My favourite book of 2017

Welcome to 2018. I’ve been busy travelling, plotting out my next project, doing yoga, beta reading for my writers group and getting ready to edit my Nanowrimo 2016 manuscript.

There were many great books I read in 2017, including some of the ones on my list of books I was looking forward to but my favourite book of 2017 was the one I read twice and would definitely read again – Red Sister by Mark Lawrence.

 

I loved the concept of this book the moment I saw people tweeting about it and I actually pre-ordered it which is a rare thing for me.

 

 

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Nona is just one of many amazing female characters in Red Sister.

 

What If: A young girl murders multiple people but is saved from punishment by an order of nuns.

 

The Execution:

The world of Red Sister is rich and complex but it never falls into the trap of over-explaining its world and rules like many fantasy works. It uses Nona, the child viewpoint character to explain concepts but only ones that the character would naturally ask about. There are also many subtle things that Nona doesn’t understand but come to light later in the story which makes t great on the second read as you notice how much subtlety and nuance has gone into the world building, characterisations and plotting.

 

Characters:

Many of the characters are children or young adults and as it is set in a nunnery, there are few male characters in the book which feels refreshing after reading so many fantasy books with all male or mostly male casts.

Nona is the main character, broken by the rejection of her mother and the village she grew up in. This causes her to have extreme perceptions of friendship and enemies which drives a lot of the plot. She has also learned early in life not to trust adults which causes complications at times but also saves her skin on multiple occasions.

There are many other characters that spread across the story and at times I struggled to remember who was who in Nona’s class, who was part of the fighting ring and which nun was which. It is slightly better on the second reading and comes across as realistic as many of the small characters piece Nona into what she becomes.

I highly recommend this book as an example of writing complex female characters, writing complex worlds without overwhelming the reader with details and using viewpoint to pace the story.

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Buckets, balls and books

I let the balls drop. I was exhausted. My buckets were empty. So I set about to fill them back up again. It was hard.

My last post said I’d see you in a few months. That few months turned into seven.

So what happened?

I let the balls drop. I was exhausted. My buckets were empty. So I set about to fill them back up again.

I didn’t want to write about it at the time but I was in a difficult job and dealing with major health issues. I’m still dealing with those health issues but it’s currently under control. It took a long time though. I was running on empty and I still had to go on – to work the job that drained me, to apply for jobs and go to interviews even though I was exhausted, to deal with the rejection of not getting those jobs, to keep writing, to keep blogging, to keep socialising, to see specialists and doctors. It’s amazing how hard that is but I’m survived. Writing, music and books are what saved me. I wrote in my journal every day during this period, I blasted music and I devoured self-help books and books on meaning and philosophy. I also read a lot of Ask A Manager and listened to Good Life Project, Creative Penn, On Being and Secular Buddhism.

It was a slog and it sucked. But I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and eventually everything slowly got better – I travelled to Japan and while I was there go a brand new job. I came back refreshed after my three week holiday, quit my job and moved into my new one. Then spend the last six months adjusting to it and I’m now finally comfortable enough to slowly pick up the balls I have dropped.

 

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Travelling to Japan and eating amazing food helped me recover my creativity and energy.

 

It’s not perfect – I’m only writing around 500 to 1000 words a week at the moment, I can only walk not jog and my eating is a bit hit and miss. But I am getting there.

I’m still reading, listening and watching to fill my buckets. And now I’ll be slowly getting back into blogging which I’ve missed as I have read a lot of books this year and haven’t written about any of them!

If you’re still reading this – thank you for being awesome and taking the time.

 

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Only saw ONE mecha the whole time I was in Japan. Anime lied to me!

 

Taking a break. See you in a few months!

I am so fucking exhausted feels like it has been my mantra for the last two months.

I am so fucking exhausted feels like it has been my mantra for the last two months.

TAKING-A-BREAK

Last year, I mentioned dealing with a major health issue during NaNoWriMoI mentioned dealing with a major health issue during NaNoWriMo and as the New Year started I was excited to put that behind me.

 

I was wrong.

 

For the last two months I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, trying to push myself to write more, read more, exercise more, get out and about. I have been ignoring my body and it gave up at Easter. I’ve spent the last three weekends in bed. I haven’t written anything. In fact, it has taken a week to get up the strength to write this blog post and another week to post it.

 

I burnt myself out last year and tried with gusto to improve that by doing fun things and working hard to achieve what I wanted. I unfortunately prescribed to the mindset that I would fix myself by pouring myself into the things I love. And while it has helped, I took it too far. I went out too much, spent too much time pushing myself to write, to read and socialise when I needed to rest. I lost sight of why these things were important and they became things I had to do in order to be happy.

 

I’m about to go on holiday for three weeks for the first time in two years. I’ve released I’ve gotten too bogged down in my day to day life and I have forgotten what I really want. I can’t see the forest because of the trees.

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Damn you trees! I can’t see the forest! 

I hope this is making sense because at the moment my mind is so foggy and exhausted I can barely function. I am taking a break for the next two months to focus on my health and reassess what is really important to me as a creator. I want to thank all the people who have been reading and supporting my blog in the last 12 months as it makes me really happy to know I’m not just shouting into oblivion.

Shadowhunters: Very flawed but fun

I still enjoy Shadowhunters despite its flaws. There are times when I watch the show and roll my eyes just like I did with the books but at the heart of it, the world still feels fun with great characters even if the main character isn’t interesting and the world isn’t as fleshed out as I’d like.

What If: A teenage girl discovers she is part of a hidden world within our own.

 

The Execution:

 

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Main Cast of the Television Show

 

On her eighteenth birthday, Clary Fray finds out her entire life is a lie when her mother is kidnapped. Clary is thrust into a world of supernatural beings – demons, warlocks, werewolves, vampires that are policed by part-angel beings called Shadowhunters. She finds out she is also a shadowhunter and she embarks to find out why her mother kept this secret from her.

 

I’m reviewing the Netflix version rather than the book as I had watched the television show recently but read the books a few years ago. I am not a diehard fan of the series, but I enjoyed it as a light urban fantasy read. The show is pretty fluffy too, I don’t ever believe any characters are in danger, and the whole ‘ending the world’ theme they have going on falls flat. The one thing I’ve noticed is that despite the changes between book and television show is that Clary and Jace are the most boring characters.

 

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I have no attachment to these two. 

 

I understand inserting an ‘everyman’ that the audience identifies with is a common way to introduce the exciting fantasy world. Harry Potter and the Hobbit do this very well. But the main character is supposed to be the person who drives the plot, and the audience/reader identifies with, and Clary is not it. She has no distractive voice or characteristics other than drawing (which isn’t shown very well), and it feels like the plot is happening to her rather than she’s driving the plot. Everyone and everything around her are far more interesting that I always question why we are following Clary. The only character that is more boring than Clary is Jace, despite all his brooding and dark past, he’s not interesting. He’s pretty, a good fighter and likes to brood. That’s it. Nothing else. And he’s the love interest. This was a problem in the source material as well; I don’t understand why they didn’t change the characters a bit since they have no problem changing the plot of the novels.

 

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Jace: Master of brooding. He is pretty though. 

 

 

Toeing the line between interesting side characters who do more than serving the plot but don’t overshadow the main story with their subplot is also difficult, and Shadowhunters fails on this front. I’m far too invested in Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood’s romance than I am in the plot to ‘destroy the world’ by Valentine. I’m more interested in watching Simon adjust to being a vampire than I am in Clary adjusting to being a Shadowhunter.

 

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The show does not have enough Magnus and Alec. 

 

It’s also hard when the world overshadows the main plot as well. The world of Shadowhunters is very dense with mythical creatures yet doesn’t go into how they work much. It is something like “Oh look Warlocks!” or “Oh look Vampires!” than it does in explaining how they all live together in our world. While you don’t want to spend hours upon hours exploring every mythical part of the world, you still expect a bit of explanation or having them part of the plot and world in a meaningful way. At times, it feels like they introduce things just to sound cool. Towards the end of the first season, Clary goes into an alternative world which serves little purpose to the plot other than to laugh at the alternative lives of characters in a world with no shadowhunters.

 

Final Thoughts:

 

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Everyone in this universe is ridiculously good looking. 

 

I still enjoy Shadowhunters despite its flaws. There are times when I watch the show and roll my eyes just like I did with the books but at the heart of it, the world still feels fun with great characters even if the main character isn’t interesting and the world isn’t as fleshed out as I’d like. The books and the television show don’t take themselves too seriously and will often reference other work or how ridiculous something sounds which is probably why I never feel like anyone is ever in danger. It’s still an enjoyable time to watch the characters run around in this mythical world.

5 book releases I’m pumped for in 2017

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  1. Corpselight by Angela Slatter (Out 13 July 2017)

 

Corpselight is the sequel to Vigil which was on my favourite books for 2016. Corpselight sees a very pregnant Verinity Fassbinder investigating insurance claims by Susan Beckett whose home is being inundated with mud. V’s first lead takes her to Chinatown, where she is confronted by Kitsune assassins. But when she suddenly goes into labour, it’s clear the fox spirits are not going to be helpful . . .

 

  1. Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth (Out 17 January)

 

This book technically came out in January, but I haven’t got my hands on it yet, so I’m including it on the list. I wasn’t a fan of the Divergent series but I heard an interview with Roth on the, so you want to be a writer podcast and the premise of Carve the Mark sounded really intriguing. It’s a science-fiction fantasy series where people develop a ‘currentgift’, a power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not – their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?

 

  1. Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley (Out in March)

 

I can’t remember how I found this one out. It may have been a Queer YA recommendation, but I’m not 100%. Other added bonus is the title references a Crowded House song although I don’t know if that’s intentional. Fifteen-year-old Aki is bisexual although it is in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows. When Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—Aki decides she only has one shot at living an interesting life. But it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you’re in love? It’s going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love.

 

  1. The Things We Promise by J.C. Burke (Out March 2017)

 

The cover has a recommendation from Melina Marchetta, one of my favourite authors, so I’m trusting her judgement on this one. It’s the early 1990s and all Gemma can think about is looking perfect for her first school formal. Gemma’s brother Billy – New York’s up and coming hair and make-up artist – has made her the ultimate promise: he’s returning home especially to ‘create magic’ on her and two friends for their end-of-year formal. Gemma’s best friend, Andrea, is convinced it’ll be their moment to shine; Gemma hopes it’s the night Ralph will finally notice her.But when Billy arrives home from New York, Gemma’s life becomes complicated. Her family’s been keeping secrets; friendships are forged and broken, and suddenly the length of her formal dress is the least of her worries.

 

  1. The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz (Out July 2017)

 

This may have been another Queer YA recommendation, but I’m not sure. Mercedes Moreno can be an artist. At least, she thinks she could possibly be, actually though she was not in a position to paint anything worthwhile since her award-winning piece Meals Poisoning #1 this past year. Her insufficient inspiration could be because her Abuela is definitely lying comatose on faraway Puerto Rico following struggling a stroke. Or the actual fact that Mercedes is deeply in love with her best good friend, Victoria, but is as well afraid to admit her accurate feelings. Despite Mercedes’s imaginative block, the art starts showing up in unexpected methods. A piano shows up on her behalf front lawn one morning hours, and a mysterious brand-new neighbour invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Crimson Mangrove Estate. At the Estate, Mercedes can create with techniques she hardly ever has before. She can show her deepest secrets and look and feel secure.

If you’ve noticed a bit of a young adult and queer theme happening through the books, there is a reason for that one. It lines up to what I’m writing at the moment, but I don’t want to talk too much as it is in its very early stages. I tend to go through phases with books, I went through a self-help phase at the end of last year and earlier in 2016 I went through an urban fantasy phase. Do you favour certain genres at certain times or am I just a crazy person? Feel free to comment below!

My top 6 books for 2016

My favourite books for 2016

I probably should have put this out at the beginning of January, but I’ve been on a writing hiatus after burning myself out with NaNoWriMo.

 

  1. The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

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The 2016 Stella Award Winning novel by Charlotte Wood about Yolanda and Verla, two very different women with one thing in common – they both were splashed all over the media as part of a sex scandal and were shamed into hiding. Except instead of being sent away to a resort they are sent to the Australian Outback under prison-like conditions. The narrative is told through the perspective of Yolanda and Verla who are polar opposites of each other. Yolanda is from a working class background and allegedly slept with a group of footballers. Verla is a university educated woman and former mistress to a politician. I read this back in March, and I was immediately pissed off by the ending. It is a difficult book to read the first time, but it has a lot to say about Australian culture and the treatment of women. I am likely to reread this one a few times again.

 

  1. Vigil by Angela Slatter

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I’ve already done a detailed review of Angela Slatter’s Vigil, but I couldn’t leave it off my list. Vigil is about Verity Fassbinder trying to police the supernatural community of Brisbane called the Weyrd. The premise is hardly revolutionary, and yet the sheer mastery of skill from Slatter as a writer makes this more than your typical urban fantasy novel. Vigil is distinctly Australian without feeling forced. I found myself loving every word and Verity’s voice.

 

  1. Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward

Welcome to Orphancorp

This was the first review on my blog. I read this over a weekend and was enthralled with the idea of a world where in the near future, Australia privatises the foster and prison systems, and they are now run by a corporation. At first, the idea seemed a bit far-fetched but after watching a documentary about how the US prison systems works and the scandal at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre it suddenly seems an incredibly realistic prospect. It’s a great book with an authentic voice, and I have seen talk on Marlee’s Twitter that she is working on some sequels which I am pumped for. No word on when they will be released.

 

  1. Goodwood by Holly Throsby

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I found this book completely by accident; I was listening to an interview with Holly on the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast and was immediately enthralled about the concept of this book that I bought it straight away and read it over four days, despite being in the middle of NaNoWriMo. It is set in 1992 in a small town called Goodwood. Seventeen-year-old Jean finds $500 in a tree near a creek where all the teenagers of the town hang out. A few days later Rosie White, the coolest girl in town disappears. Then one week later, Bart McDonald goes on a fishing trip and never comes home. I grew up in a small town in Queensland in the 1990’s and 2000’s, and she captures the small town politics and culture so well without falling into stereotypes. Despite the fact Jean isn’t the main driver of events it never feels boring as we do not only see a mystery unfold, but we’re also seeing Jean deal with being on the cusp of adulthood and all that comes with it. It’s such an excellent example of Australian fiction.

 

  1. Air Awaken Series by Elise Kova

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Technically this covers five books as I read the entire series this year. I discovered Air Awakens on a podcast like Goodwood, so it is proof that author interviews do in fact sell books. I devoured the first three books in a few days as I was travelling and had the time to do so. The fourth and fifth book are a little uneven, and it feels like the story could have been told over three books instead of five, but it’s a solid YA fantasy series that I enjoyed.

 

6. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

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I actually almost missed this book as for some reason I thought I read it in 2015. But according to my blog, I did, in fact, read it this year. I really loved the concept of this book, and the writing style was enjoyable and easy to read. I don’t think it will age well as it is a reflection of our current attitudes and trends, so it will be a book that says something about a particular place and time. Which there is nothing wrong with as I’ve previously discussed. I read out a specific section to my husband about a man speaking about his last conversation on the phone with his co-workers and using corporate speak which I felt was so pointed and relevant. It’s an excellent book with a fantastic writing style and straddles the line between speculative fiction and literary fiction.

 

I realised that I completely forgot about reading some books in 2016 as I read around 50 books a year so this year I’m keeping a list and will keep you updated on what I’m reading fiction wise as you probably don’t want to hear about the self-help books I’m reading. What were your favourite books of 2016 and how did you discover them?

Struggling to find my voice in 2016

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Last year wasn’t the greatest year for me personally. I have been struggling with an ongoing health issue with fatigue being a major symptom. But it was the year I got serious about my writing. I launched my blog after being asked to be featured in Witty Title Here weekly newsletter. I had spent most of 2015 researching blogging and author platforms and did the Australian Writers Centre’s Build Your Author Platform Course at the start of 2016.

However, my vision for my blog stalled in September. I wanted do be able to do in-depth analysis weekly, but I struggled. Despite doing social media as my day job, my author social media was basic at best and still is at the moment.

Then I decided to do NaNoWriMo despite going through a major health crisis. I won, but it took everything I had.

I spent December exhausted and desperate for holidays. I finally got a reprieve between Christmas and New Year which I spent at the beach and playing video games. I’m still struggling with my health and trying to balance full-time work, writing, fitness and blogging. It feels like far too much at the moment, but I am still slogging on. I’m still trying to work out what I want for my blog but luckily for me on 10 people read it so I can experiment.

My primary goal for 2017 is to cultivate healthy habits so I can find balance in my life to be able to be the writer I want to be.