Since many people are stuck inside right now, it’s a good time to share this blog about my favourite reads from 2019. There’s no better place to escape to than the worlds within a good book, so here’s books 20 – 11 out of my favourites from last year. Hopefully some of you will be inspired to pick up one or two of these great books and read them yourselves! It’s great to keep supporting artists any way you can in times like these.
#20 – GUARDS! GUARDS! by Terry Pratchett.
I’ve always been aware of Pratchett, I’ve read books he co-wrote with other authors, I’ve seen and enjoyed movies based on his stories, but this was the first proper Pratchett book that I read. Pratchett’s humour, his wit, is just brilliant. His style is satirical, intelligent, and full of fun. His characters are captivating, memorable, and larger-than-life. Which is normally a good thing. But in this case, one of the characters was a large woman, and IMO much of the humour crossed the line into body-shaming, which really made it hard for me to enjoy the book.
#19 – EON by Alison Goodman.
There are some wonderful aspects of this story – Dragons based on the Chinese Zodiac, and a believable hero that you can relate to. Eon, the protagonist, is flawed-not just through her disability or the lies she must tell to stay alive-and makes the odd questionable decision. I also need to mention Lady Dela, a “two-spirit” who has a biologically male body but is a woman. She is true to herself and knows the value and strength of being a woman, in contrast with Eon, who sees her femininity as a weakness. But all of this greatness is somewhat lost towards the end when Eon’s disability is magically cured – just erasing a disability like that, literally a magic cure, it just didn’t sit right with me.
#18 – THE LOST HONOUR OF KATHARINA BLUM by Herman Hesse.
As much as I want to read diversely, part of me is fascinated by German history. This book takes us to Western Germany in the ’70s, where the sensationalist tabloid media drags a good woman’s name through the mud for an alleged romantic affair. Stylistically this reads like a factual report, sober and withdrawn, telling the incidents as they occurred. So it’s rather dry, but still a quick, interesting read.
#17 – THE QUADRANTS is Rohsaan McInnes’ debut novel. It’s an engaging YA Magical Realism story, focusing on Rohan and Eve, two high school outcasts, and Titus, a bully. Soon after Rohan’s sixteenth birthday, he starts getting an awful lot stronger. Titus is not surprised by Rohan’s strength and explains that he must be a Terrus, a person from the Quadrants with powers of the Earth. Titus reveals that he is an Ignus, with the power of flames. Rohan’s world is rocked to its core, and he is drawn to Titus, who is the only person who can explain to him what is happening to him, about the secret world to which he belongs. One highlight was the changing relationships between the characters. McInnes’ skilful writing made it feel believable and drew you in further to the plight of her characters.
#16 – THE HILLS OF THE MOON. Carleton Chinner has weaved together an interesting and imaginative tale of rebellion, of humanity (moonanity?), of redemption and hope. There’s a lot of engaging sci-fi elements and fight scenes that were done really well. I especially enjoyed the details of transport between Earth and the Moon. THE HILLS OF THE MOON is a great sci-fi read, and while some elements may be familiar, it’s a unique and gripping tale.
#15 – HERO by Belinda Crawford. This is the first book in Crawford’s THE HERO REBELLION series, and I was hooked from the start. A human colony on a lonely planet. A girl who hears voices, her only friend a massive genetically-engineered leopard, and her quest for freedom, her quest for the truth. Hero Regan is a really engaging protagonist. Her struggles to fit in at the Cumulus City school, wanting nothing more than to be normal and have friends, is conveyed very well. Throughout the story, Hero pieces the puzzle together of her own existence and unravels webs of intrigue and deceit which go right back to the colonisation of the planet.
#14 – CAPRICORN: SPECULATIVE FICTION INSPIRED BY THE ZODIAC is the first of Deadset Press’ Zodiac-inspired speculative fiction anthologies. It’s a great collection of stories by writers from Australia and New Zealand, with sci-fi horror, a Lovecraftian piece based on the ancient myths behind the Capricorn sign, and some chilling dark fantasy tales and poems. Highlights include ‘The Pact’ by Dee Cheers, ‘Lord of the Deep’ by Marcus Turner and ‘The Sea-Father’s Due’ by Nikky Lee.
#13 – FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE by Stephen Donaldson. This is the second book in Donaldson’s mindblowing space opera, and it’s not for the fain-hearted. It’s dark and brutal, and the characters range from barely tolerable to downright despicable. What I love about this series is how the role of the three main characters change between hero, victim and villain. It’s edge-of-your-seat action right the way through, and while it’s not ‘horror’ it’s scary in a much more real way than tales that deal with ghosts or (non-human) monsters.
#12 – DEVOURING DARK by Alan Baxter. Devouring Dark is a riveting tale of crime, guilt, death and punishment, set in London’s urban sprawl. The characters are excellent, relatable, believable. I love books where the characters aren’t clear-cut good or bad, but have both positive and negative traits. And Baxter created a real sense of danger and increasing urgency as the tale approached the end. I really enjoyed DEVOURING DARK, and I recommend it to anyone who likes gritty and dark tales. On my bookshelf right now is another of Baxter’s books, ‘Hidden City’, thinking about how much I enjoyed DEVOURING DARK I am really looking forward to reading that one!
#11 – BURN by Keri Arthur. Arthur’s BURN is the third book in her ‘Kingdom of Earth and Air’ series, but don’t let that stop you from picking it up because the protagonist has recently lost her memory, so they don’t know much about their world either! The world-building throughout the book is exceptional, featuring a great combination of technology and magic. The cast of characters are great, and this is a world I’m going to want to keep coming back to!
So that’s the first ten books in my top 20 from last year! As I said, it’s really important to support artists at a time like this, with many events, book launches and so forth being cancelled. Not only that, but frankly some of these great books just haven’t been read enough – The Hills of Mare Imbrium, Hero, The Quadrants, Devouring Dark and Burn in particular. That’s it for now, but I can’t wait to share with you my top 10, so make sure you come back in a week or so!