Well, it’s been a great few months where reading has been concerned! With the completion of the first draft of my manuscript, Seven Dials, I was suddenly left with bucket-loads of spare time. At first, it was legitimately impossible to tell myself to relax and let my brain have a rest but, in the end, I became rather accustomed to said resting... to the point now where I’m finding it difficult to do anything that requires me to get up off the couch and leave my coffee and book behind...
You will notice that most of the following books are children’s books, or rather, children’s classics. I thought it was high time I read some of the world’s most famous children’s books, given that I’m an aspiring young adult writer. I wanted to see where it all started, and see how writing for children and teens has evolved. For these ‘classics’, I’ve written the original publication date with the title, just so you can get a good idea of just how old some of these stories actually are.
This time around, I’ve used my own photos of the books, instead of generic cover pics :)
Okay, here we go...
A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy | Douglas Adams
Well, this was a wacky read, to say the least. It kind of felt like Adams had made his own ‘choose your own adventure’ story, and then made a conscious decision to always choose the most ridiculous path to follow. It was definitely entertaining, and as the book was penned in 1979, there were certainly some references to ‘futuristic’ technology that I got a real kick out of—especially the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide, which is literally an Amazon Kindle—however, for my tastes I tend to prefer an intricately woven plot over a haphazard storyline.
It’s probably just the ‘plotter’* in me, or maybe just my usual desire for order, but I’m sure all the chaos-loving ‘pantsers’** out there would seriously appreciate a story like this! Full of unexpected twists and turns, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy shows us a very quirky version of what our universe could have ended up like, seen through the (possibly acid-enhanced?) eyes of a writer from the 1970’s.
* Someone who carefully plans out their novel before writing it.
** A strange breed of human who is somehow able to just start writing and somehow end up with a novel, with little to no forethought.
Nevernight | Jay Kristoff
One of my favourite reads of the year, up there with Illuminae and All the Bright Places (obviously for very different reasons). This was the first ‘adult’ fantasy book I’ve read for a while, and though the protagonist is a young adult, the book definitely reads as a grown-up book. It follows young Mia Corvere, an assassin-in-training, who is seeking revenge on those who killed her father. I adored the world Kristoff created in Nevernight (based partly on Venice, Italy), which was rich with history, and full of complex and intriguing characters. The plot had everything I could have asked for (including my favourite: twists so perfectly planned that you don’t understand how you didn’t see them coming but they blow your mind when they are revealed). Kristoff’s writing is sometimes a little too flowery for my usual tastes, but I adjusted to it pretty quickly, as it feels like it is authentic to the world of the story. He also uses footnotes, which allows him to really convey the history of the world without resorting to paragraph after paragraph of info-dumping. Some would say it’s a cheat’s tactic, but it really works in Nevernight. There is a ton of gore, a surprising amount of sex (to the point where I found myself blushing on the train to work, and I don’t blush about sex...) and a good serving of wonder. I cannot WAIT to read the sequel, Godsgrave!
The First Third | Will Kostakis
After reading (and LOVING) Kostakis’s short story, I Can See the Ending, in the #LoveOzYA anthology, Begin, End, Begin, I was really keen to read one of his novels.
The First Third is the story of a teenage Greek-Australian boy, and his quest to ‘fix’ his family to appease his ailing YiaYia. It was a really quick, easy read, and a charming glimpse into the microcosms of the protagonist’s family, as well as his relationship with his best friend, ‘Sticks’. Plenty of humour, great characters and a fun, engaging plot.
Spark | Rachael Craw
I heard Rachael speak at the YA Matters conference in Melbourne earlier this year and was truly inspired by her journey to becoming a published author.
I remember reading a synopsis of Spark ages ago and not being immediately taken by it, but I really wanted to read some of Rachael’s work, so I picked up a copy and gave it a go! If I had to explain Spark, I would say it was X-Men, meets Gossip Girl, meets CSI. Mutant teenagers fighting crime and solving a mystery whilst also dealing with their hormonal longings and family dramas. It was an interesting, fast-paced read, though at times I found the concepts a little hard to grasp. There are a lot of acronyms and jargon to learn, and if you’re not 100% focused when the terms are introduced, I think it would be easy to find yourself a little vexed partway through the novel. (I do most of my reading on the tram, so it can be pretty easy to get distracted, what with people elbowing you in the face all the time). Nonetheless, it was really cool, original take on teen dystopian/sci-fi!
Release | Patrick Ness
My first Patrick Ness novel! I know, and I call myself a YA writer? Well, I loved Release. I really enjoyed the two seemingly unrelated narratives (one contemporary, one fantasy), and how Ness intertwined them throughout the book leading up to a thrilling climax. I loved the characters, I loved the setting and I loved the honesty of the writing. It was one of the first times I’ve read a YA novel and really felt as though I was experiencing it through my own teenage eyes. Ness writes about teen issues with complete clarity and a total lack of sugar-coating bullshit. A really wonderful read for any gay teenage guy for sure (or anyone at all, for that matter)!
I can’t wait to read some more Patrick Ness soon; I have A Monster Calls waiting on the shelf...
Holding Up the Universe | Jennifer Niven
Well, we all know how much All the Bright Places SLAYED me earlier this year, so I had pretty high expectations of Holding Up the Universe. It was both vastly different to All the Bright Places, but filled with the same kind of writing that made me fall in love with it.
Holding Up the Universe was adorable; I think I smiled my entire way through the book, but also shed a few tears along the way (whilst still smiling). It’s that kind of book. The story examines weight, self-image, belonging, and a bunch of other perennially pertinent teen themes. More than anything though, it makes you feel great. About yourself, about others, about everything. I couldn’t recommend this book more! I’ve since dubbed Niven the ‘Queen of YA’, and am basically counting down the days until she releases another book!
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass | Lewis Carroll (1865 & 1872)
It’s actually astounding that I’ve never read this, considering I’ve seen about four different movie versions of the story, and been to a live, immersive theatre performance of the play, and also played at least two different computer games based on it too. And you know what? I loved it. It was so WHIMSICAL. And whimsy is not an easy thing to write, without just sounding ridiculous. Just like Hitchhiker’s Guide, this story can basically take any possible turn at any given moment, but in Alice’s Adventures, it just works. The thing I loved most about both of the books was Carroll’s use of wordplay. We all know how many funny little phrases there are in the story, but I never realised the extent to which the stories were a deconstruction of the English language. There are non-stop puns, along with quirky little sections of dialogue where characters in Wonderland take Alice’s colloquialisms literally, and it’s all totally hilarious. I think this is a must-read for any writer and/or lover of fantasy!
The Hobbit | JRR Tolkien (1937)
I remember reading this in Year 9 (way back in 2002) and loving it. I read it after the first Lord of the Rings film came out, when I was obsessed with all things Middle Earth. At that point in my life, I hadn’t read Harry Potter or any of the other incredible fantasy books I’ve read since then. Revisiting The Hobbit as a 30-year-old man, I have to say that I was a little underwhelmed. I 100% appreciate how ground-breaking the book was, and acknowledge everything Tolkien did for fantasy, but I think the book has lost some of its appeal over time. Fantasy these days is so infused with wonder, and the plots are so incredibly well-planned, that Tolkien’s old-school approach to fantasy seems as though it’s becoming a little harder to stomach—for me, anyway. There were endless passages of exposition, filled with minutiae the reader really doesn’t need to know about. I often found that my mind would wander and I’d read an entire page without taking in a single word... and I wouldn’t go back to reread it... *GASP* Maybe I was just distracted at the time, but I found it hard to push through for some reason. The characters are delightful but there are so many of them that they are all a bit one-dimensional. All of that said, I didn’t hate the book. It’s obviously a work of art, but just like some really old paintings, The Hobbit seems to have lost a bit of its original sheen.
Peter Pan (Peter and Wendy) | JM Barrie (1911)
This one was really interesting... I LOVED the first few chapters, but the narrator really started getting on my nerves towards the end of the story. At some point, he decides to just HATE Mrs Darling and the kids for no reason at all, and makes his feelings very clear to the reader.
The world of Neverland is undoubtedly magical, and all of the allegories are super interesting, but I found the gender politics perhaps the most interesting thing in the book. It’s a really intriguing look at the world of Edwardian England, the roles that were expected of men and women, and what being a ‘mother’ is apparently all about (darning socks, basically). There are some really wonderful moments of story-telling, but also some highly prejudiced remarks about women. It’s definitely worth the read, but if you’re a feminist like me, you might find some of the writing a bit incensing. You’ve been warned.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe | CS Lewis (1950)
I think, by this point, I was starting to grow weary of ‘classics’... Having said that, I still enjoyed this book.
The beginning of the story is truly wonderful and the plot gains some momentum and builds really well, but the climax really let me down. I wanted a massive battle scene, but all I got was the lead up to the battle and then the aftermath. It’s almost as if there is a chapter missing! There was no actual fighting, which is clearly the most thrilling part of any fantasy novel, though perhaps it was deemed inappropriate for a children’s book back then (despite the fact that Peter Pan and the other ‘classics’ have tonnes of killing in them). Again, there are some really odd remarks about gender and women’s roles etc but, for the most part, it’s a lovely children’s story. The satyr, Mr Tumnas, is a delight; I only wish he was actually in the book a bit more.
Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales (1805-1875)
I’ll preface this one by saying I obviously didn’t read all 3381 of Andersen’s fairy tales. In truth, I only read four... And the only one I really wanted to read was The Little Mermaid, which I adored—except for the weird ending that I’d never heard before, where she ends up as an air spirit; I prefer the version where she just dies and turns to foam—grim, but effective. I also read The Snow Queen (which comes highly recommended, though I didn’t really enjoy most of it), The Phoenix Bird (boring), The Angel (boring), and Two Brothers (boring).
I think it’s safe to say that the well-known tales are well-known for a reason, and that the obscure ones should remain as such.
Oliver | Charles Dickens (1837)
So... full disclosure... I only read 44 pages of this. So far. I really do want to read the whole thing at some point, but I just didn’t have the time or brainpower for it. Dickens has a real knack for turning a simple phrase into three paragraphs of words you need to look up in the dictionary (and I’ve got a pretty good vocabulary), and sentences separated by more semicolons than you’ve ever seen in your life.
That being said, the story is actually really engaging, and the writing is incredibly witty. Hence why I do want to revisit Oliver when I have a solid month to dedicate specifically to deciphering it.
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow | Jessica Townsend
After reading all of those ancient children’s classics, I cannot express how wonderful it was to read Nevermoor. This book joins the list of my favourite read of the year, without question. I can hear you all saying, ‘But isn’t Nevermoor a Middle Grade book written for 10-year-olds?’. Yes. Yes it is. But in my most humble opinion, if all adults read more children’s books, the world would be a much better place.
Nevermoor was positively magical. It was engrossing in a way that I haven’t experienced since I read Harry Potter as a teenager. I literally became obsessed with this book and read it at every opportunity I had, devouring it in a couple of days. I don’t want to give too much away, but the story centres on Morrigan Crow, a cursed girl who is fated to die at age 12. If you read one book this summer holidays, make it Nevermoor. Townsend is an awesome Aussie author, and this is her debut novel, so show her some love (not that she really needs it, she’s already a NYT bestseller with a film adaptation on the way haha).
The Sidekicks | Will Kostakis
My second Kostakis novel this year! This one tells the story of three not-friends coming to terms with the death of the boy who connected them. The book is split into three parts, ‘The Swimmer’, ‘The Rebel’ and ‘The Nerd’, each showing us the perspective of one of the boys left to cope with their friend’s untimely death.
The plot is woven really nicely between the three parts, with each new section filling in gaps from the previous perspective, and with little twists and revelations peppered throughout. Plus, Kostakis has a knack for witty dialogue and banter between characters, so it was all very entertaining. It’s a charming read, though I found ‘The Nerd’, Miles, a little confusing as a character, and as his perspective is the last we see, I was left wanting a little bit more of a payoff at the end of the book. Nevertheless a great, quick read!
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince | JK Rowling
As I’m sure you all remember, I decided to reread the entire Harry Potter series this year (see my Recent Reads 2 & 3). I paused after number 5 so I could read a bunch of other books that I’ve been dying to read, but decided to quickly squeeze in Half-Blood Prince before I return my attention to my manuscript and begin my editing process. I thought reading a Harry Potter book immediately before my own book would be a good yardstick, that it would give me a great point of reference, to see how my story would shape up against a masterpiece like Harry Potter. Whilst Half-Blood Prince isn’t my favourite out of the books (and is almost just a bridging book between books five and seven) I still really enjoyed it. I forgot how little actually happens in this book; most of the chapters are just Harry diving into other people’s memories to uncover Voldemort’s plans. It is, however, all incredibly interesting, and gives the reader a really good chance to see just how fucking intricately Rowling had planned her tale from the very beginning—again, perfect for me to read before jumping into some editing! I’m going to save the final book for some time next year when I have a chance to give it my full attention. The Deathly Hallows is the only book in the series that I’ve only read once, so I’m really excited to revisit it!
And there you have it! I hope there is something on that list that you’d love to dive into soon! And make sure you check out @tobias_madden on Instagram for more literary pics!
If you need me, I’ll be locked in my room with a red pen in hand—possibly ripping out my hair—as I edit the Seven Dials manuscript!
In the meantime, if you’re looking for more book recommendations, check out Recent Reads, Recent Reads 2, and Recent Reads 3 :)
Happy reading and writing! xx