Fun stuff

What we read and enjoyed this year

The last few years we spent more time writing than we did reading, so one of this year’s resolutions was to read more books.

We surely did.

In fact, we probably read more books this year than we did over that last four years combined. So many, in fact, that we can’t cover everything we liked.

Here are some of those we read and liked. There were more.

Sherylyn’s pick—the classic urban fantasies

Sherylyn loves urban fantasies, and this year many of the urban fantasy greats—Anne Bishop, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Nalini Singh, among others—put out great new books.

She also caught up on some old ones this year as well.

Her favourite? It was hard to pick, but she chose Ilona Andrews’ Nevada Baylor Hidden Legacy series because they were new characters for her.

Karen’s pick—All Systems Red

Loved, loved, loved Martha Wells, All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries).

This is a novella, rather than a novel, and it was so good, I’ve already pre-ordered the next one.

I loved it as a reader, but also loved it as a writer, because our SecUnit’s (Murderbot’s) character was a beautiful example of show, don’t tell. Which is no mean feat, given the story is told from first-person point-of-view.

Reader’s Recommendation

We’ve had really good finds from reader recommendations. Last year it was Michelle Sagara, this year a reader on our blog recommended The Kingpin of Camelot (A Kinda Fairytale Book 3) by Cassandra Gannon. Thanks, Denisetwin, it was, as you said, a fun, easy read.

We both enjoyed this one. The voice of Midas, particularly, was very strong.

Children’s and young adult

There were almost too many books we read here to even remember, let alone pick out our favourites.

Had to read Kari Maaren’s Weave a Circle Round because over on the Barnes & Noble Best SFF of 2017 blog, Joel Cunningham described it as having “… all the charm and imagination of Madeline L’Engle and Diana Wynne Jones”.

Let me tell you, that was a pretty accurate description..

Also enjoyed Joel Ross’s Beast and Crown, and Paolo Bacigalupi’s Zombie Baseball Beatdown. I read Bacigalupi around the time ICE agents in the US started to pick out the ‘easy’ immigrants to deport, so it was rather surreal, and very poignant. (I know it’s a book about zombie cows, read it and you’ll see what I mean.) Bacigalupi certainly knows how to pick topical issues.

In young adult books, I finally got to read the first two Shattered Sea books by Joe Abercromie. Half a King and Half the World. They were great, and because they were meant for a younger audience, nowhere near as dark as his other stories. Definitely going to read Half a War next year.

Finally got to read (and enjoy)

Curtis Chen’s Waypoint Kangaroo, which I had been trying to get for months. Wasn’t sure I was going to like Kangaroo at first, but ended up liking it so much that I bought (and read) the second, Kangaroo Too immediately after. Same deal. Wasn’t sure I liked the character at the start (still Kangaroo) but after a few chapters I got used to him and really enjoyed both books.

Kudos to Curtis for keeping his character in character.

And a call out to Captain Santamaria, who’s the sort of captain we want on our spaceships.

But wait, there’s more

I can’t not talk about these three books.

Provenance, by Anne Leckie. Really enjoyed this book. Provenance is a story about families, with—for me—the same kind of feelgood feel of Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor (even though the books are not even remotely similar). Tic Uisine is my favourite character of the whole year. (It was a tough call between him and Murderbot.) I loved him when I read the excerpt, still loved him when I’d finished the book.

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee. I read this book in bits. Left it, went back to it. Skipped bits, came back to them. It took a couple of weeks to read, which is a long time for me, and I certainly didn’t read it in sequence. In the end, though, I got it. It’s not an easy read, but if you persevere, it’s a good classic science fiction that makes you think.

Guns of the Dawn, by Adrian Tchiakovsky. This was another book I initially skipped through. One of those stories that you start reading and you want to know what happens, but you don’t want to read it, so you skim parts. Eventually, I stopped skimming and started reading seriously. Then I went back and reread the whole book.

I still reread the end every few weeks. It’s a love story, and a really good one.

Fun stuff

Went to see Justice League

Image from

Series fatigue.

It gets to us all in the end.

I love superhero movies.  But I didn’t see either of the big superhero movies of 2016.  Batman vs Superman, or Captain America: Civil War.  At the time I’d seen too many of them, and it was all just ‘meh’.

There were other things to do when the movies first came out. By the time I was ready see them, they’d gone.  I wasn’t fussed.

I think that if I was watching them now, I would have enjoyed them both.  Back then, I’m not so sure.

There’s a thing about series. When you’ve been inundated with them, each series item has to be better than the one before, because it’s not new and fresh any more.

Unless you have a break, as I did.

I saw Justice League today, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Sure, I can point to slow parts.  It was an origin movie, after all, and we had to meet them all, and get a teeny bit of their lives into it as well.  (I suspect, if it was our story, both our editor and agent would say, “Too many people.”)  All those backstories didn’t leave much time for the main plot line.  But as I said, I enjoyed it.

One day I might go back and watch the other two movies. I might not, either.

Until then, I’m glad I held off, because I wasn’t jaded when I went to see this one.

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Christmas Santas

Taking a leaf from John Scalzi’s “View from the hotel window” when he’s out of town. This is the view from our motel window in Donald.

We stopped in the township of Donald the other day. Very hot, very dry. I always think the Wimmera/Mallee in summer is another world.  And it wasn’t even summer then, only spring.

They had their Christmas decorations up, including paintings on the windows.  Every few shops along the way the windows had pictures of Santa on them, and the Santas were shop-appropriate (if that’s a word).

Kudos to the artist, whoever you are.

Sun glare and reflection were real problems, so the photos have a lot of both in them. But you get the gist.

It’s heavy work delivering all those presents. Even Santa gets a meal break.

A local cafe.

While his helper elf made do with a coffee. Like the rest of us, elves love their coffee.

Another cafe.

Even Santa has to pay for dinner. Or maybe he’s buying more presents.

One of the local banks.

And when all the presents are delivered, Santa and his elves get to sit down and do a little celebrating of their own.

No prizes for guessing this one was on the local pub.

And finally, Santa gets his own present (from Mrs Santa) and gets to sit down and read his new book.

Newsagent and crafts
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Answers to last week’s quiz

So last week we asked you to name some characters from speculative fiction you thought you really shouldn’t like, but did.

This week we have some answers for you. If you haven’t done the quiz, go and do it now.

I used to be a hero, until I got tortured. Now I’m the torturer. I’m good at my job. I hurt people, I force them to confess (even if they didn’t do it). I am grumpy.

Oh, and I hate stairs.

A measure of how well readers love a character is at author talks, when lots of the audience ask specific questions about one character.

The first time I heard Joe Abercrombie talk was at GenreCon Australia.  Come question time, it seemed that all anyone wanted to talk about was Sand dan Glokta, from Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. You could tell, from the way the audience reacted to both the questions and the answers, that they loved Glokta.

And you have to admit, he is a great character. Even though he does torture people. You even make excuses for him. He’s in pain all the time, he was tortured himself.


I’m a convicted killer and a thief. I supposedly once gouged a man’s eyes out, just for fun.

I’m the last surviving member of a bikie gang that terrorized the Barbary Coast of California.

The government offers me a pardon if I take a shipment of drugs across country.

Here’s a perfect example of a character who has a reputation that doesn’t gel with who he is.

Hell Tanner, from Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley. He’s the opposite of the unreliable narrator. It’s external people who say he’s one thing, he behaves in another way.  That is, we’re told he’s a monster, murder and rapist (and no doubt he is), but we see him as a someone who loves his brother, and tries to stop him going into danger.


One of us is a burglar, the other a hitman. We’re partners, and we help out a private investigator on occasion.

We’re on the side of angels, although the angels don’t necessarily believe this is an entirely positive thing.

Louis and Angel, from John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series of books.

These are two more characters popular with readers. I first heard about Louis and Angel when I went to a dinner organised by one of our bookstores, Dymock’s. John gave a talk. A member of the audience wanted to talk about Louis and Angel. You could hear from the response of the other people in the room that it was a popular question.

Sherylyn, who has since read some of the Charlie Parker books, agrees. Louis and Angel are great.

They even get their own book, in The Reapers.


I’m a seven-foot skeleton. I wear a black robe, and carry a scythe.

Easy? Duh? But which one am I?

I have a granddaughter, Susan, and an apprentice named Mort.

This one was easy, yes.

Death, from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

What else can I say?

Except that Death is a great character.




I am a former lawyer. I lost my girlfriend to another man, and keep trying to get her back. I’m nice to my dog, I let him push the button to set off the explosives.


I sort of wish we could write characters like Jack Holloway, from John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation. I don’t think a lot of Jack, and I still can’t work out if he’s deliberately written to be a decent man who hides the fact that he does a decent thing behind a facade wisecracking and moral unpleasantness, or whether I just didn’t like him much.

I sort of don’t wish we could write them, too, because Jack wasn’t a great person. The closest we’d get to someone like that is Jordan Rossi (in the unpublished Acquard stories, not in Linesman.)

Or maybe not.

Loved the book, didn’t know what to think about Jack, even after the story finished.


How did you go?

Incidentally, if you ever get a chance to hear either Joe Abercrombie or John Connolly talk, go along. They’re both great speakers.

Fun stuff

Quiz: Characters you like, but feel you shouldn’t

We haven’t had a quiz for a while, so let’s talk about characters who really aren’t nice, but you like them anyway.

They’re all speculative fiction (and the fact that we used that word rather than fantasy and science fiction is a clue in itself, folks, as one is more a mystery with supernatural elements). Some of them are anti-heroes, some secondary characters in other books.

Also, your degree of ‘not nice’ may differ from ours, especially for the last one. It’s subjective.


   I used to be a hero, until I got tortured.  Now I’m the torturer.  I’m good at my job. I hurt people, I force them to confess (even if they didn’t do it). I am grumpy.

Oh, and I hate stairs.


I’m a convicted killer and a thief. I supposedly once gouged a man’s eyes out, just for fun.

I’m the last surviving member of a bikie gang that terrorized the Barbary Coast of California.

The government offers me a pardon if I take a shipment of drugs across country.


One of us is a burglar, the other a hitman. We’re partners, and we help out a private investigator on occasion.

We’re on the side of angels, although the angels don’t necessarily believe this is an entirely positive thing.


I’m a seven-foot skeleton. I wear a black robe, and carry a scythe.

Easy? Duh?  But which one am I?

I have a granddaughter, Susan, and an apprentice named Mort.


I am a former lawyer. I lost my girlfriend to another man, and keep trying to get her back. I’m nice to my dog, I let him push the button to set off the explosives.

You may not consider this guy unlikeable. We do, but we can’t work out if he’s deliberately meant to be an unpleasant man who turns out okay, or if he’s supposed to be an okay man who just doesn’t work for us as a character.

We’ve actually mentioned our ambivalence about him in another blog post (and that’s another clue). You decide.


How do you think you went?

Answers next week.

Fun stuff

Saturday night

If you’ve read this blog in the past, you might know I’m a big fan of Jon English and David MacKay’s rock odyssey, Paris. It’s about the Trojan war.

A concept album came out in 1990, with John Parr (who sang Man in Motion, from St Elmo’s Fire) as Paris, and Sheila Parker as Helen of Troy. The album had some impressive talent on it—John Waters, Barry Humphries, Philip Quast, Doc Neeson, John Parr, Sheila Parker, Joe Fagin, Demis Roussos, David Atkins and Terence Donovan. It was backed by the London Symphony Orchestra and London Philharmonic Choir.

It’s one of the albums we listen to a lot when writing.

The show has been produced as an amateur musical since, but it has never been produced professionally.

Not until Music Theatre Melbourne (MTM) produced a four-show concert series.

Paris is a rock opera. I’d never even imagined it as concert. I mean, an orchestra in the back, a choir behind them, and the singers down the front.

It was great, and the singers were superb.

Afterwards, they all sang a Jon English song as a tribute. Fantastic.

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More cat pictures, please

“And then Mrs Wiggles the cat, and Martha the girl, went up the ramp, and the spaceship took off.”

(If you haven’t recognised it, the title of this post is a play on Naomi Kritzer’s Cat Pictures Please, which won the 2016 Hugo and 2016 Locus Award for best short story, and was also a Nebula nominee for the same. You can read it on Clarkesworld magazine.)

Sometimes, all you want is something beautiful, but the news is depressing and everywhere you look, people are doing horrible things to each other.  So, today, I present to you … cat (and dog) pictures.

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It’s May. It must be Eurovision

It’s Eurovision time.

This year has gone fast. It seems only a few months back I was talking about last year’s Eurovision Song Contest. It’s one of the must-watch items on our television calendar, but lest you think all Australians watch it, they don’t.  Enough of us watch it that we’ve had an entrant in each of the last three years, but none of us know what we’d do if Australia won. (I know, we’re not part of Europe. As some journalist once said, just go with it.)  But it’s not a massive event on our social calendar. Not like, say Grand Final, or Melbourne Cup, which everyone watches.

We watch the final, which is on Sunday night Australian time.  It’s a delayed telecast, so we try not to watch until then. Or hear who won.  That’s why, as I post this, the competition is probably over, but I don’t know what’s happened yet, and I’m talking as if the semi-finals haven’t even happened.

So trends?  Men with high voices.  It felt like every second male sang high.

I’m a sucker for a power ballad.  There are a couple that get close, but no standout for me.  This year, my two stand-outs are songs that may not even make the finals.

How does rap yodel sound?

Ilinca, featuring Alex Florea, from Romania.

Or what about a little operatic background from Jaques Houdek, of Croatia? I’ve heard a version of this song without the deeper voice in the background.  I love the slightly-operatic version best.

Enjoy it, if you’re watching it. Have fun.

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Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Yesterday we saw the Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

I’ve got a new favourite character.

I adore baby Groot.

The opening scene was gorgeous. A James Bond-style action sequence, with baby Groot dancing along to the music on the sidelines, and each of the main characters stopping in the middle of the battle to pick him up and take him out of danger.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the movie.

As I sat there, watching some of the fight scenes, I couldn’t help being a little envious.  In a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy, the fight scenes are over the top.  A novelist has to justify the odds.  If your characters are fighting and they’re outnumbered or out-skilled, you have to explain how they can win.

(Obviously, this thought comes directly from the fact that we struggled to have our protagonists in our next book win some of the fights when they’re up against some superior forces.)

Stay right till the end of the credits to see all the codas, .



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Quiz Time—Fantasy Whodunnit

I love a good mystery novel. Even better, I love a good speculative fiction whodunnit.

Time for a quiz, I thought.  Science fiction mystery novels.

So I started writing the quiz.  Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel, Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Real Time.  They were easy.

I need a minimum of five novels for a quiz.  I googled some more. And stopped, realising that I hadn’t read many of the more modern science fiction mysteries.

O…kay.  Science fiction mystery quiz on hold until I’ve read more of the SF mysteries that have been released in the last ten years, not in the last fifty.

But … I have read some fantasy mysteries more recently.  So, let’s do a quiz about that instead.

This is a mix of urban fantasy, Flintlock fantasy, and what I would call traditional fantasy.  They’re not all murder mysteries.  In at least one of the stories, it’s not a traditional murder but the protagonist is searching for someone. (And that’s as many clues as you get.  🙂 )

These books are from our bookshelves.

Mystery One

Someone is disembowelling children.  Not only that, they’re tattooing the arms (and thighs) of the victims, from wrist to elbow.  I’m from the local policing force; young, but I’ve been around the force a while.  My two companions in the investigation are the man who killed my friends when I was younger (not happy about him being along, as you can imagine), and a dragon.

Mystery Two

I am a constable at the Met (London Metropolitan Police).  While standing guard over a murder site one morning (the victim was beheaded), I speak to a witness.  There’s just a slight problem.  The witness is dead.

Mystery Three

I make a living finding dead people, seeing how they died.  In this first job I get called in to find the body of a missing woman who was murdered in what appears to be a murder-suicide.  Except it wasn’t. It turns out both the victims were murdered.  And in fact, the female victim’s sister was also murdered (a few months earlier).

Mystery Four

I am a disgraced magician.  I draw pictures that tell the truth.  I am forced into taking a lowly-paid job with the town coroner, sketching the newly deceased. My truthful sketch of a young, dead girl shows the child was from a wealthy family, and murdered.

Mystery Five

I live a double life as both myself and my private detective twin brother.  I take a job hunting for a missing aristocrat, who has run off with a mysterious machine that everyone, including the all-powerful Patent Office, is looking for.

How did you go?

Answers next week.