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The Marching Dead
The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marius don Hellespont is dead bored. Literally. Despite being life-challenged he won the heart of the girl he loved and retired to the country with her, where with nary a shady scheme in sight, he’s bored out of his considerable wits.

Then the dead stop dying, his love gets kidnapped, and as Marius chases after her, he finds himself in a player in a much bigger game – a war between the dead and the living. Unsatisfied with being King of the Dead below, Scorbus wants to eradicate all the living and rule over both above and below.

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Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?
Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? by Andrez Bergen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Southern Cross is the newest superhero (cape) to arrive in Heropa, only to find that things aren’t quite as expected – someone or something is killing off the capes, both heroes and villains, one by one.

Southern Cross must become familiar with the rules of Heropa, fit in with the Equalizers (a group of superheroes), try to find out who’s killing off the capes, and develop a relationship with Louise, who doesn’t seem to be like the other Blandos (non capes).

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Hindsight
Hindsight by Sarah Belle

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Blurb from GoodReads:

Juliette’s career is on fire, her marriage and family are in melt-down, and a red-hot goddess wants her husband. But those are the least of her worries when she wakes up on her lounge room floor in the year 1961.

Without any of her modern conveniences — nanny, housekeeper, surgically attached mobile phone, designer wardrobe, and intravenous lattes — Juliette is just over fifty years out of her comfort zone. But as she takes on the role of a 1961 housewife, with gritted liberated teeth, she discovers an unexpected truth: slower doesn’t mean boring, at home doesn’t mean dull, and priorities don’t mean sacrifices.

As she finds unexpected friendships, a resuscitated love life, tragedy and triumph, Juliette begins to wonder if she really wants to return home after all.

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Fish Out Of Water
Fish Out Of Water by Ros Baxter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dirtwater is one of those small desert towns in America, with nothing to distinguish it from the next small desert town. Except its deputy sheriff, Rania Aqualina, a half mermaid who is living there with her full mermaid mother.

Prophesied to die before her thirtieth birthday unless she changes the fate of the World, Rania is a couple of months shy of 30, with no idea what the prophecy means. Then a mermaid corpse turns up in Dirtwater, followed by Raina being invited back to the underwater city of Aegira for a wedding. Arriving in Aegira, Raina discovers strange things are going on, with most of the population oblivious to them, and possible ties to the dead mermaid in Dirtwater.

As Rania begins to investigate, she finds herself in life threatening danger, when she uncovers a plot which could mean the end of Aegira and the mermaids as a species…

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Secret Reflection
Secret Reflection by Jennifer Brassel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fleeing a messy divorce in LA, Kelly Reid takes refuge with friends in the UK who’ve just leased an old mansion to turn into a bed and breakfast. Her friends have the perfect distraction for Kelly, to investigate the mysterious ghost who’s haunted the house for over 100 years.

When the ghost appears in Kelly’s mirror and introduces himself as John Tarrant, Kelly is certain it’s a hoax, and determined to prove how it’s done. But as expert after expert is unable to come up with an explanation, Kelly slowly comes to realise that John is real, and has been trapped in the mirrors since the 1860s, only able to communicate for 20 days every 20 years.

As she investigates how and why John ended up trapped in the mirrors, Kelly starts to fall in love with him. But she has only a few short weeks to work out how to release him from his torment, even if means never seeing or hearing from him again.

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Enamoured
Enamoured by Shannon Curtis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Melanie’s step dad, Lionel, is a bullying, abusive, real-estate developer who’s more than willing to stoop to intimidation and violence to get what he wants. Fearing for her and her mother’s safety, Melanie begins investigating his shady dealings, looking for enough evidence to force him to stay away.

Esmerelda is a fairy Godmother, with two main jobs; to keep Rumpelstilskin from violating his parole, and to ensure that Melanie falls in love with with her frog prince, Gabriel, to ensure the fairy tale plays out as is required.

Cole is an undercover police officer, trying to get close to Lionel to gain enough evidence of criminal activity to put him in jail. When he bumps into Melanie, a mutual attraction develops, but it’s built on a lie, and may not last. Even so, it’s enough to risk interfering with the fairy tale, and risk Melanie’s happily ever after.

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Fast Forward
Fast Forward by Juliet Madison

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Kelli Crawford is a model, on the verge of a successful International career, and with a gorgeous photographer boyfriend who’s about to propose to her.

Waking up on her 25th birthday, Kelli discovers she’s experienced a Fast Forward. She’s in the body of her 50 year old self and is a mother, married to a high school geek and part owner of a small business – with none of the friends from her early twenties still in her life.

Desperately trying to get back to her 25 year old self, Kelli must learn whatever lessons she’s been sent to learn, no matter how harsh they may be.

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Allegiance Sworn
Allegiance Sworn by Kylie Griffin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Arek Barial is a Light Blade warrior, sworn by the Lady to defend humanity and kill all the demon Na’Reish who prey on them for slaves and food. When Arek is captured, he hides his abilities and masquerades as a farmer, attempting to penetrate the Na’Reish strongholds as a slave and kill as many highborn as possible.

Imhara Kaal is the only female Na’Reishi leader, of a clan which secretly follows the Old Ways of the Lady, with humans, half breeds and Na’Reish living together peacefully. However her leadership is under threat as Savyr, commander of all the Na’Reishi, wants Imhara married off, so her husband can assume her titles and land, then launch an all out war on the humans.

Desperate to protect her clan, Arek’s presence seems like the Lady’s Blessing to Imhara – a Light Blade masquerading as a slave has a chance of killing Savyr, saving her clan, and preventing a war. But can Arek trust Imhara and play the part of her blood slave well enough to get a chance at Savyr?

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The Paler Shade Of Autumn
The Paler Shade Of Autumn by Jacquie Underdown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Autumn Leone has a strange ability – when she touches people with her hands, she receives uncontrollable images of their life and desires.

When Autumn wins a holiday to India, a chance encounter with an aged women, who’s experienced horrific events, results in Autumn almost breaking down from the flood of images. She’s rescued by Jet Stark, a volunteer at a local orphanage, and whom she falls completely in love with. Refusing to be the cause of him leaving the orphange, Autumn reluctantly severs ties with him after only one night, and returns to her life in Australia without exchanging contact details.

Five years later Autumn runs into Jet at her workplace, and thinks it must be fate to have met him not once, but twice. Jet feels the same, but is involved with another woman. Can Autumn and Jet make a relationship work, or have they missed their chance? Why does Autumn have this ability, and what part does it have to play?

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Hidden Fire
Hidden Fire by Alexis Fleming

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Gillian “Gili” Adams is an American archaeologist who quit an Iranian archaeological dig when her employer, Jeremy Grissom, stole an artefact from the dig leaving her to take the blame. As a result, her relationship with the expedition leader Morgan Hunt, who was also her lover, ended badly and Gili returned to America to attempt to rebuild her life and career.

Six years later, Gili’s father is in hospital after being pushed in front of traffic, with a text message making it clear Grissom was behind it. When Gili confronts Grissom, he threatens her with worse for both her parents if she doesn’t help him retrieve the Dreamtime Opal from the Australian Aborigines. Gili reluctantly agrees, only for things to get even worse when she finds out the guardian of the opal is Morgan Hunt. Gili knows Hunt won’t be happy to see her again, but she’ll do whatever it takes to save her family.

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Betrayed
Betrayed by Christina Phillips

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Nimue is a Celtic druid, fighting against the Roman invasion of Briton. After a disastrous battle, Nimue must find the King Caratacus’ wife and daughter, and guide them North to safety and to rejoin the fleeing King’s forces.

Tacitus is a Roman Tribune, serving his country in the conquering and civilising of Briton from the savage Celts which dwell in it. In the aftermath of the battle, he’s out searching for stragglers, when he comes across Nimue filling a water-skin by a stream.

Tacitus and Nimue have an instant forbidden attraction for each other and when Tacitus finds himself her owner, he can’t resist sleeping with Nimue despite his distaste of slavery. Meanwhile, Nimue doesn’t realise she’s a slave and tells herself she’s lulling Tacitus into a false sense of security in order to facilitate her escape, despite lusting after him. As love battles duty, Both Tacitus and Nimue must fight their mutual attraction and remain focussed on their responsibilities, even if it means betraying each other.

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Cast in Shadow
Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A poor and homeless street urchin in the fiefdom of Nightshade, Kaylin Neya fled when strange tattoo like markings appeared on her skin, the same markings found on a number of recently murdered children.

Several years later, Kaylin is now the youngest member of the Hawks, one of the three forces which keep the city of Elantra safe. However, her past is about to catch up with her, as fresh reports of murdered children bearing strange marks are received.

When the Hawklord teams Kaylin up with Severn, a man from her Nightshade past, Kaylin’s immediate response is to try and kill him, and any form of partnership seems unlikely. But with children’s lives at risk, Kaylin must put some of her past behind her whilst revisiting other parts she’d rather remained forgotten, and force herself to work with Severn to rescue the children.

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End of Dreams
End of Dreams by Kim Faulks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Eve is a young, pregnant runaway, working two jobs as she tries to survive and provide for her unborn child. Edric Hasting used to be a serial killing paedophile, before he sunk even deeper into darkness and has now fixated on Eve as his ultimate victim.

Adley Scott is a policeman who’s haunted by the abduction and death of his nephew by Edric Hasting, who he’s determined to make pay. Rashda is an oracle, seeing glimpses of the present and future, unable to act other than with limited communication to her Family and Adley.

When Rashda receives a vision, she realises that Eve’s unborn son could play a pivotal role in the future of humanity, but only if Edric doesn’t kill Eve first. With the limited information she has, she sets Adley and her Family to find and protect Eve. Time is running out for Eve though, as Edric closes in for the kill while the others are still trying to locate her.

This was an interesting novel, I came to it blind with no idea of the contents.

I have to admit that I almost put it down after the first chapter where Faulks introduces us to Hasting, the paedophile serial killer, as he kills and dismembers a child. Suffice to say this is probably not a book for the weak hearted, or most parents.

Nevertheless, I persevered through the rest of the book and other than one or two other horrific scenes, it was mostly readable. Each chapter is told from one of five characters points of view, but I found it seemed to jump around a bit roughly, rather than with smooth segues or the sense that it was an appropriate time to leave that character’s point of view.

I also found the Rashda / Family plot line a bit distracting. While I assume it was there to give us background on the Family and the kind of things they do, I don’t think it added much to the story (perhaps it’s important in a sequel?) and would have rather more time was spent on the main characters. If we did have to spend time with the Family, I’d have preferred to have seen them as they tracked Eve down.

In terms of the plot itself, it was a little strange, with Eve trying to run away from past horrors whilst the other three all tried to find her. It wasn’t really a detective / investigation type plot and had more in common with a haunted house horror story type plot, but I’m really not sure how else to describe it.

We’re not really given a huge amount of on screen character development. While we see significant changes in several of the characters, most of it just seems to happen off screen, with the character then suddenly realising something has changed.

All up, this was an ok read, but I didn’t feel the pay-off was worth the horror and effort it took to get there. While I’ll probably keep an eye out for a sequel, it won’t be on the top of my to read pile.

If you’ve got the time, and you like the occult / serial killer horrific fantasy genre, then you may want to give this a read, but I’d strongly advise against it if you’re a parent, unless you can cope with reading brutal scenes of child mutilation and murder.

prk.

Disclaimer: Whilst I read this as a judge for the 2013 Aurealis Awards, this review is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any judging panel, the judging co-ordinator or the Aurealis Awards management team.



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And Blue Skies From Pain
And Blue Skies From Pain by Stina Leicht

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s 1977, Northern Ireland is still in the midst of the “Troubles” and Liam Kelly is trying to put his time as a wheelman for the IRA behind him and come to terms with both his half fey heritage and his grief from the death of his wife and unborn child.

Father Murray wants to build an alliance between the Catholic Church and the Fey, but first he has to prove to the Church that the Fey aren’t the Fallen. To help Father Murray, Liam reluctantly agrees to submit to some testing by the Church to prove he’s not Fallen. However, some members of the Church consider anything inhuman to be evil, and will go to significant lengths to ensure Liam fails.

Meanwhile the IRA aren’t too happy with losing Liam’s active support, want him back as a wheelman, and won’t take no for an answer.

“and Blue Skies from Pain” carries straight on from where “of Blood and Honey” finished and takes us deeper into the Fey and Catholic Church.

Leicht continues to build on the world she introduced us to, and the politics within the Church, Fey and IRA are very believable, as are the character’s motivations. Whilst we don’t understand what drives the Fallen, neither do any of the characters, so although the Fallen appear somewhat villainous just for the sake of it, it’s consistent with our, and the characters’, limited knowledge.

Liam continues to be the main protagonist of the story, although we also get some perspective from Father Murray of his initial exposure to the Fallen and how that shaped him to be the priest he is now.

Whilst the IRA aspects kept the story grounded in our world and contributed to the suspense, I wanted to spend more time with the Fey, Fallen & Church, so hurried through those bits.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this and look forward to the next one.

If you’ve read and liked “of Blood and Honey” then pick this sequel up, otherwise start with the first one. If you didn’t like “of Blood and Honey” then you’re unlikely to find this an enjoyable read.

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Plague Year
Plague Year by Jeff Carlson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note, this review cover both Plague Year itself, and then the Plague year trilogy as a whole (yes, I’m cheating to catch up on the stack of books I haven’t reviewed).

Cam Najarro is one of a small group of humans who are barely surviving on their mountain peak, survivors from a nanotech plague which kills all mammals under 10,000 feet of altitude. Their food is running out, winter is near, and they have no way to communicate with another group of survivors on a neighbouring peak.

When a messenger from the neighbouring peak makes it through with promises of better conditions, Cam and his dysfunctional group set off, but interpersonal conflicts almost kill them before they’ve begun. One of the group is desperate to reach a radio and communicate knowledge of the plague with the outside world, and will do whatever it takes, including killing the others, to do so.

Dr Ruth Ann Goldman, a nanotech researcher, is on the International Space Station, desperately working on a cure, but without a live sample of the plague to test with. Needing to continue her work on Earth, she and the remaining astronauts abandon the station to land near Denver Colorado, the new home of the US Government.

With humanity slipping off the edge of survival, it’s a race against time to develop a cure for the plague. But it’s not only humanity’s survival at stake; whoever controls the cure chooses who lives or dies and who gets first chance at recovering any sub 10,000ft assets. With all this at stake, the remaining governments won’t think twice about killing anyone or invading anywhere to get a cure and the advantage it provides.

This is a fairly enjoyable and believable post apocalyptic tale of what could happen if nanotech was accidentally (or maliciously) released into the wild.

There are some solid characters most with believable motives, although a couple of the villains felt a bit like stereotyped tropes. Carlson keeps us on the edge of suspense throughout the book and trilogy, with each progression logical and almost inevitable.

Plague Year suffers a bit from first book syndrome, with Plague War and Plague Zone each improving on the one before. I believe Carlson is re-releasing the series with additional reviewing and I’d definitely suggest getting the updated version of Plague Year.

While each of the books in the trilogy concludes with hope for humanity, the actions of many humans throughout can leave you a bit depressed and wondering if humanity deserves to survive.

If post apocalypse is your thing, then definitely recommended.

If not, don’t read it if you’re already feeling a bit down, as the ride may take you deeper than you like to go for enjoyment.

prk.

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The Emperor's Soul
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shia is a Forger, trained in the ability to re-build or edit any item, so long as she knows its history and can call forth a parallel existence for it. Shia can also do this with people, something strictly forbidden, and normally she only does this to herself, providing alternate time-lines where she’s highly skilled in particular area.

When Shia is caught attempting to substitute a Forged painting for the original in the Imperial Palace, her future looks grim. But her captors, despite despising her skills, need her. For the Emperor barely survived the assassination attempt that killed his wife, and has been left with no memories, no awareness, no soul.

Shia must forge the Emperor a new soul in the days remaining before he is due to come out of private mourning, and somehow escape from her imprisonment in the process. If she fails, not only will she be executed, but the Kingdom will be thrown into turmoil leading to the deaths of thousands.

I really enjoyed this book as Sanderson wove a strong tale of political intrigue, structured magic and interesting characters, all with their own backgrounds, motives and desired outcomes.

Shia, as the protagonist, is a strong female character, surviving on her wits and talents, and would make a good role model for young readers of both genders.

Sanderson is known for inventing logical and consistent magic systems, and The Emperor’s Soul doesn’t disappoint. Forging is carefully thought out and applied well, it’s believable and it hints at so much more that could be done with it.

This is a tightly written novella and I half wish it was a full length novel just to spend more time with Shia and in that world. I do hope we see more of her.

All up, I thoroughly recommend this novella, especially if you’re a fan of Sanderson’s other work or similar fantasy works.

This novella made my nomination list for the Hugo Awards, and I’m glad to see it on the final ballot.

ObDisclosure: I received this as a free eBook from Sanderson as I was eligible to nominate in the 2013 Hugo Awards.

Prk



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Beauty QueensBeauty Queens by Libba Bray

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this up after Tansy talked about it on the Galactic Suburbia podcast, and it seemed like it might be interesting.

A group of beauty queens are on their way to the final pageant, when their plane crashes on a deserted tropical island.

With limited resources, the girls must work out how to survive, without ruining their perfect complexion, hair and nails. Can they get out of the competition mindset to work together, or will the beauty pageant winner be the last woman standing?

Any thought I had that this was going to be a serious story was smashed very early on, it seems like a fantastic satire of the beauty pageant lifestyle, full of deliberately stereotyped characters who mock their own stereotypes.

Over the top satire on teen focussed commercialism was also prevalent, with regular “cut” scenes – absurd adverts for a fake beauty products along the lines of “Don’t become an $insulting_derogatory_stereotype_of_unpopular_subculture use LadyHope $insert_beauty_product_here”. Whilst amusing, they tended to interrupt the flow of the plot, which is my usual focus when reading.

While the plot is in the background (getting off the island), this is more of a character driven story, which are not my favourites. Also, I suspect many of the (non obvious) pageant satire components went over my head, not having paid any attention to the pageant culture.

While I personally didn’t enjoy this immensely, I did finish it. If the description appeals, I recommend you give it a try to see if it works for you. If it does work, you’ll love it.

prk.



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A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time, #14; A Memory of Light, #3)A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In an Age long past, an Age yet to come, a 20 year old fantasy series came to an end. There are neither beginnings or endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was an ending.

The Last Battle is upon us.

Rand has marshalled his generals and forces, the Dark One has his ready, and battle will be joined with the survival of humanity and the Pattern itself at stake.

Can the forces of Light defeat the Dark One, or is even a stalemate too much to hope for?

Will Rand survive Tarmon Gai’don?

Will any of the Two Rivers folk, or the friends they’ve met along the way, survive?

Is Bela really a Dark Friend? Can she Channel?

Is Taim Demandred?

Do Trollocs really kiss goats?

Some of these questions are answered in A Memory of Light, the fourteenth book and conclusion to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

I’m not going to discuss the plots in detail to avoid spoilers, suffice to say that this is not a conclusion where everyone survives and lives happily ever after.

Okay, one SPOILER:

There are deaths. Main character deaths. Heart twisting, emotion flaring deaths. Have a box of tissues handy.

Jordan and Sanderson deliver an ending to the Wheel of Time, and where they focus their attention, we’re treated to a detailed exploration of the strategy, tactics, fights and politics, of the Last Battle, including all the dirty tricks both sides can come up with. We also get a number of long standing questions answered, and theories substantiated or invalidated.

However it’s a single book, and there was way too much content to be covered in its entirety, so a lot was abbreviated or neglected. I’m not sure whether I’d have wanted it to be two books, one leading up to and including Chapter 36, the next starting from The Last Battle (a single chapter longer than some novels) or not.

In one sense it’s an ending and a completion, in another there could have been so much more. I don’t know that there could ever have been enough, yet I’m immensely grateful to Sanderson for the last three books and the completion of the series.

Certainly some aspects suffered from the compression, in particular the Padan Fain / Mordeth / Machin Shin entity, IMO, but I won’t go into any more detail to avoid spoilers.

There’s also somewhat of an irony of Sanderson’s writing suffering from being compressed when Jordan’s suffered from insufficient compression…

But I digress, and don’t want to speak ill of the dead.

If you’ve read the first 13 Wheel of Time books, you’re not going to give up and skip this finale. Know that it will be worth it to finish.

If you haven’t made it this far and were lost in the wilderness some time after The Fires of Heaven, then I’d recommend reading the chapter summaries online, and resuming with The Gathering Storm (book 12). Read it, Towers of Midnight and then A Memory of Light. Know completion.

If you didn’t make it past The Shadow Rising, then there’s nothing for you later on.

I’m simultaneously sad and glad at the ending of this series which has kept me company, made me many friends and lead to several travelling adventures over the last 20 years.

Let the Dragon ride again on the Winds of Time.

prk.




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Despite nominating this year, unfortunately I won’t be voting in the 2013 Hugo Awards for a few reasons:

  1. Supporting membership for LoneStarCon3 is US$60, which exceeds my personal threshold of a “reasonable” price. Chicon7 was US$50 (which I thought was a bit borderline, but I was willing to pay) and LonCon3 is US$40 (which seems quite reasonable). At the end of the day, I couldn’t see the justification of LoneStarCon3′s $60 supporting membership and felt it was too high – so I’m not supporting them.
  2. I’ve already read all five of the novels in the Best Novel shortlist, the category I’m most interested in, so while the Hugo Voter Packet would still provide me with the opportunity to read new content in the Novella, Novelette and John W. Campbell Award categories, it’s not really enough to overcome 1).
  3. I’m one of the Aurealis Awards Judge (Fantasy Novel) for 2013, so I’m going to have a fairly heavy reading schedule for the next 8 months. Given 2), I could probably manage the novellas, novelettes and short stories before the AA reading, but then there’s 1).

So while there are a few factors, it mostly comes back to the price of a supporting membership which is high enough that I don’t consider it good value, and have self selected out of voting this year as a result.

Please note – whilst I don’t like the specific outcome, I completely support the ConCom’s right to set the membership prices as they deem appropriate. I’ll be interested to see how the supporting membership numbers vary between Chicon7 and LoneStarCon3 to see if the $10 difference makes much of a difference overall.

Good luck to all short listed nominees, and I hope everyone who’s voting enjoys it – I’ll be looking forward to nominating and voting next year, as I’m already a LonCon3 member.

prk.

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The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels ThereThe Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

September has longed to return to Fairyland, ever since she returned home over a year ago. When she sees a rowing boat seemingly floating through the Nebraskan corn fields, she jumps at the chance to follow it back to fairyland.

While September has grown a bit in the year since she left Fairyland, it’s Fairyland that’s changed the most. September is no longer the only one without a shadow, as other shadows are vanishing from Fairyland and magic is now a scarcity to be rationed.

Realising this has something to do with when she gave up her shadow, September sets off to Fairyland-below to try and fix things. On her journey she meets up with the shadows of her friends and adventures with them.

This is a slightly darker book than the first one, both from September being a year older and not seeing things so much in black and white, and the shadow companions themselves being the darker aspects of her friends.

As an adult I very much enjoyed reading this, and can only imagine how much fun it would be to read to a child or group of children (12 – 14ish age range at a guess).

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