My Year of Reading in 2016: Reviewing, A Challenge and My Favourites

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In 2016, I read seventy-one books, twenty-five of which were part of a reading challenge, and most were books I had been sent to review from various publishers and their imprints. It was the year I started reviewing properly, and got things moving with my blog. As I began this journey of book blogging, I found that I discovered books I would not have otherwise picked up in store – some for good reason because they most certainly were not what I enjoy reading, others because I would have had to given it some thought, whilst there were many that I devoured and enjoyed, and not just review books. I finished off the year with one that I wasn’t so keen on from Hachette, due out on the tenth of January 2017. It is one I am unlikely to read again, unlike the Inspector Chopra books, or Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair books, or Harry Potter.

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My high school ancient history teacher ran the challenge I took part in this year via Facebook, and there were several categories that I struggled to fill. By the end of the year, though, I had completed the challenge, and below is the list of categories and what I read for each one:

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2016 Reading Challenge

A Book That Became A Movie: The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

A Book with a Number in the Title: Third Time Lucky by Karly Lane

A Book Written by Someone Under 30: Raelia by Lynette Noni

A Mystery or Thriller: The Falls by B. Michael Radburn

A Book With A one word Title: Virgins by Diana Gabaldon

A Non-Fiction Book: The Jane Austen Writer’s Club by Rebecca Smith

A Popular Author’s First Book: Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling

A Pulitzer Prize Winning Book: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A Book Based on a True Story: Is It Night or Day? By Fern Schumer-Chapman

A Book That Came out the Year You Were Born (1986): Going Solo by Roald Dahl

A Book Published this Year: Confused by Wanda Wiltshire

A Book With a bad review: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

A Book from Your Childhood: Northern Lights/The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

A Book Set in the Future: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A Book with a Colour in the title: Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

A Book with Magic: The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irina Brignull

A Book With Antonyms in the Title: Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

A Book that has been translated: Between Enemies by Andrea Molesini

A Book written by an author with the same initials: When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne

A Book with a female heroine: The Blood of Wolves by S.D. Gentill

A Book set in Spring: The Lost Sapphire by Belinda Murrell

A Book with a Green Cover: Fearless by Fiona Higgins

A Book Set Somewhere You Want to Visit: The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan (Cornwall)

A Book with Pictures: A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

A Book You Own but have never read: The Winter Isles by Antonia Senior


Challenge Completed

Raelia

Perhaps one of the trickiest to fill was a book with a bad review as reviews are always subjective. The book I filled that category with had a mix of bad, good and average, and I gave it a good review, but with at least one bad review, I felt that it was okay to use it there, and another was a book set in he future – of which there are many, yet the only one on my shelf at the time was The Hunger Games. In order to complete this challenge, I had to re-read a few books, such as a book from my childhood, and a popular author’s first book. Many books on this list were also review books, which solved my problem of filling categories such as a book with a green cover, and a translated book. I enjoyed this challenge, and am eager to attempt it with the same group of people this year again, and hopefully my review books will fill some categories.

Reviewing was new to me this year. I started in 2015, during an internship and worked from there, reviewing what I could, and requesting review copies, which come at least monthly now, sometimes with several books due out on the same day. This is where scheduled posts come in handy, where I can write the post and get it ready once I have read the book. In doing this, I free up time to write other posts and read other books when I get them.

born-a-crimeWriting reviews for books that aren’t my taste or that I don’t enjoy, or just find a bit boring or not quite up there can be hard. I want to be honest, but at the same time, be positive, so I’ve taken to giving balanced reviews, saying good and bad things about them, and hopefully that doesn’t hurt anyone, reader, reviewer or author. Honest reviews can help guide people too. My review website has slowly been improved over the months as I’ve found my way around WordPress and it’s functions – I tend to learn by doing it on my own, before asking for help with some things. I hope to review much more in 2017, without having to juggle studying as well, but at some stage will likely be juggling a job whilst reviewing.

Now onto the hardest part of my wrap up post – choosing my top reads. I’m never quite sure whether to do a top five or a top ten, nor do I feel like putting them in any order that rates one book over another – some books are hard to rate above or below another, so in no particular order or preference, the top seven books I enjoyed this year:

  • The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth – I always enjoy Kate’s books and her fairy tale retellings are exceptional. Her latest, The Beast’s Garden, takes place in Germany during World War Two, and the horrors endured by Ava and those close to her. It is a disturbing yet fascinating read.
  • Raelia by Lynette Noni – book two in the Medoran Chronicles Series, Raelia takes us back to Akarnae and Medora, with Alex, Bear, Jordan and D.C. and an ongoing fight against people who wish to harm Alex and those she cares for.
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – a memoir about growing up mixed race in South Africa – and not fitting into any of the legal categories, at a time when his very existence was a crime, Trevor Noah handles those dark days with humour and grace, and a mother who he knew never to cross.
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer – an origin tale for the Queen of Hearts from Lewis heartlessCarroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Meyer’s story shows how the Queen of Hearts became the character in the original, a girl who had dreams that fate thwarted.
  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz a murder mystery within a murder mystery, a fictional author and his manuscript lead an editor on a real life mystery that is written in an extremely clever and effective way.
  • The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan 
  • The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan – I enjoyed both Baby Ganesh books and their characters for the refreshing take on the crime genre and the private detective. Chopra has a place with Rowland Sinclair, Phryne Fisher and Mma Ramtoswe as a private detective who tends to get himself into a little bit of a pickle with each case, but his loyal friends and family are always there to back him up, along with his elephant, Ganesha.

There are many more books I enjoyed this year, but these are definitely amongst my favourites. For various reasons, of course, and I have the third book by Lynette Noni, Draekora, to look forward to in April.

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In 2017, I hope to read as many, if not more, wonderful books. Keep watching this site for more reviews over the coming months.

Many thanks to Hachette, Pantera Press, Allen and Unwin, Bloomsbury, and all their imprints who have sent me some wonderful books to read, enjoy and review, and share with the world.

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The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Title: The Beast’s Garden

the beasts gardenAuthor: Kate Forsyth

Publisher: Random House

Category: Fiction

Pages: 512

Available formats: Print

Publication Date: 3/8/15

Synopsis:

‘Ava fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true nature to the world …’ 
A retelling of the Grimms’ Beauty and The Beast, set in Nazi Germany.

It’s August 1939 in Germany, and Ava’s world is in turmoil. To save her father, she must marry a young Nazi officer, Leo von Löwenstein, who works for Hitler’s spy chief in Berlin. However, she hates and fears the brutal Nazi regime, and finds herself compelled to stand against it.
Ava joins an underground resistance movement that seeks to help victims survive the horrors of the German war machine. But she must live a double life, hiding her true feelings from her husband, even as she falls in love with him.

Gradually she comes to realise that Leo is part of a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. As Berlin is bombed into ruins, the Gestapo ruthlessly hunt down all resistance and Ava finds herself living hand-to-mouth in the rubble of the shell-shocked city. Both her life and Leo’s hang in the balance.
Filled with danger, intrigue and romance, The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of the Grimm brothers’ ‘Beauty and The Beast’, is a beautiful, compelling love story set in a time when the world seemed on the brink of collapse.

Kate Forsyth weaves fairy tales into history again in her latest offering, The Beast’s Garden. Set in Germany in The Second World War, Ava is thrust into a world of horrors under the Nazi regime. Her world begins to fall apart the Night of The Broken Glass, and as her best friend and father are arrested. To save her father, she weds a Nazi Officer, Leo von Löwenstein. Ava’s horror at the Nazi regime inspires her to join an underground resistance movement, helping the victims, yet hiding this double life from her husband.

As she realises Leo is part of a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, and Berlin is bombed indiscriminately into rubble. Ava is forced to live in the rubble, hand to mouth as the Gestapo hunts down any and all resistance to the regime plaguing Germany.

Kate Forsyth set the Grimm brothers tale, “The Singing, Springing Lark” against this dark period in history. We bear witness to these atrocities through the eyes of Ava, starting when she is nineteen and the fear and danger she encounters trying to help her friends and family, to keep them safe.

The underground resistance Ava joins is peppered with real life figures that fought the Nazi regime, who defied Hitler and who would stand their ground to the death to bring about peace in Germany. Figures such as Libertas Schulze-Boysen and her husband, the Abwher and other figures involved in the Valkyrie plot, and resistance movements such as The Red Orchestra, the movement Libertas and her husband, Harro, were a part of are present in the novel, and though the interactions between these characters and Ava, and the Gestapo, the Goebbels and Mildred Harnack, the only American woman executed by the Nazi regime, add an authenticity to the novel, placing it in the time and place effectively.

The style and substance of the narrative marries perfectly with the history behind it, and the pacing is set so well, that as a reader, one is swept away into action and fear, love and family, and at some stages, an uneasy sense of something being over yet something just as horrible, just as traumatising just around the corner. The climatic end of the book has even pacing, and keeps the reader turning the page until the finale, the peace and sorrow that comes from war.

I thoroughly enjoyed the integration of fairy tale, history and imagination in this latest offering from Kate Forsyth. An engrossing read, it was one that I didn’t want to end yet couldn’t wait to see what happened.

Five Years of Rowland Sinclair

rowly-1Five years ago, on the first of June, Rowland Sinclair and his artist compatriots were released from the grey cells and imagination of Sulari Gentill into the literary world, with the help of the fantastic team at Pantera Press. A 1930s gentleman of means, living in a family estate in Woollahra, with his friends Elias Isaacs, known as Milt, a Communist and a Jew and a poet, Clyde Watson Jones, a country boy and painter, and Edna Higgins, the sculptress. My personal journey began with book two, and going back to read them in order has brought a new light to the series. At the time of writing this post, I am up to book five, Gentlemen Formally Dressed, taking place fairly soon after Paving the New Road, and continuing with the themes that have been trickling throughout the books, moving through political dissent in Australia towards that in Germany and what is to come.

The reader has an upper hand though, in knowing the history of the period, if they do, or at least knowing the major events that follow in the decades after The First World War that our fine Rowly finds himself caught up in, often by accidental association or by being in the wrong place, at the wrong, or perhaps sometimes, the right time. Rowland’s journeys are plagued by murder and intrigue, false accusations and colourful characters – both fictional and historical, who bring a colour to the stories and situate them firmly in the
rowly-21930s and the turmoil of the period.

Rowland is introduced in A Few Right Thinking Men, set against the backdrop of the conflict of the Old Guard and the New Guard, leading to Francis De Groot stealing the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from Premier Lang. Culminating in Rowly and his friends needing to escape, they take a tour of the Continent, their return journey recounted in A Decline in Prophets, where several bodies drop to cover up the crimes of a church leader. Book Three, Miles Off Course, has the backdrop of Old and New Guard, rowly-3Communism and the Depression against Rowland’s brother insisting he search their sheep farming property for the head station hand, leading to a conspiracy of sheep theft. It is with Paving the New Road that the series heads to Nazi Germany, and Rowland is exposed to the dangers of the politics of Fascism and what it could have meant for Australia, had Eric Campbell been successful in transplanting the ideas of Hitler to our shores. Rowland’s dangerous and near-death encounters lead into book rowly-4five, Gentlemen Formerly Dressed, and what I see as a shift in Rowly and Wilfred’s relationship – Wilfred seems to come to a better understanding of his brother. I am looking forward to see what books six, A Murder Unmentioned, and book seven bring to the series after I finish Gentlemen Formerly Dressed.

Within each book, Sulari has created a world that is immersive, and delivers the history of the period in an accessible way, in arowly-5 fun way, in comparison to some history books or school textbooks. They are one of my favourite series of historical fiction novels, mingled with crime, intrigue and Rowly’s affection for Edna, which, so far, has not been reciprocated. It is the combination of the characters and plots that pull the reader headfirst into the series, and I hope, makes them never want to end their
association with Rowland.