Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Books Read and Stories Published in 2019


Song of Solomon Toni Morrison                                                      
Some Kind of Fairy Tale Graham Joyce                                                                       

Boy Swallows Universe Trent Dalton                                                                         

We’ll Stand in That Place and Other Stories Ed. Michelle Cahill (anthology).        

Path of the Dragon George RR Martin (novella)                                   

Year’s Best Fantasy 2 (2002) Ed. David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer                          

Best Served Cold Joe Abercrombie                                                                      

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus Mary Shelley                                                

The Finder Ursula K. Le Guin (novella)                                                                         

Restoration Rose Tremain

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection (expository and graphic novel)                                                                                         

Undermajordomo Minor Patrick deWitt                                                    

The Sky Falls Down: An Anthology of Loss Ed. Terry Whitebeach & Gina Mercer.       

Year’s Best Fantasy (2001) Ed. David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer              

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine Issue 44 Ed. Felicity Dowker & Simon Petrie

Word Play Gyles Brandweyth (expository) 

Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury                                                                                      

The Orchardist’s Daughter Karen Viggers                                                            

Whiskey and Water Elizabeth Bear                                                          

Debt of Bones Terry Goodkind (novella)          

Harmless Julienne Van Loon (novella)                                                       

The Battles of Tolkien David Day (expository)                                                               

The Maze Runner James Dashner (YA)                                                                  

A Princess of Landover Terry Brooks                                                   

The Misadventures of John Nicholson (novella) Robert Louis Stevenson

Eternals Neil Gaiman (graphic novel)                   

The DC Universe by Neil Gaiman Neil Gaiman (graphic novel)               

A Maggot John Fowles                                                                                               

The Alchemist Paulo Coelho                                                                                       

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine Issue 41 ed. Ian Nichols    

The Enchantress of Florence Salman Rushdie                                          

Temeraire Naomi Novik                                                                                                 

New Beginnings (anthology/Reader)                                                           

 Novel Standouts

I've kept the brief commentary to three, but there was plenty to revel in this year. Abercrombie always delivers and Best Served Cold is no exception; I'm glad I finally read Frankenstein; and both Restoration by Tremain and Undermajordormo Minor by De Witt also impressed. 

Song of Solomon

Easily the best of my 2019 reads. 

"If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.' Vale Toni Morrison. Your legacy soars. 

To summarise the plot would be unfair as this unique reading experience is best left for you to dive into on your own. In terms of language and style, Morrison incorporates a blend of rhythmic poetic prose with black urban dialogue from two separate parts of the states, along with a cultural infusion of Black songs and folktales.

Toni Morrison weaves magical realism with fable and history in such a natural manner, that even the nature of the plot, which moves to absurdist, appears organic and authentic.

Morrison makes me want to never put pen on paper again. She's that good, and for me, Song of Solomon is Morrison at her finest.  

Some Kind of Fairy Tale

Tara went missing the woods some 20 years ago, now at the supposed age of 36, Tara arrives at her parents door on Christmas Day. Problem is she hasn't changed at all. 

Joyce touches our sentiment here in this exploration of time and life-changing events. It also bravely interrogates relationships with not only the family, but an old, and somewhat lost, past lover. The work shares similarities with other novels of his I've readThis is up there in terms of quality with his The Year of the Ladybird

Joyce is unabashedly sentimental, and although at times this touches on the saccharine, Joyce manages it all successfully - when many other writers wouldn't. The plot is thought provoking, and the controlled prose is strong throughout. The ingredients are all there in the right doses in a compelling tale.

Boy Swallows Universe

Eli Bell's seemingly stable childhood world in urban Brisbane is torn asunder as he realises that he and his non-verbal brother, Gus, are no longer safe. His mother, who he adores, is involved with a drug-trafficking stepfather (who he also idolises) and their troubles have entered the domestic front in a super hostile manner. Eli and Gus have to leave.

It's a gritty take on 80s Australia with Vietnamese gangs, abusive partners, a drunken father,  reformed and unreformed crims, and violent dug cartels. It also incorporates magical realism with a unique red phone and Gus weaves a little magic too.

But Eli's hyperbole, humour and dramatic outlook make it all worth the while. For me this deserved the Miles Franklin; it's one of the best Aussie rides I've been on. And it is a wild adventurous ride. Dalton pulls out all the writerly tricks out of the hat: connection and disconnection, stark contrast and juxtaposition, and figurative lines abound on every page. It's hyperobolic and hyperactive, and doesn't hold back. So much of Australian literature is controlled and spare these days, making Dalton's unleashed voice a refreshing change. 

The  adventurous unashamedly bloated prose is reminiscent of the work of a journalist on steroids. And guess what? It works. This novel is fun, touching, brave and imaginative.  

I personally felt the glass jars and much of the latter part related to the jars too far fetched, not in terms of gratuity, but in terms of incredulity and taking the melodrama to an unneeded extent. The scenes aren't really required. Although I did think the later magical realist elements worked a treat. 

But it's all part of a wonderful ride. A future Australian classic, if it isn't one already. 

Novella Standouts

 Path of the Dragon

The novella where Daenerys Targaryen and Jorah Mormont share a romantic moment! This tale portrays Daenarys as the liberator we all loved before the final episode of the television series spoilt her for many of us. 

The Finder

The tale of how a school of magic is founded by a brave man. A lot of elements are at play in this novella, there's danger, including a tracker with bloodhound qualities, and also serious abuses of power. On occasion, I find Leguin's Earthsea works more suited for younger ages, but The Finder holds adult audiences too. A fine novella and well-wrought story. 

Anthology Highlight

Year’s Best Fantasy 2 (2002) Ed. David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer

Cut and pasted via Goodreads: An impressive and consistently strong anthology. Out of the twenty two stories, there were only four that I didn't enjoy. Some personal favourites (and I could mention 18 stories here) include Ursula K. Le Guin's novella The Finder; 'What The Tyger Told Her' by Kage Baker; 'The Man Who Stole the Moon' by Tanith Lee; 'Nucleon' by David D. Levine; and 'Hell is the Absence of God' by Ted Chiang. 

The absolute standout is 'Firebird' by R. Garcia y Robertson. Although a fantasy is a more traditional vein, the story delights and all the elements come together in a clever fashion. It had me glued throughout.

 2019 Publications

'The Do' in We’ll Stand in That Place and Other Stories Ed. Michelle Cahill.

Very proud to have a story here, the variety of genre and styles was a pleasure to see. Some stories are rich, others economical, some realist, some speculative, and all deserve a second reading. A fantastic display of the magic and breadth of the short form.

'Submerging' The Sky Falls Down: An Anthology of Loss Ed. Terry Whitebeach & Gina Mercer (previously published in Overland 204 & The Best Australian Stories 2014.)

This explores an inescapable part of the human experience. It includes meaningful works in the form of essays, prose, memoir, and poetry.


'Submerging' will find its 4th home in 2020 in the anthology Changing Tides (more to come).

Hope 2020 is a happy, healthy and meaningful year for all!

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