Top Five of 2014

Top 5 2014After a little searching and hard decisions I have created the new list for Top Five books of 2014. The books read last year were a mix of review requests, book club books, and personal choices. Something from all three categories made it into the list this time around and I included a few honourable mentions as well that were pretty spectacular reads as well but just missed the cut.

In the past some books have stood out from the start. They are immediate choices and they have been books that had a strong impact on me in some form or another, they were amazing reads that blew my mind while I was, and when I had finished, reading them. This time I picked books again that stayed with me in some way or that were really wonderful to read but 2014 did not have many books that truly stood out like the past. But I am a strong believer in that not all 5 star books are the same, and the reason for giving one book five starts can and often is totally different than the reason you gave them to another.

Many of the books on the list (both lists really) I think were very profound. They demonstrated so many remarkable things about its characters that say so much about people in general and each of these authors told a brilliant story. Superbly written each of these books were a joy to read, and while not always overly exciting or adventurous, they offered instead a wonderfully told story that astounds you in the writer’s capabilities and results in a complete admiration for their ability to tell such a story that you very rarely were expecting when you picked up the book.

1. The Weight of a Human Heart by Ryan O’Neill

This is the book of short stories that resulted in me tweeting the author after the reading the first two stories to tell him how much his book had already changed my life. These are not your usual stories; O’Neill tells his brilliant stories in so many unique ways. He tells many of his stories with graphs, diagrams, and peculiar layouts BUT IT WORKS! And once you adore him and are astounded by his creativity of making such a strange writing system make sense, you have to admire him for the truly heartbreaking and heart-warming and gorgeous stories that he tells with so few (sometimes barely any) words. He is a master at challenging how a short story, or any story really, needs to be presented.

2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The reason this book made it on to the list this year is because it is such a beautiful story. It is simple but it is astonishingly gorgeous in how Gaiman presents it. He uses Bod beautifully as a character and the characters tell this story as much as the narrative does. There is such honesty and simplicity, and such love and sincerity that even when the everyday is happening it remains a wonderful story.

3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I was not sure what to expect from this book but it was not long before I realised just how magical this book is. What Haddon has done in a magnificent fashion, is that he has managed to explain and describe what it is like to be a person who has behavioural difficulties. But this is in no way the focus of the book, set as a mystery Haddon explores how 15 year old Christopher sees and explores the world while trying to solve the mystery about the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. It is a beautiful book and one that needs to be read because it opens your eyes but also gives you a fantastic story with a mystery, humour, and compelling characters.

4. Tears of the River by Gordon Rottman

This was one of the books I was asked to review and I was amazed and captivated early on and in love with it by the end. Rottman tells an amazing story, one that is real and unforgiving at times, and demonstrates the power of determination and just what humans are capable when they have no other choice. It is filled with adventure, the unknown, and drama that comes from being in impossible situations, with language barriers, and no one but your wit and your knowledge to rely on to make sure everyone comes out the other side.

5. Siren’s Song by Heather McCollum

What I loved about this book is a combination of the characters, the story, and the way McCollum writes. The characters are complete and determined, and fascinating in their own way, and the balance and expression of the real and the paranormal is ideal and they interact really well. The story grips you and you cannot put the book down once you start, always wanting to find out what is going to happen, eager and excited to see where the story could possible go next. It is a story filled with suspense, secrets, and a bit of magic for good measure.

Honourable Mentions

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Nocturnes by John Connolly

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Sunshine Series by Nikki Rae

 

An Australian Short Story by Ryan O’Neill

Published: October 2012
Publisher: The Lifted Brow
Format: Online
Genre: Short story
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

I love Ryan O’Neill’s approach to writing stories and this short story is no exception. An Australian Short Story is compiled entirely of lines from other stories, 149 to be exact, and all Australian authors and poets with works ranging from 1850 to 2011. The idea a story could be created with snippets and lines from others is one that seems so simple and yet sounds highly complicated all at the same time. The effort and research that would have gone into this is certainly admirable and at the end of it it is actually quite a good narrative.

The story, which first appeared in Issue 14 of the Lifted Brow, is of a husband and wife on their property, a writer without words to write, a frustrated wife, and a relationship that neither is committed to admitting out loud isn’t going very well.

Like O’Neill’s other short stories a lot is told in a short space, and a marriage, a life, and a yearning is captured well within these borrowed words. The story flows seamlessly and if it were not for the citations you would not know that this wasn’t a pure piece of original fiction. The works O’Neill draws from are vast, with Henry Lawson, Peter Carey, Amanda Lohrey, and Patrick White being just a few.

As wonderful as this sampled story is though, it is highly perplexing. Where I would normally commend O’Neill on the excellent image provoking description of a writing desk, or that eloquent and captivating description of wine, or imagery of a disintegrating jacaranda, I find myself commending Christina Stead, Damien Broderick, and A.G. McNeil instead.

Do I adjust this by saying I commend him on his choice of words, that certainly can mean a few things. And I think there needs to be a commendation about this. The way O’Neill arranges his narrative is one that engages you and makes you feel a sense of pity for those involved and the lives they choose to live. As you read you don’t know they aren’t original lines, they are certainly original moments and original scenes, and once you’ve read the story you are then able to return and admire the effort in construction. There is however one line in there sampled from O’Neill’s Flinch which was a particularly fine sentence, so perhaps only 148 works are truly borrowed from.

Avid fans of the sampled works may one or two familiar lines, but what O’Neill has managed to select are in the majority of a combination of nondescript, common, and seemingly ordinary sentences, and yet has managed to weave a telling story as a result. Personally I just knew that that specific “Yes” was from Morris Lurie’s 1979 Running Nicely even before I looked, you could just tell.

An Australian Short Story is yet another example of O’Neill’s marvellous story telling ability and capturing moments in time with skill, creativity, and unique characters.

 

You can read the story on The Lifted Brow website

The Weight of a Human Heart by Ryan O’Neill

Published: May 1st 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Black Inc.
Pages: 238
Format: Book
Genre: Short Stories
Weight: 242 grams
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, this collection turns the rules of storytelling on their head.

A series of graphs illustrates the disintegration of a marriage, step by excruciating step.
A literary stoush – and an affair – play out in the book review section of a national newspaper.
The heartbreaking story of a Rwandan boy is hidden within his English exam paper.
A young girl learns of her mother’s disturbing secrets through the broken key on a typewriter.

Ranging from Australia to Africa to China and back again, The Weight of a Human Heart heralds a fresh new voice in Australian Literature.

I fell in love with Ryan O’Neill at the 2013 Newcastle Writer’s Festival, partly because of the sessions I sat in on where he spoke, and partly because of his Scottish accent I’m not gonna lie. I had looked at this book in the shop beforehand but after hearing him speak I snagged a copy at first chance and got it signed. I am still annoyed it has taken me this long to get around to reading his book. It has been sitting patiently beside my bed for months, not forgotten but continuously bumped back.

In this collection of short stories O’Neill “redefines the boundaries of what is possible” to quote Patrick Cullen’s quote on the front cover. And it is completely true. I saw things in this book I did not even know was allowed in writing until now, and the fact that they are has changed the way I think about what books are capable of.

The beauty of all of O’Neill’s stories is that they seem to start so innocently, and in the space of a few pages can change your mood completely, whether to sadness, joy, amazement, or just pure admiration for his impressive skill in storytelling.

His stories show the power and impression parents have on their children, as well as the impact of an adult’s reflection on these impressions. There is also a diversity which I love about all of them, no two are alike but there are common themes running through each of them if you know where to look. There is also a poignant and bittersweet emotion that you develop as you read which consumes you, making you want to take a moments reprieve but you find yourself unable to let go of the book. You have to keep going even as you feel it pulling at all your emotional strings.

One of the real joys though of reading each of these stories is the chance I got to learn something. In Four Letter Words I learnt about a range of word origins, in The Cockroach and Africa Was Children Crying I learned about just some of the traumatic events in Rwanda, in The Examination I learnt about the English language and in The Eunuch in the Harem I saw something seemingly impossible work brilliantly.

Even away from the gorgeous stories, you have to admire O’Neill’s ideas and his creativity. Not to mention the obvious work and effort that has gone into writing some of them. The different styles and formats that are mixed through this book are so unique, and certainly nothing I have seen before. I know John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines used graphs through it, but what O’Neill has done is far beyond simple graphs. Each story is something different and that is just part of the charm, after awhile you just don’t know what to expect from the next story but you welcome the surprise.

The way O’Neill plays with ideas within a story is also brilliant. It shows not just the types and ranges he is capable of in presentation, but in doing so he still manages to tell a complete and understandable story. It just works so well, something you may not believe upon a first glance, especially for a few of these stories but by the end you are so caught up in the narrative that you almost look pass the unique presentation, but still revere it in the back of your mind and see how it is flawlessly used to aid the storytelling.

After I had read the first story, I remarked on Twitter that even after only being one story in I already felt that my life had changed just that little bit. Now, having finished the book I stand by this statement. I did not know what to expect from these stories but I could not have asked for anything better.

I implore you to read this book, find these stories and read them yourselves. The stories will move you and educate you about so many things, about life, family, the English language, the ranges and impacts of the printed word, and the variety of people that exist in this world: good, bad, ignorant, and indifferent. You become involved in these short, complicated snippets of these people and their lives and it shows you that stories do not need to be long to capture an entire lifetime and bring about emotion. It can also show you that there are so many other ways to tell a story besides the basic formatting we’re so used to in stories. Even if these stories were not as wonderful as they are, you cannot fault O’Neill on his pure imagination and creativity about how some of these stories have been presented and told.

One of the things I loved about O’Neill at the festival last year was the way he spoke about characters. He said it was easier, or at least more fun, to write stories with miserable characters rather than happy ones. There are some miserable characters in this book, but the best part is that every character does not have the same level of unhappiness, nor are all kinds of unhappiness the same. There are levels of unhappiness O’Neill plays with and the depth, nature, and cause of this unhappiness differs for each character and each story.

He also said that if you have an interesting storyline then that can create an interesting character, and his characters are definitely all interesting. For a short story you manage to understand them completely, in simple actions or words you can see who they are as people and I feel that is a real skill O’Neill manages wonderfully.

From the 21 stories in this book A Short Story and Seventeen Rules for Writing a Short Story have to be my favourites, though A Story in Writing is also up there. Though I really could start just start listing the contents in its entirety because in their own way I loved, adored, and admired every single one.

I assure you, the next Ryan O’Neill book I get my hands on will not be sitting on a shelf until I have gone from cover to cover. I am still trying to find all the words in the word search.

 

You can purchase The Weight of a Human Heart via the following

eBook

Booki.sh

iBookstore

Google Play

Amazon Kindle

Kobo

Paperback

Penguin Books Australia

Booktopia

Bookworld

Amazon

Book Depository

News and blog tours!

NewsI’ve been back at Uni for six days now. It has gone fairly ok. The typical first week bludge is in full swing, we tried hard to first two days and then we wandered off again. But with 7 years of uni under my belt I know how the system works, all unis are the same online or not. Next week we can get serious. This is the time to check all the bits and pieces then go off and finish the three books I’m reading and trying to create memories so I can remember what free time and fun feel like when I am stressed and have assignments coming out my ears.

I say that, but I must say one of my courses is so super interesting. It’s one of my electives called “History of the Book” and even in the first week it has taught me so much and so many interesting things about the origin of books and where the change from scrolls and tablets to books and manuscripts occurred. I was actually thinking of doing a post on it because it was truly a great read, and so relevant!

In other news, I am currently on a short stories run, I am reading Ryan O’Neill’s collection The Weight of a Human Heart (which is flipping awesome!), plus John Connolly’s Nocturnes, and they could not be any different from one another but I am getting a lot of good ideas for my own stuff which is fun.

In actual news, Monday marks the first unofficial stage of Nikki Rae’s Sun Damage blog tour and the start of the goodies that I’ll be having in helping to promote it. The official tour starts on March 14th and runs until April 6th but I’ll be doing a cover reveal on Monday to spark your interests, if you look at the past covers in the series you see just how excellent they have been and how good the third one is going to be.

As part of her tour Nikki is going to be doing a guest post for me, as well as an interview, and I’m also going to be hosting a giveaway and posting my review of the excellent Sun Damage to entice you further.  Those are for a bit later in the month though so for now the cover reveal must suffice.

 

Newcastle Writer’s Festival 2014

The Newcastle Writer’s Festival released their 2014 program this weekend and I know a fair few people who were there waiting and already have read through the various sessions and work out which ones they can attend and where the overlapping conflicts and tough decisions lie. I know with my own choices I had to choose between a few things, had to decide what was more valuable and what sparked my interest. As a first round I have a list of seven across two days including some excellent sessions with Kate Forsyth, Ryan O’Neill, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, and a range of others.

For those interested in going, the Newcastle Writers Festival is in its second year and is held in April with this year’s dates the 4th, 5th, and 6th. Started by Rosemarie Milsom with the support and backing of many great people the festival could be put on. Last year there were more than 70 writers participating with 38 sessions running. This year is just as big if not bigger and if last year is anything to go by it will be a resounding success and fun weekend in Newcastle. All the details can be found on their website, along with the program of sessions and information, times and locations. Just check though because while most are free, there are a few that require you to purchase a ticket, but it isn’t all that expensive.

I went to the inaugural Writers Festival last year with Jess over at The Never Ending Bookshelf, and for a first year event is was pretty spectacular. Certainly cannot believe it has been a whole year already. This year the events are mainly situated in the City Hall as far as I can see which is a lot different than last year. One of my favourite sessions last year was actually hosted in one of the pubs I used to go to after Uni with a few friends so that was rather interesting. Of course it was in the back room away from the general public, but it was still very cool. Now we’re in the City Hall so getting to see all their various rooms should be interesting.

The festival is across three days, and the sessions cover everything; there are sessions about crime writing, poetry, writing for children, writing fairy tales, romance, and just plain old writing. There are also sessions and talks by specific authors for you to attend. To learn more about the festival you can read their About page, or just have a look through their website, check out the programs that will be running, see the authors that are visiting and have a general squiz at how amazing it is going to be. You can also follow the latest news and information on Facebook and Twitter. It is only the end of February but I can already see that April is definitely going to be getting off to a very good start.

 

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