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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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

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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?

4 Dystopian Futures Set in the Past (and how they read now)

4 books with terrifying futures set in the past…..

  1. 1984 by George Orwell

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Released in 1949, George Orwell’s 1984 was a response to the end of World War 2 and the start of the Cold War. Many of its cultural references such as “big brother”, “group think”, “thought crime” and “newspeak” are still in common use 67 years later. It was the basis for the term “Orwellian” which is often used to describe heavy authoritarian societies.  The main themes of surveillance, censorship and nationalism are still relevant today.

 

How does it read today?

It’s very clumsily written with a good third of the book is Orwell bombastically describing the history of their society like a textbook. The plot itself is fairly thin and moves at a glacial pace. There are so many other works out there exploring the same themes that you’d be excused if you only have read the Wikipedia page instead of the work itself.

 

That being said, despite the fact you’re reading about a future set over 30 years in the past it still have relevance today and if you understand the true historical context of the book (being one of the first modern post World War 2 dystopian works) and its cultural influence, it is worth a read. However if you’re looking for a great moving plot, characters and an easy to read writing style. Give this one a miss.

 

  1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Published in 1953, it was a response to censorship and the dumbing down of society in general by television and other mass media. It is set in a future society where books are outlawed and firemen burn any they find. The date isn’t actually specifically stated in the book although if you do research 2053 seems to be a common answer. So technically, it’s still considered the future although you can immediately tell it was written pre-2000 as there is no mention of the internet or mobile phones so that’s how I’m allowing it in on the list. Funnily enough, it has found itself of banned book lists many times in it 63 year publication history.

 

How does it read today?

It’s actually a very short book and the writing style is easy to read. The themes are still incredibly relevant over 60 years later and the only thing that gives away the age of the book is the absence of the internet and mobile phones. Otherwise, you could be reading an accurate future for our current society. Definitely worth reading on its own even without the historical context that inspired the author.

 

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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I’m going to be upfront about this – The Handmaid’s Tale is the one book I’d take on a deserted island to read. It has been a huge influence on me as a writer so I will try my best not to let that influence my analysis too much.

 

Published in 1985, the Handmaid’s Tale is set in a near future North America where a totalitarian Christian organisation overthrows the US government and establish the republic of Gilead based on Old Testament religious fanaticism, part of this is severely limiting women’s rights. While the timeframe it is set isn’t specifically stated, it is mentioned that the birth rates started tapering off in the 1980’s so it’s assumed its set in the early 2000’s. It explores the themes of gender, religion, politics and the power of language.

 

How does it read today?

It is an easy to read book with relevant themes and requires absolutely zero need for historical context. It could have been written today as the idea of the Gilead government is to regress society, therefore references to outdated technology make complete sense.

 

  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K Dick

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Published in 1968, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is set in 1992 post-apocalyptic San Francisco where a nuclear war has destroyed much of the environment. The UN encourages people to migrate to off world colonies by using the incentive of free androids. Androids are banned on Earth to further assist this process. The themes focus on what it means to be human and what is reality.

 

How does it read today?

Phillip K Dick’s style of writing is designed so you need to reread his work to get every meaning. It’s difficult as its classic scifi that predicts nuclear war, robots and flying cars which all feel incredibly dated in today’s society. Being a child of the 90’s meant that the immediate threat of nuclear war wasn’t something I experienced as I missed the Cold War. The thing that saves it is this isn’t a book about robots or nuclear war but about the classic age old question “what does it mean to be human?” I also recommend you read the book before you watch the very well-known film adaption Blade Runner as they are two very different beasts but both amazing.

 

I really should have talked about Brave New World as well but I haven’t got around to reading it yet. What are your thoughts of on these books? Are there any I should have also explored? Start a conversation by commenting below or sharing on social media.

 

 

 

Is this Australia’s best YA novel?

As much as I love Looking for Alibrandi, On the Jellicoe Road is Melina Marchetta’s magnum opus.

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What If: a young woman abandoned by her mother as a child starts examining her past.

 

The Execution:

 

Seventeen year old Taylor Markham is a student at the Jellicoe School, a state run boarding school. Her past is a mystery she tries to unravel. All she knows is she was abandoned by her mother at eleven years old at the 7/11 outside Jellicoe. Then only a few minutes later she was found by Hannah, who lives at the Jellicoe School. She feels like Hannah knows something about her past and her mother but won’t tell her.

 

Thrown in a bunch of sub plots that all interconnect such as the wars between the school, the townies and the cadets, a serial killer, Hannah’s manuscript and a will they won’t they romance and it all combines to make such a richly layered work.

 

This story is the type of book you’re not really sure about when you first read it and then you get to the end and realise it all connects. Then you want to go back and read it again with a more critical eye.

 

I have read this book many times and it’s the execution that keeps me going back. The first read you’re spending so much time trying to figure out how it all connects but the second read you realise how multilayered and rich all the characters are.

 

 

Setting:

 

The majority of the story is set in and around the Jellicoe School which is roughly located a few hours from Sydney. Despite Jellicoe being entirely fictional, Marchetta paints the picture of the school and the surrounds with such loving language. The Prayer Tree, Hannah’s House, the Jellicoe Road, the School and the town felt like real living places rather than just a backdrop. The setting is critically important which is why the setting is the title. The word pictures to paint the description of Jellicoe make it seem like a dream like place with a soporific quality.

 

“It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La.”

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Characters:

 

Marchetta does characters well. They feel like people you’d meet in the street, that you’d want to be friends with. One of the reasons I re-read the story so much is that I love the characters. Even the small ones like Santangelo’s mother who only gets like two scenes in the entire novel. Those two scenes make me want to hear an entire story about her.

 

Main Characters:

 

Taylor Markham is the narrator and protagonist of the story. Her voice is incredibly strong and distinct but also works as an unreliable narrator due to the trauma of her early childhood. How Taylor describes the other characters makes them feel like living breathing people, even the very minor characters. The book is obviously set in Australia and the characters are Australian but it doesn’t feel heavy handed or jarring.

 

Jonah Griggs is the antagonist of the story. He is the leader of the army cadets from Sydney that come to Jellicoe every summer to camp. He comes across as gruff and hard but like Taylor has had a life filled with grief. He is incredibly strong and has fun antagonising the students of Jellicoe as part of the ‘war’.

 

Chaz Santangelo is the leader of the Townies, the teens who live in Jellicoe. He is of Aboriginal and Italian descent and his parents are the Mayor and the Chief of Police respectively. He has the type of confident that comes from living in a small close knit community and is very sure of himself. However, it has it downsides such as getting thrown into the watch house by your dad for causing a fight. He and Raffy have crazy sexual tension although he does develop a nice bro-mance with Jonah as the story goes on.

 

Raffy is a townie but goes to the Jellicoe School as her parents are teachers at the Jellicoe high school. She has known Chaz since she was a child and the familiarity with each other’s history makes for great interest. Her mothering nature clashes with Taylor’s fierce independent nature but she’s the closest friend Taylor has.

 

Hannah is the closest thing Taylor has to family yet they have a distant relationship as Taylor senses Hannah knows the answers to her deepest darkest questions about her mother and her father. Hannah’s absence is one of the main drivers of the story. She is also the author of the parallel story told about the young people living in Jellicoe in the 1980’s that Taylor reads.

 

The Brigadier is the mysterious presence that found Taylor and Jonah when they ran away years ago. Taylor believes he is connected to a series of disappearances that have been happening around Jellicoe for the last decade.

 

 

Themes:

 

Identity:

 

Taylor believes she doesn’t know who she is as she has little connection or memory to her past. This is reinforced by Raffy and Santangelo’s relationship that is based on shared history having grown up together in a small town. She feels disconnected from everyone and doesn’t feel she fits in despite being the leader of the School.

 

Family:

 

Taylor’s lack of family is such a strong theme throughout the book however she realises she has an unconventional family in the students of the school and in Hannah. The contrast to Taylor and Jonah’s experience of families to Raffy’s and Santangelo’s close knit families shows the wide spectrum of how families operate.

 

Friendship:

Hannah’s manuscript about the five young people living in Jellicoe serves as a parallel story to the main storyline. The theme of friendship, family and identity are echoed in this story within the story. Marchetta shows the idealistic friendships of youth so well in both the main storyline and the story within the story.

 

Final Thoughts:

 

Melina Marchetta is best known for her 1992 young adult smash hit Looking for Alibrandi. She is incredibly talented at writing compelling characters that you want to read over and over. As much as I love Looking for Alibrandi, On the Jellicoe Road is Melina Marchetta’s magnum opus. The layers of character, setting and subplots make it the type of book you’ll read over and over.

 

About the Book:

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta won the US Printz Award and was shortlisted for the ABIA Awards and the Queensland Premier’s Awards.

 

Agree? Disagree? Other thoughts? Start a conversation by commenting below or sharing on social media.