My top 6 books for 2016

My favourite books for 2016

Advertisements

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

9781760111236

 

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

9781784294021

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

9781760293734-1

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

aa-series-facebook-ad-1024x536-978x511

 

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

stationelevennorthamericahires

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?

Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 4)

Defying Doomsday comes full circle with the final three stories.

This review contains spoilers for Defying Doomsday.

What If: the world ended and you had a disability or were chronically ill.

Defying Doomsday takes this “What If” scenario and explores it across fifteen short stories. Each story does this incredibly differently.  This post explores four of the short stories and how they approach the scenario. Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

 

Spider Silk, Strong as Steel – Samantha Rich

dragonfly-1729157_1920

Humanity we know it no longer exists due to giant spiders taking over the world. When it’s written like that it sounds cheesy but the story doesn’t dwell on the why or the bigger picture of the world. It focuses on Emm who uses a board on wheels to get around. It doesn’t specify why but it is stated people in her community tried to cast her out before they realised she could go into the spiders dens and collect items. Now she’s treated with distant reverence. The story focuses on Emm getting ready for a ‘hunt’ where she goes into the spiders den on her board. Superstition and ritual are emphasised throughout the story such as Emm sleeping late and treating her board almost like a person.

Most of the story focuses on her going through the lair and out of all the stories in this collection, this one scared the absolute hell out of me. Giant spiders are gross and she’s sneaking through this lair pulling herself along with ‘silk’ and I was on edge the entire time I read it through. I have mentioned previously that some of the stories had too much cramed into them. Spider Silk, Strong as Steel was a wonderful and terrifying story. There was no big explanation as to why Emm couldn’t use her legs nor how the world ended up like this. It was just a slice of life in the day of a young woman who also has a disability trying to survive.

No Shit by K L Evangelista

 life-863672_1920

A plague has ravaged Australia. The story starts with Jane burying her parents. Despite this rather grim task her sarcastic tone gives immediately sets the tone for the story. “Let’s be clear up front. I didn’t kill my parents. I loved them. The plague killed them, and everyone else.”

Jane spends the next few days getting drunk and trying to find other survivors in Woolgoolga, NSW. Eventually she finds another survivor called Sam who is living in a Winnebago collecting books such as Dealing with Change and Composting Toilets. They both make a joke about not wanting to deal with sewerage (No Shit) and decide it will be the unofficial motto of their survival group. The tone of the whole story is incredibly light and amusing despite the fact these two are seemingly the last two people around.

They manage to find a professional FM transmitter and start tagging the places they go with graffiti stating Jane and Sam Alive at 5pm. They start travelling up towards Brisbane and broadcasting their message. You get a fair way through Jane’s hilarious and biting commentary before you find out she’s got Crohn’s disease which affects her bowels. Sam gets angry about her not opening up and you realise the hilarious commentary is more of a defence mechanism. Even as the narrator of her own story she doesn’t reveal this to us. They get to Brisbane and find a hospital with full energy but empty. Jane wonders why they’re not rerouting power and you get the second big reveal about her character – she’s an electrical engineer. They meet a doctor in the hospital who has a theory that the people who survived the plague all have autoimmune diseases – Sam had orchidness, Jane has Crohn’s and the doctor has MS. If this is actually correct the story doesn’t delve into it as Jane and Sam head to Mount Cootha where they’re met with applause from their fans.

This was such a great story as Jane’s voice was so strong from the outset but also allowed the reader to slowly uncover her secrets with Sam. I like that the autoimmune disease survival theory was thrown in but not explored too deeply. I’d honestly read more of Sam and Jane’s adventures as they navigated the post-apocalyptic Australian East Coast in a Winnebago.

I will remember you – Janet Edwards

girl-1246525_1920

On day zero, an alien spaceship hovers over Corlforth St Peter and the USA tries to attack it. The weapons do nothing. On day one blue dots started appearing on people’s hands. The dots signified the day you were going to die. The main character Megan doesn’t have any dots on her hand as she was born without one. She assumes she will die on day five like her parents. The last day before they prepare to die is a horrible heart wrenching thing to read. They’re so calm and just eating dinner. They then go out to sit in a trench with all the other day fives to die. Megan’s mother dies midsentence and it’s so sad to read. It takes a while to realise Megan’s not actually dead. She finds out that some people have not been marked for death and they’re the heirs of humanity. Megan goes to the trenches and tells people she will remember them. They give her photos and write messages on the back. Another village has an heir but its six month old baby. Megan agrees to look after him and they set her up on a farm so she will be able to survive when everyone is gone. Another heir is found but he refuses to meet Megan until day fourteen, when everyone will be dead. As the last of the people die, Megan prepares herself for the reality she is going to be alone with a baby and a complete stranger. The other heir is a seventeen year old boy and the two of them watch as the alien spaceship leaves, their cleansing of the earth complete. As the ship flies away Megan mutters “I will remember you.”

This story was amazingly gut wrenching. From the opening of Megan describing her last day with her parents to the slow build-up of Megan knowing everyone around her was going to die was so well written. It didn’t feel melodramatic but you felt such horror at the events unfolding completely out of everyone’s control. This was the last story in the collection and it was such a great way to end. I don’t know if it was intentional but it felt like the collection came full circle – the opening story, And the rest of us wait, saw a teenage girl singing and rallying her community while I will remember you was a teenage girl watching her entire community die.

Do you think that traditionally survival and post-apocalyptic stories over favour survival of the fitness rather than luck? Would you survive the apocalypse? Start a conversation below or share on social media.

Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 3)

This review contains spoilers for Defying Doomsday.

What If: the world ended and you had a disability or were chronically ill.

Defying Doomsday takes this “What If” scenario and explores it across fifteen short stories. Each story does this incredibly differently.  This post explores four of the short stories and how they approach the scenario. Check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Five Thousand Squares – Maree Kimberley

picnic-1112398_1920

Kaye and Micha are best friends who met at an arthritis support group. They are both much younger than your typical arthritis suffer and bonded over this. Politically they’re both on very different ends of the spectrum with Kaye joking to Micha she has a “socialist in there just screaming to get out”. Despite having differences politically, they both share a great fear that something bad is going to happen and begin prepping for it. Then the day comes when all their prepping comes in handy.

 

This story was really great as it gives little detail about the event proceeding it other than a passing mention of “regional wars” and Triparates winning the election. It doesn’t bog itself down in the details of the why but rather focuses solely on Kaye and her relationship with Micha as Kaye tries to escape the tidal wave with her two children.

 

The characters of Kaye and Micha were excellent and I honestly wanted to read more about them. The athritist is used cleverly as it the reason they manage to escape the tidal wave in the first place as Micha is awake at 4am which is “prime pain time”. It isn’t the main focus of the story but rather something that is always hovering there such as when Kaye is trying to escape and she describes the amount of pain she feels as she’s trying to get her kids out of the house. For anyone who’s ever experienced chronic pain or long term pain, this is fairly reflective of what it feels like. You only notice the extreme pain when doing strange things or if it’s higher than usual. You’re aware it’s there but it’s become part of your daily life that you stop actively thinking about it.

 

This was definitely one of my favourite stories out of the collection.

 

Portobello Blind – Octavia Cade

silhouette-1447173_1920

 

Anna, a blind fourteen year old girl survives a plaque that wipes out most of humanity. She is stuck at a marine lab where her father was researching. The opening line “the worst part of the apocalypse was the sheer bloody boredom of it” is a heads up of what is about to come. Anna spends her days pretending she’s on a private tropical island resort to cope with the boredom and monotony of being alone and not being able to travel. You feel her helplessness which is partly because she’s a teenager and partly because she’s blind. She cries a lot as she tries to release sheep and lambs who are starving but fails, tries to find edible seaweed and screams into the satellite radio. The frustration and desperation is very well written that I was starting to wonder if the story would end with Anna killing herself but luckily Anna finds her inner strength after speaking to survivors over the radio. The ending is uplifting and hopeful which is a nice contrast to the rest of the story.

 

Tea Party – Lauren E Mitchell

tea-1170552_1920

Tally was in a mental hospital when the world ended. Although it is not stated why Tally was there, it implies it as something to do with self-harm. A year after the world has ended and Tally is going shopping for the other patients on the ward. There are nine of them all together and Tally has become their defacto leader of the group. Tally is joined by ‘The Count’ who is referred to as they which confused me at first as I thought meant The Count had multiple personalities but then I worked out it meant The Count was non-binary.

Tally and The Count find a woman who was a nurse in the remnants of a hospital. Asking her name she replies “Florence” which The Count responds with “arrogant!” which I had a nice chuckle at. The nurse settles on Mary as her name. As Mary returns to the ward and realising she’s the only ‘sane’ person hesitates to join in their ‘tea time’ when all of the ward comes together and takes their meds with tea. Tally worries that she will take over and the ward will no longer need Tally. I felt like the underlying message that was never explicitly said was Tally was in the ward because they tried to kill themselves and that looking after the ward was easier than looking after themselves.

If I had to pick a favourite story out of the collection this would be it. It’s such a great riff on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with some apocalyptic flavouring. It portrayed mental illness in a realistic but sympathetic light.

 

Giant – Thoraiya Dyer

planet-519938_1280

Skye lives in a space station on the moon. She is the daughter of a scientist who went to the moon years earlier to study the Moltorians, an alien race who communicate in a strange language involving maths and chemical components. She attempts to communicate with the Moltorians via their language.

At the same time, a rescue mission to the moon is being coordinated by Hugo, the husband of one of the scientists. Shortly after the mission, the second American Revolution happened and the world was plunged into war.

It turns out Skye is the daughter of Hugo and Silja however as she was born on the moon and a contamination due to the Moltorians has accelerated her growth. Hugo is obsessed with bringing her home and Skye is obsessed with making contact with the Moltorians. This comes to blows in the finale of the story.

This one was interesting as I found Skye’s first person confessions to the digital journal which she was pretending was her mother slightly jarring compared to the reflective poetry of Hugo’s third person parts. However, it was a great way to show the contrast between the two characters.

Additionally, the saying “Supernova in a shitpump” was amazing and I laughed hard at that one. I’m hoping to use it in my additional vocabulary. Despite this story having broad ideas and a lot going on, ultimately it was dealt with much better than the previous stories with big ideas (see part 2).

Do you think that traditionally survival and post-apocalyptic stories over favour survival of the fitness rather than luck? Would you survive the apocalypse? Start a conversation below or share on social media.

Six degrees of post-apocalyptic separation

Same What If Different Execution – The Stand versus Station Eleven .

Welcome to the first in the “Same What If” series. These are posts that compare novels that have the same “What If” Scenario and compare the execution. First up in the series – Stephen King’s The Stand versus Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. This post contains major spoilers for both books.

What If: The majority of the world’s population is wiped out by a deadly disease and the survivors must rise up against a greater evil that rises from the ashes.

The Execution

Stand

The Stand starts in June 1980 (1990 in the uncut edition) when a weaponised strain of influenza is accidently released from a remote US Army base. As 99 percent of the world’s population dies, King focuses on a group of survivors who all have dreams of a 108-year-old woman called Abagail Freemantle. All the survivors begin to gravite to Nebraska where Abagail lives and find out how they’re all connected to fight a great evil that is brewing in Las Vagas, Nerada.

StationElevenHCUS2

Station Eleven starts in the mid to late 2010’s when a Swine Flu epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Twenty years, a group of actors and musicians known as the travelling symphony find themselves coming up against an evil cult with a charismatic leader.

 

Setting

Time and place are incredibly important to the narratives of both The Stand and Station Eleven. Technology of the time are critical to the spreading of the disaster at the beginning of both books. I struggled with The Stand’s technology and pop culture references as the book is set 10 years before I was born. I didn’t feel such a strong connection to the touchstones of pop culture the same way I did with Station Eleven. I wonder if readers ten years from now will have this issue with Station Eleven. The pop culture references are supposed to tug at the heartstrings of readers to remind them that the world the characters live in is not so far from our own. It sometimes works, it sometime doesn’t. King is renowned for his propensity to overload his writing with pop culture references. It can be a bit distracting at times, especially since the references are now over thirty years old. Mandel uses pop culture sparingly however she flashes the story forward so the characters have less time to mull on these references whereas King’s story only spans a year.

 

Characters

The Stand and Station Eleven have large casts of characters that are all interconnected. The richness of the cast of characters is why both books are so excellent. It would be impossible to write about each of the characters so I will focus on the main cast who moves the story forward.

12618557_f520

Station Eleven’s Cast

Arthur Leander is a successful film and theatre actor who dies the first night of the epidemic. He is the key connector to all the characters.

Kirsten Raymonde is a child actor from Toronto who witnesses Arthur Leander’s onstage death. Before he dies, he gives her a graphic novel called Station Eleven which is written by his first ex-wife. She is the main narrator when the book flashes forward twenty years. She is part of the travelling theatre troupe and is obsessed with Arthur Leander and the graphic novel he left her.

Tyler Leander is the son of Arthur and his second wife Elizabeth. Arthur gives him the only other copy of the Station Eleven graphic novel. He is stranded at Severn airport when the epidemic begins. He becomes the leader of a cult and is the main antagonist.

Quotefancy-44698-3840x2160

The Stand’s Cast

Abagail Freemantle known as Mother Abagail is a 108-year-old woman living in Nebraska. She appears to the survivors in dreams and urges them to go to Boulder, Colorado. She has visions from God and prophesises the final stand against Randall Flagg, the main evil of the story.

Randle Flagg known as the man in black is the main evil in the story. He is the evil across multiple of King’s novels. He is presented as an otherworldly demon who is never killed rather defeated. Like mother Abagail, he appears to survivors in dreams and attracts those who are drawn to destruction and power.

Stuart Redman is one of the first people exposed to the plague and survives. He becomes one of the key authority figures in the Boulder Free Zone where the ‘good’ survivors establish a settlement. He is one of four people who go to face Randall Flagg in Las Vegas. He is the ‘everyman’ character who the reader is supposed to identify with however he’s also the most black and white character of the cast.

Larry Underwood is a successful young singer who achieves fame with his debut single “Baby, Can you dig your man?” He falls into the wrong crowd in LA and moves back to New York with his mother just as the epidemic hits.

Nick Andros is a deaf-mute from Nebraska who survives the plague and has the most vivid dreams of Mother Abagail. He leads survivors to Mother Abagail and then becomes the leader of the free zone committee.

 

Overall

While both works explore the concept of good and evil in a post-apocalyptic setting The Stand explores it on a macro level with a large ‘good’ verses ‘evil’ battle while Station Eleven explores it on a micro level with more shades of grey and ambiguity.

King has a much larger cast of characters than Mandel however King’s work is much longer. King is known for his predilection for writing long meandering works sometimes to his disadvantage. As wonderful and powerful as the Stand is, it’s a long read that could have been made better with tighter editing. Mandel’s work on the other hand doesn’t meander too much into mysticism and cynicism the same way King does but it doesn’t have the same sense of grandness that The Stand has.

Ultimately, both works are fantastic explorations of good and evil and human nature.

 

 

The horrifying future of Australia’s foster care system

Welcome to Orphancorp is a great young adult read touching on a number of issues with a unique voice. Set in a dystopian near future Australia where the foster care and prison systems have been given to a private corporation, it explores the themes of sexuality, institutional abuse and race with sensitivity and wit.

Welcome to Orphancorp

This review/analysis contains mild spoilers for Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward.

 

What If:

Australia outsourced the role of providing foster care and prisons to a for profit corporation.

 

The Execution:

The story is told through the perspective of 17-year-old Mirii. She is one week shy of her 18th birthday and escaping the Orphancorp system. The story starts when she is transferred into a new facility. This gives us the perspective that even though she is seasoned in the system that it’s still full of new characters. If she is good she will be released and if she misbehaves she will ended up in a Prisoncorp.

 

This delicate balance between her rebellious nature and the opportunity to escape the system that has been repressing her as a child is the main internal struggle for Mirii.

 

Characters:

Miriiyanan Mahoney (known as Mirii) is the narrator of Welcome to Orphancorp. She is a week off being eighteen and has been in the system for years. She is a wiz at gadgets and tattoos. Despite being the narrator you don’t a lot of insight into her past, just glimpses such as memories of her parents. She’s more interested in telling you how she knows the system and how she survives which can be interpreted as a defence mechanism for the horrifying life she’s led so far. She comes across as incredibly intelligent, sarcastic and insightful. She still manages to make meaningful connections with others in the house, knowing the relationships she makes could be pulled apart at any time.

 

There are numerous characters who show up only for a few moments which gives the realistic feeling of being in a large institution but is sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who. It also feels like no one is truly fleshed out as a character other than Mirii as she doesn’t get time to get to know her roommates other than superficially. It does occasionally feel like some characters served to move the plot along such as the tech wiz at the very end.

 

The secondary characters that stood out:

 

Cam works with Mirii in the workshop as her runner. He is significantly younger than her and she is incredibly hostile to him at first. She sees the younger children as trouble. She warms up to Cam and advises him to go to school so he can at least have some smarts about him when he gets out.

 

Freya is set up as the antagonist early on in the story when Mirii catches her as she’s trying to escape. Despite Freya causing issues for Mirii, ultimately she isn’t the main antagonist of the story. She’s just like Mirii – trying to survive and escape the system. The system itself is the ultimate antagonist and the aunts and uncles serve it.

 

Setting:

The entire story is set within Verity House which is described as “a big grey box straddling an entire city block.” The technology and slang imply it is set in a not-to-distant future but we don’t get much of an outline about how updated technology is other than what serves the story. The technology is almost an afterthought and merely a plot device, the strength in the story doesn’t come from the setting or the technology but rather the characters themselves.

 

Themes:

 

Sexuality

Mirii never states she’s bisexual but early on she says “I can’t tell if they’re male or female, but it doesn’t matter because sweet babes need no gender.” The use of sexuality as another means to survive the system is incorporated seamlessly into the narrative and there are never any “ick” moments, despite the orgy that happens halfway through.

 

Privatisation of State Services

The concept of privatising the foster care and prison system seem farfetched in the current Australian system.  On closer inspection of our history as well as the American trend to farm out services previously provided by the state to corporations, it suddenly isn’t a huge leap of the imagination.

 

The business model plays on current trends in the foster care and prison system. Statistically, a ward of the state is more likely to not complete education, have unplanned pregnancies, end up in prison or experience mental illness. The fact that a corporation has decided to use this to gain profit is ingenious and horrifying at the same time.

 

Abuse and Neglect in Institutions

The physical, emotional and sexual abuse of institutions is touched upon in the delivery of Mirii’s narration as well as how the characters interact with each other. The reliance on sexual intimacy to replace the emotional support given by parents is what begins the orgy scene. It feels like a natural by-product of the environment. There is no outright depiction of sexual abuse but it is stated that the uncles have inappropriate relationships with girls in exchanges for drugs and protection. The physical abuse is the only abuse that is outright depicted with Mirii in starting the story in shackles and a gag.

 

Race:

Race is lightly touched upon in the story. Mirii believes she is Indigenous as her name means shooting star in Gamilaraay but she does concede she only knows this because she looked it up. Otherwise, she has no connection to her culture other than her name and a brief memory of a dark skinned woman she believes was her mother.. She scolds a younger resident on using derogatory terms towards Aboriginal people. It isn’t a major component of the story but it feels right to be in there due to the over-representation of Indigenous children currently in the foster care and prison systems.

 

Final Thoughts:

Welcome to Orphancorp is a great young adult read touching on a number of issues with a unique voice. Set in a dystopian near future Australia where the foster care and prison systems have been given to a private corporation, it explores the themes of sexuality, institutional abuse and race with sensitivity and wit. The restricted viewpoint of Mirii gives readers a glimpse into the results of a terrifying future for disadvantaged young people but also holding a mirror to current issues within the system. It is a solid debut novella from Marlee Jane Ward.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward won Seizure’s Viva La Novella 3 and the 2016 Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. It was shortlisted for the NSW Premiers Award, Aurealis Award and the Norma K Hemming Award. It is available from Seizure, Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Gleebooks and Readings.

 

Do you feel privatising the Australian foster care and prison system is realistic possibility? Start a conversation by commenting below or sharing on social media.