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Friday, December 21, 2018

Favourite Books of 2018


Hello Darling Readers,

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – the end of it!

I was quite slack in 2018, with my review-writing. But I make no apologies. This was a big year, and a tough one in so many ways. A lot of my reading (and favourite reads in particular) reflect that. They got me through it – either by being a temporary balm from reality, or a raging chorus to resist it.

So here they are, in no particular order. The books, authors and illustrators I owe a great deal of ‘thanks’ to, for giving me reprieve and resistance to the often-chaotic horror of 2018.

Stay safe everyone, keep fighting – I’ll see you on the other side and ready for anything in 2019.

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·      Hello Stranger The Ravenels #4 by Lisa Kleypas: I skipped the first two books in ‘The Ravenels’ series, and tapped in with book 3 ‘Devil in Spring’ because of ‘Wallflowers’ crossover. And boy am I glad that I eventually got on this bandwagon because I am LOVING the series!

·      Wicked and the Wallflower The Bareknuckle Bastards #1 by Sarah MacLean: I described this as ‘upstairs/downstairs’ romance about a bootlegger and a proper lady who cross paths in Whitechapel and begin one of the best new historical-romance series of 2018. I can’t wait for more!

·      Burn Bright Alpha & Omega #5 by Patricia Briggs: after going a little cool on Brigg’s last few books in ‘Mercy Thompson’ and spin-off series, it was a relief to tap back in with this book that in many ways goes back to the urban fantasy mystery whodunit basics – as Anna and Charles hunt for whoever is stalking the pack’s wildling wolves in the Montana mountains. A solid paranormal and mystery offering!

·      Blakwork by Alison Whittaker: confession is that I don’t actually read much poetry, but I love Whittaker’s stuff. Both this new book from her, and her debut Lemons in the Chicken Wire are phenomenal. Blakwork is perhaps more lucid in themes and story, a bit like a stream of anger (rather than consciousness) reading it in 2018 was a necessity.

·      Normal People by Sally Rooney: So – look – I felt a little pressured into reading this because it seems to be the stand-out and knockout book of 2018. And while I went in sceptical, I actually found myself really enjoying this (surprisingly readable!) novel … but I also need to confess to not quite understanding ALL the fuss. It’s good. Is it magnificent? – I wouldn’t think so. But I do believe that readers who don’t often bother with reading youth literature and therefore narratives that feature young people navigating the complexities of their lives – will wrongly believe that Rooney is revelatory in exploring such themes … she’s a fine writer, to be sure. This was an enjoyable book. I don’t think it was groundbreaking though.

·      Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, and Annie Barrows is one of my favourite books which is why I picked this one up by AJ Pearce and also loved it! There’s a little romance in here, a lot of comedy, and overall a really gorgeous friendship between women who get on during the wartime and find their voice amidst the London rubble.

·      How Do You Like Me Now? By Holly Bourne: this was my first Bourne novel and after reading it, I went out and pretty much bought her entire YA backlist. That’s how good this adult offering from her was.

·      An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris: first book in this new Western Paranormal series ‘Gunnie Rose’ by one of my all-time faves. This book is both so hard to describe (Russia! Gun-runners! Wild West! Altered US timeline!) all I can suggest is you dive right in and give yourself over to it…

·      The Witch Who Courted Death by Maria Lewis: one of the best urban fantasy writers this side of the equator, if you’re unfamiliar with Maria Lewis I’d highly recommend jumping in with this book (Witches! Kissing! Magic!)

·      Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty: Look, it’s Liane and I love Liane Moriarty. This book from her was a SUPERB offering of irony, satire and an examination of the ‘health and wellness’ toxic culture amid suburban, middle-class rot … and it was funny!

·      Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews: Finale in the ‘Kate Daniels’ serises, so I won’t say anything except … I am willing to be patient for a Julie-focused story next.

·      To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Fred Fordham (Adapter/Illustrator), Harper Lee: when this was first announced I had the reaction of “weird, but I’ll give it a go.” Well I gave it a go and LOVE this graphic novel so, so much! Fred Fordham has done a remarkable job of boiling down the essentials of this beloved and heartbreaking story, and elevating them with illustration.

·      The Peacock Detectives by Carly Nugent: I want exactly 100% more of this type of clever and compelling middle-grade in the Australian marketplace, thanks!

·      Black Cockatoo by Carl Merrison, Hakea Hustler: This is a 62-page vignette that I think was so evocative and brilliantly lean. I think this would be a great addition in any primary-school classroom for grades 5 & 6!

·      Everything I've Never Said by Samantha Wheeler: if you or a young person in your life absolutely adored the 2010 novel Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper then Samantha Wheeler’s is the book for you!

·      Limelight by Solli Raphael: How are we not talking more about this young powerhouse of a slam-poet?! He’s a Kate Tempest in the making and this book is essential reading.

·      The Orchard Underground by Mat Larkin: along with The Peacock Detectives – these books are further proof that Aussie Middle-Grade is growing and thriving to an exceptional degree.

·      The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo: a most deserving winner in the US of the National Book Award, and look out for the Printz Award I am sure is coming. This book really is exceptional. A once-in-a-lifetime YA offering. The way people talk about Sally Rooney’s Normal People is actually how they should be lauding Acevedo and this book because it’s a reckoning. “The world is almost peaceful when you stop trying to understand it.”

·      I Am Out With Lanterns by Emily Gale: Considering that this is a loose sequel to her 2016 book 'The Other Side of Summer' (which I also thought was bloody wonderful) it's pretty spectacular that Emily manages to raise the bar yet again with her eloquence and understanding of young people navigating grief, friendship, heartache, and adventure.

·      White Night by Ellie Marney: unsurprising because Ellie is one of my favourite authors. ‘White Night’ is a twisty, heated, and beautifully complicated YA contemporary offering … read it!

·      Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson: I get emotional when I think or talk about this book. It’s one of the most heartbreakingly perfect responses to the current American political and societal climate, and a tragically tender glimpse into the ways that young people will be dealing with the ramifications and wounds for years to come …

·      Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough: Have you seen the movie ‘The Hairy Bird’? If not – go watch it immediately. And read this book too. You’re welcome.

·      The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller: a young girl tries to make sense of her scientist mother’s sudden plunge into depression. Funny, eloquent, smart and true.

·      Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll (Illustrations): What a year for the graphic novel edition of the groundbreaking 1999 novel by Anderson to come out. A truly remarkable and cutting rendering.

·      Boys Will Be Boys: An exploration of power, patriarchy and the toxic bonds of mateship by Clementine Ford: Essential reading. Should really be handed out at birth.

·      The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper: this is a master class in true crime from Hooper, who previously floored me with ‘The Tall Man’. I could not put ‘The Arsonist’ down, I was utterly entranced and found it one of the most disturbing, harmonising and thoughtful reads of my year.

·      Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump by Dan Pfeiffer: this was ‘The West Wing’ meets ‘Pod Save America’. If one of both of those things are your bag, then you’ll adore this as much as I did.

·      I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara: This book nearly broke me. Both because it haunted and scared the crap out of me, and for the story of McNamara – who died before it was finished, but this book and her dogged determination in the case radically helped lead to Joseph James DeAngelo’s arrest this year. It’s all too much – this story, the story behind the story, the tragedies upon tragedies … but all that remains is this amazing example of authorship and deft storytelling and investigating. Truly remarkable.

·      Eggshell Skull: A memoir about standing up, speaking out and fighting back by Bri Lee: some books feels like products of their time, and that’s certainly ‘Eggshell Skull’ for the many ways that 2018 hurt and healed. This book is so multifaceted and important, I adored it.

·      Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of theWorld by Michelle Scott Tucker: historical biographies are SO not my thing normally, but Michelle Scott Tucker’s writing is so compelling and this story is so unbelievable and addictive … I stayed up well into the night with this one, and I have already re-read it once this year. I hold it now as an absolute favourite book of mine, of all time. Thank you, Michelle.

·      You Daughters of Freedom: The Australians Who Won the Vote and Inspired the World by Clare Wright: This book is a revelation. A marvel. The weight (both literal and in messaging) is sublime.

·      Becoming by Michelle Obama: imagine my shock when a book I bought to piss of Trump (his sold 1.1 million copies in 32 years, ‘Becoming’ had sold 1.4 million in ONE WEEK!) but lo and behold it’s actually an incredible memoir, beautifully written and a rousing call for working women the world over.

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·      Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction by Gabrielle Moss: Rest-assured, I will do a lengthier review of this, but for now let me say … this was my catnip. An examination of the impact that (American) young adult literature had on teenagers the world over, and on societies that so often discount the things that matter the most, and shape teenage girls. Amazing.