It’s that time of year again — packed shopping centres, a procession of end-of-school assemblies, bottlenecks of last-minute work requests, a seemingly eternal blend of people, food and drink.
It sometimes feels as if every waking (and some sleeping) moment is consumed by other peoples’ wants and needs.
I always look so forward to taking a week or so at the end of it all just to be alone with a good book — a chance to tackle my bedside table’s Mount TBR*.
But if you’re anything like me, a good recommendation will always distract you from attaining that apex.
So, here are my favourites reads from the year.
* To Be Read
I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Four families wake up one morning in their caravans on an ordinary campsite in southern Sweden. However, during the night something strange has happened. Everything else has disappeared
As the holiday-makers try to come to terms with what has happened, they are forced to confront their deepest fears and secret desires, and in many cases expose the less appealing aspects of their character.
It’s an old trope, but the real horrors in this book are the characters.
They all have stains on their pasts or foetid experiences rotting away within their souls, and they all have to face them, one way or another, before the day is through (although time is somewhat abstract in this world without the sun).
These characters are so engaging — each having such a distinct voice and personality (even the dog), it feels almost voyeuristic to watch them conspiring and squabbling, collaborating and alienating.
This is the first novel of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s that I’ve read (I’ve loved his shorter fiction). After this taste, however, I definitely want more.
The ending left me a little… perplexed, is probably the polite way of stating it.
But by that stage, I was so rapt with seeing how each character resolved their own personal nightmare, that I didn’t mind.
Dead of Night: The Best of Midnight Echo, edited by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
Dead of Night features the best of Midnight Echo magazine, as selected by Shane Jiraiya Cummings, Midnight Echo editor.
This is anthology features twenty-five stories from issues one to eleven and is a showcase of Australia and New Zealand’s darkest imaginations.
Midnight Echo is the flagship publication of the Australasian Horror Writers Association.
And we have some truly disturbed writers in our ranks, here.
So many great short stories here: Deborah Sheldon’s ‘Perfect Little Stitches’, Jo Anderton’s ‘Out Hunting for Teeth’, David Conyers & David Kernot’s ‘Winds of Nzambi’, Jason Fischer’s ‘Pigroot Flat’, Shauna O’Meara’s ‘Blood Lillies’.
Two of my absolute favourite short stories from recent years appear in this anthology as well…
Andrew J. McKiernan’s ‘The Message’ creeping psychological horror, done the way only McKiernan knows how.
A woman takes a job, in a sparsely-furnished hotel room, answering an old Bakelite telephone — with clear instructions to simply take a message from whoever calls and not engage with them.
But it quickly becomes apparent that these callers are leaving more than simple random messages.
McKiernan is an absolute master of unsettling me as a reader — love all his work, but ‘The Message’ is especially good.
Zena Shapter’s ‘Darker’ is dark fantasy with a distinct Middle Eastern/North African flavour.
A simple farmer defies the Sultan’s edict of not sheltering strangers when a cavalcade of traders arrive ahead of a storm.
His punishment leads him down a devastating path of tragedies and retributions.
Shapter has written of her love of travelling and injecting those experiences back into her writing.
Her descriptions of the farm and the desert and the city of Darquesh being this story alive — it reads like one of Scheherazade’s tales.
True Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia Volume 2 by David Hunt
This second serving in the Girt series — David Hunt’s hilarious, tongue-in-cheek books on Australia’s colonial history — takes the reader to the Wild South, my adoptive Tasmania.
True Girt introduces Thomas Davey, the hard-drinking Tasmanian governor who invented the Blow My Skull cocktail, Captain Moonlite, Australia’s most infamous LGBTI bushranger, William Nicholson, the Melbourne hipster who gave Australia the steam-powered coffee roaster and the world the secret ballot, and Harry, the first camel used in Australian exploration, who shot dead his owner, the explorer John Horrocks.
I enjoyed this volume even better than the first — it delves into the founding of various settlements, including my own Hobart, as well as the characters and antics that shaped this nation.
But more importantly, Hunt doesn’t shy away from some truly shameful and dark periods in Australia’s past. He writes writes candidly about our thinly veiled attempt at the genocide of the indigenous peoples, our mistreatment of non-Anglo-Saxon migrants, and the cult of the Aussie Bushranger (who, by and large, were little more than murderers, thieves and terrorists).
The narrative is peppered with people and events that sometimes defy belief. But Hunt’s delivery makes what ought to be dry reading a joy to lose yourself in.
Have a safe and happy Christmas, or whatever. And happy reading.
All images from Goodreads