Oct 31, 2015

Book Review–The Storyteller and his Three Daughters by Lian Hearn



Lian Hearn has been recommended to me on a number of occasions by a number or people who know my tastes and hobbies.  I can’t for the life of me figure out why I haven’t taken them up on the recommendation.  Perhaps it’s my reaction to hyped up books and authors (I still haven’t read Harry Potter).

Sometimes other people do know you best.

Hearn is most well known for her immensely successful Tales of the Otori series, a fantasy series inspired by pre-modern Japan.  The Storyteller and his Three Daughters, however is a historical fiction set in late 1880’s Tokyo.

This book is deceptive in the best possible way.  Unassuming, quiet, steadily paced it ingratiates itself with the reader and before you know it we have gone from a tale about an aging and unhappy storyteller, to a tale of brutality and political intrigue.

There’s a skilled hand at work here, a lightness of touch in the telling of the tale. It also paints an evocative and realistic (as far as I can tell) picture of Japan in the throws of cultural crises, the fall of the Shogunate and the effect of the European colonial powers plying their culture and interests.

Not afraid to experiment, Hearn presents the dialogue in the book as it would be rendered in early novels of the Meiji era i.e. like a play script. This may pose some issues it you are particularly attached to conventional dialogue presentation, but I didn’t notice it after awhile and  I think it adds a certain verisimilitude.

I loved it for the focus on storytelling on the ancient arts of Japan and for the tales within tales, drama intrigue and subtle horror - I think an expanded version of The Tale of the Nose would sit very well in a horror anthology.

A lovely book to read, a fine example of craft.  I will be reading more.

An Australian writer you should be able to find Lian’s work at your closest library or it can be ordered from Booktopia.

aww-badge-2015_thumb[2]This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this pagefor more great writing from Australian women.



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Book Review–The Sea is Ours (eds. Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng)


This is the second volume I have read edited by Joyce Chng who shows a talent, along with Jaymee Goh, for selecting quality work and writers.

The Sea is Ours – Tales of Steampunk South East Asia quite directly presents itself as Steampunk.  I want to say though, that it’s a bit more than that.  It’s quite easy to dismiss Steampunk in general as a sub-genre that’s been overworked.

From very early on in my reading though, it was apparent that The Sea is Ours, had greater depth.  Here’s what I wrote via a Goodreads update nearly halfway through the reading:

An intriguing selection that is reminiscent of Alternative Alamat in some ways. This *is* steampunk, but where that might cause potential readers to roll eyes and think "not another clockwork collection", The Sea is Ours is much more South East Asian alternative history and is all the better for it. The steampunk is subtle in most cases and where it isn't it’s original.

Collections like the The Sea is Ours is what I think of when talking about diversity in genre.  Each of the stories contained brought a new angle or a fresh perspective on some old tropes. 

But ultimately what excited me was the stories and characters of South East Asia.  In and age long past half my history major was on Ancient South East Asian history, so for me The Sea is Ours brings back memories and adds additional threads to the tapestry of my experience.

Steampunk can feel “bolted” on a times, a cliché, but what I found with each of these stories was a much subtler integration into both story and culture.  In some stories the technology arrives from outside the narrative’s culture and it’s adapted, in others it forms an integral part.

There’s also a good balance of the mythic and fantastical, Alessa Hinlo’s, The Last Aswang, and Timothy Dimacali’s On The Consequence of Sound, immediately spring to mind. Each author brings something fresh to this work though and for a collection that has its fair mention of airships and automatons, The Sea is Ours delivers variety in the type of story as well. 

This is a fresh and original collection that reworks Steampunk in interesting ways while showcasing talented authors who present us with the reworked and reimagined stories of their own cultures and traditions. 

Alter your perspective.


This is a review copy offered by the publisher.

The Sea is Ours is available in Australia through Booktopia from November 1st

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Oct 28, 2015

Haiku in English–The First Hundred Years

haiku-in-englishI previously reviewed The Haiku Anthology by Cor van den Heuvel, Haiku in English is perhaps best seen as a companion collection to it. 

Some of the content is duplicated in each volume but they both have different objectives. 

The former is a third edition of mainly North American Haijin (the third edition IIRC dropped some important early contributors like Janice Bostok from Australia) and it tends to provide a number of poems from prominent Haijin, enabling the reader to get a real sense of each poets oeuvre.  I believe Cor attempted to choose the best examples of the form he could.

Haiku in English broadens the field of poets to include European, UK and Australian Haijin (current and historical) and attempts to reflect the history of the form, showcasing proto-English Haiku at the beginning and highlighting experiments in short poetry that stem from this Japanese form.

Indeed the jacket copy calls it “the first anthology to map the full range of Haiku in the English tradition”. So, as the editors forewarn in their foreword, it’s not a collection of the best of the best in the form. Which is not to say that those haiku selected are deficient in any way.

Where a Haijin may have made an impact or pursued a variation to great enjoyment and success, only selected poems have been chosen to illustrate the achievement. Some poets only have one Haiku listed and it may not be that which is considered best from their body of work, more that it might illustrate an important step in the tradition.

To that end Haiku in English is more about the form and its English history than individual poets or groups of poets.

We begin with Pound’s:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Examine parts of Wallace’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird:

Amoung twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird

and then it’s more or less off into more familiar Haiku territory.

There’s some 800 poems here including those from many top poets still active in the form.  The collection is capped off with a comprehensive historical essay by Jim Kacian, which in conjunction with the various introductions collected in The Haiku Anthology, serve to preserve the history of the form and the important achievements of its Haijin. 

There is a very real danger that due to a lack of interest from the core of Western poetry tradition (despite works being included from Heaney and Collins) that much could be lost. This collection serves to head off this possibility.

Haiku in English should form part of a core reading cannon in anyone seriously attempting the form.  There’s also sufficient variety in the Haiku selected, that as a reader of The Haiku Anthology I don’t feel as though I have paid for the same material.

Haiku in English is currently available in hardback, though a paperback version is slated for release in January.

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Oct 21, 2015

Book Review–Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith


Career of Evil is the third Cormoran Strike novel.  I wouldn’t call it a series but I do think there’s some tangible benefit to reading them in order – if only to see the main characters development in sequence.

Don’t let this put you off grabbing it in the airport lounge, if you are looking for a good solid read on a long haul flight; it’s a thoroughly engrossing read.

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible - and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...


I don’t regularly read crime (I do enjoy the genre in TV & Film) but that’s more a result of the type of reviewer I have become.  I’ll read anything that’s well written.

And Career of Evil, is exceedingly well written and paced as one might expect from Rowling.  The delivery of the story is smooth but what I really enjoyed in Career of Evil, beyond the problem solving goodness of a well written crime thriller, was the choices in character development.

I imagine in a field as well dug over as Crime Fiction, that it’s hard to not rehash plots and types of killers, so the only real area for freshness is in the characters and the drama/ tension that exists between them.

I particularly enjoyed Robin’s (Cormorant’s Assistant/Partner) story arc, indeed I feel as though Career of Evil ended up being more about her than Strike.  I don’t want to give too much away but I did feel that Rowling made some very good choices that showed Robin to be a character with psychological depth.  There’s quite a few places where I felt Robin’s character could have slipped into stereotype, but Rowling’s choices present  Robin with a good mix of vulnerability and strength that make her feel solidly fleshed out and real.

Career of Evil is a clever, well paced Crime Thriller that should keep you glued to the page.  You’ll love the characters (especially if you have read the other two books) and this character development paired with smooth delivery of a well articulated crime thriller will have you hankering for the next one.  It’s no surprise that there’s a TV series in the works.

The review copy was provided by the publisher.

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