Best Reads of 2018

The end of the calendar year is fast approaching, meaning a spate of authorial gift giving and bookish self-indulgence is just around the corner.

So, for the third year running (making it officially a tradition now, I think), I give you my three best reads for the year.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world.

This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

I know this one a preaching to the choir, but I’ve only just properly discovered Le Guin’s work.

I had thought I’d read the Earthsea books as a teenager — I certainly remember borrowing the books from the school library.

But, with the passing of the great author, I opened the pages to find I hadn’t.

And the fact I hadn’t is…embarrassing.

If you haven’t read it, and you’ve toyed with the idea, seriously, stop reading this blog and get your hands on a copy — it is worth the hype.

The world of Earthsea (a globe-spanning archipelago) is such a rich and diverse place — Le Guin’s world building is simply masterful.

The plot is not that ground-breaking (when read through the lens of 50 years’ worth of post-Earthsea sagas).

Yet Sparrowhawk’s journey to rid the world of the creature he unleashed upon it is a compelling one.

What makes the book an outstanding read for me is Le Guin’s turn of phrase — her word-play and mastery of the english language is something to behold.

I make no secret of the fact that I love writing that sings.

And Le Guin’s writing is a gospel choir.

Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

The debut story collection by award-winning Australian dark fantasy writer Alan Baxter — 19 stories, 3 original to the collection.

A sweeping collection of horror and dark fantasy stories, packed with misfits and devils, repentant fathers and clockwork miracles.

Although Baxter dabbles in science fiction and fantasy, it is his darker work, showcased in this collection, that I enjoy the most.

I have read some of his novels, but, to my mind, short stories are the format at which Baxter excels.

While, by and large, Baxter’s stories, don’t tend to linger for me, they are well written.

When I’m immersed in one of his stories, I am oblivious to everything else.

And he certainly knows how to write flawed characters.

My absolute favourite piece in the collection has to be ‘A Strong Urge to Fly’ — one of three originals never before published.

It’s the story of a young man, who, having escaped life with an overbearing mother, takes up residence in a Beston-on-Sea boarding house with the creepiest of landladies — and her cats.

The payoff for this story is simply perfect.

The Psychology Workbook for Writers by Darian Smith

Darian Smith is a prize winning fiction writer with a degree in psychology, and is a member of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors.

He combines these two sides of his background to provide simple, easy to follow tools that make use of established psychological theory to help writers develop fully rounded, interesting, realistic characters and inject conflict into their stories.

As Smith points out in his introduction, the best writers are keen observers of human nature and are adept at mimicking that behaviour in their own characters.

Smith outlines a number of psychology theories and how they tend to manifest themselves in people, citing examples from well-known movies and stories.

For those preferring a hands-on approach, he includes worksheets to help the writer apply each theory to their own characters and conflicts.

He touches briefly on the dark side of the human psyche — though little more than simply defining a number of psychological disorders.

To my mind, the book’s strength lies in its layman’s explanation for what makes humans human — what makes us love, covet, fight and run.

I have referred to sections of this book again and again — the stages of grief, the basic styles of conflict, languages of love.

And I think my characters have improved immensely as a result.

It should be noted, as Smith himself points out, this book is not meant to be a substitute for a therapist, if you feel you need one.

But it is a goldmine for writers who seriously want to develop their characters.

Honourable Mentions for the year include Killing Gravity by Corey J. White, Tales of the Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson and The Barefoot Investor’s Step-By-Step Guide to Financial Freedom by Scott Pape.

If you want the full list of my reads for the year, take look at my Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2018.

And let me know what you’ve read this year — anything memorable or eminently forgettable?

All images from Goodreads

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