If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know every January I give a wrap of books I read in the previous year. Some years the list is extensive; other years embarrassingly short. 2018’s reading list of thirty-one books falls somewhere in the middle. I wish I had more time to devote to reading these days, but you know … life!
On reflection, my reading list for 2018 is again quite eclectic. It appears I read more fiction for younger readers than usual. I’ve been working on a couple of manuscripts for children, as well as a grittier young adult sci fi, so perhaps that’s been the catalyst. I note fifty percent of the list is made up of female authors, and sixty per cent is made up of Australian and New Zealand authors. There is so much talent in the spheres of Australasian writing, across all genres.
As I mentioned last year, I read more forensically now than ever 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 a few indulgent observations.
- The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. Reading about a couple of prankster fourth graders with my Grade 4 son was a lot of fun. Thomas enjoyed the interactive parts of the book and I found Principal Krupp hilarious.
- The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan. This is my second reading of The Hawkline Monster, and I will never lose this book again! It grabs genre by the collar, gives it a good shake, then throws it down a winding staircase. Gothic western with a crazy plot successfully carried by two extremely likeable rogues. I found this cult classic in a second hand bookstore years ago, read it, loved it, and then lost it … probably lent to a friend at some stage, or sold in a garage sale. Either way, I mourned its loss. I found it again this year … but the story of how I did is almost as incredible as the book, and best saved for another time.
- How to Bee by Bren MacDibble. There’s a reason this book has picked up a swag of awards. It’s middle grade fiction done right – clever, thought provoking, a highly original premise carried by a protagonist you can really cheer for. Your heart will explode. Bren’s got a new book out this year, The Dog Runner, which sounds ace. I’ll be getting my mitts on it when it’s released via Allen & Unwin.
- The Clonestone by Ali Smith. This is the second book in The Ginomees Trilogy – a delightfully whimsical series about adventuring garden gnomes. This one picks up where the first left off, and you can’t help but feel for Noname as he faces some very difficult challenges, both internally and externally. Kiwi scribe, Ali Smith, has created a world younger readers will want to turn and return to.
- Engine of Lies by Barbara Howe Another talented Kiwi author. This is the second book in the Reforging Series, and picks up where The Locksmith finished. If you love strong female protagonists, intelligent writing, and epic fantasy, this one’s for you. You will need to read The Locksmith first in order to get acquainted with the complex worldbuilding, and political history.
- Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr Gorgeous and enduring fantasy adventure starring a plucky and resourceful eleven-year-old girl in an “I wish that was me” setting. Who wouldn’t want a marine iguana as a best friend after meeting Fred?
- Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward This punchy dystopian novella is a short, gritty read that makes you want to flip tables and start your own rebellion. I would have liked to have known more about the ‘hows and whys’ of Orphancorp’s inception, so will seek out the next instalment to learn more in due course.
- The Hidden City by David Bowles The Garza Twins are back in the next instalment of the highly popular series from Mexican-American author, David Bowles. This was my introduction to Bowles’ writing, and it’s awesome to read about diverse young characters immersed in adventures set within their own culture and mythology. Educational and entertaining.
- Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney Have I mentioned I love an unreliable narrator before? Have I also mentioned I love a good psychological thriller? If you love both of these too, then add Sometimes I Lie to your ‘to be read’ pile. (And then please contact me and let me know exactly what happened at the end)?!
- Captain Underpants and The Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies From Outer Space by Dav Pilkey Another fun-filled read with the boy. The title says it all, really. What’s not to like? Thomas particularly enjoyed the ‘flip-o-rama’ pages.
- The Book Club by Alan Baxter A read-in-one-sitting offering – starts out with an intriguing mystery that hints at marital problems, then takes a sharp turn into the unknown. Deftly executed nod to cosmic horror.
- The Twits by Roald Dahl A Dahl classic. Thomas and I were hysterical over Mr and Mrs Twit’s pranks on each other.
- Faerie Apocalypse by Jason Franks A refreshingly different, uniquely-delivered, multi-faceted romp of a read. It’s quite unlike anything you’ve read before with a scope that – to be executed successfully – takes a writer of considerable talent. Special mention goes to the character of the magus: he is utterly, nastily, fabulous!
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime by Mark Haddon A good read but, for me, quite an emotional one. Told through the POV of an autistic boy, Christopher, the challenging part for me revolved around the breakdown and confusion surrounding the parental relationship. I did find myself skipping the mathematical equations and illustrations that accompanied the narrative. I have very little understanding of numbers, so subsequently little enjoyment. (I do realise they were not there for my enjoyment).
- Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean by Rebecca Fraser This might seem a weird inclusion to my 2018 reading list … a book that I authored. However, with dyslexia and dysgraphia, reading for the boy is challenging, frustrating, and devoid of joy. Thomas loves being read to though, so I wanted him to hear Curtis for the first time. He is particularly tickled that the book is dedicated to him 🙂
- Wimmera by Mark Brandi There’s been a spurt of ‘small town’ crime novels featuring rural Australian settings, and Wimmera has been my favourite so far. Two troubled protags over two different time zones, exploring the dynamics of friendship … and fallout.
- Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill Judas Coyne is a cool protag. I did enjoy reading him. Heart-Shaped Box didn’t exactly set my world on fire … and I can’t put my finger on why, exactly. It was an enjoyable holiday read though, and an easy one – which is exactly what you want from a holiday read. It was my first Joe hill. I will be back for others, as I like his characterisation and voice.
- Cicada by Shaun Tan This one made me cry. Bleak but beautiful. An important read, albeit a quick one. A real heart-squeezer.
- Angels of Pattaya by G T Gray I picked this up from the communal library at the resort we were staying at while holidaying in Khao Lak. Promising a look ‘inside the secret world of Thai prostitution’, I wasn’t expecting too much, but it was more insightful than I expected. The author has interviewed twenty-seven girls, however the questions he asks are the same throughout, so you end up with a lot of repetitious answers. I popped it back in the library – I hope it is oft-borrowed by other holiday makers … especially those who may have a judgemental view of prostitution, or an ignorance of global economic disparity.
- In The Dark Spaces by Cally Black The worthy winner of the 2015 Ampersand Prize, I freaking loved this book. Original premise, original voice. This is a sci-fi tale of how young space-freighter stowaway, Tamara, is kidnapped by a tribe-like alien species, and the lengths she’ll go to to be reunited with her cousin. It’s a thought-provoking foray into human-alien interactions with a ton of heart. (If you recognise something stylistically familiar, check out Bren MacDibble’s How to Bee – another of my fave reads from this year – the same talented person).
- The Nowhere Child by Christian White Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, The Nowhere Child has been carving it up all over the place. From book clubs to reviewers, everyone has had their nose buried in White’s debut suspense thriller. Asking the question, Who Took Sammy Went? Readers are taken on an international whodunnit trail from Melbourne to the Pentecostal-fundamentalist US backwaters. It might not be perfect, but it’s damn compelling. I hear the movie will be made soon as well – bravo!
- The Anti-Cool Girl by Rosie Waterland I became a fan of Rosie’s during her hilarious recaps of the television series, The Bachelor, that were posted through the Mamamia website. She has a real gift for humorous writing, and I was curious to read more of her work. I had been following Rosie on Facebook for a while, so knew her life had moments that were anything but ‘rosie’. She tackles her issues and demons with surprising openness, and raw honesty. The Anti-Cool Girl is described as “a full-frontal memoir about surviving the very worst that life can throw at you,” and explores Rosie’s upbringing and background. Rosie doesn’t hold back – I laughed, shed a tear, and cringed for her. I have her next book Every Lie I’ve Ever Told in my tbr pile, and have a feeling it will be another deep dive. It’s described as, “A raw, beautiful, sad, shocking – and very, very funny – memoir of all the lies we tell others and the lies we tell ourselves.”
- Minecraft: The Island by Max Brooks The very first novel set in the world of Minecraft by none other than Max Brooks (he of World War Z fame). Another read with the boy, who is an avid Minecrafter. Tells the story of a human protag who becomes stranded in the world of Minecraft and what he must do to survive. Every chapter is a kind of ‘how to / intro’ to navigating and understanding Minecraft. I learned so much! The story itself is boring as bat shit, and paint by numbers, but young fans of MC will love it, and parents who don’t quite know what the heck MC is all about will have many “aha” moments 😊
- Force of Nature by Jane Harper Having not yet read The Dry, I didn’t know if I’d be able to get completely immersed in Force of Nature, but they are two standalone novels, featuring the same protag, AFP Investigator, Aaron Falk. Once I had worked my way through quite a sizeable cast in the first two chapters, I found myself turning pages very quickly. Betrayal, suspicion, corporate skulduggery, family secrets, hostile terrain, survival … I enjoyed this Aussie crime with a dramatic bush setting. Will read The Dry this year, and look forward to the next Falk instalment.
- My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier I love the child psychopath trope, so had been looking forward to this tale told from 17-year-old Che’s POV as he struggles to keep a lid on his little sister Rosa’s dark and dangerous activities. I’m fascinated by creepy kids, and Rosa had promise. Ultimately though, I felt her character fell down towards the end. Or rather, was outplayed by the rest of her family who (and I’m still not sure if this was intentional – apart from one obvious member, but no spoilers here) display many of their own oddities. But what we do have is a pretty interesting unreliable narrator (remember how much I like them?), who in my opinion, outshines his nasty little sister in the character study department.
- The Fast Diet by Michael Mosely and Mimi Spencer offers a guide to intermittent fasting in an easy-to-read book. I’ve been interested in IF as a way of life for some time, having watched my father’s success over the past twelve months. An informative mix of science and lifestyle that strikes me as a sensible and sustainable approach to losing weight and staying healthy on the inside and out. I’m going to try it for myself in 2019, so I’ll let you know how I go.
- Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories by Margo Lanagan The second collection I’ve read by Lanagan, but the first time I’ve been exposed to the title story, Singing My Sister Down. Oh my gawd, it’s good! It sledgehammered me with its quiet horror, and I was reminded of the first time I read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. I thought about Singing My Sister Down for days, it was so beautifully devastating. I wish I’d written it! Interestingly, I couldn’t quite capture the same magic with the rest of the stories in this collection.
- Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan A stunning fantasy set on remote Rollrock Island, where the menfolk can buy themselves a bride … but at what price? One of my fave reads of 2018 – so well written, so well crafted, so imaginative. I found it utterly captivating and deeply emotive. Highly recommended.
- The Chalk Man by C J Tudor At the start I couldn’t shake the feeling I was reading fan fiction of Stephen King’s It and The Body (diehard King fans, you’ll know what I mean). Once I replaced small town America with small town England, and the story unfolded properly it was a lot easier to engage without being pulled out of the story every five minutes to think how much a certain character reminded me of Richie Tozier or <insert other youngster from Derry or Castle Rock here>. Overall though, an enjoyable read that keeps you guessing (until it doesn’t with a somewhat predictable non-twist at the three quarter mark). I did like the last para though – well played!
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is an important read, and clearly the author has found a wonderful vehicle in 16-year-old Starr Carter to voice her decision against silence about racism – especially the injustice and maltreatment of black Americans by the police force. (Can you believe The Hate U Give was banned by a school district in Texas?!) While I found the writing style not entirely to my taste in some parts, the content itself is powerful, with well-drawn, refreshingly authentic characters. I’ve heard it has been optioned for movie adaptation, and I believe it may translate to film even better than it speaks from the page. (The afterword by the author is well worth sticking around for too).
- A Headful of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay such a great book to end the year! I loved this one. Here I go fangirling about unreliable narrators again … this one’s a doozy. What you think is a fairly routine possession/exorcism story, on closer inspection has shades of Jackson’s, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, one of my favourite books. A real treat for horror fans – stick around for the afterword on this one too, and you’ll see where Tremblay has woven in several decade’s worth of genre mixed media.
Bring on 2019 – first cab off the reading rank: Fellside by M R Carey (whose novel The girl With all the gifts I greatly enjoyed, and was a stand out of 2017’s reading list).
I am also on the judging panel for the Collected Works category for this year’s Australian Shadows Awards – the annual prize for the best horror and dark fiction literature by Australasian writers, so that will occupy much of my reading time for the first few months of 2019.
Happy writing, happy reading, happy days … and a very happy 2019!