One of my favourite science fiction books is by this author, and I really like the design of this set. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get the price tag off the front cover which has spoiled the effect somewhat. I was going through my to-read shelf back in December looking for books for my Short Stack Reading Challenge and this one looked ideal. Although I’m familiar with the premise, it has inspired plenty of adaptations and other media, I hadn’t read this one before.
“The Midwich Cuckoos” by John Wyndham is a science fiction novel about a small English village called Midwich. One day, an invisible line encircles the town and everyone within it or who crosses it falls asleep. The next day, everyone wakes up more or less unharmed, except that all the women are pregnant. When they give birth, all the children are strangely similar with light blonde hair and golden eyes. As they grow up at an accelerated rate, the people in the village start to notice some even more unusual traits. With secret government organisations taking an interest, and increasingly serious incidents happening, questions begin to be asked not just about what to do about Midwich, but what to do about humanity.
This was a really interesting book that had an understated, very British, almost bureaucratic tone. A lot of the book is made up of conversations between different people in the town, especially between a young man called Richard and a well-known local author Gordon Zellaby. Richard is charged by a secretive Colonel to keep an eye on the situation, and over the years Richard reports what he sees. This narrative style creates room for a lot of subtle exploration of social issues such as motherhood, abortion and what it means to be human. I was surprised at how well the book has held up over time, and I also liked that despite being set in the UK, the book didn’t have a Western-centric perspective and considered the Earth as a whole which many science fiction books fail to do.
Although I understand why Wyndham chose this narrative style, at times it did feel like the pace was impeded and the text was very conversation heavy. However, the slow burn does lead to an explosive ending.
I like the consistency in the cover design, with variations on an optical illusion theme.
“New Australian Fiction 2020” and “New Australian Fiction 2021” are collections of short stories by Australian authors. As with my previous review of “Going Down Swinging No. 30“, I won’t go through all the stories but I’ll highlight some of my favourites. I will say though that while there were some stories I liked much better than others, I did think that the overall curation of both issues was very strong. The editors put a lot of thought into arranging these stories and they had a really nice thematic flow.
New Australian Fiction 2020
So Many Ways by Mirandi Riwoe was a slice-of-life story about diaspora, job insecurity and unlikely friendships. It wasn’t exactly enjoyable, but Madeline Watts’ story Floodwaters was an uncomfortable and all-too-relatable consideration of being stuck in a relationship and how much of a disaster it takes to leave. After the Stampede by Jack Vening was another challenging story, one of those ones where you go over it again and again because the pieces don’t quite fit until you realise that there is something very wrong with the narrator. I really liked Self-Portrait After Panic by Laura McPhee-Browne, an intimate story about art, friendship and anxiety. I also really liked the vibrancy and sex positivity of Maame Blue’s Howl. Holy Water by Jack Kirne was delightfully dark and ambiguous. Long Road: Becoming by Mykaela Saunders was a excellent story about ritual and family and trying to make a new life following incarceration.
New Australian Fiction 2021
I really liked Flash and Glow by Ben Walter, a dark intersection between tourism and pollution with subheadings of metal contaminants. The semi-autobiographical Tunnels by Bryant Apolonio was a compelling story about the legacies our parents leave us. Resource Management, another one by Mykaela Saunders, used original and creative form to show how cultural misunderstanding has played out in Aboriginal communities in the past as well as in the present. James Noonan’s story Morningside hit very close to home about living overseas while bushfires rage back in Australia. I was disturbed by yet hooked on Flaring Out by Scott Limbrick, a conceptual story about a peculiar and inexplicable phenomenon wiping out humanity one by one. I absolutely loved Takatāpui by Daley Rangi, a beautifully written, real-life, first person narrative about queer and Māori identity and everyday violence. Georgia White’s story Ceasefire brought to life the reality of when a family member does the unthinkable.
There were plenty of cutting edge, relevant pieces in this collection and I look forward to seeing the results of this upcoming year.
Anthology of short fiction, poetry, comic art, graphic novella and spoken word
Last year, I was thrilled to win a micro-microfiction contest with this journal. I was so inspired I decided to buy one of their annual anthologies. I was looking through the store on the website trying to decide which one and I could not go past this one. The cover design is so striking (by Katrina Rhodes) and I was intrigued by the two spoken word CDs included with it, the design of which matches the Fabergé egg-shaped hot air balloons on the covers. I knew that I had to pick this for my Short Stack Reading Challenge back in December.
“Going Down Swinging No. 30” is a special 30th anniversary anthology of short fiction, poetry, comic art, graphic novellas and two spoken word CDs. Although there is an extensive contents page at the beginning, this was a surprisingly quick read. It has a really immersive feel with a very high quality selection of works. Given the number of pieces it is going to be impossible for me to review each or even most, so I will try to highlight some of my favourites.
The Clockwork Children by Felicity Bloomfield was an absolutely chilling horror short story about wanting to fit in with other children that reminded me a bit of “Slade House” or perhaps “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman. Procession by Paddy O’Reilly was a disturbing exploration of what a society with dogs who gained some sentience might be like and the humans who decide to worship them. Rhianna Boyle’s little comic Dirty Joke was a pure and humorous story about making the most of a difficult situation and reconnecting with family. Salvatore Ciliento’s ink illustrations were a beautiful and calming interlude among the written pieces. Shit Brooches by Oslo Davis was a hilarious, punchy little comic that really resonated with me given how popular brooches seem to be over the last couple of years. I thought that Retro Ryder by Robert Caporale was a really interesting take on the trauma of losing a friend when young with a bit of ambiguity thrown in to keep it edgy. I also really liked the realism of Gutted, for Carl Solomon by Luke Johnson which had a intoxicatingly urban setting and examined the ethics of thinking about violence as compared to acting on it. Midlife by Andy Murdoch was an excellent look at intimacy, queer identity and turning 30.
It was a bit hard for me to separate each piece of spoken word on the CDs (let alone find something in my house that would play them!) but the effect of voice over music and ambient noise was very compelling and they definitely added to the overall experience of this book.
A really enjoyable collection and I am keen to get my hands on some more issues of Going Down Swinging.
Content warning: sexual assault, gender violence, family violence
I must have picked up a copy of this book from the Lifeline Book Fair some time back. I love to look at the different books in the literature section and see if I can find books from other countries, and this one clearly caught my eye because of the vibrant cover. I picked it out to read for my Short Stack Reading Challenge in December.
“Buxton Spice” by Oonya Kempadoo is a bildungsroman about Lula, a young girl who lives in a fictional town called Tamarind Grove in Guyana. She and her friends play innocently among the trees, along the river and in the rooms in her family’s sprawling house. However, on the cusp of puberty they are becoming more aware of their sexuality and, at the same time, more aware of the political tensions in their racially diverse town and the types of violence women face in Tamarind Grove.
This was a very readable book and I loved how Kempadoo wove through Guyanese Creole in such a fluid and evocative way. Lula and her friends were a clever lens through with to observe Guyana’s post-independence era in the 1970s. As the book progresses, Lula becomes more and more aware of the ethnic differences between her family and others and Tamarind Grove and her father’s leftist leanings and progressive, vegetarian lifestyle become more and more dangerous. I also thought that Kempadoo explored class in a really interesting way and how it intersected with race and religion. There were some very provocative scenes in this book, and the author finds a captivating balance between illuminating violence and maintaining the Lula’s inherent playfulness.
A lively and spirited story that was as educational as it was enjoyable to read.
I was thrilled to launch my Short Stack Reading Challenge in December, and it was so successful I actually have quite a backlog of reviews. I was especially looking forward to this book which is a sequel to “Silver in the Wood” which I adored. Publication was a bit delayed because of COVID-19 but I ordered a copy as soon as I could. If you haven’t read the first book yet, please note there will be inadvertent spoilers.
“Drowned Country” by Emily Tesh is a sequel to her novella “Silver in the Wood”. Some years have passed since the events of the previous book, and Henry Silver has sunk into a deep, grimy depression. His enthusiasm for an adventurous life as the Wild Man of Greenhollow has waned and he struggles to fill the days with the same careful routine that Tobias Finch did. When his mother calls on him to require his assistance dealing with a dangerous creature, Silver reluctantly agrees. However, when he reaches the coastal town of Rothport, he finds much more than he bargained for.
I was so happy to step back into Tesh’s world with these beloved characters. In this story, we get much more of Silver’s perspective and insight into some of the immaturity and indecision behind his signature charm and wit. There are some very funny moments in the book, and plenty of melodrama. The relationship between Silver and his mother is complicated and amusing. I also enjoyed Tesh’s exploration of relationships and working through guilt, trust and communication. Seeing Finch’s taciturn nature from the outside was frustrating but I finally had a bit more empathy for all the other characters.
I think that while I enjoyed revisiting this setting, the murkiness of the atmosphere spilled over a little into the plot. Tesh plays with parallel worlds and liminal spaces, stepping into another realm that was reminiscent of the dead city of Charn in “The Magician’s Nephew” by C. S. Lewis. However, I didn’t quite feel the same cohesiveness as I did in the first book. Tesh flickers the narrative back and forth in time to unveil what happened between Silver and Finch, but this time around I didn’t feel as invested. I love novellas but it was almost like the book needed a bit more exposition for the reader to understand how everything fit (or didn’t fit) together.
A fun, tangled book that I liked; just not as much as the first one.
Another year of reading done. After doing a summary for the first time in 2020, I have decided to make it an annual thing and share my best reads, my most popular reviews and wrap-up my reading challenges for the year.
Best Reads of 2021
My favourite books this year fell into four broad genres:
science fiction and fantasy,
popular fiction, and, surprisingly,
Fantasy and Science Fiction
There was some exceptional speculative fiction this year, and one of my favourites was Africanfuturism novella “Remote Control” by Nnedi Okorafor, an explosive story about a radioactive girl ruthless in her quest for survival. I was thrilled to read the third book in “The Daevabad Trilogy”, “The Empire of Gold” by S. A. Chakraborty which was an exceptional finale to a fantastic series. I was also really excited to start two new series with “The Bone Shard Daughter” by Andrea Stewart, with fantastic magic and an even better animal sidekick, and “She Who Became the Sun” by Shelley Parker-Chan which pushes just about every boundary, but especially the boundaries of ambition.
First training for a hike, then taking up running, I got through quite a few audiobooks this year and some were just excellent. Gothic novel “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson had me thinking about it and the disturbing protagonist Merricat for weeks afterwards. “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas was haunting for a different way with its hyperrealistic exploration of the Black Lives Matter movement. Then, in spite of the controversy surrounding the narrator, “Call Me By Your Name” by André Aciman was the most beautifully written love letter to the male body.
A really surprising novel was “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga: one of those incredibly satisfying stories about someone choosing themselves over everything else, no matter the consequences. Then the disturbing but all too realistic “Unsettled Ground” by Claire Fuller had me ruminating for days about how so-called developed societies can collectively fail people so badly.
It definitely wasn’t all doom and gloom though, and I really enjoyed a couple of romps. One was “The Dangers of Truffle Hunting” by Sunni Overend which honestly was the right book at the right time, and I enjoyed the fantasy combination of food, wine and romance unashamedly. I also really liked the sheer drama and chaos of “Nine Perfect Strangers” by Liane Moriarty who pushed the promises of the wellness industry to their absolute extreme.
I am the first to admit that I am not much of a poetry aficionado, but there were two poetry collections that really resonated with me. The first was “Throat” by Ellen van Neerven which explores the intersection between queer and Aboriginal identity. The second was “The Uncommon Feast” by Eileen Chong that combines poetry, recipes and essays in a thoughtful and delightful way.
Most Popular Reviews of 2021
Interestingly, of my top 10 most viewed reviews this year, only “Remote Control” was actually posted this year. Erotica continues to be, hilariously, my most popular genre with twice as many reviews making it to my top 10!
the Short Stack Reading Challenge (my own invention!).
I was pretty surprised to have read 23 books by Australian women and non-binary authors, which is a great achievement as the Australian Women Writers Challenge is taking a new direction in 2022.
I had a lot of fun doing the Spells & Spaceships – 2021 SFF Badge Collection, and I was surprised that I almost got all the badges! Although it may have been a little bit of a stretch for one or two (I’m pretty sure dragons made a mention in “The Sleeper and the Spindle“) the only two that I absolutely did not get was the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and the special badge for collecting them all.
I absolutely smashed my Goodreads Reading Challenge this year. I set my annual goal of 80 books but managed to read 90 in total.
A significant part of why I managed to read so many books this year was my inaugural Short Stack Reading Challenge! I got through 14 short books in December which really boosted my stats. It was also really nice not having to commit to any long books during this busy time of year and just move quickly from one to the next.
So that is 2021 in books. A very happy new year to everyone who has stopped by and left comments; here’s to a great year of books and book reviews in 2022!
Collection of poetry and essays about food, love and identity
I have been following this author and poet on social media for quite some time. I am a big fan of books with recipes in them and I was thrilled to find out she has a collection filled with recipes and ordered a copy immediately. I knew it was an ideal choice for my Short Stack Reading Challenge.
“Uncommon Feast: Essays, poems, and recipes” by Eileen Chong is, as described, a collection of essays, poems and recipes. At the heart of this book is Chong’s upbringing in Singapore, and the rich culinary culture that underpins her family and her identity.
This is a beautiful book with a comforting, nurturing tone. Using the same care with which we prepare food for our loved ones, Chong carefully prepares her writing for the reader. I particularly enjoyed reading the recipes. Recipes are often a rather dry format, but Chong invokes her inner aunty to make her recipes feel warm, eminently readable and achievable. Unfortunately I’m mostly vegetarian these days, but the multi-part recipe in Diana’s Hainanese Chicken Rice had me salivating. I found that Chong’s poetry had a slightly different tone: nostalgic with a sense of longing for family and times past. Burning Rice was especially evocative and juxtaposes the labour of generations past with the small errors of the present. In her poems, food is shared memories and shared language with family. However, it is in the essays that Chong is more frank about her experiences living as a migrant in Australia and how through food, family and words she navigates her way through the world.
Middle grade fantasy book about four gifted children
I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author. I’m currently very deep into my Short Stack Reading Challenge and this looked like a nice quick read.
“The Lost Amulet” by Mary Farrugia is the first bok in the “Stone Bearer Series” and is a middle grade fantasy book about three children called Alexandra, Jake and Kian who are raised together in an orphanage with the ferocious Ms Severington. When Jake and Kian are suddenly adopted, Alexandra is left alone. However, when she is adopted shortly before her 12th birthday by the mysterious John, the truth about her identity is finally revealed and her destiny as a Stone Bearer of the Land of Four Stones begins. When she begins her training and education with John and Gum Gully High, Alexandra is reunited with her friends. However, the race is on to find a lost Amulet before the chaotic figure Colt does, and the key may lie in the secret fourth Stone Bearer.
This is an easy read that follows plenty of the tried and true hallmarks of the children’s fantasy genre from orphans, hidden identities to being sorted into school houses. It is a quick and action-packed read with a strong focus on friendship.
Like many self-published books, this one felt a little heavy on the adverbs and the author did occasionally misuse some words. The story initially felt a little confusing moving from the orphanage to a day school for both magical and non-magical children, but perhaps some of these issues are resolved in later books in the series.
A fast-paced book that could appeal to fans of the middle grade fantasy genre.
Young adult novel about a young boy’s affinity for foxes
I am currently doing my Short Stack Reading Challenge, and I raided all my shelves for some very short books to see out the end of the year. I picked up this book at the Lifeline Book Fair some time ago. I can’t remember if I chose it because someone recommended it to me, or because this author was one I read as a kid because my (admittedly very annoying) year 5 teacher was obsessed with her. Either way, this was the next book in my short stack. It is actually a signed copy, addressed to someone called Katie in the year of publication – 1994. Edit: I was just reminded that I have read this author more recently, I had just forgotten her pseudonym.
“Foxspell” by Gillian Rubinstein is about a young boy called Tod who, after his father returns overseas, has moved with his mother and two sisters to live with his grandmother on a property in South Australia. Despite being a talented artist, Tod struggles with school and feels the strain of the arguments at home. When he comes across a dead fox and is moved to bury it, he unknowingly creates a connection between himself and a fox spirit. Spending more and more time in the area nearby called the quarries, Tod attracts the attention of Shaun, an older teenager whose gang vandalise property and who is interested in Tod’s sister Charm. As things at home become more and more difficult, and Tod falls further behind in school, the temptation to run with a fox and run with a gang becomes greater and greater.
This was quite a surprising book. Even though it was written nearly 30 years ago, it still felt fresh and relevant. Although not ever said explicitly, it is suggested that Tod has a learning disability like dyslexia and instead of blaming him for his difficulties, the book explores how the people around him are failing him. I also thought that Rubinstein did a good job of weaving earthy magic into the story while acknowledging that white people, like foxes, invaded this country and that Traditional Owners’ beliefs and connection to country persists. There were also lots of other interesting parts to this story. Tod’s mother is an aspiring comedian and uses anecdotes about her family in her sets, and I thought that the dichotomy between her lack of involvement in her kids’ day to day lives, and her disrespect for their boundaries by using their lives as material for her shows was a fascinating subplot. I also really liked the character of Tod’s sister Charm, and the complicated relationship between her, Shaun, Tod and Shaun’s younger brother.
An unexpectedly complex story that I liked a lot more than I remember liking Rubinstein’s other books.
If you follow my blog, you may have seen my post about my new reading challenge: the Short Stack Reading Challenge to read as many short books in December as you can. I knew exactly what I wanted my first book to be. I have been reading this author’s books for years and years, and when I saw that she had an illustrated collection of fairy tales, I had to have it. When the edition arrived, I was amazed at how beautiful the book was in person. The gold foil on the hardcover is stunning and it came with a lovely illustrated card with black silhouettes with gold detailing.
“Mother Thorn and Other Tales of Courage and Kindness” by Juliet Marillier and illustrated by Kathleen Jennings is a collection of four original fairy tales. The Witching Well, inspired by a Scottish version of the Frog Prince story, is about a young woman called Lara whose difficult mother requires water from a special well to bake bread with. One day after the long journey there, Lara finds the well dry and must make a bargain with a talking frog. Mother Thorn is an original fairy tale set in medieval Ireland about the dogs and the loves of our lives. Pea Soup is a retelling of The Princess and the Pea with a more modern and cosy perspective. Copper, Silver, Gold is a reinterpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinder Box about military trauma and the three magic dogs.
Marillier’s work is the ultimate in comfort reading and this book is infused with warmth. Despite visiting some familiar territory in Mother Thorn, Marillier proves again that she is a flexible author who works comfortable in a variety of settings and lengths. The Witching Well was an incredibly sweet story that was tempered with a realistic exploration of managing a relationship strained by anxiety and control. I really liked how in Mother Thorn, things don’t go to plan, but Niamh finds happiness through the different stages of her life. In Pea Soup, Marillier shares the perspective between two characters and highlights a less traditional but no less vaild form of masculinity. Copper, Silver, Gold was probably the most heart-breaking of the stories. Unlike many stories that focus on the ‘glory’ of war, this story instead grapples with the aftermath and the work and support people need to heal.
This was a lovely little collection, as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside, and I enjoyed it from start to finish.