Hello Darlings Readers,
Well. If nothing else 2016 was a year for damn good stories – from television shows like Stranger Things, Sweet Vicious, and Cleverman– to all the books listed here … in fact, 2016 was a year in which reality was stranger (and sadder) than fiction, and inside stories – more than ever – seemed like a safer place to hang out and get lost.
It feels like I didn’t read or review as many books this year as I normally do, or am happy with – but that’s mostly because I was writing and creating a lot more … the LoveOzYA Anthology, and my becoming a literary agent have happily taken up a lot of time and brainpower.
But I can safely say that the books I did read were the ones I made time for and prioritised and it paid off in a big way with some rewarding, nourishing stories and writing.
So, without further ado – here’s my list (in no particular order) of the books I freakin’ loved reading in 2016.
The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis
I’ve often said that I crave contemporary YA books in which male characters are actually allowed to show their emotions, in a plot that’s not cloaked by quest or end-of-the-world catastrophe. ‘The Sidekicks’ is exactly why I crave those sorts of stories – in a book that shows the honesty and intimacy of male friendship and complicated friendship groups. A book in which the seemingly typified male characters are so much more than the sum of the parts they’re often broken down to, by various pop-culture portrayals and societal expectations. This book – like the multi-layered, and nuanced characters – shows grief to be a prism with many sides. It’s devastating and devastatingly funny, and just makes me excited for whatever Will Kostakis writes next.
Where the Shoreline Used to be: Stories from Australia and Beyond, Edited by Pam McIntyre and Susan La Marca
Pam McIntyre and Susan La Marca have turned their keen editorial eyes to delivering another fantastic collection of Australian short stories that are perfect for school study, and pure enjoyment too.
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
‘Words in Deep Blue’ is also a love-story … or, a few love stories really. Rachel and Henry take centre-stage for much of the book, as their history of unrequited love and friends-to-more unfolds amidst grief, jealousy and heartbreak, to eventually evolve into acceptance, forgiveness and revelation. There’s also Henry’s sister, George, who has a secret letter-writing admirer and a boy from school who wants to break through her tough exterior and become friends. Then there’s Henry’s parents whose great love story is in its final throes, and Henry and Rachel’s mutual friend Lola whose great love is music and the band she’s been dreaming about for years. Anyone who has ever read any of Cath Crowley’s books knows that her characters are exquisite, and those in ‘Words in Deep Blue’ are no exception. I loved this book. I waited six years for it, but I fell in love after the first page, and by the last it was a new favourite.
Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar
As someone who reads a lot of romance, I can tell you that ‘Summer Skin’ is up there with the best. But I do want to say that I still consider this book to be young adult – even for its college campus setting and abundant sex. I have no problems with people bandying the label ‘New Adult’ around – but I will say that I absolutely believe teenagers (boys and girls alike) should find their way to ‘Summer Skin’ and embrace its many messages, particularly around sex-positivity and politics. Kirsty Eagar has long been one of Australia’s most daring and rebellious YA writers, dating back to her powerful debut ‘Raw Blue’. ‘Summer Skin’ is more brilliance and fearlessness from this Aussie favourite, and I absolutely applaud Eagar for elevating such conversations around modern romance in our young adult literature.
When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah
This is a fantastic book with good timing – I can’t think of a better novel for kids to be reading this post-election … It’s a book that asks kids to think for themselves, and to look outside their own worldviews and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. There’s a cracking good romantic subplot here, but the politics playing front-and-centre is what makes this book a thoughtful and intelligent winner.
Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall
This is a very special book, by a vibrant Australian author. I love that younger readers get to experience the writing of Leanne Hall, and I especially love that ‘Iris and the Tiger’ will also surprise and delight older readers alike. I loved this book – from that gorgeous Sandra Eterovic cover-art, to the story within that certainly ‘crow-bars the world open for you.’ Just – stunning.
The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson
Wilkinson gets better and better with each new release, and The Boundless Sublime is her current pinnacle – but I fully expect she’s going to keep astonishing readers with whatever she writes next. This one is creepy and subversive, sexy and sinister; it’s all about cults (and if you haven’t already, do check out her ‘Let’s Talk About Sects’ YouTube episodes!).
The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon
Between Brexit and Trump, not to mention Australia’s human rights abuse record … I really truly believe Zana Fraillon’s middle-grade novel – about refugees, magic and humanity – should be on every school’s syllabus, and is a must-read for students across Australia. This here is vital, vital stuff.
Australia to Z by Armin Greder
Look, all picture books are art books as far as I'm concerned. But Greder's especially feels sharp and subversive - and a perfect example of how children's picture books especially, can say so much with so little.
The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman
Middle-Grade fiction is starting to carve a place for itself in the Australian youth-lit landscape, and between Nova Weetman and Leanne Hall (among many, many others) we’re building a phenomenal list of books for that 8-12 readership, that will carry them into young adult and Australian fiction for life …
Gemina: The Illuminae Files_02 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Ohhhhh, if you thought first book Illuminae was remarkable, you’ve got NO IDEA! This second outing is even more subversive sci-fi from two of our biggest exports, with bonus (gorgeous) illustrations from American author/artist Marie Lu … and after a year like 2016, I find this series truly remarkable and commendable for giving young readers a story in which the Government should be second-guessed, their narrative criticised and their ulterior motives exposed…
Lemons in the Chicken Wire by Alison Whittaker
I just liked that Whittaker was taking me outside of myself, and poking at my own assumptions – cracking them open or squeezing till they pulped. ‘Lemons in the Chicken Wire’ just introduced me to a favourite new voice in indigenous and poetry writing, and acts as a reminder of why I seek out these works from the indelible Magabala Books.
Frankie by Shivaun Plozza
Let's just say the Melina Marchetta endorsement quote of this debut Aussie YA is SPOT. ON! 'Great dialogue and strongly paced. Frankie's a gutsy character with a lot of heart.'
The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale
I've seen this one listed throughout the year as young adult and middle-grade... and I think the reason for the discrepancy is that this book really will appeal to everyone. Young and old alike. It's heartbreaking and uplifting and just so darn good!
One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn
Claire Zorn hits another one outta the park! This author just keeps getting better and better, sharper and wiser with each new release - it's easy to see why she's one of Aussie-YA's most beloved.
Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford
This book is a balm for the individual reader. Clementine lays herself bare – her mistakes, worst moments, darkest thoughts … she puts it all out there, so the reader doesn’t feel so alone. So I didn’t feel so alone. And for that, and so much more, I thank her.
Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall
A disturbing and mesmerising historical fiction romp through friendship and tragedy, love and loss – this book digs into memory and exposes the heart.
The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke
‘This book will change your life,’ sounds like a throwaway tagline – but when talking about Maxine Beneba Clarke’s powerful memoir it’s truer than true, and tougher than tough – to confront the very real and ugly Australia that Clarke writes about is a big, necessary ask. Essential reading. Essential healing.
The Midnight Watch by David Dyer
A story we all seem to know so well is alive in our imaginations once again, but David Dyer’s true strength as a storyteller lies in what he pushes us to examine in the lives of mere men.
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta
There’s so much I loved in this book – not least was the way it fits for me, like a puzzle piece within Marchetta’s other stories … there are lines here connecting them all for me, so I can see exactly how writing all those others bought Marchetta to this book, at this point in time. I loved that Violette Zidane feels like she’d get along like a house on fire with Josie Alibrandi, Francesca Spinelli and especially Taylor Markham. Charlie Crombie was a little shit, but then again I thought Jonah Griggs was too – at first. I loved Layla and Jamal as fiercely as I loved Georgie and Sam from ‘Piper’s Son,’ as much as Trevanion and Beatriss from the ‘Lumatere Chronicles’ – because the good ones don’t come easy. I loved reading the family history of the LeBrac and Sarraf’s, as much as I adored when Froi once told the complicated history of his family to Arjuro, which he concluded by saying; “I'd live it again just to have crossed all of your paths.” But most of all I think I loved how ‘Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil’ can be seen as sitting alongside ‘The Piper's Son’ – examining a very different angle of a terror tragedy. And while it wasn’t the same London tragedy that took Joe away from them, part of me hopes the Mackee’s would be the sort to forgive and make peace with a family who ended up suffering just as much …
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
I loved the story – but more than anything I find myself excited by this debut Aussie author. I can’t wait to read what she comes out with next … and it suddenly occurred to me that the last time I felt this kind of assurance about a writer was back in 2011, after I read a little contemp office-romance book called ‘Attachments’ by Rainbow Rowell … Uh-huh. A big call, but I’m making it! Keep an eye on this Sally Thorne; she’s got a big career ahead of her.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen
“Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening” – a quote at the start of the book. Read this one paired with The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon and see what it does to your empathy and how it’ll grow your heart. More essential reading – and I’m not at all surprised such a high calibre story with such big emotions is for young readers … they’ve always seemed to understand this stuff better than adults, nowadays especially.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
She’s the queen of middle-grade, and this book is why. Quirky and kind, this one raises for the bar for MG the world over – and that’s nothing but good news for writers and readers alike. There’s a mastery here, to be sure.
Idol & Managed – VIP Books 1 & 2 by Kristen Callihan
If you’d asked me a couple months ago if I thought the world needed another Rock Band Romance (when we already have so many stellar ones, my ‘favourites’ list is kinda set) I would have said noooo … then along comes one of my all-time favourite romance authors with this, the VIP series and it knocks my socks off and has me craving more, more, more!
Magic Binds: Kate Daniels #9 by Ilona Andrews
I adored ‘Magic Binds’ – and while I’m going to be sad when this series is over (…while also forever hopeful of a Julie/Derek spin-off! PLEASE - FOR. THE. LOVE. OF. GOD!) I am also ridiculously excited to read the end now – so close, I can practically taste it.
The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos
The daughter of a popular crime-writer sets off on an adventure to find him when he disappears one day … this teen character is so sharp, the writing like a razor-blade and the story so cutting – it will tear you apart, and you’ll thank Podos for it.
Do You Want to Start a Scandal – Castles Ever After 4, Spindle Cove 5 – crossover book by Tessa Dare
I am so obsessed with Dare’s historical romance Spindle Cove series – and this instalment is a smart, sexy crossover that proves why she’s one of the many deserving the queen of the genre.
Fire Touched: Mercy Thompson #9 By Patricia Briggs
There’s a sense of stability to Mercy’s life now, which begs for maybe a little shake-up in the family department … maybe in the sense of expanding Mercy and Adam’s family? I don’t know. I just loved that ‘Fire Touched’ felt like the end of a storyline I was ready to see the back of, and a stabilising of Mercy’s family and pack life has me excited to see what the next stage in this series will be.
The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
What I loved about ‘The Smell of Other People's Houses’ was that these stories were not presented as unique or exotic for their Alaskan setting. This is just life, for these teens. This is their world, and it’s much like teen stories the world over – there are have’s and have not’s, teens falling in love and having sex (not necessarily in that order), there’s school and work and family dramas, parties and friendships forged in the fires of hardship. Wild and untamed as the setting might be, what’s wonderful about Hitchcock’s book is the realization that we actually have more in common than not with these Alaskan teens than you’d first think.
The Love of a Bad Man: short stories by Laura Elizabeth Woollett
I have been dying to read this book, ever since I met Laura Elizabeth Woollett at the launch of ‘Betanarratives’, where we both had short stories in the ‘Body Language’ edition. Laura gave me a very brief run-down of her short story collection that was coming out with Scribe, describing it very succinctly as; "lovers, wives, or mistresses of various 'bad' men in history,” and I was so on-board. I’d been keeping my eyes and ears peeled ever since, and now that I’ve read the collection I’m not the least bit surprised that this tantalising theme completely holds-up under the weight of Woollett’s considerable talent.
by Paul Griffin
‘A boy’s chance encounter with a scruffy dog leads to an unforgettable friendship in this deeply moving story about life, loss and the meaning of family.’ This middle grade book is freakin’ adorable and heartbreaking, uplifting and uproarious!
Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina
I saw this book on a lot of American ‘Best Of 2016’ lists, so I just had to read it … and now I can see why it’s universally applauded. ‘A Cuban-American girl comes of age in Flushing, Queens, in 1977, against the backdrop of the Son of Sam murder spree.’ This is fascinating and subtle; and for all that’s going on in the background there’s something powerful and moving about protagonist Nora López being the true centre of this story, being shaped by these events, but trying to not be defined by them…
A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
Big call, but I’m making it: I think Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles will be my replacement series once Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels comes to an end … yep, it’s that good. Trust me.
Forbidden: Old West #1 by Beverly Jenkins
This was my first ever Beverly Jenkins read, and now I’m hooked. I read great things about this one from both Kirkus and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – and they were both 100% correct. As Kirkus summarised; ‘A biracial saloon owner hides his heritage after the Civil War but can’t bring himself to marry a spoiled white woman instead of the strong African-American woman who’s taken his fancy.’ … it’s actually even better than it sounds, if such a thing is even possible.
Night Shift: Midnight, Texas #3 by Charlaine Harris
‘Night Shift’ is Charlaine Harris at her tangled, paranormal-noir best – with beloved witch Fiji as the emotional centre of this instalment, plus a good subplot about Olivia and Lemuel and enough kernels of complication to leave fans hoping for more instalments … ‘Night Shift’ is the high of this series so far, and I want more.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One & Two The Official Script Book of the Original West End Production By J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
I know all the reasons why this book shouldn’t be on my favourites list – and I agree with all of them. There’s a case for serious Queerbaiting, it totally undoes a lot of the universe’s internal logic, and because as Marama Whyte brilliantly put it: “Restricting Cursed Child to the stage — a medium limited by both geography and money — has transformed Harry’s story from one of inclusion into one of elitist exclusivity. We’re not all camped out under the stairs with him; some of us are now out in the cold.” I agree with all. And I 100% agree that in all other things, I’m at the same crossroads as majority other HP fans when it comes to the continuing story … but I’m including Cursed Child on my favourite’s list because I cannot deny I had a damn good time reading it. It was fun for me – even as problems crept in and became apparent upon reflection.
Marked in Flesh: The Others #4 by Anne Bishop
In just a few short years, Anne Bishop has become one of my favourite authors, and this series has become a stand-out in my reading life. With each new instalment she gets better and better, and I cannot recommend her highly enough.
Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
This book hurts, but it’s what I call a ‘necessary read’ – for I feel better for having known Charlie Davis, and reading Kathleen Glasgow for the first (but surely not the last) time. This one is a favourite of the year, for me.