of Singapore’s major papers. Currently they are a science communicator with Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

JY identifies as queer and non-binary.

Find Clarissa on:  website  |  goodreads  |  twitter

Review: The Barrier by Shankari Chandran

The Barrier by Shankari Chandran

Twenty years ago an Ebola epidemic brought the world to the edge of oblivion.

The West won the war, the East was isolated behind a wall, and a vaccine against Ebola was developed. Peace prevailed.

Now Agent Noah Williams is being sent over the barrier to investigate a rogue scientist who risks releasing another plague. But why would a once-respected academic threaten the enforced vaccination program that ensures humans are no longer an endangered species?

Hunting for answers amid shootouts, espionage and murder, Noah will have to confront a fundamental question:

In the fight for survival, can our humanity survive too?

My Blurb (3 stars)

I do so want to support all Aussie authors and I think that was primarily my reason in picking this book up. The cover is attractive enough and it’s a dystopian thriller so that was enough reasoning for me to read it. I enjoyed most of it but I just didn’t realise that there was a lot of medical / biology factor in this book that just went over my head. I could never make sense of biology at school so this stuff was really beyond me, unfortunately, and took away what could be a truly exciting book.

The prologue was exciting and horrifying all at once. It was a very promising beginning but as this is a whole new post-apocalyptic world, it slowed right down with the required world building. It’s a very scary world when the world as we know it ended due to an epidemic. Certain powers then rose and stayed in control over the whole world (albeit behind the scene) after discovering the cure.

In this new world, religion and/or faith is prohibited and was unknowingly suppressed by the world power. However, there have been some terminal illness which appears to be related to faith. Or is it?

I loved the characterisation; all the broken, flawed, and conflicted characters. I loved this post-apocalyptic world which for me as a Christian (I have faith!) is very scary. While the world is seen to be united in their secular views but there was actually a lot of conflict under the surface. Is it better to have a world without any faith?

The only disappointment I have is really my fault or rather my lack of scientific mind. I just can’t get myself around the science stuff and got really bogged down so I just skimmed quite a bit of the book and found that I probably missed quite a bit of the plot. That ending though… wow, great plot & twist!

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

Shankari Chandran was raised in Canberra, Australia. She spent a decade in London, working as a lawyer in the social justice field. She eventually returned home to Australia, where she now lives with her husband, four children and their cavoodle puppy.

The Barrier is her second novel. Her first novel, The Song of the Sun Godexplores the recent history of Sri Lanka. She is currently working on her third book, also set there.

Find her on: goodreads  |  website  |  twitter  | facebook

 

Review: False Hearts by Laura Lam

False Hearts (Pacifica) by Laura Lam

One twin is imprisoned for a terrible crime. The other will do anything to set her free.

One night Tila stumbles home, terrified and covered in blood. She’s arrested for murder, the first by a civilian in decades. The San Francisco police suspect involvement with Zeal, a powerful drug, and offer her twin sister Taema a chilling deal. Taema must assume Tila’s identity and gather information – then if she brings down the drug syndicate, the police may let her sister live. But Taema’s investigation raises ghosts from the twins’ past.

The sisters were raised by a cult, which banned modern medicine. But as conjoined twins, they needed surgery to divide their shared heart – and escaped. Taema discovers Tila was moulded by the cult and that it’s linked to the city’s underground. Once unable to keep secrets, the sisters will discover the true cost of lies.

My Blurb

If you’ve read One by Sarah Crossan and if you’re anything like me, you’d have cried your heart out and wished for a somewhat different ending. Without giving too much away, it could have been like False Hearts though of course, False Hearts is set in a very distant future. There isn’t actually a specific date but technology-wise, they seem to be far ahead of us.

The world setting is fairly similar though differences lie in technology including medicine. So, it was pretty easy to get into. Taema as the main protagonist is also easily likeable and therefore, memorable. Tila, on the other hand, was not quite present in the story for me. She provided only certain perspectives that the readers need to fill in the blanks. Otherwise, we mainly follow Taema.

I felt that this book is quite different from other dystopians though most dystopians I read are YA so maybe that’s one difference. But it also incorporates a cult living in isolation from the world though not without communication. In addition to this, there is bloody murder or is there? Let’s just say that this book has everything that I like in a book and that’s why I’ve really enjoyed it.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

Originally from sunny California, Laura Lam now lives in cloudy Scotland. Lam is the author of BBC Radio 2 Book Club section False Hearts, the companion novel Shattered Minds, as well as the award-winning Micah Grey series PantomimeShadowplay, and Masquerade. Her short fiction and essays have also appeared in anthologies such as Nasty WomenSolaris Rising 3, Cranky Ladies of History, and more.  She lectures part-time at Napier University in Edinburgh on the Creative Writing MA.

Find her on: goodreads  |  website  | pinterest  |  twitter  | facebook  |  instagram  |  tumblr

 

Review: Traveler by L.E. DeLano

Traveler (Traveler #1) by L.E. DeLano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the description, this book has everything I love in it:

Pirates ✓

Alternate worlds ✓

Delectable Book Boyfriend ✓✓✓

Said Delectable Book Boyfriend Comes to Life ✓✓✓✓✓

Totally sold on this book from the get-go!

It’s not a new theory that each time we make a choice, there is a split in reality as another version of us make a different choice and therefore, there are billions, gazillions, un-numbered alternate worlds out there. There are many books written about these too but probably not many of them are as fantastical as these worlds in Traveler. There is a post-apocalyptic world where the situation is so desperate that people are hunting people. There is a world full of everything shiny and sparkly with Glitter Mousse (yum!). There is a steampunk world with corsets and pirates! These are just my favourites out of the numerous alternate universes we were introduced in this book.

I like Jessa with her rather ordinary world turned upside down or is it rather right way up? Like any ordinary teenager, Jessa has her own share of troubles but they were nothing to what’s coming her way. She is being hunted down in every alternate worlds though this time, Finn has come, determined to save this Jessa. We rarely see the other Jessas though as Finn puts it, Jessa is always Jessa whichever world she’s in. We do see however different versions of Jessa’s friends & loved ones including Finn and I must admit to like the pirate Finn more than any other!

Traveler is a fun read; not only do you get dozens of different worlds in the one book but the most important spin was that book boyfriend coming to life (can you just imagine?! btw, who would you pick?!). I was a tad disappointed that Pirate Finn didn’t make that much of an appearance but *coughs* that ending… I absolutely can NOT wait for book 2!

Thanks to Pan MacMillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Review: Disruption

disruptionDisruption by Jessica Shirvington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

This read was the fastest 400 pages ever! I have to admit that the print was pretty big but the words finished in no time at all… Disruption was one of those reads where you NEED to keep on reading to find out what happens next and yet, you kept watching on how many pages to go til the end because you never want it to end. But the ending was just… so… evil… I’m breathlessly awaiting the sequel to this duology!!

The world has is now a different place with each individual movements being visible to those in authority. This idea in itself is not original though the Phera-tech spin to assess compatibilities between people is an interesting concept. There is, however, a tragic side of this tech where IN-compatible people are removed from society but as always, nothing is as it seems. Maggie Stevens have seen through some of these deceptions and to save someone she loves, she’s willing to sacrifice all.

I found the beginning just a tad difficult to start with –that might have to do with the time of day that I found it slightly tricky to get on in this new world. However, I did love the prologue as it was really intriguing and set the stage up for Maggie-Quentin combo. Once all, the intro, is done and the action started, there is no stopping me from rushing to the end of the book. Disruption is an intriguing action-packed fast-paced and romantic read.

One of the things I vaguely remembered Jessica Shirvington mentioned at the launch was that her vision is to write female characters that her little girls would be proud of. I think, with Maggie (as I’ve not read her other books yet!), she’s definitely got one. Maggie is one very driven, very focused young lady. She is capable and is mostly on top of things though her goal, sometimes, served as blinders to other things. She is quite awesome to behold; I loved her character development in this book and can’t wait to see where it will go next in Corruption. Can I just say once more how the ending is driving me stir crazy?!

Thank you, HarperCollins Australia, for copy of book

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Review: The Almost Girl

almost girlThe Almost Girl by Amalie Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of Strange Chemisty via NetGalley

A smashing cover and published by Angry Robot, I need no other excuse to pick this book up. The blurb and the promise of a kick-ass heroine actually kicking ass totally geared me up for a fabulous read.

The Almost Girl began with a strong action moment. It was such a promising beginning to the book and sets up Riven’s fighter quality fantastically. Yep, she’s a cold-hearted killer on a mission. Fast forward to the present time and Riven is trying hard to track down someone well hidden on earth, by infiltrating high schools… then, she found her target, accidentally, on the road…

Truthfully, there are a lot of potential for a mesmerising story with a strong heroine, alien world, and lots of fighting. It was an easy read; the action flowing from one moment to the next. The pace was pretty fast so time flew by very quickly. Overall, it was a pretty exciting read despite the messy feeling and hence, quite a number of questions I had. The copy I read is an eARC via NetGalley so perhaps the final copy will have been tidied up.

It wasn’t until a bit later than I connected the fact that Amalie Howard also penned Waterfell, which I’ve only just read a couple of months ago (you can check out my review, here). I like Riven a lot more than Nerissa whom I found really annoying to begin with. The setting / premise seems to be worlds apart however I’m wondering if anyone noticed that the ending of both books appear to be identical?

Despite some of the shortcomings of this novel (you’ll find both love & hate reviews out there), I do think you should give this novel a chance; you would, at least, enjoy all the fighting scenes.

Thanks to Strange Chemistry for copy of eARC via NetGalley

Challenge read for: ScatterShelves

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Review: Kinslayer

kinslayerKinslayer by Jay Kristoff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

IZANAGI’S BALLS!

This is, hands down, one of the best books I’ve ever read! For about a week after, I adopted Shima-speak in my head which almost burst out a few times. Just imagine how I’d try to explain that to my friends!

I loved Stormdancer so Kinslayer (though I wasn’t quite enamored with the title, sorry, Jay!) was a highly anticipated release. It was so much better than I ever expected it to be. There was so much happening that I didn’t know which way to turn. There wasn’t any break, Bam Bam Bam, the pace was absolutely off the chart. Unlike Stormdancer, there were quite an additional number of perspectives in Kinslayer and I believe, this in part, contributed to the killing pace. The story moves from character to character at each snap of my fingers.

At first, Yukiko annoys me here although she has very good reason to feel what she felt; I just have problems with angry characters. I’m glad though that she didn’t stay that way throughout the book; that she was forced to adapt to situations and chose to fight to live. That’s the bad-ass Yukiko I remember!

The first time I read Stormdancer, I wasn’t particularly keen on Kin. The second time, I started to like him… but as I read Kinslayer, I swayed from one to the other until I just really don’t know anymore!!! And the fact that I’m loving this uncertainty is totally astonishing! I lay the fault at Jay Kristoff’s evil genius!

Of the minor characters, I am thoroughly in awe of Michi. She’s a machine! I mean that in the most admirable way. She’s one tough cookie and ain’t nobody gonna get in her way. I hope to see her a lot more in the next installment (please, Jay, please?!)

This part was a truly hair-rising moment for me;

“You are death,” she whispered. “Cold as winter dawn. Merciless as Lady Sun. Play the role. Play it so well you could fool yourself. But never forget who you are. What you are.”
She pointed at the glass, and her whisper was sharp as knives.
“You are Kagé Michi.”

I am all amazement in the plot development. There was so many twists and turns that I was caught by surprise a lot of the time and there may or may not be out loud gasps on the train (yup, that was me *waves*). I can’t say this enough, I can’t wait for Book 3!

My apologies for the late review – moving house & job took a lot out of me and I’m still trying to get a new routine going!

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