I have two go-to sanity preservation activities: 1. Going for long walks. 2. Opening a book, escaping to new worlds and meeting new characters. In 2017 I didn’t get a chance to do either on an abundant scale, but overall it was a pretty damn fine year for reading and walking, and it looks like I’ve made it through with my sanity in check. (Disclaimer: There is still one day left of 2017).
On reflection, my reading list for 2017 is quite eclectic. I’m pleased to note seventy-five per cent of the list is made up of Australian and New Zealand authors. There is so much talent in the spheres of Australasian writing, across all genres.
I read more forensically these days than I ever have before, and some titles gripped me more than others. Enjoyment from reading will always be a matter of taste though (as it should be), so these aren’t reviews as such, more like a few indulgent observations.
- Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. My first introduction to Liane Moriarty (read before viewing the TV adaptation). It was a holiday read, and I loved it – the characters, the secrets, the dialogue, the relatability. I live on a Peninsula and do the ‘school thing,’ although I’m happy to say my crew are a much more down to earth bunch. Liane Moriarty has a real talent for observational writing. She skillfully holds a mirror up to the everyday familiarity of life, and family and social dynamics, and translates what she sees into memorable characters, and intriguing plots.
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I love Neil Gaiman’s writing – he is an incredible wordsmith who deserves every accolade bestowed upon him. While I have greatly enjoyed other of his work, I just couldn’t finish American Gods. I made it through about three quarters and then … I don’t know. Ran out of steam? It wasn’t the writing; that was solid as ever. Perhaps I’ll pick it up again down the track. I know it is a book loved by many. I also know many of my spec fic community are shaking their heads at me right now!
- Baby and a Backpack by Jane Cornelius. If you ever get a chance to meet Jane, you’ll instantly be attracted to her generous energy and zest for life. In Baby and a Backpack you feel like you’re given an insight into the history of this energy. It’s the true account of Jane’s quest for something more, as she travels the world alone, pretty near broke, and with her 12-week-old daughter to care for. Jane’s honest and open style makes for an easy read, and you’ll find yourself laughing – and crying with her – as she searches for the true meaning of home.
- The Rejects by Ali Smith. A delightfully whimsical tale about a crate of garden gnomes, that find themselves alone and rejected – relegated to the rubbish heap due to their imperfections. This host of charming characters can’t be held down for long though. They take to the road for adventure, and to discover exactly what it means to be a gnome (or Ginomee, as they call themselves, reading from the side of their crate). A great one for younger readers with important (yet subtle) lessons woven into the narrative.
- The Locksmith by Barbara Howe A talented Kiwi author who’s delivered a strong female protagonist wrapped up in an epic fantasy that brings together romance, war, political agenda, secrets, and a very becoming Fire Warlock (just don’t get him angry). This is the first book in the Reforging series. It steers into quite complex historical territory at times, but if you’re a fan of intelligent detailed worlds, quick-witted heroines, and skillful writing, this one’s definitely for you.
- Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough That ending. Oh, my Glob – that five star ending!!! ‘nuff said. #respect
- Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty My second foray into Moriarty’s work. For me, another page turner. What I thought was going to happen in that suburban back yard turned out to be much worse than what had been foreshadowed. Again, great cast of characters.
- The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale A very cool offering indeed. A little predictable from the get go, but the setting, era, and sub plots in this are enough to keep you turning pages until the end. Not to mention the way this book is deftly handled by Lansdale – a coming of age tale, narrated by an elderly protag. It works on a number of levels. Read it! Then read more of Lansdale!
- Elementals: Stories of Fire & Ice by A S Byatt A short collection of beautiful fairytale-esque writing. Some stories were easier to lose myself in; others were a bit of a struggle.
- Jasper Jones by Craig Silver Jeffrey Lu is my new favourite literary character – a scene stealer every time he pops up. I also enjoyed the beautiful imagery Silver used throughout. The story itself was a bit of a stretch in places … but so what? That’s the beauty of fiction 😊 I watched the movie last week, and was disappointed, as one usually is when they have read a memorable book.
- Towards White by Zena Shapter A sci fi debut novel, with a fab Icelandic setting. Towards White revolves around a subject I have long been fascinated by: where does energy go after you die? Zena tackles this subject with an intelligent plot that combines suspense, mystery, action, intrigue, and a smattering of romance. Another great Aussie author to look out for.
- The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren It’s not surprising The Grief Hole scooped multiple awards this year. It’s utterly compelling in a way that, at first, is hard to put your finger on. You are never quite sure what you’re reading – which is testimony to Kaaron’s skill – and the characters are an ugly, yet gripping study in human nature. It’s dark as all get out, but will stay with you long after you’ve finished. This is one I will re-read in due course, as there are layers that deserve further exploration.
- It’s Your World by Kristy-Lee Swift A refreshingly different debut novel from a Mornington Peninsula author. It’s Your World is a clever YA exploration of family dynamics and self-examination. It is written in verse, a vehicle that showcases Kristy-Lee’s versatility and skill in a challenging medium she makes look effortless. Watch out for this author – the voice is strong in this one!
- The Girl With all the Gifts by M R Carey Far out, I loved this novel! Carey has nailed it: original take on a well-worn trope written with stripped back, straight forward brevity. If you aren’t moved by Melanie’s predicament, you have no heart.
- We Ate the Road Like Vultures by Lynnete Lounsbury This was like taking a bizarre, unexpected literary road trip. Really good fun about a girl from Northern New South Wales who heads to Mexico to track down her hero, Jack Kerouac. It’s totally weird, and totally cool. I couldn’t get on board with the protag, LuLu – her age didn’t match her worldliness – but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment.
- The Easy Way to Control Alcohol by Allen Carr Sometimes I feel my love of wine could foreshadow a potential issue. So I read this book, and didn’t recognise myself in it. Now I know it doesn’t. Hurrah! Cheers 😊
- The Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl One of the many reads I had with my son this year. A timeless classic.
- Shadows on the Wall by Steven Paulsen This is a great collection, due for release early 2018, that I was lucky enough to get an early read of. Steven is a versatile writer indeed, with the ability to tackle horror from a number of angles – psychological, Lovecraftian, subtlety and understatement in a style reminisce of the masters of the turn of the 19th century, contemporary dark fantasy, and every now and then a shocking sledgehammer right between the eyes. Great stuff for lovers of the genre, or those coming new to it.
- The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape Hands down the most valuable book I’ve read in years. A gift from my brother who had already decided it was a great investment for himself. A common sense guide to finance and long-term financial security for Australians of every age and demograph. The Barefoot Investor seems to be the book on everyone’s lips in 2017, and I daresay its popularity will extend into next year and beyond.
- The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh Not they type of book I normally read. While the story didn’t grip me as I hoped it would, and I felt that the female protag was wasted (she was trained as a spy and deployed on a highly dangerous mission, yet didn’t get to exercise any of her skills except the most basic), I admired the level of research that McIntosh put into this book. I certainly learned a lot about WW2, and the interplay of Britain, Germany, Russia, and the various regions of France during wartime. A win for me – I have a huge thirst for knowledge.
- The Road to Winter by Mark Smith I love dystopia, and I love regional Aussie settings. I also love a vulnerable, likeable protag. Put it all together, and you have The Road to Winter, a great debut by award-winning Mark Smith. My favourite part is the budding relationship between the two main characters, it is well handled and adds a heightened level of reader investment – I have a hunch Smith will cash in on this and their relationship will be tested as our heroes face danger and challenges in the next book in the series: Wilder Country.
- I Came Back to Show You I Could Fly by Robin Klein This is a re-read for me from my tween years. Also part research for something I’m working on. It’s always interesting when you come back to a book you loved at a different time in your life, and recognise how you have evolved as a reader. (Not a negative, merely an observation).
Bring on 2018 – first cab off the reading rank: Looking for Alibrandi
Happy writing, happy reading, and happy days …