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 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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.