2015 – December

December was when I decided I was going to do my best to hit my goodreads goal of 150 books, which meant more or less reading a book a day for a month. Thank goodness a lot of those days at the end were time off work due to enforced closedown. Most of those should hopefully be for Aurealis judging (I say, writing this at the start of December…) which I won’t list here.

Onto the novels read in December!

Let the Land Speak: A History of Australia - How the Land Created Our Nation

Let the Land Speak by Jackie French is a non-fiction book on Australian history and flora and fauna that I got for Christmas 2013 and finally decided to make a damned good effort to read it on the 1st January 2015, and finished it 1st December 2015. It was slow going because there’s so much to take in on every page, but it’s a worthwhile read. It’s going to be one of the books I wrap carefully in plastic and keep for a very, very long time.

As I Was Saying . . .

As I Was Saying by Jeremy Clarkson was a quick read. A lot of people think he’s a wanker, but he certainly has a way with words and is quite damn good at writing, seeing as that was his original and still primary job. A lot of people are happy to believe what the media spins about their favourite kickbag and look on the surface of the stupid things he’s reported as doing (and yes, he does say stupid things at times, who doesn’t), and yet reading this and getting a feel for the things he actually does think, and his own thoughts without being slanted by the media, are quite different to what many see most of the time. It’s worth a read. He’s certainly not a saint, but he’s a real person and sometimes it’s refreshing to see someone who voices their own thoughts, rather than someone who’s crafted by a team of politically correct quibblers.

Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, #3)

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo was the end of a series I kept having to re-read every time a new book came out – I just couldn’t keep the plot or characters in my head once I’ve put down the book. Maybe I read too fast because at the time it’s just that good, but then it means I’m speed-reading and not retaining anything… who knows. This really was a very engaging and lovely series, and I can’t wait to read the next one!

Newt's Emerald

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix is a re-read as it was originally released in 2013 via his agent’s publishing house, and has now been re-published by Allen & Unwin, and is a third longer. It’s an enjoyable quick read, and I love it all so much! I wish there were more in this style by Nix.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling was read late for Bethwyn’s re-read – I should have read this last month but it completely slipped my mind. I might not agree once my re-read is over, but I think this is my second-least favourite book in the series – I found the competition overall to be all a bit eh – spread out over so many months and you don’t really get a feel for what the other visiting schools do for those months in between – do they hold their own classes on the ship or in the carriage? Who knows? It’s also when we first notice the other characters really changing and being setup for what we see in later books, so it’s all a bit of a ‘middle’ book.

Soldier on the Hill

Solider on the Hill by Jackie French was an interesting book, showing a boy and his mother who move into a farming town a bit more inland during the war as fears the Japanese will attack the Australian coast line increase. Getting used to farming life and also dealing with the fear of war from this point of view is interesting, especially when the main character is sure he’s seen a Japanese soldier hiding in the bushland, but he’s not trusted as he’s: 1. New to Town, and 2. A city kid. The resolution to this is an interesting one, and shows that Jackie’s writing goes from strength to strength.

Birrung the Secret Friend

Birrung the Secret Friend by Jackie French was a book that carries on from Nanberry, showing the initial setup of Australia in NSW with the first and second fleet, once there’s a few ‘houses’ and gardens are starting to flourish. In this book we see a young boy, Barney, who’s lost his mum, but adopted another young child to care for before they’re both taken in by the kind clergyman, Richard Johnson, and his pregnant wife. We see Barney setting aside his prejudices to understand who Birrung really is, her intelligence and knowledge of the land in tough conditions, and what her cultures mean to her even as white man starts to dominate even further. This is an intelligent book for younger readers, and highly recommended.

Pennies for Hitler

Pennies for Hitler by Jackie French is a book that carries on from her highly popular book, Hitler’s Daughter. A young boy Georg in Germany has a lovely life of cream cakes, excellent parents, servants and all else he could hope for. This is until it’s discovered that his father’s grandfather was part Jewish, and Georg’s father is killed in front of him. His mother just barely manages to have him sent from Germany hidden in a suitcase through France and onto London where he then faces the terrors of war and the anxiety of being discovered for either the enemy as a German, or as something he’s been brought up to detest – a Jew. When London becomes too dangerous he’s sent on to Australia, and then it all ends rather abruptly, which was a shame. Otherwise, it was really very excellent.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter, #5)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling is longer than I remember – though when it came out I devoured it in one long day, this time it took me several days to savour it – though that’s also possibly because I couldn’t bring myself to read the ending, which still remains just as upsetting to me as the start of the final book. At least now I’m up to date with Bethwyn’s re-read! This re-read really shows a difference in how I remember it, or different parts are meaning more now that it’s been a few years since my last read. And with these books there’s always something else to notice each and every time you re-read.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson was a surprising read – I read a lot about it as it won each award, but somehow I never noted that it’s written in verse. It does this incredibly well, I’ve read a handful of other books written in the same way (especially when judging the Children’s Book Award, there was a book about parkour that did it really well to convey movement), but this one does it even better, framing the thoughts that run around a little disjointed yet manages to give so much more feeling and depth to the subjects. I can easily see how this has won so many awards.

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus (Newsflesh Trilogy, #3.4)

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus by Mira Grant was a good quick read, blazing in the usual Grant wit and fun with plot and characters and dialogue. The only thing that annoyed me in this was the American use of Legos, when it goes to a point of describing the two characters who use that term are Canadian and European. Everywhere but America say ‘Lego’ in all forms, as in ‘she’s playing with her lego (collection)’ and it doesn’t sound weird or wrong to us at all. THAT ASIDE (yes I harp on about it too much, being Australian), this was a nifty little piece and makes me so glad we have another Newsflesh novel coming out in 2016.

The Prince

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli was picked up because it was short, and then I was cursing myself because of course it’s a struggle to get through, as each and every paragraph requires thinking about. This is a classic, all about philosophy and politics and the human character. It was really quite a good read, and I only wish I’d had been able to study it in school with a good teacher – I don’t think I got as much out of it by myself – this is one of those books where you’d benefit from multiple points of view on it while you’re reading.

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson was excellent, somehow I enjoyed it even more than Brown Girl Dreaming. This is written as a general novel – still quite short, and about a boy called Melanin who has to get over his own homophobia (drenched on him by his peers and society in general) when his own mother comes out as a lesbian – with the added bonus that her girlfriend is a white woman – Kristen. Kristen is a lovely character and what this does really well, other than show Melanin who his real friends are, and how it’s okay to realise how very wrong you’ve been and move on from that, is how it shows Kristin as a real character and not just a plot point. She’s so very real, and combined with Melanin’s very real and caring mother, you get a very well told book in so few pages.

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So I read so much in December I really wouldn’t have been surprised if my eyes started to bleed. I managed to catch up a heck of a lot with my Aurealis Judging, leaving only three series to read before mid February (though that’s when we have to have our decision, so it may then also require a re-read of one or a few series before then to come to our final decision and reporting).

After five years of judging (two years for anthologies/collections for Aurealis, then two years of fantasy novel, then this one year of the Sara Award… with a year of Children’s Book Council thrown in at the same time for 2014), I’ve decided that 2016 will be full of ZERO judging. Well, no tied-in judging anyway, like Aurealis. I was very much tempted to put in an application for the WA Premier’s Award but I’ve since decided not to. I’ll still put in my votes for the Ditmar and Hugo awards, etc, but no Aurealis. I really need a year of zero deadlines and to just be able to read whatever book I feel like, and catch up on all the books I should have read but never got around to these past few years. I’m really looking forward to it.

2015 – November

November was all about a 2 week holiday in England. I went to Wales, saw the Matilda musical, went to the Harry Potter Studios tour twice, sat in on a recording of the QI (No Such Thing as a Fish) podcast, the science museum to see the Russian space program exhibit, and lots of shopping and general catching up with friends – it was excellent!

Which meant not much reading has happened, and the reading that has was mostly for Aurealis, which I don’t discuss here.

Onto the novels read in November!

Shadows of Self (Mistborn, #5)

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson was excellent. Issues with the author aside, Wax and Wayne are amazing characters, and I loved seeing a lot more of Marasi and especially Steris who is easily my favourite character, just for her deadpan nature and off-balanced sense of humour and outlook on life – I adore her. Plot-wise I could take it or leave it, but the end result was quite a surprise and packed a decent punch… but really, I read this for the characters and banter.

Rolling in the Deep

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant was read for the Goodreads choice awards so I could make an informed decision for that category – and I’m so glad I read this one! Sufficiently creepy and well-written I could really go for more in this world. The characters were lovely and you didn’t want to leave them, even after only seeing them for such a short time.

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo was a re-read so I could finish this series, and start her new one. Just as good as I remember reading it initially, but it’s hard to remember any of the details once you put the book down, which is a bit of a pain.

Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell was a bit disappointing overall. I read it on holiday whilst in Watford itself – just like the setting of the book itself. I just couldn’t gel with the characters and the plot seemed a bit haphazard, and it just wasn’t enjoyable to read. My loss!

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot

American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson was a re-read – when i first read it a few years ago I didn’t know much of Peter Capaldi, so when I watched them in an interview together I decided I had to re-read and see it all in a different light – instead of just reading the Capaldi bits though, I found myself just re-reading the whole thing again. It’s so brilliant!

Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined

Life and Dead by Stephenie Meyer was hilarious and otherwise greatly lacking.

Spring 2016 Penguin Teen Sampler

Spring 2016 Penguin Teen Sampler contained previews of THE DARK DAYS CLUB by Alison Goodman, SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys, REBEL OF THE SANDS by Alwyn Hamilton, WINK POPPY MIDNIGHT by April Genevieve Tucholke and THE PASSION OF DOLSSA by Julie Berry.

The one I’m most excited for was The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman – by FAR the most engaging and lovely to read.

A Gathering of Shadows - SAMPLE

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab was a sample of the first third of the book, and works awesomely well at making sure I have multiple copies preordered and even more desperate for the book than I was before.

My blog post on it can be found here.

Not My Father's Son: A Memoir

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming was heart-breaking and endlessly fascinating. Suggested by friend Kat when I re-read Craig Ferguson’s bio, I devoured this in less than a day. Highly recommended.

Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo was another re-read, though honestly I couldn’t remember barely any of it. Hopefully it sticks in my mind a little better this time.

2015 – October

During this month I didn’t do enough of anything. In November I have a two week holiday in England, I think I need the break!

Other reading not listed here are reading down for Aurealis judging, and beta-reading for very (incredibly) awesome future novels of friends.

Onto the novels read in October!

Tom Appleby, Convict Boy

Tom Appleby, Convict Boy by Jackie French is about an eight-year old thief of is part of the first fleet, and witnesses the very early Australia and what it was like. Lucky enough to be picked by a firm but kind higher-ranted officer who has a son of his own of almost the same age, Tom comes to learn of what future he can earn from himself, as well as the horrors and cruelties of life, especially the differences between right and wrong, as he’s surrounded by convicts and soldiers (who aren’t much better).

Quartz: The Sunless World Book One

Quartz by Rabia Gale is about Rafe, a spy and incredibly likable, on the hunt for something incredibly valuable at the same time as a handful of others are – just to make it interesting. Once, quartz powered magical devices, but the mages who created them are long gone. Isabella is another excellent character, and (wwarily) together the two try to beat others to the pass.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3)

Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling is still my favourite of the series. Marauders! And the kids are finally learning some pretty serious things, and the adults are starting to show their true colours. It only goes up from here (even if the caps lock in other books gets a bit tiring. Sirius and Remus are some of my favourite characters, so until we meet them again in Grimmauld Place, I’ll be waiting.

How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants

How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants by David Rees is the actual title. Yup. I first saw David Rees in this very weird cable tv series about ‘how to tie shoelaces’ and ‘how to climb a tree’, with the entire episode dedicated to each hobby. His sense of humour and comic timing and sheer weirdness are beyond excellent, and this book goes hand in hand with that. Weird man.

Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor is a novel of the podcast by the same name, showing us a different side than we usually see (well, hear), focusing on two members of the town by the names of Diane and Jackie, rather than our usual radio host Cecil. Because of this, the book is easily accessible by people who only know vaguely about the podcast or aren’t up to date with the episodes, there won’t be any spoilers within.

You can read my review of it here.

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3)

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith is the third in the very successful series by J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert as we all know well by now), and doesn’t disappoint. From the first this series has been incredibly engaging with excellent characters and it only gets better in this one. I couldn’t put it down, I couldn’t remember this came from the same author that gave us Harry Potter, I can’t wait for the next!

You can read my review of it here.

2015 – September

During this month I also ran a reading challenge, which you can read about here and here. Most of the books I read were for judging so can’t be discussed here, but I also managed to squeeze in a few other titles for fun or review. Thank goodness, I needed the break!

Onto the novels read in September!

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield is probably the most inspiring book I’ve read in years. Col. Hadfield has an excellent way with words, clearly having spent ages trying to explain things most people have never and will never experience in a way where we can not only understand but comprehend what he’s trying to get across. I was lucky enough to see him live last month when I visited my friend, Alisa, and from here I can’t get enough of his work – look him up on youtube, the seemingly simple things he shows us about space are excellent.

Basically, he’s been up in space as part of the international space station, and it’s endlessly fascinating what it all involves.

Shaler's Fish

Shaler’s Fish by Helen Macdonald is a reprint of one of her books of poetry. In this collection of 42 poems we see the lyrical writing we loved in H is for Hawk put to perfect use for it’s ability to be read aloud and shared, for the beautiful beat the poems are set to, and the musical phrasing.

I’m not usually one for poetry – I like it, but don’t often seek it out – and this was hard to put down.

You can read my review of it here.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling was read for Bethwyn’s re-read. This has always been my least favourite of the series, finding the humour and plot in general socially awkward – between Dobby and Prof Lockhart I’m just cringing right out the door wanting to escape! Bring on the third book – my favourite. At least I hope it still is.

Fans of the Impossible Life

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa was a book highly recommended from a few friends, and on reading I can see why. The characters in this are raw and real – Sebby is all a bit wow. You feel so much for these characters and what they’re going through, and at the same time you just think wow, they’re so young. The diversity in this book is excellent as is the issues they deal with. The ending however… hrmm.

Lois Lane: Fallout (Lois Lane, #1)

Fallout: Lois Lane by Gwenda Bond was highly recommended, but didn’t overly manage to grab me – wrong mood, too stressed from trying to read All The Things? Who knows. I know this was aimed at a certain age group however this doesn’t necessarily mean the book would be too simple to be engaging, which is how I found it, unfortunately.

Compound a Felony: A Queer Affair of Sherlock Holmes

Compound a Felony by Elinor Gray was a bit of fun – fanfiction written in the Sherlock Holmes (original era, not BBC or Elementary, etc) which is, as you can see from the cover, wavers slightly from the canon in a certain regard. It was a quick read that’s well written in parts, however a little repetitive. Recommended for good fanfiction though!

The Beast's Garden

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth was reported as a retelling of the Grimms’ Beauty and The Beast, set in Nazi Germany. It’s more accurately of ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ but all in all, it’s strongly in its own form as a window into a horrific time in our history, which made it hard to read at times. Excellent characters made this impossible to put down.

You can read my review of it here.

Black Widow: Forever Red

Forever Red by Margaret Stohl wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be. The parts with Romanoff and Coulson were excellent but few. Tony didn’t seem as realistic. Ava is amazing, but I found Alex fairly dull. Overall I was probably over-hyped for how this novel turned out to be. Overall, it was a nice read, but a bit lacking. Or I was hoping for the world – either way.

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon

The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips was amazing. This month has been all about the non-fiction, with two other books part-read and not finished read. The life of Alice Sheldon is truly inspiring. In her life she’s been a painter, worked military intelligence, was part of the very early CIA, tried various writing jobs and different university courses… a long life of trying to find somewhere to fit. Eventually she became one of the best science fiction writers of our time – but known as a man (Tiptree Jr.), as there was no space in that world as a female. It’s heart-breaking and fascinating and just makes you wonder how different life is like today – sadly, probably not much. Not enough.

Binti

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor was a novella, packing such a powerful punch in around 100 pages. Binti is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University – an amazing place of study that has a human population of 5%. To say that leaving her family and her people behind is hard is an understatement, it simply isn’t done and there’s little chance of going back thanks to the shame she’s now brought her family for leaving, and utterly ruining her marriage prospects. This is soon the least of her worries though, as the journey to the uni takes a turn for the worst no one could have expected…

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson was just like her first book – beyond amazing. Lawson explains and discusses mental illness like few others manage to. She’s a wonderful person, startlingly real in a realm of ‘no one else can be as fucked up as I am’. She gives this a voice and a connection, showing many/most people with mental illness feel the same way. When you read her work you realise you’re not as alone as you sometimes feel, and you get a hundred gasping laughs at the absurdity and the magic Lawson has with words as a bonus.

I can’t recommend her books enough, I really can’t.

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September was my birthday month, and I also bought my first car (unrelated to the first point), which seems a bit of a mile stone!

2015 – August

Aurealis Award judging has started once more – last year I listed them separately but this year I think I’ll just leave them off – it’s not like I can discuss them at all.

This year I’ll be judging the first year of the Sara Douglass Series Award, which shall try to determine the BEST series that was finalised between the years 2011 and 2014. Sara Douglass was an amazing Australian author who sadly passed in 2011 (and we can’t believe it was so long ago already), and we are very glad to have been able to name the award for her, as her series got countless people into speculative fiction.

At an estimate we’ll be reading more than 80 series, and as most series have three-five books… it’s going to be an incredibly fun, exhausting feat I’m sure!

Onto the novels read in August!

Emmy & Oliver

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway was a novel I rated five stars, because I liked what it did and it felt different, however somehow at the same time I was a little disappointed. It felt like it was shorter than it needed to be (in a plot/character way, rather than ‘oh that was so good I wish I had more), though it remained fascinating and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s probably more the fact that I liked what it did, so I would have liked to see it expand on everything a lot more, rather than show a seemingly small snapshot.

Armada

Armada by Ernest Cline was disappointing. I really enjoyed Ready Player One as simply a fun book, and in this I found pretty much the same characters, and a less-engaging plot. Which was a shame, as it was the first book I tried to get back into bookclub with and now I’m just like oh well, maybe next time. I’m generally character-driven, but none of the characters really grabbed me – with such a tight time-frame, we can’t get to know the characters for obvious reasons – and with such a limited plot I just couldn’t really care less as this story went on and on. A shame! Maybe I got my hopes up too high.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling was read for a re-read – which made me realise I haven’t read this series since 2011 and even then I only read the first three books – before that it was 2006/2007! Appalling! It’s always interesting to come back to this series and re-read it, every few years. Especially when you read commentary about the series often in between, seeing what others say about the characters and so forth, then go back to the start and go through it again. Getting older also provides a different angle to it all. If you haven’t re-read this series in a while, I highly recommend it!

Sharp Shooter (Tara Sharp, #1)

Sharp Shooter by Marianne Delacourt is a book read for proofing, so won’t really discuss. It is really good, though!

Sharp Turn (Tara Sharp, #2)

Sharp Turn by Marianne Delacourt is a book read for proofing, so won’t really discuss. It is really good, though!

Stage Fright (Tara Sharp, #3)

Stage Fright by Marianne Delacourt is a book read for proofing, so won’t really discuss. It is really good, though!

Tower of Thorns (Blackthorn & Grim, #2)

Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier was an eagerly awaited book, and I wasn’t disappointed! The publishing team are so kind that when I begged to get it before a flight, they were kind enough to get it to me asap – best flight ever! This book picks up after the first excellent book (one we awarded the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel of 2014), and it only somehow gets better from there. Grim and Blackthorn have to have their wits around them even more, as they continue to grow and heal after their ordeals only to be thrown into a life more hectic. I can’t wait until the third book to see them return to the life they’ve started to build around themselves, as I missed certain characters dearly.

A review shall come shortly. I’ve run out of time this month!

Letters to Tiptree

Letters to Tiptree edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein is a book I speak more of below, one that I highly recommend but also go as far as to pair it with another important book, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips, which I shall hopefully discuss in my next month round-up.

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August was a busy month. I spent two weeks of it away with the director/publisher of Twelfth Planet Press, interning and generally helping launching their latest book, Letters to Tiptree which I of course wholly recommend. This left little time for reading at all, let alone reading for pleasure and now I’m feeling quite overwhelmed with all the judging books I have piled everywhere! I did read sections of Letters to Tiptree over and over countless times – if only that counted somehow but alas, it means little for the goodreads challenge or listing here in the month summary :p Alas!