Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Published by: Echo: Bonnier Publishing Australia
ASIN: B074CG2SGV
ISBN 13: 9781760403171
Published: February 2018
Pages: 288
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended

Funded via Kickstarter, Morris brings us the story of two people who will come to be known as Lale and Gita Sokolov – both born under other names, but through the horrific events of Auschwitz and surroundings, and what they had to go through even when they weren’t behind barbed wire any longer, they found reason to seek other names for their future. Both Slovakian, introduced as prisoners, and finally winding up in Melbourne to tell Morris their story, we are drip fed their life from before, during, and after the war.

Lale was somehow fortunate (a weighted use of the word) to become, as the title says, the tattooist of Auschwitz. Sometimes working elsewhere but mainly there, he was one of those who cut into the arms of fellow prisoners, marked the numbers, then rubbed ink into the wound to create the tattoo. Gita, who had been a prisoner a little longer than Lale when they first meet, was also fortunate enough to work in administration – which however leaves each victim’s name blazoned in her memory where Lale only has numbers. They meet when Lale has to re-tattoo Gita’s faded numbers, and from there they keep meeting for short snatched minutes wherever possible, giving each other the strength when everything is hell in the limited hope they will someday be free and be able to marry.

During their years of incarceration, through intelligence, charm and charisma Lale manages to carve out ways to survive and look after those he can. There are women who are responsible for separating the shit personal items from the useful – when collected, the prisoners often didn’t know where they would be going and so would bring what wealth they could – and Lale makes connects with them to be smuggled money and jewels where possible. He endeavours to read people and situations, make himself invaluable, and treads as carefully as he can in order to barter limited food and medicine to dole out to those who need it to most. He’s not always careful enough, and comes close to death many times, however somehow manages (with a whole lot of luck, also) to make his way back to Gita every time.

This is a heartbreaking and deserving story. There are countless historical fiction novels out there about this subject, but Lale and Gita are both marvellous people who, yes, did terrible things, but also saved the lives of many others, and were people who were kind where – if they weren’t there – their place may have been taken with someone cruel and desperate, and in turn many more people may have perished.

This was a fast read. It’s not pleasant, it’s hard, and you can only feel shame that this was what was experienced by such a staggering amount of people. Lale says he tells his story so it won’t happen again. It’s now up to readers to take the time to understand the horrific past, and individually do whatever necessary to make this world a better place.

Review: Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 067187845X
ISBN 13: 9780671878450
Published: 1996
Pages: 418
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

We meet Miles again on a job with the Dendarii, dropped straight into trouble again as Miles’ latest health issues yet again cause him strife – this time by having a seizure whilst in battle armour, which results in severing off the legs of an unfortunate bystander.

As if that’s not bad enough, he writes a fraudulent report to Simon – not because of the shame of injuring his own employee, but because he’s hiding his seizures from everyone. Even Elli.

He’s called back to Barrayar anyway and his fraud is brought to light – he’s dismissed about as politely as possible, but it still throws Miles into one of his worst dark moods so far – which everyone expects, so Ivan is there with him, annoying him into each daily requirement such as eating and showering.

Then it comes to light that something might not be right with Simon. Simon, who basically everything relies on – he’s been there for Emperor Gregor since his birth, he’s been Aral’s right hand man, and he was literally called uncle by Miles until he was about to join the service. Simon had a chip installed in his mind by the previous emperor which grants him a photographic memory… and now it seems to be on the fritz. He demands answers for issues and missions that happened five or ten years ago… and it’s really starting to worry Miles and everyone else. To the point where after a particularly bad episode in a meeting, they stand Simon down immediately and shuttle him off to medical, where he seemingly only gets worse.

There’s not much Miles can do now he’s medically retired. He seeths for a bit, and then marches straight to his childhood foster-brother Emperor Gregor, and asks for something ridiculous – to be an Auditor, so he has full access to everything relating specifically to any case Gregor may choose to assign him – in this case, anything relating to Simon. And from there, he sets about saving the man who’s wryly helped raise him for the last 30 or so years.

What we have here is a decently sized novel (400 pages) that feels like a novella – it just flies by. Miles is in his element – he can go anywhere and do anything he likes, something he’s always been used to (especially when with the Dendarii) but wasn’t able to in his ‘official’ role on Barrayar.

What’s interesting in this novel are the elements that we focus on – Miles and his jealousy and ego, where he will always assume he’s smarter and better than his cousin Ivan, who makes it to Captaincy first.

Miles and his women – it’s finally admitted and addressed how as soon as he’s not around Elli, he’s back sleeping with previous partners and not even feeling guilty about it – even though he later questions Elli as to whether she was faithful to him. This whole side of Miles leaves a bad taste in my mouth, especially with the other dialogue about women that we see as Miles, Ivan and Duv are starting/already to look at securing a wife. They somehow think it’s okay to just pepper any girl who comes by with proposals? Or getting angry at others when the girl they set their sights on gets snapped up by others? Uh, give some recognition to the women and their choices, please.

At least we see some of the older people in healthy relationships, and the series doesn’t only focus on the young and nubile. High five to Ivan’s mother dearest.

Overall this is the excellent work we’re used to from Bujold, and it doesn’t look like we’ll be losing anytime soon.

Review: Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Series: Cookie Cutter Superhero-Verse
Published by: Book Smugglers Publishing
ASIN: B077D1MJVL
Published: December 2017
Pages: 143
Format reviewed: eVersion
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Kaleidoscope | Kid Dark Against the Machine

Disclaimer that Tansy is one of my favourite authors and we get plates of gyoza and drinks when conventions arise together, so this review won’t be totally impartial… because it doesn’t have to be. Look to the awards she’s won, everyone loves Tansy!

Putting all that aside, we’re back in the Cookie Cutter Superhero-verse we were first introduced to in the Twelfth Planet Press anthology Kaleidoscope, saw again in the novelette Kid Dark Against the Machine published by Book Smugglers in 2016, and are here now in the novella-length Girl Reporter. 

Griff, who we got to know and love in Kid Dark is back but emos off mostly to the side as we follow his pseudo-sister Friday Valentine, daughter of the star reporter who was right there at the right time when Australia first got superheroes. Now we have the internet and Friday is a vlogger, as obsessed with superheroes as her mother was and still apparently is… as it seems that her mother may have travelled to literally the ends of the world (and beyond) to snag an interview that should be impossible.

It’s just super lucky that in addition to being Australia’s sweetheart, Friday’s mother (and Friday) have a crew of superheroes ready and happy to help them out. Or at least want in on punching out Australia’s worst super-villain and her dreadful taste in 80s fashion…

 

Like all of Tansy’s writing this is a fun and lovely romp that deals with topics that shouldn’t even be something we have to mention, such as feminism, disability-awareness, bisexuality and sex-positivity. This is such a safe and positive realm that we can only hope we’ll eventually achieve someday. The characters are supportive yet realistic, troubled and sometimes a bit annoyed, but reflective and willing to fight evil when it shows up in shoulder-pads.

What is probably the most important part of the novel is the inclusion of Indigenous Australians, and their part in this novella is handled well, and with fire. The consideration for community, the recognition of white privilege, and the recognition that it’s not a simple topic to consider.

 

If you want something that’s witty, with punchy dialogue and a clever commentary on the superhero genre then you’ve come to the right place. There are in-jokes and little nods to things, but even if you’re new to loving superhero things in general, this would still be highly enjoyable without being able to notice them.

Oh, I should also mention that Tansy never fails to write something that sparks my need for another novel, inspired by some off-hand comment or reference. In this case it’s Dimes. Tansy! I need a novel on dimension pirates, please and thank you. (Or fine, a set of novellas would also work, as that’s your current favourite. I may be a rabid fangirl but I’m a benevolent rabid fangirl!) And dimesaurs! THEY COULD HAVE A PET DIMESAUR.

Review: Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer

Series: (Spindle Fire #1)
Published by: Harper Teen
ISBN: 006244087X
ISBN 13: 9780062440891
Published: April 2017
Pages: 351
Format reviewed: eVersion
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Crown Princess of Deluce, Aurora, has her world turned upside down when her Prince (and fiancé) is killed whilst journeying to her home so they can be wed. When given this news and that she will now be marrying another Prince, along with the news that her half-sister (her closest friend) will be sent off to a convent it’s almost too much to stand. The sisters are tight as thieves, Isabelle having lost their sight, while Aurora has no sense of touch and has lost the ability to speak. The fae stole these abilities from the sisters when they were young, but they’ve coped okay… they have a secret way to communicate and protect each other where needed. When it appears as though they’re going to lose that security, their lives collapse around them.

Rather than being sent away, Isabelle flees instead with the stable boy. Aurora tries to follow and beg her to come back, but instead loses her way, pricks her finger on a spinning wheel, and somehow winds up in seemingly another world… or is it that she’s trapped in a sleep so deep, only a certain kind of kiss can wake her?

This sounds like it’ll be a mash up of Sleeping Beauty however it is instead a nod in that general direction and otherwise a tale entirely of itself – there’s travel, there are love triangles, there are petty feuds and boring council-types who are enjoying shadow-reigning the kingdom just a little too much.

It’s always excellent to see the fae as petty, jealous types who have a fierce amount of power and aren’t hesitant to throw it every which way. Malfour and Belcour (the fae responsible for the sisters losing their senses) are interesting. Any readers who also like this type of thing should check out Juliet Marillier, who does an amazing job at capturing fae who play by their own rules, and one must be extremely canny if you want to survive the tale.

This is set to be a duology which the ending of this book shows – and there is a bit of a love triangle going in this book, which is probably one element I wasn’t overly enamoured with. While I felt the sisters themselves felt like their own, and the stable boy Gil was quite ‘his own’, that’s about where it would be left. Heath and William were just a little bit… eh, at times.

Aurora and Isabelle however, are lovely and excellent characters.

SPFBO 2017 – Phase One, my winner

And so I have finally got my final thoughts together for the first phase of SPFBO Year Three, 2017. Since starting back in May I have gone on two trips within Australia for conventions, one overseas to Worldcon in Helsinki with touristing to Belgium, Scotland and England on the side, enrolled in and (so far) completed half of a Diploma (HR), started a new job (month so far and got the hang of it finally), been on a pretty disappointing date, was referred to be diagnosed for Aspergers, and got a new tattoo. Pretty crazy six months.

But enough about all that – you want to know which title I’ve chosen to get through to the final ten of 300 entries! As we know, I first worked my list of 30 down to 8, and this is what I got:

Randy Nargi – A Conspiracy of Shadows – my review – 3/5 stars
Jamie Edmundson – Toric’s Dagger – my review – 3/5 stars
Harrison Davies – Destiny of the Wulf – my review – 3/5 stars

S.J. Madill – Magic Comes to Whiteport – my review – 4/5 stars
Daniel Olesen – The Eagle’s Flight – my review – 4/5 stars
Adam Steiner – The Censor’s Hand – my review – 4/5 stars
Harry Connolly – The Way Into Chaos – my review – 4/5 stars
Graham Austin-King – Faithless – my review – 4/5 stars

From the star rating we can see that it then came down to five titles, but it’s not always as easy as simply rating them by a few stars and writing a review. There’s so many things to look at when picking a winner – how everything fits together technically, overall quality, overall enjoyment… just because something is edited perfectly, does that mean it should get more merit than another? How about when you as a reader need to put aside your personal favourite for something that is a better overall package?

Personally… Magic Comes to Whiteport remains in my head as something I simply liked. The characters, the plot, the writing… all together, it’s just a nice, enjoyable and entertaining read. It was what I wanted at the time, and if I had time to read any of these again on an empty afternoon, it’s the one I’d pick up. Sadly, that’s not the same as recommending it as a winner for a competition.

The Eagle’s Flight and The Censor’s Hand are also of quality. They are solid reads, have very few errors, and do what they set out to do well. They don’t however have the spark that kept me reading, nor that I could put everything I have behind me and back it up to the other judges. But hey, out of 30 coming third and fourth is pretty dang good, guys.

So it comes to Faithless and The Way Into Chaos. It’s so close – so very close, guys. In the end it has to be The Way Into Chaos (and I’m so sorry, Faithless). These do what The Eagle’s Flight and The Censor’s Hand do, but just that little bit better. Editing and experience go a long way in a book, and I’m sure the rest of my shortlist will get there one day very soon. You’ve all done a marvellous job.

‘The Way Into Chaos’ by Harry Connolly is my pick to go into the final ten.