Happy New Year! I’m slightly late with this post (or later than I’d wanted) because we moved house on New Year’s Eve and didn’t have any internet, and even now it only works some of the time. (We’re getting broadband hooked up next week, which I’m hoping will make a huge difference as we’re currently using a pre-paid wireless wi-fi modem and the signal is weak. Same deal with our mobile phones. It’s been very frustrating.)
Looking at the 183 books I read and reviewed last year, a great many of them were books I loved, and a lot of those happened to be by Australian authors. So I thought I’d do two lists this time: Top Ten Aussie Books, and Top Ten Everything Else. Because otherwise I’d have to leave way too many deserving books off the list! Here goes then (in no particular order):
1. The Fine Colour of Rust by PA O’Reilly – Fiction.
I loved everything about this book: the humour, the characters, the writing, the story, all of it. If I had to pick my favourite, most enjoyable read of 2013, it would probably be The Fine Colour of Rust.
2. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty – Fiction.
This story of a hypno-therapist and her boyfriend’s stalker is just wonderful, at so many levels.
3. The Road to Gundagai by Jackie French – YA Historical Fiction.
This fantastic book has it all: great characters, engrossing story, a circus, an elephant, young love, friendship, murder and socio-economic issues. It’s the third in a series but they can all be read as stand-alone novels.
4. The Precipice by Virginia Duigan – Fiction.
The first book I finished in 2013 was Duigan’s short-listed novel, The Precipice, and I loved it so much, with its subtle creepiness and that edge of things being just a bit off, that I was constantly recommending it for the first half of the year!
5. Into That Forest by Louis Nowra – YA Historical Fiction.
If I had to pick a second favourite from last year, it might very well be this one. Set in Tasmania in the 19th century, it’s about two young girls who find themselves stranded and alone in the bush. They’re taken in by a pair of Thylacines, and become more Tiger than Human.
6. Dog Boy by Eva Hornung – Fiction.
Similar to Into That Forest, Hornung’s superbly-written tale is set in Russia and is about a five-year-old boy who is abandoned first by his mother, then his uncle, and is taken in by an alpha she-dog and her pack, becoming more dog than human.
7. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – Fiction; Romantic Comedy.
Simsion first wrote this as a screenplay, so it’s no wonder you can picture it like a movie in your head as you read it (I’m sure a movie adaptation of the book won’t be far away, considering how successful his debut novel has been!). The story of a quirky professor with a touch of Asperger’s who puts aside his well-laid-out plan for finding a wife to help a woman locate her father through genetic testing was a big hit for 2013, and with good reason.
8. just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth – Fiction.
On of the last books I read in 2013 was also one of the best. Krauth’s debut adult novel is like a modern-day Lolita and yet oh so different, but it does raise some similar themes. Layla is fourteen and sexually precocious; her mother Margot is locked inside her own depression and evangelical church, and doesn’t even know that her daughter is bringing a man Margot’s age home. A telling expose into contemporary society.
9. In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl – Historical Fiction.
Set in France in World War I and 1970s Queensland, this is a multi-layered story of two very different but linked women, and their experiences as a nurse at an all-female-operated hospital on the Front, and am obstetrics doctor in Brisbane. This novel rather sneaks up on you and I was in tears by the end.
10. The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn – YA Apocalyptic Fiction; Speculative Fiction.
I didn’t read as much YA or speculative fiction in 2013 as I have in past years, but what I did read was all good – especially this one. It’s not that the premise is original: nuclear fallout results in a complete breakdown of society and the division of people; but the way Zorn tells it was really absorbing and fresh.
1. While the Sun is Above Us by Melanie Schnell – Fiction.
I read this for the Around the World Challenge when we did Sudan in February, and it really impressed me. A fascinating and gripping story about two women: a Canadian woman trying to “find herself” and a Sudanese woman captured and sold into slavery in the north. Easily one of the best books I read last year.
2. The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs – Fiction; Gothic Horror; Psychological Thriller.
This was wonderfully creepy and rather mesmerising. I loved the story-telling style and flow of words as much as the story itself, and its characters. I don’t want to tell you what it’s about lest it spoil things for you, but click the link for my spoiler-free review.
3. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed – Non-Fiction.
I’d never heard of Dear Sugar, an online advice column, until I read a review for this book on Brain Pickings, but you can read all the question-and-answers in this book on the web site, plus more. Strayed is very wise for being so self-reflective, and she doesn’t balk at telling it like it is in a raw, honest and often personal way. Brought me to tears at times.
4. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan – Historical Fiction.
Set in France in the 19th century, this is the fictionalised but highly believable and beautifully detailed story of two sisters and an artist who used ballet dancers – including the younger sister – in his famous paintings.
5. Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi – YA Science Fiction; Romance; Fantasy.
I enjoyed the first book, loved the short e-book novella that preceded book 2, and was completely absorbed and swept up in the highly-charged, intense angst and oft-times poetic writing of Unravel Me. Sometimes I just love switching off my critical brain and really, simply, enjoying a story.
6. Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane – Fiction; Suspense.
This was one of those surprise reads – I hadn’t heard of it until the publisher asked if I wanted to review the sequel; the premise intrigued me so much I immediately got Children of Paranoia to read first, and I am so glad I did! The characters of Shane’s series are caught up in an endless War, in which two sides are constantly at battle right beneath our noses. Once their children turn eighteen, they’re fair game, and life expectancy is low. And no one really understands why, but you can’t question the propaganda that keeps it all going.
7. Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss – Non-Fiction.
This was preaching to the converted, but I still loved Moss’s writing style and all the behind-the-scenes stories and details that this book is packed with. The history of the processed food industry is as fascinating as it is scary, when you think of what’s in it. And Moss lays it all bare.
8. What is the What by Dave Eggers – Fiction.
Based on the real life experiences of Eggers’ narrator, now a refugee in America, this is a long and detailed narrative that really brings the conflict in the south of Sudan alive. Another book I read for the Around the World reading challenge.
9. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa – Fiction; Historical Fiction.
Working its way through time from the early 20th century to the millennium, Mornings in Jenin follows a single family as a way to explore and show the history of modern Palestine and the effect of the formation of Israel had on the Palestinians. Gripping, upsetting, intense, the writing isn’t the best I’ve read but the story is a must-read.
10. The Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson – YA Fantasy.
This trilogy consists of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom, and while it’s not completely perfect it has so much to love, including a strong and vibrant heroine, an interesting new world, intrigue, treachery, adventure and romance.
Other books I loved in 2013:
Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon
Henderson’s Spear by Ronald Wright
The Man Plan by Elise K Ackers
The Serpent and the Pearl by Kate Quinn
Raising Boys in a New Kind of World by Michael Reist
Those are all the books I gave 5 out of 5 to; there are many other excellent books that I read last year, but the ones in these lists are my top recommendations.