A fiction lover’s mid-year review

2018 is screaming past at quite a rate and I have had the pleasure of filling this time with some quality reading!

I’ve made a list of the novels that I have enjoyed so far in 2018 and made comments on each so you can better decide whether they might be for you – my guess is that they’re so good you’ll want to read all of them!

There’s a decent representation of my favourite authors here too – the universe smiled upon us this year for new books from amazing authors. I was particularly excited to get a hold of First Person, the latest from the great Tasmanian Richard Flanagan. He’s a Booker Prize winner for his 2013 novel Narrow Road to the Deep North, and could go again with First Person, it’s very VERY good!

And another great Australian author Tim Winton; I was eagerly awaiting the chance to read The Shepherd’s Hut, another triumph for the doyen of Australian literary fiction.

And then there was The Free by Willy Vlautin. His economy and direct use of language, and his ability to accurately depict the struggles of everyday rural and poor America makes him one of the most exciting American authors working today, in my humble opinion, and he’s producing consistently outstanding work.

And most recently I’ve finally gotten my hands on Macbeth by Jo Nesbo! Hogarth Shakespeare have really nailed it by engaging Nesbo to do Macbeth and it’s definitely one of my highlights for the year – that and Flanagan’s First Person will be hard to top!

I’ve also included some modern sci-fi, some new Scandi-Noir, some historical fiction from NZ, and a classic from Kurt Vonnegut – and I’ll let you read about them yourself 🙂 (Please note that a number of these titles are also available in eBook or eAudiobook formats, so you’ve got plenty of options!)

2018 – The Best of Fiction…. so far!

List created by DevilStateDan

The highlights of my explorations through the fiction collection of Christchurch City Libraries for the first half of 2018. Some titles are new, some have been out for decades, all of them are great!

Cover of First person by Richard FlanaganFirst Person – A struggling writer gets an opportunity to ghost-write the memoir of a notorious con man in 1990s Australia but the road is a slippery one and lines become blurred as our man becomes ever deeper involved.

This is arguably Richard Flanagan’s greatest work to date, and he’s definitely entrenched himself at the top of the heap of contemporary authors.

Cover of Macbeth by Jo NesboMacbeth – This is obviously a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and what a brilliant treatment and with Jo Nesbo as an inspired choice for author. It’s so obvious to me now that Macbeth was MADE for the Scandi-Noir genre treatment. It’s gritty, dark, violent. Full of power, betrayal, and characters walking the fine line between sanity and madness. For this story Macbeth is head of SWAT in a dangerous and corrupt town and together with his mistress, Lady, the rags-to-riches casino entrepreneur, they embark on a powerplay to seize control of the city. But Macbeth has a sketchy past full of drug abuse and violence and as he relapses things get out of control, people get killed, lines get blurred…

Cover of The shepherd's hut by Tim WintonThe Shepherd’s Hut – The doyen of Australian literary fiction has done it again with this book. It’s the very real account of a young man forced by circumstance to take to the roads and outback of rural Western Australia. Such brilliant descriptive writing will have you smelling the eucalypt in the air, and hearing the crispy arid saltlands crunching underfoot. Jaxie is running and he’s got a vague destination in mind – north. And he’s got to survive the perils of rural Australia, criminals, and the very land that seems to want to kill him from heat, thirst or animal attack. An outstanding book from a great Australian author and written in vernacular language too!

Cover of Machine learning by Hugh Howey

Machine Learning – A set of short sci-fi stories from the author of the super popular ‘Silo’ Series. Hugh Howey is one of the best contemporary science fiction authors working today and these stories are thought provoking, dark, ominous, and challenging. He features some stories from the world of ‘Silo’ as well as stories of AI, Aliens, Virtual Worlds, and some Fantasy too. Beaut writer, beaut stories!

Cover The free by Willy VlautinThe Free – Another winner from one of my favourite authors writing today. It’s a snapshot of everyday life in middle America amongst a group of individuals all experiencing life differently. The solo man keeping two jobs to stay afloat, the nurse who has seen too much and has a strained relationship with her mentally ill father, and there’s Leroy, an injured soldier who drifts between consciousness and another place. The characters all struggle in their way to navigate life and retain their dignity and sense of self, and the authors minimalist writing style is stark and very effective at conveying they way in which real people communicate with each other. If you like the human experience warts-and-all then give this a go!

Cover of The melody by Jim CraceThe Melody – This story centres around an ageing singer/performer who was once a celebrated entertainer commanding full houses of societys elite. Nowadays he shuffles around suffering from the recent death of his loving wife, but then thing take a sinister turn when he’s attacked in his own home by a creature of unknown origin. His world is challenged as he negotiates his way around the incident and who he once was, who he is now, and what his future holds. Supremely well written with great use of language.

Medusa – An outstanding addition to the world of Scandi-Noir and one of the best I’ve read. Solid character building, quick paced action, and interwoven plot of suspicion and intrigue, and a series of grisly crimes in rural Norway – everything you could want in a crime novel! Medusa

Cover of One way by Simon MordenOne Way – What do you do when you want to colonise another planet, say Mars for instance?!? Well you could take a leaf from the book of British colonialism and send convicts to do the hard yards before the rich and elite arrive – and that’s just what America has done in this new sci-fi adventure. A small team of “dangerous” felons are recruited to build the first habitation on the red planet, what could go wrong…? A murder perhaps, and with nowhere to run it’s a spacey-whodunnit! Good writing and full of wit, if you like ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir or his follow up ‘Artemis’ then you’ll get a kick out of ‘One Way’!

Cover of Only killers and thieves by Paul HowarthOnly Killers and Thieves – A great debut from a new author that really captures the Australian Gothic story. It’s the story of two young men, not boys but barely men, after a traumatic family event that sees them on a journey not of their choosing. The book describes the brutality of life in colonial Australia, the treatment of the indigenous population, and the rigourous adherence to the ‘old ways’ in this vastly alien and seemingly lawless world. If you like your reading to be vivid, violent, confronting, and troublesome then you’ll sure like this one!

Cover of The sons by Anton SvenssonThe Sons – On its initial appearance it seems like another addition to the massive genre of Scandinavian crime novels, but it’s much more and can stand alone as a piece of literary fiction deserving of high praise. Three young men have just served sentences for aggravated armed robbery. They are brothers, raised by the petty criminal and domestic abuser father that they committed their last crime with. On the final sons release we follow what happens next as they try to recreate some kind of normality – whatever “normality” means for each of them though is very different. Starting out I was worried that because I didn’t really like any the characters my attention may sway, but that fear allayed pretty early on by the authors great descriptive writing which bares all to scene of a family torn apart by the criminal inclinations of a small representation of their larger sum. This is part 2 in the ‘Made in Sweden’ series, the first book being ‘The Father’. Can’t wait for the next one!

For more view the full list


A. S. Byatt The Children’s Book

A. S. Byatt’s Posession has long been one of my favourite novels so I enthusiastically seized upon her latest work,  The Children’s book …  and was dismayed.  Just I had engaged with the characters in the first chapter the book dives off into a discourse on the bohemian and radical in late Victorian society and then to a whole other group of people; it’s worse than a Russian epic.  David Larsen’s review in the Listener July 4th 2009, p.40-41) sums it up: “Absorbing, rewarding and exasperating…”   so I perservered, skipping ahead sometimes but the going back and re-reading.

I am now up to page 300 (it’s a big solid book) and the rhythm of the novel has captured me.   I may even buy it which I only do with novels I know I am going to want to re-read – does anyone else do that?   Yes, chunks of social history could have been edited out, but you can skim them; yes there are too many characters to fully develop as they deserve to be, but none the less, I love it.  Oh to be able to write like this at all let alone when you are 80.

Sue C.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a god!

While wandering through a bookshop several years ago, a book happened to jump out at me (as they do on frequent occasions).  After reading the blurb my immediate thought was this book was going to be amazing and I wasn’t disappointed.  The book was called The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a Spanish author whose work had just been translated into English.  It was one of those books that just blew me away and as soon as I opened it I was transported into post-Spanish civil war Barcelona.  The story is centred around a boy, Daniel, whose father takes him to a magical place called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  It is here that forgotten books come to rest and he has to choose a book to release back into the world.  He gets completely engrossed in the book and decides he must find out more about the author and so the book follows his journey of discovery with plenty of mystery, passion, books, and murder set in the misty streets of gothic Barcelona.

I got slightly obsessed with this book and when I heard he had written a prequel I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  This prequel, which was just released this month is called The Angel’s Game.  I have once again found myself enthralled with the magic of Barcelona and the people and place familiar to me from Shadow of the Wind.

I can’t recommend these books enough and I know I’ll be haunted by the characters  when I come to the end of The Angel’s Game.  If you want to find out more about Carlos Ruiz Zafon or The Angel’s Game have a look at the author’s website.

Book smack down

If you think literature needs a bit of slapping and wrestling, how about the Morning News Tournament of Books (sponsored by Powell’s Books). It’s a bookish battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction”.

2008’s winner was our old pal Mr Junot Diaz with The Brief and Wondrous life of Oscar Wao which gave the smack down to Remainder by Tom McCarthy. Junot’s response to his book’s victory:

I’m beyond humbled. This book took forever and broke my heart nonstop—it’s deeply gratifying that it has moved anybody at all. It’s a little strange to imagine poor Oscar fighting anyone in a tournament so you made the impossible happen. Thanks to everybody who supported any and all of these books and thanks to the Tournament for doing something so hilariously odd in support of literature. So do I get a T-shirt with that supercool rooster on it? He’s bad-ass.

See the 2007 and 2006 matches.