I love putting together my Ultimate Holiday Reading Guide! But I've noticed that each year I seem to get a little meaner (I blame it on old age grumpiness!) In 2015 my reading guide consisted of all the books I gave four and five stars to throughout the year, last year I narrowed it down to only the five star reads and this year I’ve narrowed it down further to just my top ten books of the year!
The two things that excite me the most about this list:
I hope you enjoy my mini features of these wonderful novels and that you’re tempted to read one that you haven’t tried yet over the summer holidays.
Here’s to more terrific stories to delight and entertain us in 2018!
1. HOW TO STOP TIME – Matt Haig
I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.
Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret.
He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he's been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover - working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he'd never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him.
The only thing Tom mustn't do is fall in love.
How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.
WHAT I THOUGHT:
I was drawn to this novel for two reasons, firstly I fell in love with the stunning cover and then two of the book reviewers whose opinions I highly value, Theresa Smith and Melissa Sargent, raved about it. It ended up being not just my favourite book of the year but one of my favourite books of all time. Every sentence in this novel is perfection. I put it down at least half a dozen times to marvel over a phrase before continuing with the story. Haig has created nothing short of a masterpiece, crafted with so many layers, I almost don’t know what to rave about – the tragic and triumphant story line, the characters that crawl under your skin and stay there for weeks after you finish reading it, the statement it makes about man’s inability to learn from the past, the humour (oh the humour!), the romance that will tear your heart in two, the brilliantly drawn relationships between parents and their children, the surprise guests that drop in to make you smile. I hear it’s being made into a movie and I can hardly wait! Just read it. Read it! And then come and fangirl with me about it.
Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/How-Stop-Time-Matt-Haig-ebook/B01N9PVQE4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1510067226&sr=1-1&keywords=how+to+stop+time
2. THE SHAPE OF US – Lisa Ireland
Four different women. The same big problem. One magical solution?
Despite excelling at university, Mezz has ended up the second-choice doctor in a two-doctor town, and won't be winning Mother of the Year any time soon. Miserably overweight, she knows it's only a matter of time until her gorgeous husband starts to stray...
Jewels runs a successful business and lives in her dream house. All she needs to make life complete is a baby. She'll do anything to lose weight and become a mother... just as soon as the Tim Tams are finished.
Ellie's life looks perfect on Facebook. But unlike the sunny snapshots, her world in Canberra is dull: she left everything behind in London, and the woman she sacrificed her life for is hardly ever home. Her ever-increasing waistline is testimony to just how small Ellie's life has become.
Kat's baby is her world. As a Bosnian refugee, she wants nothing more than a stable, happy life for Ami, but Kat's relationship with Ami's dad is collapsing. If she could just lose the 'baby weight' maybe Josh would look at her the way he used to.
When Mezz, Jewels, Ellie and Kat meet in an online weight-loss forum, a common goal accelerates their friendship. As the kilos start to disappear but their problems don't, they begin to realise that weight-loss might not be the key to happiness, but that supporting and believing in the ones you love, and yourself, just might be ...
WHAT I THOUGHT:
You won't find another Australian novel that captures the relationships women have with one another, their partners, their families and their own bodies with such raw truth as The Shape of Us. Equal parts heart breaking and inspiring, the inward struggle behind the outward struggle to lose weight and the toll it takes is beautifully explored. Lisa Ireland's writing is sensitive, bold, smart and so very courageous and her characters are utterly believable - not only that but they are also totally relatable. I could see parts of myself in all of these women. The ties that bind females together are strong and complex and Ireland goes deep in exploring them. It's a confronting story for anyone who has ever stood on a scale and felt worse about themselves than they did before they hopped on but it's also a triumphant one of love and loss in its many forms. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. Hands down the most convincing story I've read in years - nothing has hit as close to home for me as The Shape of Us has for as long as I can remember. Huge congratulations on a magnificent novel.
Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/Shape-Us-Lisa-Ireland-ebook/B01N7QO40W/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1510066818&sr=1-1&keywords=the+shape+of+us
3. HATE IS SUCH A STRONG WORD – Sarah Ayoub
I hate being invisible.
I hate that I still can′t fight my own battles.
I hate that I can′t keep up with the demands of high school.
Sophie Kazzi is in Year 12 at an all-Lebanese, all-Catholic school where she is invisible, uncool and bored out of her brain. While she′s grown up surrounded by Lebanese friends, Lebanese neighbours and Lebanese shops, she knows there′s more to life than Samboosik and Baklawa, and she desperately wants to find it.
Unfortunately, her father has antiquated ideas about women, curfews and the Lebanese ′way′. Bad news for Sophie, who was hoping to spend Year 12 fitting in and having fun - not babysitting her four younger siblings, or studying for final exams that will land her in an Accounting course she has no interest in.
Just when it looks like Sophie′s year couldn′t get any more complicated, Shehadie Goldsmith arrives at school. With an Australian father and a Lebanese mother, he′s even more of a misfit than Sophie. And with his arrogant, questioning attitude, he also has a way of getting under her skin...
But when simmering cultural tensions erupt in violence, Sophie must make a choice that will threaten her family, friends and the cultural ties that have protected her all her life.
Are her hates and complaints worth it? Or will she let go ... and somehow find her place?
WHAT I THOUGHT:
I devoured this book in a single sitting - no toilet breaks! As a Middle-Eastern Christian girl growing up in Australia to immigrant parents, this story was achingly familiar to me. Sarah Ayoub perfectly captures the agony and ecstasy of growing up Arab-Australian. From the mouth-watering Mediterranean food, and the large warm loud know-it-all Arab community, to the sexism and injustice of having different rules to male siblings "because you're a daughter", from the angst of falling in love to the pain of being stifled by parents as you make the leap from adolescence to adulthood, Hate Is Such A Strong Word hits the right note with all of it. Told with warmth, empathy, wisdom, passion and lots and lots of humour, this is without doubt one of the most engaging, entertaining and poignant YA novels I've ever read. I've now ordered the print version and can't wait to share it with my teenage daughter to give her a deeper understanding of what life as a seventeen-year-old was like her mum! Bravo Sarah Ayoub, bravo!
Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/Hate-Such-Strong-Sarah-Ayoub-ebook/B00CLJE91Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1510066674&sr=1-1&keywords=hate+is+such+a+strong+word
4. THE GOLDEN CHILD – Wendy James
Blogger Lizzy's life is buzzing, happy, normal. Two gorgeous children, a handsome husband, destiny under control. For her real-life alter-ego Beth, things are unravelling. Tensions are simmering with her husband, mother-in-law and even her own mother. Her teenage daughters, once the objects of her existence, have moved beyond her grasp and one of them has shown signs of, well, thoughtlessness ...
Then a classmate of one daughter is callously bullied and the finger of blame is pointed at Beth's clever, beautiful child. Shattered, shamed and frightened, two families must negotiate worlds of cruelty they are totally ill-equipped for.
This is a novel that grapples with modern-day spectres of selfies, selfishness and cyberbullying. It plays with our fears of parenting, social media and Queen Bees, and it asks the question: just how well do you know your child?
WHAT I THOUGHT:
Whip-smart, intriguing, shocking, addictive - this book made me wish I could ignore whatever work I had to do and just sit and read it from cover to cover. Wendy James' writing is superb, the characters are both detestable and vulnerable and incredibly well drawn and her social observations are spot on. The Golden Child blog posts were a brilliant concept and each one chilled me to the bone. A truly wonderful novel.
Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/Golden-Child-sweetness-danger-bullying-ebook/B01M7SHOP9/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1510066515&sr=1-1&keywords=the+golden+child+wendy
5. PAPER CHAINS – Nicola Moriarty
A heart-warming story of love, friendship and forgiveness - and the crazy twists of fate that shape our lives…
Hannah and India are new best friends. Although true friendship means always telling each other the truth, doesn’t it…?
Hannah, you see, is running from her life back in Sydney. Now in London, she’s trying to put the past behind her, and finding this amazing new friend is a positive step forward. If only she could stop punishing herself for what she did.
India knows Hannah is hiding something big, and she’s determined to figure it out. Fast.
Because India has a secret of her own… One that is currently sealed in a love letter that’s making its journey across Europe in the most unconventional way.
Before it reaches its destination, can India help Hannah learn to forgive herself? And will Hannah wake up and realise that India needs rescuing too …?
WHAT I THOUGHT:
Heartbreaking, uplifting, romantic, wise, achingly raw and utterly relatable, Paper Chains is one of the BEST books I have EVER read. Nicola Moriarty has a way of deceptively drawing you in, letting you think all is well and then pushing your heart through a meat grinder!
The novel I thought I was about to read was in no way the novel I ended up reading. It was far deeper and far more confronting than the light hearted cover or opening chapters let on.
The characters of Hannah and India and the respective men in their lives are incredibly well drawn and they will force you to care about them from the opening pages. The secrets they keep will break your heart and the beautiful ways that so many intricate layers of their lives are connected to each other will blow your mind. This is a clever, brave and beautiful book. Grab the man size tissues though, you're going to need them. Forget LOL this a COL (cry out loud) novel.
I simply adored it and can't recommend it highly enough!
Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/Paper-Chains-Nicola-Moriarty-ebook/B009OWNPSE/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1510066328&sr=1-1&keywords=paper+chains
6. THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT – Mae Wood
Life can change in a flash.
Marriage and a baby wasn’t Amy Forsythe’s college plan. After a shotgun marriage glued together by her son, she’s convinced that love isn’t meant for her. Now nearing forty and single for the first time since her senior prom, her friends are pushing her to date. Her teenager isn’t thrilled by the idea and neither is Amy.
Silver fox Thomas Popov isn’t looking for The One. He found her decades ago. And fell apart when she died. At fifty-three with a new job, a new city, and an empty nest, he’s focused on climbing the corporate ladder.
When a softball accident lands Thomas in Amy’s dental chair, sparks fly.
Lightning doesn’t strike twice. But love might.
This time is different.
WHAT I THOUGHT:
Mae Wood is my go-to author when I want a light read that’s guaranteed to make me happy. Nobody does sweet, sexy and smart with the aplomb that she does! My reading time is limited to a few pages before bed every night, my reading pile is a mile long, but somehow I have managed to read four Mae Wood books in the last two years and she’s the only author who I have read that much of, which speaks volumes about how much I love her writing. Wood’s books are the ultimate beach holiday reads and the best books to make you smile if you’ve just read something heavy or if life itself is heavy. This Time is Different is hands down my favourite book of hers, it’s warm and uplifting and fun and sweet and has a good dose of boom-chicka-boom! Read it and smile.
Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/This-Time-Different-Mae-Wood-ebook/B0768QCVBT/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1510065705&sr=1-1&keywords=mae+wood
7. THE FIRST YEAR – Genevieve Gannon
The first year of marriage is hard no matter what. Throw in jealous exes, high-pressure careers and two wildly different families, and the degree of difficulty goes up a few more notches. Determined to beat the odds, one couple comes up with a plan to keep their romance alive - but life has other ideas.
Saskia is an up-and-coming jewellery designer, waiting tables at a trendy cafe to keep her fledgling company afloat. Andrew is a corporate lawyer who wants to be known for more than his family's money. They're passionate about their work and each other, but with Andy's job in jeopardy and Saskia's jewellery label taking off, the pressure is taking its toll.
As life pulls them in different directions, the two of them are forced to decide: Just how important is their marriage? And how hard are they willing to work to protect it?
WHAT I THOUGHT:
Genevieve Gannon keeps getting better and better. The First Year is a fly-on-the-wall examination of a young Melbourne couple as they navigate their first 365 days as husband and wife. The writing is wise, witty and warm, the observations sharp and humorous and it offers plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as well as plenty of food for thought. What makes a marriage work? Opposites attract but can that attraction override all the problems that arise from being so inherently different to one another? How important is sex to a marriage? How about money? What happens when a marriage is tested with a financial crisis? Gannon deftly slides from one point of view to the other, one plot twist to the next, from the equally alluring piazzas of classical Rome to the trendy eateries and designer boutiques in urban Melbourne, all the while skilfully keeping the reader guessing, 'Are they or aren't they meant to be together?' Gannon's voice is fresh, smart, sassy. Her relevant and raw portrayal of a less than perfect couple with the odds stacked against them, reminds me of David Nicholls' One Day.
Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/First-Year-Genevieve-Gannon-ebook/B01MXOUWM6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1510065487&sr=1-1&keywords=genevieve+gannon
8. ACHE – Eliza Henry Jones
A year ago, a devastating bushfire ripped Annie's world apart - killing her grandmother, traumatising her young daughter and leaving her mother's home in the mountains half destroyed. Annie fled back to the city, but the mountain continues to haunt her. Now, drawn by a call for help from her uncle, she's going back to the place she loves most in the world, to try to heal herself, her marriage, her daughter and her mother.
A heart-wrenching, tender and lovely novel about loss, grief and regeneration, Ache is not only a story of how we can be broken, but how we can put ourselves back together.
WHAT I THOUGHT:
Once again Eliza Henry-Jones has left me in a dazed state after finishing another of her extraordinarily beautiful and moving novels. Ache is the most perfect title for this book - Annie aches for her past, she aches for her marriage, for new and old loves, for her young daughter, for her old home - but she mostly aches for herself and her own brokenness.
Henry-Jones has an exquisite way of making the reader feel while remaining unsentimental and non-melodramatic in her writing. The beauty is in how spare she is with her words, something I'm in awe of as a fellow writer. The attention to detail even with the spareness of words, still manages to take your breath away. She has a gift of drawing you right into each scene, into whoever's head she wants you to be in in that moment. The relationship between mother and daughter in particular is utterly heart-breaking. Somehow though, through tragedy and the grief that follows, Henry-Jones makes it okay and when you finish the story, it's the healing and the hope that stay with you.
Ache is literary yet still commercial, a love story but also a story about Australia, about the land and its inhabitants. It’s a masterpiece. Hats off from me.
Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/Ache-Eliza-Henry-Jones-ebook/B01N00E90Z/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1510065176&sr=1-1&keywords=ache
9. THINGS WE CANNOT SEE– Diane Maguire
Set on the magical coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula and inspired by true events, Things We Cannot See is Dianne Maguire's second domestic suspense novel - a compelling story of children and families, love and betrayal.
Laura Nesci has found her forever partner - until he leaves her for no apparent reason. It is only in the wake of a family tragedy and the unearthing of her husband's secret life that things fall into place, including Laura's burgeoning attraction for local artist Flynn. Fighting against the temptation of another possibly disastrous relationship, Laura channels her energies into her work as a victim support officer with the police.
Fifteen-year-old Alex is a girl with secrets. Her best friend Maddi believes it's wrong, but Alex knows that what she has with their science teacher is special. When Alex is attacked, Maddi and Laura become locked in a silent battle of wills: Laura suspects that Maddi is keeping secrets for her friend, and Maddi must decide whether to speak up or remain silent. But the final telling of Alex's deepest secret is met with shock and disbelief from everyone, including Laura, who thinks she has seen it all - until now.
WHAT I THOUGHT:
Another excellent absorbing read by Dianne Maguire which kept me up reading and had me guessing more than most other suspense novels. I'm one of those people who takes smug pride in figuring out the "who-dunnits" as early as I can in a novel, but this one humbled me. I kept changing my mind with every chapter! Not only is the suspense superb but Maguire has crafted a strong cast of characters, expertly voicing a wise woman in her sixties as well as a naive teenager. Her bad guys (a whole array of them in one form or another) are equally believable. I particularly enjoyed revisiting a character from Maguire's first book What Matters Most, that was a nice surprise.
The bright and beautiful Aussie coastal setting contrasts well with the eerie plot. There's also a slow burn romance, a good examination of modern family dynamics, and a disturbing exploration into how children are groomed and lured into abuse. It left me chilled but with great admiration for a fine story teller. With this second novel, Maguire has sealed her place as an author whose books I would buy automatically when they come out, without even knowing what they were about first.
Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/Things-Cannot-See-Dianne-Maguire-ebook/B01KWMDFUM/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1510065010&sr=1-1&keywords=dianne+maguire
10. ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE – Gail Honeyman
Meet Eleanor Oliphant. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully time-tabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
Then everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living--and it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
WHAT I THOUGHT:
A clever, hilarious, deeply touching story for anyone who loved The Rosie Project. I actually thought this book was even better that the Rosie books! Eleanor is a tragic and endlessly loveable character and this really was one of those books that had me laughing out loud in some parts and crying in others. It’s not at all mushy or overly sentimental, but it sure does pack a mighty punch - Eleanor’s story will break your heart and then mend it again. Eleanor is not fine. She’s far from fine. But Gail Honeyman is so completely fine that I’ll be rushing out to buy every book she ever writes from now on.
Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/Eleanor-Oliphant-Completely-Fine-bestseller-ebook/B01MAYG70K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510064948&sr=8-1&keywords=eleanor+oliphant+is+completely+fine+by+gail+honeyman
That’s a wrap from me folks for my 2017 book recommendations!
See you next year for more reading adventures xx