NEWS: Steph’s Best (and Worst) Reads of 2015

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“The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world. You’re part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be.”

 

This past year, books brought us mysteries, and space ships, and cults; there was music, and skin hopping, and humour. Throughout the year, the below books are the ones that have stuck, the ones to which this reviewer found her thoughts returning often, and the ones which shall hopefully delight you, too, dear readers!

This year there is an added element to the list, with some titles going so very far the other way that they deserve honourable mentions… of the negative sort.

In order to cover all bases, and to avoid repeating myself, let’s start off with an overall top ten twelve list, and then go into more details within the specific categories. Clicking on a title will take you through to the full review.

Steff books

Best reads of 2015

12. In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker (Young Adult)

11. Lifespan of Starlight by Thalia Kalkipsakis (Young Adult)

10. The Flywheel by Erin Gough (Young Adult)

9. Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld, illustrated by Joe Sumner (Graphic Novel)

8. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes (Young Adult)

7. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Young Adult)

6. The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Holgate (Middle Grade)

5. The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat (Picture Book)

4. What She Left by T.R. Richmond (Fiction)

3. The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey, narrated by Finty Williams (Speculative Fiction)

2. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day (Biography)

1. Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (Young Adult)

 

 

YOUNG ADULT/KIDS

10. Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

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Aza Ray is drowning in thin air.

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. She is the only one diagnosed with this particular affliction, which is why they named it Azaray Syndrome, and no one has the first clue of how to treat it.

All the doctors can do is give her drugs and hope they keep her alive. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of the medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. The sickness catches up with her.

Aza is lost to our world. And found, by another.

But Jason’s not going to let her go that easily. He made a promise to find her, and he always comes through for Aza.


The idea, voice, and sense of humour in this novel are all fantastic, making it hard to put down. It could have done with a little more in terms of world building when it came to the Magonian society, but, as far as a first person narrator knowing only what the Magonians told her, it made sense.

This is a novel which blends the real world (illness, and dying, and complicated feelings about your friends during high-school) with the fantastical (ships in the sky, birds in people’s chests, and bird people looking after the people like Aza who can only breathe Magonian air) and becomes more than either part could ever be alone.

 

9. We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

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This is The Breakfast Club for a new generation… but where detention is replaced by an impending end of the world, and everyone is possibly going to die…

Okay, maybe not The Breakfast Club, but we do have four very different teens thrown together by forces beyond their control. And their time together will stay with them for the rest of their lives… however long or short those lives might be.


Wallach does a great job of getting inside the mind of teenagers, and not portraying them as either too juvenile or intelligent for their age, making the story accessible to readers of a much larger age bracket. 

This is a story about what it means to be human, and about finding something worth holding onto in the people you’re forced together with… even if you’re just holding on until the end of the world.

 

8. The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

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Imagine, for a moment, that you have a sister. A twin sister you communicate with every day, with whom you’re close, closer than close.

You can never speak directly, because you never exist at the same time, but you share a single body. She gets the day, you get the night, and there are always notes waiting from her when you… “wake up”.

And then your parents die, and you and your sister are discovered and diagnosed.

They say your sister is suffering from dissociative personality disorder. They say that you’re not real. You’re a symptom.


The Dead House
is told completely in a “found footage”, epistolary format, with diary entries, post-its, and transcripts of recorded interviews, therapy sessions and videos.

Found footage is a particularly fitting term for this title, as the reader can’t help but visualise the events unfolding, drawing on memories of thriller and horror movies they’ve seen, and there are definitely some scenes which will make you regret reading this book in a dark house when no-one else is home, but it could have been a little scarier. 

 

7. In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker

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Three years ago, Alice’s identical twin sister took a gun to school and killed seven innocent kids; now Alice wears the same face as a monster. She’s struggling with her identity, and with life in the small Australian town where everyone was touched by the tragedy. Just as Alice thinks things can’t get much worse, she sees her sister on a deserted highway. But all is not what it seems, and Alice soon discovers that she has stepped into a different reality, a dream world, where she’s trapped with the nightmares of everyone in the community. Here Alice is forced to confront the true impact of everything that happened the day her twin sister took a gun to school… and to reveal her own secret to the boy who hates her most.

Lux has been in this dreamscape for years, working with his monster best friend, Ivan, to destroy all the evil monsters who want to pop the dreams of children so they can feast on the dream versions of said children. The worst monsters of all are the hundreds of different versions of the “school-girl” monster he has run into over the years. Monsters who look like Alice. Monsters he takes pleasure in killing.


In combining the very serious elements of a school shooting with those of a more fanciful nightmare/dreamscape nature, Barker saves the reader from being too bogged down by the catalyst for the story, but at the same time manages to show grief more fully, including what it can do to our subconscious; how it can manifest, and continue to do so in our dreams, long after the trauma.

Barker is a debut Aussie novelist to watch, and I was lucky enough to have a chat with her!

 

6. Lifespan of Starlight by Thalia Kalkipsakis

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Scout is an illegal. She’s not meant to exist because her mother wasn’t married when she gave birth, and children from single parent homes are taken away.

Scout’s mother has kept her hidden – away from security cameras, away from scanners – her entire life. They both live on half rations because Scout, of course, isn’t allotted any. But when Scout goes to her favourite hiding place after a fight with her mum, she finds a woman already there. A woman wrapped in a blanket and nothing else, a woman who’s close to death.

As the woman’s life ends, Scout finds herself presented with an opportunity well beyond anything she could have dreamed. But there’s something strange about the woman’s chip, and now there are two guys following Scout, asking her to show them how to travel through time.


Lifespan of Starlight 
was marketed as part Gattaca part The Time Traveller’s Wife, for a teenage audience, and it is. Here we have strict laws on who is allowed to exist, who is allowed to be part of society, and we have  the supposed ability to travel through time without the help of technology.

This is a book I picked up with the intention of reading the first page, as I had other titles approaching deadline and this one wasn’t to be released for months, but from the first page I was hooked. The writing in this book is colloquial and engaging, and one can’t help but grow attached to Scout and her new friends. 

Another Aussie author to watch, Kalkipsakis has made a name for herself in children’s fiction, but is sure to forge one heck of a path for herself within YA, and I for one can’t wait. 

 

5. The Flywheel by Erin Gough

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Seventeen-year-old Delilah’s crazy life is about to get crazier. Ever since her father took off overseas, she’s been struggling to run the family’s cafe without him and survive high school.

But after a misjudged crush on one of the cool girls, Del has become the school punchline. With all that’s on her plate, she barely has time for her favourite distraction – spying on the beautiful Rosa, who dances flamenco at the tapas bar across the road.

All this leaves Del grappling with some seriously curly questions. Is it okay to break the law to help a friend? How can a girl tell another girl she likes her without it ending in humiliation and heartbreak? And – the big one – is it ever truly possible to dance in public without falling over?


This is another debut, by another Aussie author, which started with just reading a page, or maybe a chapter, and ended up keeping me firmly within its pages until the whole lot was gone.

The Flywheel is easy to read, easy to get lost in, and the characters and events feel so real that the reader could be forgiven for thinking they’re real people.

Looking for Alibrandi for the new generation, but with a lesbian main character and a whole slew of different struggles to face.

 

4. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

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As Minnow’s story opens, she is standing over a boy she has beaten close to death, about to be arrested. But they’re having  a hard time cuffing her, because she has no hands.

In the past, Minnow was raised in a cult, and she was witness to all manner of atrocity performed at the command of their prophet, Kevin.

In the present, Minnow is in Juvenile Detention, speaking to an investigator, making friends, and waiting to see if she will spend the rest of her life behind bars.


Part crazy cults, part Orange is the New Black, this story offers up a veritable roller-coaster of emotions. It is in turns appalling and humourous, distressing and endearing, and the two parts of Minnow’s life could not be more different, despite her being a prisoner in both. Debut novelist Oakes does a fantastic job of balancing out the terrors with the joys, mimicking the human experience with deft skill in a way that will keep you glued to the page. 

This has made it onto my list of all-time favourites, and Stephanie Oakes is at the top of my “need it now” list for any and all future novels. 

 

3. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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Kady didn’t realise, when she broke up with Ezra, that their world was about to end. Literally.
If only she had known, maybe she would have held off.

Now they’re on two different ships, trying to escape the pursuing enemy who wants to make sure there are no witnesses to the destruction. Kady has hacked into the system, and across the void they’re trying to work out what’s going on, why they were attacked, and who they can trust.

Someone’s hiding something from  the rest of the fleet, and Kady and Ez are determined to find out what it is… or die trying.


Another epistolary novel, another pair of Aussie authors, and a story unlike any other.
Within these pages you’ll find romance, action, adventure, horror, and a good helping of sci-fi. It’s scary, it’s heartbreaking, it’s funny. It’s damn near perfect.

 

2. The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Holgate

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Meet Jack Sullivan. Zombie hunter, monster slayer, late-blooming, slow-developing 13-year-old. He’s riding out the monster apocalypse from his tree house, and is doing his best to keep busy.

Of course, he needs to get back in touch with his best (only) friend Quint, rescue the damsel in distress (who’s maybe not in distress at all, and don’t you dare call her a damsel to her face), and avoid being eaten by Blarg – the giant, intelligent monster that is hunting him down – but those are just details.

He’s Jack Sullivan, Post-Apocalyptic Action Hero. He’s got this.


This is my absolute favourite middle grade of the year, and sits up there with my number one book from last year, The Imaginary.

It’s a story full of action, adventure, heart, self-deprecating humour, and plenty of fun, with a few jokes for the adults thrown in.

 

1. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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Eight years ago, the indie kids battled vampires. Before that, it was the soul-sucking ghosts. Now something else is going on; indie kids are dying, there’s some kind of mysterious blue light searching for them, inhabiting townsfolk, and Satchel is in love with an alien prince she sees whenever she holds a pendant left to her by a dead boy.

But that’s not the story we’re here for.

Mikey is desperately in love with Henna, but is trying to get up the nerve to say something. Maybe this is why he’s started his obsessive counting and checking again, or maybe that’s brought on by the stresses of finishing up at school.

His sister, Mel; love of his life, Henna; and best friend Jared all have their own problems, too. They’re in their final year of school, and childhood in a town like theirs has done what it will, and left them all a little damaged.


This book deals with real world things in a setting that is slightly other. Think Buffy’s Sunnydale, only the story focuses on the kids who aren’t within the Slayer’s inner circle, the kids who are always on the outside of the big monster occurrences. 

The characters in this book deal with crushes, disorders, and family issues, all while being vaguely aware of the something “other” that is going on within their town. As a result, Ness manages to offer up a book that is in turns funny, touching, and heartwarming, while dealing with some pretty dark stuff; a story which will appeal to speculative readers and realistic readers alike. 

I was lucky enough to have a chat with Patrick Ness!

 

 

FICTION

3. We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

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Phil Needle is a husband, father, and struggling radio producer who longs to be a rebel and a fortune hunter. He’s not a very likable man, and he’s been having a hard time finding and keeping an assistant.

Gwen, his fourteen year old daughter is a student, a swimmer and a best friend. But she longs to be an adventurer and an outlaw. She’s recently been caught shoplifting, and now she’s in trouble.

Phil is on the way to a big industry conference to pitch the idea he’s sure could make his career, but, after a problem with the flight, he and his assistant are driving the rest of the way, and he’s completely unaware of what’s happening with his daughter.

Meanwhile, Gwen has teamed up with a fierce new friend and some restless souls. They head for the open sea, having stolen a boat to hunt for treasure.


When trying to think of something to compare We Are Pirates to, the closest thing that comes to mind – in terms of dark humour, characters, and world building – is American Beauty.

The book itself isn’t quite what the blurb suggested, with the actual piratey adventure beginning only after the halfway mark, and not lasting very long at all. But, where I had gone into this book thinking it would perhaps be a cheesy, feel-good family ride, I was mistaken.

Here there be darkness.

 

2. The Exit by Helen Fitzgerald

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23-year-old Catherine is cute, hates old people, and has just gotten herself a job at the local care home.

Her mother worries that she has no real plans for her life, has a lot of debt, and makes a lot of bad choices.

82-year-old Rose is staying in Room 2 at the care home, and is convinced something sinister is going on in Room 7. But she has dementia and spends stretches of time believing she’s 10-years-old and reliving an old trauma, so who can really believe what she says?

She’s snarky, funny, and she thinks this new girl might be just the person to help her.


Fitzgerald delivers a main character who doesn’t care enough to do anything meaningful with her life, but who is smart enough to know better. Her dry sense of humour, her potential to be more, and the style of writing ensure that the reader immediately wants more for Catherine, immediately invests themselves in her story.

The voices of the characters make this a fast-paced, easy to read novel – one that you wont be able to put down, one that will keep you reading until the sunrise reminds you that, hey, weren’t you meant to be going to bed?

But it is also a very confronting novel. Fitzgerald doesn’t shy away from the dark side of dementia, illness, death, or humanity, and you’ll need a strong stomach to make it through to the end.

 

1. What She Left by T.R. Richmond

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When Alice Salmon died last year, the ripples were felt in the news, on the internet, and in the hearts of those who knew her best.

But the person who knows her most intimately isn’t family or a friend. Dr Jeremy Cooke is an academic whose life has become about piecing together Alice’s existence in all its flawed and truthful reality.

For Cooke, faithfully recreating Alice’s life – through her diaries, emails and anything using her voice – is all-consuming. He does not know how deep his search will take him, or the shocking nature of what he will uncover…


At its heart, What She Left is a mystery – did she slip, commit suicide, was she killed? – but that’s not the most important thing about this book.

This epistolary novel, told completely through diary entries, notes, emails, texts, and blog posts, with Dr Jeremy Cooke’s letters stringing them all together is so well done that you will be convinced that these pieces are written by very different, very real people who had a role in Alice’s life.

 

 

SPECULATIVE FICTION

4. A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install

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Ben and Amy never wanted kids. They’d discussed the upsides of not having them, such as never having to stress over Halloween costumes, and decided that was a very good reason for not starting a family. They had discussed getting a robot, but this wasn’t what they had in mind.

Amy was the one who always wanted an android to help around the house, and Ben was the uncertain one, which is why it surprises them both that Amy wants this one taken to the tip, and Ben’s considering traveling half way around the world in order to fix it.

Now Amy has left Ben, and Ben and Tang are off to America in an attempt to find out where Tang was created, to find someone to fix him.


This was a quick, engrossing read, with some really cute and funny moments. Tang was adorable and quick to win hearts, but there was a limited range of emotions, with some highs and some lows, but with neither of them being particularly drastically so.

It was one of those books that at once read a little like a book for all ages, a fable, but at the same time mentioned some more grown-up topics that wouldn’t be suitable for younger readers. It’s classified as adult fiction, but sits in a weird middle ground between middle-grade fiction and adult fiction, without really finding its home in the young adult category.

This would be the perfect book to read on a holiday, with a few laugh out loud moments and not many negatives. A great read for someone who is interested in seeing how certain catalysts force people to grow and change, rather than someone looking for hard sci-fi. 

 

3. The Chimes by Anna Smaill

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A boy stands on the roadside on his way to London, alone in the rain. No memories, beyond what he can hold in his hands at any given moment. No directions, as written words have long since been forbidden. No parents – just a melody that tugs at him, a thread to follow. A song that says if he can just get to the capital, he may find some answers about what happened to them.

The world around Simon sings, each movement a pulse of rhythm, each object weaving its own melody, music ringing in every drop of air.

Welcome to the world of The Chimes. Here, life is orchestrated by a vast musical instrument that renders people unable to form new memories. The past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphemy.

But slowly, inexplicably, Simon is beginning to remember. He emerges from sleep each morning with a pricking feeling, a sense there is something he urgently has to do. In the city Simon meets Lucien, who has a gift for hearing, some secrets of his own, and a theory about the danger lurking in Simon’s past.


The Chimes starts off slowly, and at first you will find it hard to grasp, hard to picture what’s going on. 

But I advise you to stick it out. 

At some point you will realise you’re head over heels for these characters, for the relationships they have, despite not being able to hold onto memory, and you’ll find yourself torn between wanting to read it all now and wanting to savour it, to linger with them a little longer.

At some point you’ll realise that, where you had thought this book was breaking your mind, it’s actually opening it up to new things, making you aware of things in a different way, and bringing you into a world of understanding, alongside Simon, who is starting to remember for the first time in his life.

 

2. Touch by Claire North

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Kepler was once a normal human being, living day by day, seeing the same features in the mirror each time they looked. But one night, beaten and not far from death, skin meets skin and a switch occurs. Suddenly Kepler is looking through the eyes of the killer himself, staring down at a broken and ruined body lying in the dirt of the alley.

Now a ghost of sorts, Kepler lives in hosts for anywhere from a few seconds through to a lifetime, coming to know some of them intimately, like lovers, and often leaving them a nice sum of money as thanks.

But someone is trying to kill Kepler, killing past hosts along the way, and now Kepler must race to find the truth; wearing the body of uncooperative, would-be assassin, Nathan Coyle.


North writes an engaging story, easy for the reader to get lost in, with a main character who refuses to specify a gender but at times embodies both.

The reader will come out of this experience wondering at what really happens when they lose track of time, and how they might feel to find they’ve been “worn” by someone for a while.

 

1. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, narrated by Finty Williams

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Melanie is unlike any ten-year-old you’ve ever met.

She spends each night in a cell, and of a morning she is strapped into a chair, hands and feet tied down, and wheeled into a classroom.

Melanie loves her lessons, especially on the days that Miss Justineau is in charge.

Her life is made of routines: classes five days a week, and on the weekends they get to eat grubs and take a chemical shower. Their little cell block is all she knows: classroom at one end, and at the other end a door that leads to elsewhere, a door through which her classmates sometimes disappear, never to return.

But then something changes, and Melanie’s world gets flipped on its head.


Carey writes a novel that you won’t want to put down, offers up characters who will stay with you long after reading, and shows them going through realistic character development. Each one of them feels like a real person, whether that’s in a good or a bad way depends on the character – which, let’s face it, is sort of how real people work, too.

The descriptions within are gruesomely beautiful, and there’s no denying the man has style. 

Yes, this was on my list of honourable mentions last year, and it’s still a favourite. Possibly even more so in the audiobook format. 

 

 

BIOGRAPHY/NON-FICTION

4. Mug Cakes by Mima Sinclair

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These days it’s all to easy to run out of time for things, and it’s far too easy to let baking become a lost art in the time crunch.

Now, of course making mug cakes isn’t baking, and it certainly isn’t art... But this is a revolutionised kind of baking in single servings for busy people, or for people who don’t want to have to wash utensils galore once the cooking is done.

And you might just be surprised with the results.

Here, everything can be prepared and cooked in the same mug. Here, you need a fork and a spoon at most. Here, you will find a book for those of us who constantly make excuses to avoid the kitchen.


Sinclair does a great job of providing a variety of options for various occasions and tastes. Some are more healthy than others, some are more… chocolate than healthy, but they all taste fantastic, and when you’re digging into a gooey, warm, freshly “baked” mug of cake just for you, you’ll see the art in what she does.

 

3. You’re Just Too Good to be True by Sofija Stefanovic

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As you read this book, and you’ll want to read it in one sitting, you’ll find yourself realising that what these victims have is a form of addiction.

These scammers force them into an abusive relationship of sorts, the kind that ruin friendships and families, and no one is immune. In trying to get in touch with scammers to find out and observe how they operate, the author of this book found her own emotions betraying her.

Even when things are proven false, an addict/victim will search for the tiny piece of truth that makes them feel better about their situation.

You’ll wonder how it is that these people can get drawn in, but our current, technology based society just adds to the scammer’s arsenal. Some of our best friendships, and indeed a lot of long term relationships, come from meeting online these days.


This book is conversational, compulsively readable, and shorty, while dealing with some rather deep topics.

It’s a fascinating look into the lives of scammers and their prey, and is a must read if you’ve ever made a friendship online. Whether it turned out to be real or not. 

 

2. Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar

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You guys, it’s Raj from The Big Bang Theory!

This book gives wonderful insight into Raj, that is to say the man behind Raj… That is to say Kunal Nayyar… Did you know that Raj was originally written as David Koothrappali?

Aaaaanyway. As Kunal informs us from the outset; this is not a memoir. He’s not old enough for it to be a true memoir, but he has led a very interesting life, and we are offered entertaining snippets of misadventures, discoveries, and friendships he has made along the way.


Anyone who has ever had an awkward childhood or teenage moment will be able to relate to the situations Kunal went through, and this is one of those rare not-a-memoirs which is honest, and shows the author’s own flaws. Rather than asking “why me”, Kunal owns his mistakes and learns from them, which is rather refreshing.

Told with a strong, self-deprecating sense of humour, this collection will let you in on the events that brought about the guy who would become Raj.

 

1. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

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Felicia Day is a professional actress who has appeared in numerous mainstream television shows and films, including a two-season arc on the Syfy series Eureka and a four-season arc on the CW show Supernatural.

However, Day is best known for her work in the web video world, behind and in front of the camera. She costarred in Joss Whedon’s Emmy Award-winning internet musical, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. She also created and starred in the hit web series The Guild, which ran for six seasons.

This biography covers a lot of Felicia’s childhood, with homeschooling, discovering online games, and attending university at sixteen for a double major in music and mathematics and fighting tooth and nail to maintain a 4.0 GPA. It deals with internet in the early days, anxiety caused by the overload of… everything, and the important questions like “What superpower would you wish for?”


This book will make you laugh, if you’re a sci-fi geek you will be able to relate, and you won’t be able to put it down. There’s a chapter on all the lovely fans she’s met, a chapter on World of Warcraft, and yes, even one on #GamerGate.

If you’re a fan, you definitely need this book. And if you’re not a fan, maybe it’s time you became one.

 


PICTURE BOOKS

5. Little Red Riding Hood Stories Around the World by Jessica Gunderson

4. Cinderella Stories Around the World by Cari Meister

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Once upon a time, before the age of books, people gathered to tell stories. They told tales of fairies and magic, princes and witches. Ideas of love, jealousy, kindness, and luck filled the stories. Some provided lessons. Others just entertained. Most did both! These fairy tales passed from neighbor to neighbor, village to village, land to land. As the stories spun across the seas and over mountains, details changed to fit each culture. A poisoned slipper became a poisoned ring. A king became a sultan. A wolf became a tiger.

Over time, fairy tales were collected and written down. Around the world today, people of all ages love to read or hear these timeless stories. For many years to come, fair tales will continue to live happily ever after in our imaginations.


In the collection of Little Red Riding Hood tales, we are offered the classic German version of the tale we all know and love, as well as the Italian and Taiwanese versions.

In the collection of Cinderella tales we are offered the classic French version of the tale we all know and love, a version told by the Micmac Tribe of North America, the Chinese version, and the Egyptian version.

The different styles of illustration from story to story are just as interesting as the differences in the stories themselves. While there is a glossary at the back of each collection, this does mean this collection will likely have to be read to the younger readers, but could also help with increasing their vocabulary. There are also questions at the end, to encourage readers to really think about the tale, and information on some other Little Red Riding Hood stories for further reading.

Next time you’re after a book about Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, or Rapunzel for book week, as a gift, or just wanting to brush up on your fairy tales, definitely give this series a go. 

 

3. My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen, illustrated by James Foley

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The narrator’s bunny is electrocuted after chewing through the tv cord while the narrator and his friends were playing Zombie Terror 3. A fried Bunny Brad is then committed to the ground, but our narrator isn’t ready to let him go just yet.

Now Bunny Brad won’t go away, and his family can’t escape him… even when they run away to a hotel.

But never you fear, our narrator has a plan!


This is a fantastically funny read, and the paring of morbidly light and funny lines with the illustrations, which could only be described as Gothic, will keep you turning pages. The fact that the rhyming is similar to that which you would find in a Dr Seuss or Hairy Maclary book just manages to add to the humour.

This is a must have in any zombie-enthusiast household, and is the perfect way to convince your little ones of just how much fun zombies can be.

You might buy this book as a joke, but it’s bound to become a family favourite in no time.

 

2. Sad, the Dog by Sandy Fussell, illustrated by Tull Suwannakit

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Mr and Mrs Cripps owned a little dog, an unwanted Christmas present from a friend.
They fed the dog, and washed him, even cleaned inside his ears. But they didn’t give him a name.

The little dog felt unhappy. And in his heart, he whispered a name. Sad.

One day a truck came, and took everything away – everything. Except Sad.


Sad, the dog
is a story for dog lovers.

It’s about how sad and lonely dogs feel if you don’t give them the love and attention they deserve, and about how to introduce yourself to a dog who has been mistreated, how not to push them and let them come to you.

While this story has a rather sad opening, you won’t be able to keep from smiling at the uplifting, heartwarming ending.

Paired with absolutely perfect illustrations, this is a gorgeous book for kids and grown-ups alike, and delivers an important message with regards to animals as gifts.

 

1. The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

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The real world was a strange place.
No kids were eating cake.

No one stopped to hear the music.

And everyone needed naptime.


This is a wonderful book about imagination, and friends, and maybe being a little bit different. It’s about taking time to see the joy in the world, and not giving up on your dreams, and the pictures are simply gorgeous.

This is recommended for anyone who loves imagination, or ever feels like they don’t fit in. For anyone who ever got picked last for something, or felt a desire to follow their heart.

 

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS

2. Burger Force by Jackie Ryan

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Are you ready to be Burger Forced? Step right up for Issue 1 – in which it becomes apparent that something is very, very wrong with Mercury’s life. Most of the people he knows seem to either loathe him or think him irretrievably mad (sometimes a delicate combination of the two). And that’s before the message appears in his orange juice…


Burger Force is a rather unique sort of comic.

At first the images feel a little too dark, more shadows than anything else, but as you read on you’ll realise how much you can see when you look closely, and maybe that darkness is just a way to encourage you to look a little deeper.

Jackie Ryan doesn’t just sit down, write and draw her story, and then hit publish. She writes the story, edits, scouts out locations, directs the talent (these are real life people, folks!), takes the shots of these people going about the scene, and THEN touches them up on her computer and by hand, lending a rotoscope style to her stories. There is clearly so much more going on behind the scenes that we can’t even fathom.

Prints, news, and issues can be found at http://www.burgerforce.com/

Burger Force won the Aurealis award for Best Illustrated Work or Graphic Novel in 2013.

 

1. Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld, illustrated by Joe Sumner

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Evie Wyld was a girl obsessed with sharks. Spending summers in the brutal heart of coastal New South Wales, she fell for the creatures. Their teeth, their skin, their eyes; their hunters and their victims.

Everything is Teeth is a delicate and intimate collection of the memories she brought home to England, a book about family, love and the irresistible forces that pass through life unseen, under the surface, ready to emerge at any point.

 

At its heart, this book is a tale of obsession; about how it finds its way into every aspect of your life, about how you can’t get it out of your mind, even when you’re sleeping. And the other tidbits of memory only help to make this whole story feel more real, more relatable, especially for Aussie readers.

The juxtaposition of cartoon-like people and the illustration of sea creatures so gorgeous they could be photographs serve well to help the reader understand Evie’s obsession. The creatures within these pages are so beautiful, menacing, and sleek that you can’t help but adore them, and maybe be a little wary of what they might do, given the chance to get you within reach of their teeth.

This is a gorgeous book, through and through.

 

WORST READS OF 2015

7. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

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Consilience is a new social experiment which offers its subjects stable jobs and a home, so long as they spend every second month in a prison-like environment. Prison-like because all the really criminal elements are quickly weeded out, leaving just the upstanding folk who signed on for this experiment.


The Heart Goes Last
is a bleak portrait of the sinister, corporate greed and desire for control that linger behind even the most supposedly utopian ideals. More than anything, it’s a story about double standards, and never being able to trust another person fully. It’s also a story about how no man is able to control himself around women, and why should he have to?

Every single one of the characters within this novel is unlikable, and there are many situations in which a male character is shown to lust after anything with a vagina (be they biological or robotic vaginas), contemplating the steps he could take to get a piece of said vagina, but rages at the very thought of “his woman” sleeping with or thinking about sleeping with another man.

Evidently, based on the style of telling, this was supposed to be a blackly humouros commentary on where our world is heading, with the idea that women should take efforts to protect themselves, rather than the idea that men should be respectful and in control of their actions when it comes to women.

Unfortunately, the fact that every man in this novel is either evil or nothing more than a walking penis, sometimes both, and the repetitive driving home of this point, turns the second half into a slog. The payoff of which, this reader isn’t entirely sure was worth it.

 

6. The 100 Society by Carla Spradbery

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For sixth-form student Grace Becker, The 100 Society is more than just a game; it’s an obsession. Having convinced her five friends at Clifton Academy to see it through to the end, Grace will stop at nothing to carry out the rules of the game: tagging 100 locations around the city. With each step closer to the 100-mark they get, the higher the stakes become. But when the group catches the attention of a menacing stalker – the Reaper – he seems intent on exposing their illegal game, tormenting Grace with anonymous threats and branding their dormitory doors with his ominous tag.

As the once tight-knit group slowly unravels, torn apart by doubt and the death of a student, they no longer know who to trust.

With time running out, Grace must unmask the Reaper before he destroys everything she cares about for ever…


This book reads like the slasher movies that were so big fifteen years ago. Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and so on. In fact, one scene in particular seems very similar to an integral scene in I Know What You Did Last Summer.

This book is rather predictable, angst ridden, the characters are all over-pronounced and unnatural, and the story follows a main character who keeps doing stupid things and then wondering why people react the way they do, and it all makes for a pretty annoying read.

 

5. The World According to Anna by Jostein Gaarder

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When fifteen-year-old Anna begins receiving messages from another time, her parents take her to the doctor. But he can find nothing wrong with Anna; in fact he believes there may be some truth to what she is seeing.

Anna is haunted by visions of the desolate world of 2082. She sees her great-granddaughter, Nova, roaming through wasteland with a band of survivors, after animals and plants have died out. The more Anna sees, the more she realises she must act to prevent the future in her visions becoming real. But can she act quickly enough?


This wonderful idea of a book accessible for teens, about topics so very important to focus on now, was lost among the shitty story. SUCH a shitty, shitty story.

It’s convoluted, the characters are ridiculous, the dialogue is downright awful and the characters jump to strange conclusions, seemingly just so Gaarder doesn’t have to bother with that silly conversation stuff anymore.

The book makes some interesting suggestions as to how to fix things, and it does make the reader more aware of the situation with regards to endangered animals, and the process behind climate change, but as a story it’s just downright sloppy. It would have made a better read as an essay, without all the cardboard people getting in the way.

 

4. You’re the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About by Daniel Herborn

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Tim is a musician who’s repeating year 12, Mandy has finished school, is working a job she has no passion for, and is stuck in a bit of a rut, and they’re making their way through the world I spent my formative adult years from eighteen to twenty-three; the Sydney independent music scene.

And I was ready to love it.


Unfortunately, Mandy and Tim were both rather uncompelling, and suffered from a severe lack of personality, which made this reader really wonder what either of them saw in the other. Nothing happened throughout the book and the writing was flat and telly, making this far too easy to put down in favour of other stories.

As far as love stories, coming of age stories, and stories about the Aussie music industry go, You’re The Kind of Girl I Write Songs About fell far short.

An Aussie title for the negative list. 

 

3. motivational quotes to help you be more positive by chris (simpsons artist)

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Are you the type of person who:

  • thinks books are quite good
  • has never held a book before and would like to try holding one for a day
  • is completely normal and just wants to look at something
  • is fed up
  • would rather be dead
  • is frightened of what tomorrow may bring
  • is curious
  • needs a bit of motivation
  • wants to feel more positive about your life

Then this is the book for you because the words and pictures inside of this book will instantly make you feel more positive about yourself even after just having a look at them for about a second or three seconds.


The sense of humour in these pages is weird, unfunny, uncomfortable, and at times wildly inappropriate. 

There are exactly five full stops throughout the whole thing, and occasional walls of rambling text, as well as countless grammatical errors, no capital letters, and no other punctuation whatsoever.

But it does come with a certain… morbid curiosity.

This is a great book to take places and show people, just to see the looks on their faces… But be prepared before giving it a negative review online… his fans can be a little over the top and will take your disliking of the book personally.

 

2. Yes, Chef! by Lisa Joy

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Sassy foodie Becca Stone is over her job taking reservations in one of London’s most successful restaurant empires. So when she is unexpectedly catapulted into working as PA to celebrity chef, Damien Malone, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime.

Becca is quickly caught up in an exciting whirlwind of travel, reality TV and opening nights, and even her usually abysmal love life takes a turn for the better. But as Becca is slowly consumed by the chaos of life in the spotlight, she begins to lose touch with her friends, her heart and even with reality. Working with Damien has its challenges and she is soon struggling with his increasingly outrageous demands and sleazy advances, all while managing the ridiculous requests of his self-centered wife. It takes a disastrous trip to Italy for Becca to realize that she may have thrown away exactly what she’s been looking for all along.

Inspired by real-life adventures, this deliciously funny and romantic story reveals a tantalizing glimpse of the trendy restaurant scene: a world where chefs are treated like rock stars, and cooking isn’t all that goes on in the kitchen.


The blurb of this book offers readers excitement, controversy, and romance, but what it actually delivers is far from all three. 

This was an inside, “uncensored” look at an industry which we know has some pretty big tempers, but it never delivered on the heat it promised, or the juicy secrets.

There was no real emotion in this, no reason to care for the characters, and nothing particularly unique. This was a watered down version of books like The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries.

Becca is selfish, flat, annoying, and horrible at customer service. She constantly moans about how single she is and how she’s never going to find “the one” while man after man throws himself at her feet. Feet, which in this reviewers opinion, were incredibly unworthy. 

Another Aussie book for the fail pile. 

 

1. Killing Monica by Candace Bushnell

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PJ/Pandy/Pandemonia Wallis is best known as the author of a series of books whose main character has gone on to be the central focus of a series of movies, and has become something of an icon for women everywhere.

Pandy’s character Monica is a more successful, more attractive, more feminist version of Pandy herself, and when Pandy got married, so did Monica. But now Pandy’s getting divorced, and people are saying that it’s time for Monica, now in her forties, to venture into online dating.

But Pandy doesn’t want to write Monica books anymore, Pandy wants to write literature, but her first attempt at a serious book has been rejected, her ex-husband is trying to take money from her that she doesn’t have, and she’s experiencing something of a nervous breakdown.

 

Possibly because of Pandy’s attitude, or maybe because of the lack of… anything much at all, this book is a rather boring read, with the first half failing even at its attempts to be a parody. The second half of the book has more substance, but compared to the first half it doesn’t have to try very hard to make this claim.

The second half of this book takes a look inside an unhealthy relationship, one experienced by a self-proclaimed feminist. But perhaps the second half of the book would have held more power and been more of a shock had said feminist been more of a, well… feminist.

This book fails at being a parody, fails at being a serious read, and all that we’re left with is inconsequential, boring fluff, and way too much telling.

 

 

 

NEWS: Steph's Best (and Worst) Reads of 2015

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