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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Favourite Books of 2017

Hello Darling Readers,

It’s that time of year again – looking back on the books that accompanied me on the journey this year. And, truth be told, 2017 has been a rollercoaster. A real doozy.

Donald Trump and all that that entails has been ludicrous and dangerous, mostly. #MeToo probably best encapsulates the lowest-lows and triumphant (fight-back) highs of the year. Australia is still spitting all over the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and we spent millions of dollars deciding people’s worth by straw-poll … we won, but at what cost?

Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology’ released this year, and it has been my honour to go round talking about this book and the supportive movement behind it. The cherry on top has undoubtedly been when the Anthology was voted for in the ABC Book Club’s finale episode as a reader-favourite, landing at No. 3 on the ‘Five of the Best’ list! I cannot even begin to thank you all enough for the #LoveOzYA love you’ve shown us!

And, personally, I became an Auntie this year! He’s only been here for a few weeks, but already I’m thinking of the bigger picture – and how I’m so lucky to be working as a literary agent now, and someone who will have a little bit of a say in the books Harrison and his generation will be reading. Maybe. Hopefully. And how I really don’t want to disappoint them, and I want to ensure they all have a book to recognise themselves in.

Below are some of the books that I certainly saw myself in this year – and appreciated having in my life. But it has been a tough one, and honestly – some days or weeks I didn’t feel like delving into a book, or working on a review. Sometimes it was just too hard, with all that was going on. And I gave myself permission to have recreational-reading ruts (because of course, the other part of this is I’m now reading a lot more in my working life).

I also eased up on myself for not reading ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING that was new and fresh from *this* year. And I’m glad. Because I got to (finally) discover for myself, the wonders of Toni Jordan – and I absolutely inhaled her backlist. Ditto the sheer delight of Georgette Heyer. And I found a new middle grade favourite in 2008 book 'My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park' by Steve Kluger. Part of this was also remembering that I love my local library, and the solace it brings – the books it gifts me.  

I also pushed my reading boundaries this year – by reading some non-fiction (which I *never* normally do!) and absolutely falling in fascinated love with three of them. I’m also slowly getting into audiobooks (that aren’t just re-reads of my old favourites) and I found a whole new level of enjoyment, to memoir in particular.

So – yes – overall maybe I didn’t read quite as many books this year (manuscripts are a whole other story) but I gravitated, I think as we all do, to the ones I needed to read this year, to help me on my way. And I thank them for finding me.

… of course – part of my finding them was thanks to bookshops. Whether they were my steadfast locals (hello Farrells, Robinsons & Readings!) or the ones I stumbled across (like the *incredible* international bookshop at Denpasar airport!) – I am forever thinking of this quote from Adam Gopnik, in an essay of his, titled; ‘When a Bookstore Closes, an Argument Ends.’

At a minor level, once a bookstore is gone we lose the particular opportunities for adjacency it offers, determined by something other than an algorithm. It is rarely the book you came to seek, but the book next to that book, which changes your mind and heart.

So without further ado – here is a brief list of the books next to that book, which ended up being good friends to me in 2017.



'The Good Daughter' by Karin Slaughter

Slaughter is my favourite crime-writer, and this latest stand-alone from her may even be pretty high up on my list of All Time Favourite Crime Novels. A heart-hurting slice of Georgia dark, from a crime-writer who has managed to pivot into family drama with such fine characterisations, that I find myself in awe of an author I already considered a favourite. I will only say that I’d have liked more courtroom drama – but I’ll quietly hope we get more, should this book prove to be the first in a series …

'Beautiful Messy Love' by Tess Woods

I absolutely adored this book, and gobbled it up in two days. I was actually surprised that I connected so viscerally with both couples and their stories – especially because one romance, between med-student Lily and the very tricky coupling with a grieving ex-husband Toby, sounds absolutely shocking in theory … but on the page, Woods teased this couple out with so much heat and sensuality, it was hard not to fall for them and root for them, even as all their biggest problems and obstacles were still painfully obvious. It’s romance that packs a punch, tender and thoughtful with a fantastic hot-streak. Tess Woods has now leapt to my auto-buy list, and I cannot wait to read more from her!

Devil in Spring’ The Ravenels #3 by Lisa Kleypas

Pandora is most definitely a throwback to Kleypas’s archetype ‘Wallflowers’ heroines – the shy but brilliant young lady with quirks and secrets. Her background is both tragic and admirable, and it’s easy to see why Gabriel is fascinated enough to warrant getting to know her better, only to fall in love with her … And Gabriel takes after his father as one of Kleypas’s better rakes. He’s thoughtful and kind, secretly feeling the pressure of his family and title and in need of someone like Pandora to keep him on his toes. It does feel really, really good to be back in the reading groove with Kleypas, who is one of those authors I come to rely on for a once-a-year release and guaranteed good read. And ‘Devil in Spring’ was a good way to get back in the groove.

‘Trust’ by Kylie Scott

Sexy and smart, very gritty and ... did I mention, sexy? It explores trauma, body-positivity, social classes ... and the central romance is strong and complex. Kylie Scott described it as: 'The Duff' meets 'Die Hard.' Sort of. Less Nakatomi Plaza and more mini-mart. I LOVED it!

‘Breath of Fire’ (Kingmaker Chronicles, #2) by Amanda Bouchet

I have been meaning to get my thoughts down about this series (first book was 2016’s ‘A Promise of Fire’) but then I just end up delving into the books, having a rollicking good time, and being unable to come up with anything except OMG I LOVE IT! I have been recommending these books to friends though, and will continue to do so. It’s fantasy-paranormal and very romance-heavy and just flat-out brilliant. Seriously – this series if up there with Patricia Briggs’ ‘Mercy Thompson’ and Ilona Andrews’ ‘Kate Daniels’ for me.

‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders

This was so very deserving of the Man Booker win. Totally. I already loved George Saunders, but this book almost made me fear him  … so sharply brilliant and intimidating is this book; it honestly felt like a turning-point in modern literature to read this masterpiece.

‘Fence’ #1 by C.S. Pacat, illustrated by Johanna the Mad

It’s the first instalment in a young adult comic-book series by Australian author Pacat, about the competitive world of high school fencing and featuring an M/M romance. This could have almost been too decadently good to be properly enjoyed, but honestly – it’s downright fabulous and fun. I cannot wait for more!

‘The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue’ by Mackenzi Lee

As I read this book, I swear, all I could hear was the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's 'Marie Antoinette' movie - in particular, New Order's 'Age of Consent' song. Something about this book just had that cavorting, saucy & sumptuous feel to it ... This is 100%, hands-down a favourite YA book of 2017 and a new favourite in general for me. It was SUPERB. Brilliant romance, mystery, genuinely *fun* historical fiction that managed to feel thoroughly modern and subversive even as it's so deeply immersed in the historic period. Must, must, must-read. I cannot wait for ‘The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ coming in 2018.

‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman

Very rarely does the adult-literary hype machine work on me, and compel me to go out and buy a buzzed-about book to read … but in the case of Honeyman’s debut, I’m glad I succumbed. It’s intricate and warm, there’s a little romance and a lot of heart and it’s an all-round FEEL GOOD, thoughtful read.

‘Tash Hearts Tolstoy’ by Kathryn Ormsbee

First of all – I adore this cover. I know lots of people *hated* it with a fiery passion, but it honestly made me laugh AND – sit up and take notice. And I’m glad I judged by that cover, because this one packed a wallop. Mental health, LGBT rep, cancer … there were so many ways that Ormsbee could have potentially overdone it with this book – but she wrote something so tender and true, honest and funny. It was honestly just a fantastic coming-of-age read for me.

‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas

I loved getting my heart broken/mind opened by this book. All the praise it received this year was entirely earned, and cannot be underplayed - this really is one of the "Must Read Books of 2017" ... heck, it might even be one of the most important YA books of this decade. And it was my great honour to participate in a Melbourne Writers Festival event with Angie Thomas this year, and discover she’s as kind in person and so utterly deserving all the success.

This is my favourite book of 2017, I’ve decided. Hands down. ‘The Radium Girls’ was an important book for me to read – a story I am so grateful to now know about. But it is not a story that ends in 1938 (and not just because to this day the women’s bodies are projecting radioactivity from their graves). Rather – it’s a testimony to ongoing battles; to hold big businesses accountable (not give them bigger tax-breaks) and to never put profit before people. The legacy of these women is one of speaking truth to power. Which they did – with their dying breaths.

‘No Way! Okay, Fine.’ by Brodie Lancaster

This was a cathartic, compulsive and capricious read - I was laughing one minute, then welling up the next. It's a love-letter to pop-culture, a thrilling ode to the "little things" that matter, and the stories that raise us. And a smartly observant look at how the osmosis of story and consumption creates our communities. I loved it. Utterly, thoroughly LOVED it!

‘No Limits’ by Ellie Marney

This is modern Australia for so many growing up on the periphery right now, picked apart with exquisite and smart insight from one of Australia's best crime and YA writers. A novel of bruising empathy and excitable romance - with so much potential for a subversive new crime series, I'm practically salivating just thinking of the possibilities.

‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ by Maurene Goo

A young adult romance with a focus on the young protagonist’s obsession with Korean “K” dramas, and a storyline that becomes just as outlandish as those she relishes watching? Yes. Yes please.

‘The Woman Who Fooled The World’ is an attempt by the two journalists who first broke the story to wade through all the horseshit – and what they’ve come up with is a deeply fascinating and infuriating examination of not just one woman’s deception, but a confluence of users and abusers who have a lot to answer for. They examine rising social media alongside misinformation and – yes – “fake news”. They dig deep but still find little information on the woman herself, who remains a bit of an enigma for the journalists throughout … what saves the book from being a frustrating half-take though, is their spreading the blame (/horseshit) around and laying it at the feet of an industry that has conflated “health” and “beauty”, the rise of Insta-celebrities as snake oil salesmen, and profit over common sense. They also lay a hefty load of blame at their own door – on a new landscape of journalism that’s more interested in getting clicks than checking facts, and being first instead of being right.

I will warn that this is a powerful read. If you’re like me and this all hits very close to home, it’ll definitely make you cry. But, look – the final chapter is called ‘The Kids Are All Right’. Because they are, and will be. Because no matter the outcome of this marriage equality survey, or the hate-filled propaganda of those who fear change … it’s already here – in the young queer kids Benjamin Law speaks to, and the communities who are supporting and striving to understand them, instill respect for them.

'How Not To Be A Boy' by Robert Webb

I learnt a lot about Webb that I didn’t know, but has actually given new dimension to his writing and comedy for me – and actually, the creative process generally. Extraordinary to know the heartache and bullshit he went through, to be the kind of man he is today – who can confidently say that society’s male constructs are codswallop.

‘Hamilton's Battalion: A Trio of Romances’ by Courtney Milan Author, Alyssa Cole, and Rose Lerner

This has been a year in which I read some really, truly bad Hamilton-inspired novels (*cough* Alex & Eliza *cough*) but ‘Hamilton's Battalion’ made up for all the bad by being really, ridiculously good. Hamilton and Co. don’t really appear except as guest-stars, because it’s very much more about “love in the time of Hamilton” – but if the musical got you interested in the American Revolutionary War as a setting and time-period, then THIS is the romance book for you.

‘Seven Stones to Stand or Fall’ by Diana Gabaldon
I love that the ‘Outlander’ TV show is going from strength to strength, and I am waiting OH SO PATIENTLY for No. 9 ‘Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone’ – but in the meantime, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of ‘Outlander’ short-stories. Some have appeared in other Anthology publications, but my favorite was one written specifically for this collection. “A Fugitive Green” is all about how Harold Grey (Lord John’s elder brother) came to meet his wife, Minnie – and it is SO. HOT. and sad and lovely and just this story alone, made the entire book worthwhile for me.

‘The Harper Effect’ by Taryn Bashford

This is the #LoveOzYA debut from Bashford, and I was so looking forward to reading a YA! Tennis! Romance! … I am so glad it 1000% fulfilled all my expectations. I have always thought the world of competitive tennis is a great one to set a YA series (and I did enjoy one from 2013, by Jennifer Iacopelli), but Bashford’s takes it to a whole other level. It’s a little bit 2004 movie ‘Wimbledon’ meets the writing sensibilities of Liz Tigelaar.

'Ballad for a Mad Girl' by Vikki Wakefield

Vikki Wakefield is one of the most creative and daring authors writing for young adults today. Ballad for a Mad Girl is an Aussie YA Gothic tale that smartly uses the supernatural to explore the depths of grief and growing up, and the pain to be found in both. This is a caring and keening novel, creepy but tender and wholly marvellous.

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