Wow. So it’s the end of another year in this constant rollercoaster that is the roaring ’20s. Some people thought, perhaps naively, that the last two years were perhaps a mirage before our dazed subconscious, mocking our very existence, and we would wake up clearly and calmly to the first of January, 2030. Last night—December 31—it was 2019. The governments of the world deigned to make the 2020s invisible to the history books, much like that old joke about how “only 90s kids remember” the 1990s (implying that if you’re born earlier in the twentieth century, I’m sorry but that century ended for you in 1989).
2022 was definitely a year. A year with three twos. A year where we started to forget about COVID—which caused me to get it for the first time after avoiding the damn thing for the better part of three years. A year where Russia and Ukraine existed, and many Americans discovered Europe is not merely a singular country and actually full of many different, varied countries who can and will go to war with each other. Some celebrities died. The Queen also died. Brits and the British Commonwealth will have to replace their coins with Charles’ mug. Prior to this, Brits spent the first half of the year uniting in their shared love for a beloved fish and chip shop. Australia finally voted out Scott Morrison and now has a competent leader for the first time in almost a decade.
Halloween, 2004. It’s Nana’s eightieth birthday, and she’s arranged to celebrate in style, inviting the whole Darker family for a night of fun and shenanigans on her remote isolated home on the Cornish coast. Most of the family haven’t spoken in years, and they’re only really here for Nana’s reading of her Will. When Nana—who’s been fated by a palm reader to die when she turns eighty—is found dead when the clock strikes midnight, things start to take a darker turn. And when someone else turns up dead an hour later, the Darkers come to realise someone is killing them off one by one by one.
Daisy Darkerby Alice Feeney is a novel reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, released at the end of August, exactly a month ago. Set concurrently in the past and the present, and narrated by youngest Darker daughter, Daisy, Daisy Darker is a fast-paced, twisty thriller that was beautifully narrated in audiobook form by Stephanie Racine. While this was the third thriller/mystery I read this month, it definitely took the cake, because while Renee Knight’s The Secretary was decent, that one kinda felt like it tread a similar path to most unreliable-narrator-thrillers that I’ve read and reviewed over the past half-decade on this blog. I most definitely thought Daisy Darker was going to join their ranks, until the plot twist near the end. Holy fuck, the plot twist! I haven’t felt this way reading my current fave of character-based stories since the ending of The Heights by Louise Candlish that I reviewed this time last year. Maybe something is in the September air? Could be my ten year anniversary with WordPress, that passed me by two weeks ago completely unnoticed?
Timothy Blake isn’t your typical FBI civilian consultant. He’s a cannibal who solves crimes for the FBI purely so he can be given death row inmates to consume. Behind closed doors, he’s constantly starving and poor as dirt, solving riddles online—originally as a method of stealing credit card numbers—but soon it’s part of his personality. He’s also a genius who catches the eye of Houston FBI Director Peter Luzhin. When a 14 year old boy vanishes on his way home from school, the FBI employs Blake to help them out. But has Blake finally met his match?
Hangman by Australian author Jack Heath is the start of a trilogy I devoured in just over a month, alongside its sequels Hunter and Hideout. I came across Hangman because I was lured by the prospect of a book that’s basically the midpoint between Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan. Having already read two of the Hannibal books this year, I thought, “Why not read more cannibal books this year?” Is there such a thing as reading too much cannibal fiction in one year? How did I accidentally get my reading mojo back with such a specific subgenre of crime novels? Without answering these questions, I can only say I raced through the Christopher Ragland-narrated Timothy Blake trilogy. Ragland’s Texan accent makes listening to the trilogy a complete delight. I got myself absolutely immersed into this series. “But, surely,” you start, wide-eyed and confused. “The series can’t possibly remain good over three books…can it? The Dexter series devolved into hot garbage far too quickly. Does this?”
Ellen Saint, by pure chance, sees a man on top of The Heights, a fancy, exclusive apartment building in London. He’s subtly different, older now, but she’d recognise him anywhere. Which doesn’t make sense. Because he’s been dead for over two years. She knows this because she’s the one who had him killed.
The Heights by Louise Candlish is a 2021 psychological thriller about an unlikeable protagonist—aren’t they all?—called Ellen Saint who devolves into madness and hate after the death of her son Lucas Gordon at the hands of the aforementioned man at The Heights, Kieran Watts. Most of the story is told through the lens of Ellen, in excerpts of her book ‘Saint or Sinner’, but interspersed in the middle and at the end with third-person narrative of her ex-partner Vic Gordon, and in parts a review by Sunday Times Magazine journalist Michaela Ross.
Technically, I discovered audiobooks circa 2003, back when my my classmates and I were introduced to the CD read-along versions of kids books and they were this fancy fandangled gizmo that even cheesy “journalism” TV programs were fascinated by, and also in 2009, when my Season 1 DVD of The Vampire Diaries came with The Vampire Diaries audiobook…which I proceeded to never listen to and only ever read the physical copy before finally decluttering both and sending that audiobook to the feared recycle bin.
After last month’s blog post about the attention economy and book reading, I discovered my local library had finally signed up with Libby. Libby is an app every reader, their mother, and dog’s mother, seems to be talking about. If you have a library card, Libby allows you to read magazines and ebooks and listen to audiobooks for a 14 day loan, like going to the library without having to leave your house. Neat!
There’s a subreddit called r/52book, where people share their journey to read one book a week—52 books a year—and a lot of 52bookers love raving about Libby. So I thought…Why not?
There’s a huge debate that rages on and on and on and on and on. Are audiobooks real books?
The attention economy is destroying our ability to read books.
Of course, books aren’t the only hobby being destroyed by our inability to focus. How many of you reading this have struggled to sit through a Netflix TV series or whatever of the bajillion streaming services are out there, and just sat there, without scrolling IMDb on your phone or switched between 10 tabs of Twitter and Reddit and Tumblr (for the six people who still use Tumbr) and even Yahoo Answers (rip in pieces)? Have you gone to watch that VERY important YouTube video about ‘This 1 thing will stop procrastination in its tracks’ or The Ultimate Blog Post on Neat Writing Tips to keep you inspired, then suddenly you’re reading the Wikipedia article about Thomas Mayne, the inventor of Milo, then you’re scrolling down the endless loop of 1800s crazy cat ladies posing with their cats on Reddit, and holy shit, where have all those hours gone? It’s 3am and you’ve got to get ready for the day in a couple hours, and you haven’t written a single word of your magnum opus or read a single page of everyone’s favourite book of the minute, Madeline Miller’s Circe, and instead you got stuck on the Wikipedia article about 1800s Shakespearean actors who are the godmother of pre-WWI European poets.
Amanda is just your typical thirtysomething middle class semi-successful architect, married to Ed and having moved into the house of her dreams in the middle of a desolate, abandoned neighbourhood. Then begins the scratching at the walls. The voice in her head. Missing time. Dreams of blood seas. Memory lapses. Outlandish behaviour. As Amanda struggles to take control of her life, she comes across stories of demon possession and Adam’s second wife Naamah. Is she possessed, insane, or is there something more to the story? Time’s running out, and if Amanda doesn’t take control soon, she won’t have anything left.
Come Closer is Sara Gran’s 2003 short horror novel. I can’t remember how I came across this novel, but I couldn’t find this book at my library, and was interested enough in the premise that I bought it on my Kindle as soon as it was possible. One of the elements in this story is similar to my current manuscript, so I wanted to see how Sara Gran wrote it, and hoo boy, I was surprised. Being a novella, I finished Come Closer very quickly, and was surprised when I opened it up on my Kindle as to how short it was and wish it could have been longer, delved more into Amanda’s mental state and her descent into madness, but this book is almost twenty years old. What can one do?
There is a widespread assumption on the internet and in the real world that reading is the one and only true hobby. Everything else is time-wasting and fluff and pointless and why should you even bother doing it?
We’re on the home stretch for 2020, and that’s probably a good thing. At the start of 2020, everyone was full of such hope and promise, even though there were bushfires that had been raging through Australia since September 2019, and the U.S. Election was just around the corner. Now there’s a pandemic that’s effected the whole world, and unique little issues that plague each and every country. What that means is a lot of people’s lives have been thrown off-kilter.
With a lot more people at home (except the essential workers, who everyone seems to forget), we’ve had more time to watch YouTube and Netflix and the 60 million other streaming services, and we’ve been told by entrepreneurial and business savvy people that we should use that time wisely. Read more books. Educate yourself, make yourself smarter this pandemic season! In my last blog post, I spoke about the “stigma” of young adult fiction, and how the stigma is bullshit because everyone is always critical of something:
If you’ve ever spent more than a hot minute on bookish parts of the interwebs, then you’ve seen the massive, roaring debate about whether young adult fiction is “proper” literature. The sheer majority of BookTube, the book reviewers and talkers of YouTube, seem to read and review YA, with the odd classic or “reimagined” classic smattered here and there. I came across this issue again recently when Christine Riccio, the biggest BookTuber, released the video ADULT BOOKS VS YA BOOKS. Way back in May, mind you. Thanks algorithm. But it got me thinking thoughts, and boy oh boy are there thoughts to be thought and things to say and words to be written about this supposed stigma against YA fiction.
Our unnamed female protagonist is living in New York City in June of 2000. She’s twenty-six, thin, blonde, privileged and rich with lots of money thanks to her dead parents’ insurance, and works as an assistant at an exclusive art gallery that caters to the wealthy and needlessly pretentious. But she’s also vain, hates her only friend Reva with a passion, her only love interest doesn’t care for her, and she’s empty on the inside. So she devises a cure-all. Book in some sessions with a quack doctor, Dr. Tuttle, who will prescribe her more and more sleep medication, and she will sleep away all the uncomfortable feelings. Soon, Ambien and Xanax and Nembutal and Zyprexa and Solfoton and Trazodone and Ativan and Rozeren become her closest companions. She quits her job to sleep more. Soon she’s sleeping most of the day. But the emptiness lingers. One day, Dr. Tuttle prescribes an experimental drug: Infermiterol. Thanks to Infermiterol, she can sleep for the remaining six months of her one year experiment. Blondie’s life will never be the same again.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh is a 2018 literary fiction novel that I came across online because of its memorable cover and so, so many rave reviews. Also, because my copy of Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero has an introduction by Moshfegh, and that was enough to cement my desire to read this book. And who doesn’t like rest and relaxation? Let alone a whole year of it? Of course, since I knew it was literary, the title might mean nothing in the scheme of things; one of my favourite novels, Muriel Barbery’s Elegance of the Hedgehog, does not have a hedgehog protagonist. But I was intrigued. The title is not a lie. It’s about a woman, unnamed just because, who sleeps for a year. I went into this book knowing nothing beyond the title, but that was fine. How could Moshfegh keep me interested enough to keep up this book for nearly 300 pages?