December Raves: Book Review: The Iron Line by L. M. Merrington


Digital: 177 pages

Published by PAC books


“There’s a ghost train that runs along here at night. They say it carries the souls of those bound for hell.”

Jane Adams is only twenty-three, but she’s already a widow. A daughter of the railway, after her husband’s death she takes a job as a level crossing gatekeeper in the little town of Tungold, out at the end of the line. But all is not right in Tungold. The townspeople are frosty and unwelcoming, and Jane’s only ally is the new young police constable, Alec Ward, an outsider just like her.

When a railway official is murdered, Jane and Alec become determined to get to the bottom of the town’s secrets. Who killed Brian Mathieson? And what is behind the mysterious ghost train? But Jane is also hiding a secret of her own — one that will put her life and everything she cares about on the line.


Set in the late 1800’s in the fictional town of Tungold, a small country town in rural Australia, The Iron Line is a murder mystery with an air of Australian Gothic.

Newly widowed Jane Adams arrives from Goulburn as the new level-crossing gatekeeper and is warned of a mysterious ghost train that rattles along the line in the dead of night. Unwilling to believe in ghosts, Jane soon finds she has more pressing concerns in the mundanity of everyday life and in finding her place in a small town with more than its fair share of politics and prejudice. That is, of course, until the murder…

Jane can’t resist either the mystery of the train or the mystery of the murder, and soon teams up with the handsome Constable Ward, although her blossoming relationship is rightly complicated by her memories of her late husband.

Jane is an outspoken and enjoyable heroine. A feminist and self-professed bully-hater, she’s a likeable and relatable if somewhat mysterious character. Jane’s past is deftly handled by the author, gently feeding us the smallest titbits of her history and how she came to Tungold.

Although Tungold is fictional, Merrington’s historical research is such to breathe life and authenticity into the small town and its inhabitants. In fact, The Iron Line offers plenty of historical commentary as Jane faces many of the hardships of a single woman in rural Australia in the late 19th century – monetary worries, social ostracism, sexism, snakes and spiders, the endless chores that existed before vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and motor cars, as well as a pervasive sense of danger that comes from living isolated and alone.

Merrington makes the most of Jane’s isolation, and Jane’s home on the outskirts of town beside the railway gives ample opportunity for her to be awakened by the spectral, creepy locomotive: ‘The locomotive was black, I thought, but glowed with a strange, eerie luminescence, independent of the moonlight…Mr Bailey had said there was no driver, but as I peered towards the cabin I caught sight of someone. Then he turned towards me and I thrust my hands into my mouth to stifle a scream…’

The Iron Line is great length too, and I’m so glad too for the digital age which has once again made the 60,000-word murder-mystery a viable exercise (after all, Agatha Christie herself is said to have supported 50,000 words as the perfect length for a murder-mystery). The Iron Line feels fresh and fast-paced without any unnecessary padding or spurious sub-plots to slow down the main story.

It has a fantastic twist at the end too. Gripping from start to finish with plenty to love from the painstaking historical research, to the nod to Boldrewood’s Captain Starlight, to the enjoyable and well-handled mystery plot, this novel should definitely be joining you for holiday reading.

Highly recommended.

You can get it here on Amazon 

or click here for links to your other favourite retailers (itunes, nook, etc)


May Review Raves: Soulless by Gail Carriger and Mythmaker by Marianne De Pierres

I’ve got two books to add to your must-read pile this month (if you haven’t read them already). Both on these books sit on the fringes of the fantasy genre. Both are utterly fabulous and worth an immediate read. First up:

Mythmaker by Marianne De Pierres


Genre: Urban Fantasy / Sci-fi / Western

Details: 320 pages, published 2015 by Angry Robot

Blurb: Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for an organisation called GJIC with Nate Sixkiller as her immediate boss. Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another. Then there’s the escalation of Mythos sightings, and the bounty on her head. Oddly, the strange and dangerous Hamish Burns is the only one she can rely on. Virgin’s life gets… untidy.

My Review: Virgin Jackson is back in the second instalment of Marianne De Pierres’ Peacemaker series. This one’s just as action packed as the first, as gun-toting ranger, Virgin, aided by the taciturn US cowboy Nate Sixkiller, her spirit animal and her possibly psychotic self-appointed bodyguard, Hamish, set out to discover the truth about the Mythos. She’s got a mystery to solve and her name to clear, and a bounty and a murder rap both hang over her head. Beautifully written and tightly paced, De Pierres’ novel takes us from wild, open spaces to cramped city slums and back again. Urban Fantasy meets sci-fi, meets western, this is a book that will grip you from start to finish. Yee-haa!

Grab it here (Amazon) or support local Australian bookshops, and grab it here (Booktopia)

You can read a stellar review of its predecessor, Peacemaker here.


Soulless by Gail Carriger



Genre: Paranormal Historical Romance

Details: 373 pages, published 2009 by Orbit

Book blurb: Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. 

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. 

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series: a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

My Review:  A blend of Victorian, steampunk, regency comedy of costume, romance, horror, paranormal (werewolves and vampires) – Soulless is a librarian’s worst nightmare when it comes to deciding on a shelf to put it on. The storyline and concept, however, are both absolute crackers, and if you haven’t read this book (and I know I came to this party late) you really ought to!

Alexia Tarabotti is an outspoken, self-professed Victorian spinster who carries a cane just to beat up potential attackers. She’s attacked by a rogue vampire, who discovers (much to his dismay) that he’s messed with the wrong girl. Alexia has plenty of tricks up her sleeve (not the least of which is her Soulless ability which neutralises supernatural power)

Enamoured by the gruff, yet dangerously attractive Lord Maccon (who also happens to be a werewolf), Alexia must survive assassination and kidnapping attempts, her attraction to Lord Maccon (unsuccessfully), and her best friend’s terrible choice in hats. Written in a delicious Jane Austen style, there is enough absurdity in this book to make you laugh, and enough mystery to keep you turning the pages well into the night. Can you tell I’m Miss Carriger’s new number 1 fan?

Grab this book here.

Book Review: The Hunt for Pierre Jnr by David M Henley


Book 1 of the Hunt for Pierre Jnr trilogy

Paperback, 416 pages
Published  by Harper Collins Australia

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

This sci-fi political thriller by debut novelist David Henley is an intelligent and enthralling read.

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr is set in a world that felt to me as though it could be scarily prophetic. Global warming has caused worldwide famine, and the resulting social upheaval has left what remains of the world’s population scattered across a few habitable hubs. The world has become a smaller place than ever, and humanity is connected by the Weave, a matrix-style interface of all human thought and knowledge. Democracy has reached its ultimate level; politicians are elected and dethroned at the whim of the Will, the general consensus of the entire populace at any given time. This raised some very interesting propositions regarding political maneuvering, and spotlighted the ever-present political question of doing what is right versus doing what is popular. (I also wondered why the world wasn’t run by the lead singer of the latest boy band, but I was prepared to let that slide.)

Enter the psis; an outcast group of mutant humans, who can read minds (tappers), move objects (benders), and in some cases, control other people’s thoughts and feelings. Normal humans, terrified of the psis’ potential power, have repressed them and contained them to islands. Think X-men without the parochial American setting.

Henley has developed a baddie who could arguably be the most ultimately unstoppable force I’ve ever encountered on the page. I just kept thinking, “how can you stop this kid?” Pierre Jnr is a psi of incalculable strength. Eight years old and lacking a moral compass to the point of sociopathic, Pierre Jnr can (and does) control people to do his every whim, make people believe he is not there, turn people’s brain to baby food, and flatten whole cities with a thought. (I thought maybe the protagonist should pop over to X-men and ask Magneto if he could borrow his silly hat, but since Pierre Jr could crush the hat with your brain in it, it probably wouldn’t be worth the trip.)

Like many sci-fi adventures, some character development is sacrificed for the sake of plot and exploration of the premise. Henley plays out the threat of Pierre Jr on a world stage, with all of the political ramifications and machinations that ensue. To that end, this was a complex read, with several POVs, lots of political manoeuvring, and cool futuristic technology.

I particularly enjoyed Henley’s use of a tapper (mind reader) as protagonist. Having a main POV character that can read minds was a very clever authorial device, allowing Henley to write in omniscient (describing other character’s emotions and thoughts) whilst still remaining in close third POV. A very clever trick, and one I’m squirrelling away.

I had been warned that The Hunt for Pierre Junior ended on a cliffhanger. I’m not a fan of the cliffhanger ending, and was glad that it wasn’t a cliffhanger as such – rather it ended with the gauntlet being thrown down, and bigger things looming on the horizon. I’ll take that challenge, Mr Henley, and am looking forward to continuation of the story in Manifestations.

A powerful novel, delving into ideas of acceptance, fear and mass consensus.

9/10 symbiotic dragons

9 dragons


About the Author


David Henley does a few things. Primarily he writes stuff and has ideas. He runs Seizure (, works for Xoum ( and does special contract and publishing jobs for the creative industries.

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr is his first major release, but has some quirky and obscure works in his shady past


About the Novel: The Hunt for Pierre Jnr  (Book 1 of the Pierre Jnr Trilogy)

He can make you forget, he can control you and he is only eight years old. Three months after his birth he escaped. An hour later he was lost to surveillance. No one knows where he has been for the last eight years … Now Pierre Jnr is about to return.

THE HUNT FOR PIERRE JNR follows the activities of an elite group dedicated to tracking down the eight-year-old boy who is currently the greatest threat humanity has ever known. It′s a pacy and gripping chase, and an impressive vision of our future.

Read the first 80 pages in this sampler.

‘A fantastic look at the idea of human prejudice and fear… He [David M Henley] has the potential to be another Peter F Hamilton or Daniel Suarez…’ – Fantasy Book Review


Get it here: 

ebook available from the iBookstore, Bookworld, Google Play and Amazon

paperback available from Booktopia and Bookworld

Book Review: Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts


Paperback, 512 pages
Published 2010 by HarperVoyager

“She almost missed the sight of a naked youth falling out of the sky. He was long and lean and muscled … He was also completely off his face.”

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

I love being in love with the last book I read. Don’t you?

And boy, do I LOVE Power and Majesty right now. This award winning novel by renowned Australian fantasy writer Tansy Rayner Roberts was an utterly enjoyable ride.

Power and Majesty is described as ‘dark fantasy’ and I found it a refreshing change from my regular epic fantasy fare. Not only does Rayner Roberts borrow from language and culture to imbue Power and Majesty with a very Ancient Roman flavour (a time period I absolutely adore BTW), she also manages to develop a very original fantasy world, with enough plot-twists and grey characters to keep even seasoned fantasy readers guessing.

Little do the daylight people of Aufleur know that a battle rages every evening right above their heads, a battle between the Sky and the Creature Court (a group of infighting shape-shifters who used to be human), a battle which must be won at all costs, or the city of Aufleur will be destroyed. The novel follows the story of Velody, a young girl who has come to the big city in the hopes of beginning a trade. But Velody is no ordinary girl. She sees the battle in the sky, and soon enough will need to take her place in the Creature Court.

The Creature Court blends the best of Roman history and culture. It combines the strength and majesty of the unseen and often warring Gods of Olympus, with the decadence and viciousness of Rome in the time of the early Caesars. The result is a dangerous, exotic, sensual world, and Velody, a female protagonist up to the challenge (just the way I like them!), must face enemies at every turn.

Don’t let the cover put you off. If you are a fantasy fan, then this is a book you have to read. I got to the last page of this book, and the first thing I did was hop on Booktopia and order Book 2, The Shattered City (which, at the time of writing, was selling for a ridiculously cheap price). Amazing, must-read fantasy. Put this at the top of your to-read pile.

I give this book 10/10 Sky-Battling Dragons

10 dragons


Book Review: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier


Book One of the Sevenwaters Triology
538 pages
Published 2000 by Pan Macmillan

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

For me, the best gauge of a fantastic novel is my inability to put it down. That was my experience with Daughter of the Forest. This beautiful and haunting story was an absolute delight to read.

The story follows the plot of the Grimm fairytale ‘Six Swans’, but is set in a mysterious Celtic world. The style of Marillier’s writing reminded me a little of Mary Stewarts Arthurian Legend series, for its beauty and natural setting.

Daughter of the Forest recounts the tale of Sorcha, a young girl whose six brothers are cursed by an evil witch and turned into swans. Sorcha learns that the only way for her to break the curse is to weave six shirts of starwort, one for each of her brothers. If she tries to tell her story, or even utter a sound, her brothers will remain swans forever.

As you can imagine, the tale itself is one of suffering and endurance. And then there is the rape scene. I am glad I knew about it beforehand, and I can see why this scene has received much discussion. It comes at the centre of the book, when we are well invested in Sorcha, and is shocking for both its brutality and senselessness. It colours the rest of the story, and changes Sorcha’s character, adding an extra burden for her to overcome.

This is a truly amazing tale of love and loss and sacrifice and I am looking forward to the sequel.

10/10 Silent Dragons
10 dragons

Book Review: Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan


360 pages
Published 2012 by Allen & Unwin Australia

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

Margo Lanagan is at it again. She disarms with her lyrical prose, immerses me head-first into her story, skews the borders between real and imagined and tells a tale with depth and emotion. The result is a haunting tale of love and loss, of belonging and revenge, of gender inequality and ownership. Of wild things and free.

Drawing heavily on selkie folklore for inspiration, Sea Hearts weaves the tale of a witch who can draw forth women from seals. The seawives are spellbinding and irresistible – the  ‘perfect object’. But there is a price to pay for taming the untamable.

Sea Hearts has a lot to say beneath the tale of sorrow. Lanagan gives voice to the witch herself, and through her eyes we see a world that values women only for their beauty, and leaves no place for those who do not conform. I could feel no anger towards the witch, but rather felt the finger of blame pointed towards the men who so carelessly discarded their old wives for seawives, and then let them live so unhappily.

Lanagan will not appeal to all. Her language is complex, artistic and surprising. This is a world where sound smears and wrinkles follow lips. It also doesn’t feel traditionally plotted, with multiple perspectives of varying length. Yet the world she invokes is so atmospheric, so rich, so deep, not so much a novel, as an experience. It caught me in its spell, mesmerized me – and I was as powerless to resist as the men of Potshead themselves, putting aside my nightly tasks so that I could swallow this morsel whole.

10 out of 10 wild dragons

10 dragons

Margot Lanagan - and two of her awards!

Here’s me, Margo Lanagan – and two of her awards!

Book Review: My Heart’s Choir Sings by Maureen Flynn


52 pages
Published 2014

Brave Adventurers,

I’m breaking with tradition today to bring you a review of an amazing debut verse novella by talented writer, Maureen Flynn.

Maureen is a fantasy writer and close personal friend, but I must say that when I read My Heart’s Choir Sings I was blown away by her poetic talent. Before I’d read My Heart’s Choir Sings, I would have said that post-modern verse novellas aren’t really my thing. I like poetry, but I’m a classics kinda girl. Think Tennyson or Coleridge, fantasy in verse, and you’ve got me. So it surprised me when this little verse novella, 25 free verse poems, got to me too.

It was the story that won me, the non-linear narrative of Stewart, a man who has lost his lover in tragic circumstances. Through the poems he reflects honestly on his less-than-perfect relationship and the emotional baggage of loss, betrayal, and disappointment that she has left behind. Each poem is a piece of a jigsaw, coming together like mirror fragments as the reader builds up the whole. This is a parallel journey for reader and protagonist, as both undergo revelation.

To that end, it is almost impossible to pick a favorite poem in the collection as they work together to build the story. It’s hard to go past ‘Blue’, for it sits at the climax of the novel, but I also very much enjoyed the emotionally charged ‘Your Fault’.

Flynn’s poems are carefully and intelligently crafted, and she admits that she left many of the poems deliberately ambiguous, so that the reader could draw their own conclusions.

This is a gutsy compilation, full of heart, complied with love and care, and one that you will want to revisit again and again.

You can pick up My Heart’s Choir Sings at:

Or Connect with Maureen via:

You can also read my interview with Maureen here.