Better late than never! At the start of every January I give a wrap of books I read in the previous year. Some years the list is extensive; other years embarrassingly short. 2019’s reading list of twenty-six books falls short of what I would have liked to have read *side-eyes teetering ‘to be read’ pile*, but I haven’t managed to find the pause button on life yet.
2019’s list is made up of a fifty-fifty split between male and female writers, with seventeen of the twenty-six penned by Antipodean authors.
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.
- Fellside by M R Carey. A cool holiday read by the author of one of my standout reads of 2017, The Girl with All the Gifts. Fellside didn’t have the same refreshingly original premise as The Girl With All The Gifts (and it’s unfair of me to compare apples with oranges), but Carey’s sparse, yet emotionally-charged writing style is as good as ever. I’ve seen Fellside described as Orange is the New Black with a supernatural twist, which is pretty on point. I did find myself glazing over a little when protag, Jess, travelled to the ‘nightworld’, but pick it up if you want an entertaining read where you don’t have to labour mentally.
- The Fast 800 by Dr Michael Mosely. The good doctor is back with some updated science on the 5:2 plan of intermittent fasting – and just in time! I had read the 5:2 Diet at the end of 2018 with a view to starting it in Jan this year, so The Fast 800 came at an opportune time. Easy to read, backed by science and studies … onward with my over-bloated self!Books 3 – 12 were read as entrants in the 2018 Australian Shadows Awards. Because I served on the judging panel for the Collected Works category, I have refrained from making individual comments on each of these collections of short horror / dark fantasy fiction. What I will say is it was an absolute pleasure to read each and every collection. They represent some of the best in contemporary Australian short horror fiction, so if you’re a lover of the genre or looking for homegrown voices, put these collections on your ‘to be read’ list. You can read the results of the Australian Shadows Awards here.
- Train Wreck and Other Stories by Noel Osualdini.
- The Beard and Other Weirdness by Steve Dillon.
- The Dalziel Files by Brian Craddock
- Shadows on the Wall by Steven Paulsen
- Beneath the Ferny Tree by David Schembri
- Deceptive Cadence by Anna Ryan
- Exploring Dark Short Fiction #2 A Primer to Kaaron Warren by Kaaron Warren
- Bones by Andrew Cull
- A Little Ray of Obsidian Black by Bee Nielsen
- After Dark by Liz Butcher
- The Enchanted wood / The Magic Faraway Tree / Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton Technically three books, but short enough to smash them out one after the other. Favourite childhood reads I hadn’t visited since, well, childhood. I revisited them in as a refresher for the ‘enchanted Lands’ workshops I had structured for StoryCraft Creative Writing Workshops. As with much childhood nostalgia, some things are best not revisited. I didn’t get the same thrill I vividly recall in my re-reading, but why would I? While I adore fantasy, I am no longer Blyton’s target audience. Interestingly, my workshop participants (8 – 12 years) speak with the same affection for the tales, despite their lack of contemporary vernacular, as I did at their age. Way to go, Enid Blyton for constructing such endearing – and enduring – characters and adventures!
- The Dry by Jane Harper I’d been meaning to read The Dry all of last year, so was delighted to find a copy left in the ‘book depository’ at one of the resorts I stayed at while holidaying in Vietnam. How good are book depositories, by the way?! I love reading crime mysteries. Firstly because I feel like I’m part of an interactive experience as I run the literary gauntlet of red herrings, foreshadowing, and false clues to try to work out whodunnit. Secondly, because I’m not clever enough to write one myself, I find myself studying the art and craft that goes into layering a good crime novel. The Dry is one slick read.
- The Rip by Mark Brandi I loved Brandi’s debut novel Wimmera, so dived headlong into The Rip and headed straight past the shallows. This urban crime drama shines a spotlight on Melbourne’s homeless situation while setting up a nail biting scenario for the protagonist. The reader can guess why there’s a lock on Steve’s door … but the stress kicks in when it appears our hero, who we’ve come to care about, can’t. This is a short, sharp, economical page turner I inhaled in two days. Good holiday read.
- A Wizard of Eathsea by Ursula Le Guin I have a confession to make. This is the first Le Guin I’ve ever read. (I know, right)?! I’m so glad I remedied that this year with A Wizard of Earthsea. What a master class in worldbuilding. This book was a bit of a creeper for me, though – as if I was also under enchantment. While reading, I felt removed from the story, however certain scenes keep coming back to me. The Kargish raid on Sparrowhawk’s village and the deployment of fog protection is/was particularly emotive.
- The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble When I grow up I want to be Bren MacDibble! That is to say, I greatly admire Bren’s/Cally Black’s style and voice – wonderfully written stories for MG and YA readerships, tackling important issues using unique and creative plots, premises and characters. The Dog Runner’s dystopian scenario plonks the reader into siblings, Ella and Emery’s, starving Australia, where they must escape their dying city in a race for survival across treacherous landscape, seeking refuge from desperate people. Their method of transport? A dry-land dogsled. Brilliant! As with How to Bee, Bren knows how to present a slap-in-the-face sense of realism to her eco-fiction, carried by characters that won’t let you go. She also understands that – especially for her audience – while darkness and inhumanity feature prominently, hope always prevails.
- How to Bee by Bren MacDibble Simply magic stuff. Worthy winner of a swag of awards. One of my favourite reads of 2018. Probably my favourite MG book. This was a re-read to prepare for a series of workshops I presented on climate and eco-fiction ‘Our World at Tipping Point’. If you haven’t read How To Bee and met Peony, put it on your list…and prepare to have your heart squeezed.
- The Black Death (1347-1350) by Cath Senker The plague that swept Europe killing one-third of the population fascinates me. This book breaks The Black Death down into easy-to-digest chapters from the outbreak from China to Europe, the horror and hysteria as it spread, the persecution, the causality, the body count, the rebellion, the madness, and the survivors. Not a cheerful read, but a very interesting one (and a hive of story inspiration).
- Cold in July by Joe Lansdale I love Lansdale’s style. This wasn’t my favourite of his books (so far that’s The Bottoms), but it was an effortless read, with twisty plot points and some larger than life characters – good guys, bad guys, tough guys, dumb guys, evil guys, wise guys, dead guys, fall guys – all the guys! What’s not to like? 😊
- The Fisherman by John Langan Oh yes, this was great! There’s not many writers who can pull off a story within a story within a story successfully, but Langan’s deft handling of this multi-layered tale will reel you in hook, line, and sinker. If you like beautiful prose, and a literary leaning to your horror, then this story that turns a seemingly normal fishing trip in upstate New York on its head is for you.
- Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren One of Twelve Planet Press’s superb Twelve Planet Collection series. Kaaron Warren is truly gifted. Her quietly deceptive way of sneaking up on readers when they think they are in familiar territory is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, one of my literary heroes. There are four offerings in this collection: Mountain. Creek. Road. Sky. They are all well-crafted and memorable, but I couldn’t tear myself away from (out of?) Sky.
- Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott Another Twelve Planet collection. Another Aussie female horror writer who always impresses with her intelligent versatility. Beautiful writing, deeply interesting characters, contemporary Australia but not as you know it. My favourite story in this was “The Home for Broken Dolls”, a bold and thought-provoking tale with much going on under the surface.
- Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay Not my favourite of Tremblay’s books (so far, that’s A Headful of Ghosts), but a page turner, nevertheless. I love psychological suspense/thriller/mystery and unreliable narrators, and Tremblay does this so well. Tommy goes missing while hanging with his buddies at Devil’s Rock. His mother and sister are (understandably) demented. The cops have no solid leads. There’s a strange older dude who could be a clue…throw in some folklore, urban mythology, inexplicable sightings of people and diary pages, and you gotta whole lotta mystery on your hands. Yay!
- The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay I’m happy to read anything Tremblay writes, and had been looking forward to this one – mostly because Tremblay, and I was also intrigued by the reviews I’d read about the ending which seemed to polarize many. No spoilers here though! Tapping into the tropes we know and love from the genre, Tremblay presents an interesting premise. As a reader I found myself pondering what was real, what wasn’t, and what would I do in that same situation. Give it a crack and let me know what you thought of the ending.
- Monkey Grip by Helen Garner Ah, Helen Garner, how I admire and respect you, my queen of creative non-fiction. I am sorry to say your fictional Monkey Grip didn’t grip me in the way I had hoped. It’s not you; it’s me. Perhaps Monkey Grip hasn’t aged well. Or perhaps I haven’t! Gorgeous writing, as expected, but a repetitive chain of Javo leaving, Nora mooning, Javo returning…wash, rinse, repeat, didn’t set my world on fire. It appears I’m in the minority though, as many glowing reviews think otherwise. That’s the beauty of reading – we all have such subjective tastes.
That’s all folks! My first read for 2020 is Stephen King’s The institute. So far, so good #longlivetheking 😊
Happy writing, happy reading, and happy days,