Top Holiday Reads

I’ve had some friends ask me for book recommendations for the holidays, so here are my top summer reads.


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The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krassnostein

A true story I can’t stop thinking about.  I noticed that Imprints and Matilda Books’ booksellers rated this among their best books of 2017.  It’s beautifully written and unlike anything else you’ll read.  Extraordinary.

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Mythos by Stephen Fry

I’m currently listening to and loving this as an audiobook, narrated by Stephen Fry. I always regretted not studying Greek mythology at school (especially now that I’ve married a Greek!) but now I’m glad I didn’t.  There is no more fun way to learn these stories: this book – especially read aloud in Stephen Fry’s inimitable way – is a joy.  Highly recommended and apart from the odd fruity bit, suitable for all the family (from around age 11 or 12).

Crime (always good for beach reading!)

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Still Life, Chief Inspector Gamache series (book 1) by Louise Penny

Cosy crime set in Quebec.  I love her diverse characters and the comfort factor.  Dead Cold is also great and I’m keen to read more from the series.

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Force of Nature (Aaron Falk book 2) by Jane Harper

Rural Australian crime, apparently even better than The Dry, which I enjoyed and has been taking the UK by storm recently.

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An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

More (literary) rural Australian crime, shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award and Stella prize 2017.  I highly recommend this for its en pointe writing and feminist sensibility.

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The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

A good page-turner a la Agatha Christie meets The Girl on the Train, this is being adapted for film and would be a perfect beach read.  I loved Ruth Ware’s first book, In a Dark Dark Wood, and The Woman in Cabin Ten is also on my TBR.

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The Liar (Eddie Flynn, book 3) by Steve Cavanagh

This is on my wish-list, after I read and loved The Defence and The Plea.  Intelligent, pacy legal thrillers set in New York, by Irish author Steve Cavanagh.  I discovered him after listening to his podcast with Luca Veste, Two Crime Writers and a Microphone (very funny, I recommend).

Buzzy Books

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Might be my book of the year.  I absolutely loved it.  So worthy of its Booker prize win.  I heard Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales say on Chat 10 Looks 3 that they could not get into this, so if you struggle I highly recommend his short story collection Tenth of December.   I just finished it and was blown away. The man is a genius (but an approachable, funny, warm and engaging one).

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celese Ng

I found this a bit contrived but it’s interesting and discussion worthy, and is being adapted for screen by Reese Witherspoon.

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Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

A re-telling of Antigone set in contemporary London.  Very current, well-written and with Muslim characters and point of view, I don’t think there are enough books like this.  Kamila Shamsie is also an excellent speaker and is coming to Adelaide Writers’ Week in March.

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Tin Man by Sarah Winman

This has been generating much buzz in the UK.  I found it sentimental at first but I was quickly drawn in.  Heart-breaking.  Sarah Winman is coming to Adelaide Writers’ Week too (as are Sarah Krassnostein and Louise Penny – it will be a big week).

What have you packed in your suitcase?

I’ve just been given Autumn by Ali Smith (much anticipated, and overdue as her next one Winter is out now) and Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne, set on the Greek island of Hydra.  Both are definitely coming with me to the beach!



10 New(ish) Australian Books

Award winners, future classics and some personal favourites are listed here in my top 10 new Australian books.  In alphabetical order:

1.  Common People by Tony Birch

I bought this recently, prompted by doing this blog post and realising I had no books by indigenous Australian authors.  This is a gap I need to redress, especially given one of the joys of reading is to gain a different perspective from my usual sheltered existence.  Tony Birch has won multiple awards and this short story collection has received rave reviews.  I shall report back once I’ve read it!

Two award-winning indigenous Australian authors (and an echidna)

2. The Strays by Emily Bitto

Inspired by the Heide artists, this perfectly evokes the time and place of 1930s Melbourne and captures their bohemian lives.  Lily and Eva’s friendship feels like those of our teens, when a friend’s house was a wondrous playground, as they experience the thrills and risks of growing up.  The dark side (lack of parenting) is explored too.  Thoughtfully written with well-crafted characters, this won the 2015 Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing.

3. First Person by Richard Flanagan:

This is a bit of a cheat as it’s not released until October 2017, but I predict a 5-star read.  I loved The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014 Man Booker prize winner), a thoughtful but unputdownable read with vivid prose and great humanity.  And his earlier novel Wanting, a story of Matthew Franklin (explorer and Tasmanian governor) and Charles Dickens, was a beautifully woven and original tale.

4. The Dry by Jane Harper

I really enjoyed this thriller. A smart protagonist and some realistic local characters, with a strong, well-paced story. Harper creates the atmosphere of a small Australian country town, both the sunburnt landscape and a community on edge. Some bleak aspects but it kept me guessing.

5. The Good People by Hannah Kent:

A widow in 1820s Ireland struggles with her deformed grandson. Doctors are beyond reach, the church no help so Nance offers to cure the boy with herbs & fairy rites.  As in Burial Rites, Kent brings to life women forgotten by history. The language is full of vigour & poetry, she evokes the way of life & land beautifully & the characters, with little to hold onto but their beliefs, feel real. Mary the maid has dignity & resilience, Nora is unflinching & Nance is firm in her wisdom but lives in poverty.  A little slow-paced for me, but thought-provoking and her prose is a treat.

6. An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Shortlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin award. Another rural Australian thriller, this is distinctive for putting the women front & centre: Chris, whose sister was murdered, & journalist May.  Maguire sustains the constant feeling of threat that men potentially pose to women, and the ambiguities & blurred lines in relationships. She also reflects on the sadness of women having to be on their guard, sometimes putting up defences against men who are trying to love them. None of the characters are simply good or bad though, and this attention to nuance is one of the strengths of the book. Chris is a memorable character and this is a strong, honest book.

A stack of books by Australian women.

7. Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison

A beautiful debut, intelligently written.  We follow Alice from her rural Australian youth to Oxford, then to old age.  Her bad marriage is hard to read but so sympathetically described and much is left unsaid.  Subtle and infused with music: Zoe Morrison is a pianist and her knowledge and love of music adds depth to the story.  Brava!

8. Taboo by Kim Scott

This is the latest by Kim Scott, twice a winner of the Miles Franklin award, and looks wonderful (the cover, for a start!).  The first page is strong and, like Common People, his voice has the ring of truth and authenticity.

9. The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton

Another 5 star prediction from one of my favourite authors and four-time Miles Franklin award winner.  I loved Cloudstreet, an epic family saga and modern Australian classic, and the distilled perfection of Breath.  Winton is a masterful writer and I highly recommend all of his books.

A trio of my favourite Tim Winton books.

10. The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

I will admit that this has been sitting in my shelf for two years now because I’m too scared to read it.  Winner of the Stella Prize and Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2016, it has been highly recommended as an important, thought-provoking read, and is described as ‘feminist horror’ story of women who are drugged and imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of nowhere. I promise to brave it and report back soon!

And that’s a list of ten, hopefully diverse, Australian books that we should all be reading this year.  Who are your favourite Australian authors?